By: Eriomala John
A little over a month ago, Netflix released the first look clip for their upcoming Nigerian young adult mini-series, Far From Home. Subsequently, they have put out trailers – which include a teaser and a full trailer. The series itself is set to release on the 16th of December, 2022.
The synopsis –at least as it appears from the trailers – is pretty straightforward: Ishaya Bello, a gifted artist from an underprivileged background gains a scholarship to study at the prestigious Wilmers Academy; a school admired even by the elite. However, to access this, he has to take a risky decision involving members of the underworld. The effects of this decision eventually lead to a collision course that involved his family, his romantic life, an opportunity of a lifetime, and the possibility of losing it all.
Considering the cast – which includes Richard Mofe-Damijo, Funke Akindele-Bello, Adesua Etomi-Wellington, Bucci Franklin, Bimbo Akintola, Genoveva Umeh, and Mike Afolarin – and visuals, characteristic of the ‘New Nollywood’, Far From Home appears to be a huge one from Netflix and their partner studios, Inkblot. That said, there’s a lot more to take away from all 5 minutes of content released so far. A whole lot!
Nollywood’s Child/Teen Actor Dearth
While growing up, one of the most common criticisms of Nollywood was that teenagers and students hardly got to play themselves. We rather had to watch adults, almost going on 30, play university students and in some cases, secondary school students. For example, in the classic 2006 movie, War Game – from which the “Why you dey spit on me? You dey spit on me now”, and “Silencer, blood must flow” memes emerged – Oge Okoye, who played the role of a campus ‘staylite’ was 26 years old.
16 years have passed since then but the issue still persists. Although quite a few teen actors like Regina Daniels, Susan Pwajok, and Olumide Oworu have emerged within that period, they appear not to have been enough to meet the industry’s needs. In Far From Home, we’ll have to endure seeing most of the Wilmers High School cast played by actors and actresses whose facial hair, physique, and voices scream the mid-20s. In fact, even Mike Afolarin, the actor who plays the protagonist of Ishaya Bello, was born in 1993. You can as well do the maths.
Downsides of Chasing a Foreign Market
Despite releasing Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart – their first Nollywood original in 2018 – and many other originals, Netflix is yet to have a large subscriber base in Nigeria. As of 2019, research by Comparitech revealed the total number of Nigerian subscribers to be about 50,000; roughly 59.96 Million short of that of the USA. Also, considering that the total African subscriber base is just 2.6 Million as of this year; we can’t assume that a monumental increase has taken place since then.
So, what has Netflix done? They have switched to movies that appeal to that side of the Atlantic. Hence, the presence of lockers, fancy dressing, and accessories, wild pool parties, foreign-styled drug distribution networks, etc in this series. It’s a way to, perhaps, pull in Western viewers who might want to see young adults in the light of another culture. That’s also one of the reasons it bears such striking similarities to Netflix’s South African teen drama, Blood and Water.
Also, there are the characters themselves. Far From Home – from the trailer alone – seem to have so many typical Western characters and character traits. There’s the protagonist who’s willing to risk it all to achieve his dream, the popular love interest who initially ignores him, her over-protective spoilt boyfriend, the drug dealers who want the protagonist to sell their ‘product’, the protagonist’s role as the new main man on the sports team, and so many others that should likely unravel as the series proceeds.
The Little Things
It’s not a stretch to say that the studios behind this movie weren’t aiming to win an Oscar or have a Caines Festival review done. All the same, the lack of effort put into convincing the audience – as shown in the trailers – is disappointing.
For one, how hard is it to just shave the beards of the actors involved? If you intend to convince viewers that Mike Afolarin and Olumide Oworu are students, the least you could do is eliminate facial hair; especially considering that they look grown. In fact, the use of makeup to de-age the actors would have been welcome. Movies like Bodunrin Sansore’s God Calling (2018), the incredible Tatu (2017), and the previously mentioned Aníkúlápó, show that Nollywood’s make-up and special effects teams are up there with the rest of the world. All they needed to do was make the right calls
Many Hits, Few Misses
In all of this, one thing we have to appreciate is Netflix’s commitment to producing local content. Capitalist motivation aside, it’s important that all types of Nigerian stories get to be told. We should be able to get content reflective of South-Western high-class families, the conflict-laden North-East, the post-colonial South East, and every possible aspect imaginable.
This year alone, there have been multiple releases aimed at capturing different sides of the spectrum. In May, Tunde Kelani’s Ayinla had a re-release; opening up so many more Nigerians to the story of the father of one of Africa’s greatest genres, Apala. Still, in May, the four-part mini-series, Blood Sisters (technically the 2nd Nigerian Netflix Original series after Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys: The Return Of The King) was released to a lot of acclaim from critics and regular audiences.
The 24th of June came with the release of the remake of the 1994 Chika Onukuwufor-directed classic, Glamour Girls; a movie that for the most part deviated from the quality of the original. In September, there were three notable releases; Aki and Pawpaw, Aníkúlápó, and Elesin Oba: Death and the King’s Horseman. The last two, which were released on the 30th of September, can lay legitimate claim to the Top 10 Lists for the year. Aníkúlápó was a masterful spin take on an Ifa Odu Odu corpus, produced by the uber-creative Kunle Afolayan. Elesin Oba; Death and the King’s Horseman, on the other hand, brought Wole Soyinka’s 1975 novel, Death and the King’s Horseman to life. The subject of discourses ranged from receptive bilingualism to the place of foreigners in Nollywood. Finally, there was Soole, a tale of an ultimately eventful trip to the East, with a brilliant third act flawed by god-awful dialogue.
In summary, regardless of how this movie turns out, Netflix deserves all the applause for its willingness to trust the vision of Nigerian writers and directors.
No PR is Bad PR
Finally, in the aftermath of the release of the trailers, it is evident that the negative reviews have only helped to expose the series to a larger audience. On Twitter, for example, Black Americans, South Africans, and sections of the Caribbean Twitter community have had massive interactions with NetflixNigeria’s announcement tweet. Even on Twitter NG, many who were initially disinterested now look to set to watch the series; although, mainly to spite.
It would be interesting to see how many viewers tune in from across the world and if it would become a global phenomenon in the long run OR if, as predicted by some, it would turn out to be a flop.