Will the CEO of Nollywood please stand up?

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

Email: olumide@qed.ng Twitter: @mightyng

With his latest movie aptly titled The CEO, Kunle Afolayan has erased whatever doubt was left about his status as a leader in the Nigeria motion picture industry.

The 41-year-old, who told Qed.ng in November 2015 that he grew out of his father’s shadow in 2007, held the Nigeria premiere his new work in Lagos on Sunday.

In attendance were the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde.

Sponsors, friends, colleagues and fans of the filmmaker were also present.

So were the two people, who perhaps after Kunle’s father, Adeyemi “Ade Love” Afolayan, remain the biggest factors in his rise to stardom.

The two are his mom and Tunde Kelani who cast him as the baby-faced Aresejabata in 1997’s Saworoide and its 2002 sequel, Agogo Eewo.

The Nigeria event was a befitting follow-up to the first-of-its-kind premiere on Air France Flight AF0149 from Lagos to Paris on June 1.

Both events, apologies to Olamide, were hits back-to-back.

Kunle is however more than the red carpet, bespoke outfits, champagne on tap and bright lights of movie premieres.

He became a member of the mile-high club of select filmmakers by his ability to dream up the unimaginable and the energy to do the impossible.

A pan-African project, The CEO is a bold attempt to break into as many markets on the continent as possible.

With the Hollywood-Nollywood handshake so far a graveyard of lofty ideas and drainpipe of scarce resources, some filmmakers have adapted their strategy for satisfying local demand, pseudo-westernised taste of the Diaspora and western audience.

Instead of chasing an unprepared American or European market to the point of insanity or bankruptcy, Kunle dreamt up the idea of doing a film that will be accepted across Africa.

His words: “I don’t see why a film produced in Nigeria should not do well in cinemas in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, South, Morocco or other part of Africa”.

Given how much Nollywood has penetrated Africa, he is convinced that a pan-African cast should give a Nigerian project a good run in cinemas across the continent.

That was how the dream began in 2015.

Several phone calls, emails and social media exchanges after, French-Ivorian actress and model, Aurelie Eliam; South African actor and presenter, Nicolaos Panagiotopoulos; Moroccan actress, Fatym Layachi, and Kenyan actor, Peter King, were signed on to the project.

Joining the eclectic mix were Beninese-born international Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter and activist, Angelique Kidjo, and Haitian actor and model, Jimmy Jean-Louis.

From Nollywood came Wale Ojo, Hilda Dokubo and Kemi “Lala” Akindoju.

The CEO tells the story of TransWire Communications, a global phone network with major operation in Nigeria, whose chief executive has just retired.

To fill the vacant seat, the Paris-based company sends five nominees amongst his most senior level staff across Africa on a leadership course in order to determine who to appoint as the new boss in Africa’s biggest market.

The candidates are Kola Alabi, a charming Nigerian serial womaniser; Jomo Wangai, a reserved but troubled Kenyan male gambling addict; Eloise Toure, an attractive but tenacious Ivorian with a husband diagnosed with prostate cancer; Yasmin Raggi, a beautiful Moroccan with dark secrets, and Riikard Van Outen, a ruthlessly aggressive South African white male

All five arrive from their respective destinations and check into a beach resort where the course is holding.

Although they all appear cordial and chummy with each other, they all know what is at stake – they each desperately want the CEO’s chair.

For that, they attempt to covertly outdo one another throughout the duration of the course.

Assisted by Lisa (Akindoju), the HR Coordinator for TransWire Global, course tutor, the mysterious Dr. Amet Zimmerman (Kidjo), starts off the course by making all five executives indulge in a round of the child’s game of musical chairs.

Using a bullish method which she dubs self elimination, Zimmerman studies each candidate’s modus operandi and drives them to a breaking point.

The first two candidates eliminated are found dead in what looks like suicide in a psychological game of ambition, betrayal and lust.

It is a thriller worth each of the 105 minutes spent watching it.

Speaking on June 2, 2016 after the movie opened the Nollywood Film Festival in Paris, Kidjo confessed that “It was not easy making this movie.”

She, however, added that “nothing good comes easy.

“You have to come up with something authentic to tell a story that shows what we can achieve in adversity.

“What Kunle has done by getting the kind of sponsors for The CEO shows that people will invest in something good coming out of Africa.”

And people have invested in the project.

Nigeria’s Bank of Industry gave Kunle a loan of N50million to shoot the movie and Africa Magic pre-bought it for broadcast.

Sponsorship also came from Air France, Peugeot, Adron Homes and Properties, Inagbe Grand Resorts and Leisure and many others.

Commercial Manager of Air France/KLM, Arthur Dieffenthaler, even has a waka pass role in the movie.

With The CEO, Kunle has once again demonstrated that rare ability to outdo himself.

Perhaps, that is down to the fact that he never stopped doing the very thing that got him to the top in the first place.

That has shielded him from the curse of success.

Nollywood first took note of Kunle as the banished Prince Aresejabata in Saworoide and Agogo Eewo.

So successful were the two Kelani films that the young man was tagged Kunle Arese for many years.

While that opened a big door for him, it could also have closed several others in a Nollywood notorious for typecasting.

He went to the New York Film Academy, shot his first feature film, Irapada, a cross-cultural Nigerian movie in 2006 and went to the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in February 2007.

While some were still living off what was left of the fame graciously extended to them by starring in Kelani’s films a decade and half later, by the time he featured in the legendary cinematographer’s 2014 Dazzling Mirage, the seventh of Ade Love’s 25 children already had Irapada, The Figurine, Phone Swap and October 1 under his directorial belt.

Each of the movies, again, to borrow from Olamide, is a hit back-to-back.

It is dead cert that The CEO will continue that tradition.

Today, if Nollywood was a company, the former City Express Bank worker would be a top contender for the position of chief executive officer without playing a game of musical chairs.