You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Nigerian Prince’

An American teenager goes on a trip to Nigeria, only to learn that he's trapped in a scavenger nation where life is a matter of who scams who.

Faraday Okoro
Antonio J. Bell, Chinaza Uche, Tina Mba, Bimbo Manuel, Ebbe Bassey, Rita Edward, Craig Stott, Dean Cameron, Omar Maskati, Russell G. Jones.
Release Date:
Oct 19, 2018

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6851966/

We’ve all seen movies — like “Beirut,” with Jon Hamm — in which a trouble-shooting agent or foreign correspondent has to make his way through a scavenger nation that’s a nest of danger and instability and corruption. “Nigerian Prince” is one of those movies, except that the central character is no spy. He’s a surly American teenager named Eze (Antonio J. Bell), who arrives in the sprawling Nigerian capital of Lagos to spend four weeks with his aunt. Or so he thinks. His mother flew him over there so he could soak up his Nigerian heritage, which sounds innocent enough, until you learn that she canceled his return ticket the moment he arrived. Eze isn’t just visiting — he’s trapped. In a place with spotty electricity, hamburgers that taste like dog food, and people you can’t trust.

His first morning there, his Aunt Grace (Tina Mba) throws a bucket of water on him when he won’t get out of bed, and then she warns him that the next time it will be boiling water. (She sounds like she means it.) For a drama that’s all about a middle-class kid from the U.S. visiting the land of his ancestors, “Nigerian Prince” is no scrappy travelogue — it’s closer to a YA version of “Midnight Express.”

The movie was directed by the New York-based Nigerian-American filmmaker Faraday Okoro, and it’s the first feature to have been completed with a grant from the Tribeca Film Festival’s Untold Stories program (in collaboration with AT&T). The first thing to say about “Nigerian Prince” is that Okoro makes good on that backing. He creates a drama with a vivid and personalized sense of locale (the streets are alive), and he shows us how the characters emerge from it — like Pius (Chinaza Uche), a hustler with a grin of devastating sincerity, or Grace, played by Tina Mba with a scary stern fierceness that she somehow normalizes. Grace’s threatening personality grows right out of the harshness of Nigeria, a place where everyone is scrambling for cash, and you’re either toiling away at a dead-end job or have joined the underground culture of scam artists.

Pius, who is Eze’s cousin, has been a scammer for years, a role he wears lightly, even though it means his existence is controlled by Smart (Bimbo Manuel), an officer in the country’s nefarious police force who is basically a gang leader in uniform. Nigeria, as this movie presents it, is a nation of law and disorder. And Eze has to find a way out. It’s not just that the place is dangerous; we can see how the corruption saps his spirit. Yet he forms a connection with Pius, who could use a fellow hustler and promises to get Eze onto a plane out of the country. If this were a more sentimental movie, both young men might get what they were going for. As it is, only one does, leaving the other in the dust.

There’s one terrific scam sequence in “Nigerian Prince” (the title, in fact, refers to a classic scam). Pius goes to the hotel room of a businessman and tries to sucker him into the “black money” scam, which involves hundred-dollar bills coated with black paint, which can be removed by an expensive array of chemicals, which the mark has to pay for, and that’s the scam (since the bills are just construction paper). Everything about this sequence is terrific, including the surprise that caps it. Yet “Nigerian Prince” would have been better if we saw more of this stuff. Okoro has bent over backwards not to make the poverty-row version of a glib crime thriller, but he shouldn’t have bent so far.

That said, his refusal to provide us with the usual suspenseful payoffs creates its own disquieting social resonance. He’s saying that there’s no catharsis to this life — no ultimate score that lends it all meaning. It’s the scrambling-rat version of a hand-to-mouth existence. And any illusion of camaraderie is just another scam.

Film Review: 'Nigerian Prince'

Reviewed on-line, Oct. 16, 2018. MPAA Rating: Not rated. Running time: 104 MIN.

Production: A Vertical Entertainment release of a Tribeca, AT&T production. Producers: Oscar Hernandez, Bose Oshin, Faraday Okoro. Executive producers: Spike Lee, Biyi Bandele.

Crew: Director: Faraday Okoro. Screenplay: Faraday Okoro, Andrew Long. Camera (color, widescreen): Sheldon Chau. Editor: Kristan Sprague. Music: Eric V. Hachikian, Peter Nashel.

With: Antonio J. Bell, Chinaza Uche, Tina Mba, Bimbo Manuel, Ebbe Bassey, Rita Edward, Craig Stott, Dean Cameron, Omar Maskati, Russell G. Jones.

More Film

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

  • 'Roll Red Roll' Review: Piercing Documentary

    Film Review: 'Roll Red Roll'

    “Roll Red Roll” is a piercingly relevant and disturbing documentary about an infamous high school rape case that took place in Steubenville, Ohio (pop. 18,600), on Aug. 11, 2012. Steubenville, the sort of Friday-night-lights small town that boasts signs that read “Kick off for Jesus,” is a place that’s good at keeping secrets. When the [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild, Hollywood Agents Negotiate With Deadline Looming

    The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents have held a sixth negotiating session with a deadline for a new deal 16 days away — and it’s uncertain whether progress is being made. The Association of Talent Agents made counter-proposals at Thursday’s session that contain provisions for more accountability and transparency by agencies for clients [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Fox Layoffs Leave Staffers Stunned and Saddened

    Fox employees knew this day was coming. For over a year, the men and women who work at the Century City lot have talked of little else but severance packages and job searches. They knew that when Disney wrapped up its $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets, thousands [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Disney Clarifies Film Leadership After Harrowing Day of Fox Layoffs

    Following the dismissal of top executives in distribution, marketing and strategy on Thursday, new 20th Century Fox owner Disney has clarified its new top leadership. Five distinct Fox labels and a portion of their leadership have been welcomed into the Disney fold, the company said. This includes Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Family, Fox Searchlight Pictures, [...]

  • Janelle Monae

    Film News Roundup: Janelle Monae to Star in Film From Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

    In today’s film news roundup, Janelle Monae will star in a Lionsgate movie, Bill Nighy joins “Emma,” and documentaries on surfer Bethany Hamilton and Asbury Park are dated. CASTINGS More Reviews SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius' Film Review: 'Roll Red Roll' Janelle Monae will star in an untitled [...]

  • Blair Rich Marketing Summit

    Studio Marketing Chiefs Discuss the Theatrical vs. Netflix Oscars Debate

    On a day where a large part of the Fox marketing department was wiped out in the aftermath of the Disney merger, a group of marketing chiefs from other studios and streamers sat down at the Variety Entertainment Marketing Summit presented by Deloitte “to discuss the issues shaping the feature marketing landscape today, including the theatrical [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content