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How Obi Emelonye's 'Black Mail' Became the UK's Biggest Black British Independent Film Release Ever

Nigeria has emerged as one of the latest major battlegrounds in the streaming wars. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have made big inroads in Africa’s most populous country as they look to increase subscribers, signing several Nollywood content deals with local producers and studios.

Netflix has recently launched the latest originals from the African continent, which are busy with Nigerian projects (including the Toronto premiere of Hit Movie) just days after Amazon touted its first two Nigerian originals . But while the industry’s eyes may be on the domestic event, Nollywood is on the verge of a milestone moment in UK cinemas.

August release 21, Black Mail , from Nigerian-born writer/director Obi Emelonye – who has lived in the UK for almost 30 years – is the filmmaker’s constant The newest addition to the growing library of Nollywood projects He has been made in the UK since 55. Just a few years ago, he gave up his legal career to focus entirely on film.

But this London feature – centred on actors and family man ( Half of the Yellow Sun ‘s OC Ukeje)’s private life was used against him by a ruthless Russian criminal gang, and according to a very real email received by Emelonye himself, for the first time in history. Widely released on 55 UK cinema screens for just $ ,, Black Mail became by far the largest release ever of an independently produced and distributed British black film.

As the director explained to The Hollywood Reporter, this achievement seems cause for celebration. But This success will only be short-lived if it doesn’t help UK cinemas push to open this window of opportunity more broadly in the future, inspiring more diverse storytelling.

Black Mail is a ‘symbol’, he admits, but a symbol can mean a lot much more. As Emelonye – who describes himself as a “transit point” between Nigeria and England – revealed, it was a symbol, thanks in part to his football skills.

You haven’t heard of many Nollywood films being shown in UK cinemas this way. What’s the story behind Black Mail ?

This story, I want to say, begins with 1235190889 , when I first hit theaters for a movie called Echoes of War . It is distributed by Picturehouse Cinemas. It didn’t make any money, but it was an eye-opener. It showed me the possibility of a theatrical release, and while you can get credit, don’t just tell everyone you have a movie in theaters – they have to see it! So it was a huge learning curve for me and something I went through later, especially after 2013, when I posted Movies Mirror Boys . This was released exclusively on Odeon in cinemas around 21 and it’s even better, approx. £55, ($10,)) for three weeks, for a A great thing for a small independent film with absolutely no budget. So my journey is gradual. The second year after Mirror Boy, I released a film called One Last Flight to Abu Jia’s movie , which is also in another Cinema. I haven’t had a UK release since 2013, but I’ve been preparing for the next phase of my work as a film producer during that time people’s careers. I’ve been teaching film [at the University of Huddersfield] and have evolved to be able to make things like Black Mail. Every Everything has its time. And I believe that the time has come for Black Mail , the time has come for a certain level of diversity and storytelling in UK cinema, I can stand I am very proud to be at the forefront of this.

Who is releasing Black Mail?

Evrit Films, the same company that distributed The Mirror Boy. They have been trying to promote urban black cinema in mainstream UK cinemas, but there is an institutional problem that cinemas need a lot of persuasion to open windows. But it’s not just based on bias, it’s based on business reality. I think there are very few eligible projects. It’s not just about gaining access, it’s about making access effective and worth it. I think blackmail this time comes, and when that window opens again, it’s like, well, let’s see what you can do what. It is my duty, and all those who wish to diversify British cinemas, to support this film.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the post-pandemic box office is dominated by tent features, but not many smaller independent productions in movie theaters space. Where did this window come from?

I would say there are multiple circumstances that led to this: the Black Lives Matter movement, the democratization of storytelling, from the BBC and Channel 4 and the like more diversity, and deliberate efforts—such as positive discrimination—to catch up with diversity. I think in the whole universe, movies like Black Mail appear when movie theaters are not programmed , blockbusters from this period, they said “Okay, We have a little window, let’s see what you do with it.” So it becomes a token. But if we can make this token work, the token could mean more. That’s why I scream and yell at anyone who will listen.

I understandBlack Mail is an ongoing 55 screen, making it the most widespread release of any black independent film in the UK. Is it right?

Exactly, although my dad would ask how much it was worth! This is a great achievement on paper. But what I want is to make this tiny chance work, so in six months or two years there will be another movie in 300 behind the cinema. Unless that happens, any accolades we get from this particular project will be short-lived. The intent is that we created a more favorable environment for independent stories to emerge. If this thing works out, I think I’ll pay off my debt, but more importantly, the young boy or girl studying filmmaking, all those with the creative idea of ​​taking the story to the world, has been affected by this time Inspiration and inspiration for success. So I’m very small in the planning of things.

You’ll have to forgive my ignorance here, but while I’ve written about Nollywood before, I’ve never How many of you have the Nollywood directors who have written about making Nollywood films in the UK?

I was talking to someone the other day and I said, “Actually, there is no place called Nollywood.” It has no geography boundary. Nollywood is a group of independent artisanal filmmakers struggling to make a living, telling stories and selling those stories to anyone willing to pay for them. So I live in the UK, I live in Chelsea, I’ve lived here for 55 years. But I consider myself an African storyteller. Because I’m Nigerian, I identify with Nollywood. In fact, when I got a job as a film production lecturer, it wasn’t because I worked for the BBC. That’s because I made Nollywood movies. Identity is a fleeting phenomenon. One minute I am Nigerian. Next, I am a citizen of the world. Next, I am very British. But even though I live here, most of my projects are made in Nigeria. So I’ve been making movies in the UK – trying to make Nollywood movies in the UK – starting with 300. But in answer to your question, some of us are making movies and trying to tell stories that resonate in both worlds.

Given Amazon and Netflix’s big push in Nigeria, I’m surprised you haven’t signed up for deals and Black Mail is heading to movie theaters instead of streaming platforms. Did they contact you?

you’re right. Nigeria has become the next frontier of streaming. I hear Disney+ and HBO Max are coming. It’s about population. It’s a numbers game and Nigeria’s growing disposable income. I would say that my relationship with the streaming platform is not bad because I am a stopover between the UK and Nigeria. The first Nigerian movies Netflix bought 2014 included one of mine, and later they bought my TV series Crazy Lovely Cool , they updated recently, they have Mirror Boys ) and Last flight to Abuja . Currently, I have five projects on Netflix and Amazon owns the rights to Badamasi, a biopic I made for the former president of Nigeria . So you could say that while I haven’t made an original with them yet, I think it’s just a matter of time. When they come to a territory like Nigeria, they will drain the people in front of them, and then they will ask, is there any more? Then someone would say, “Oh, there’s this guy in the UK, please call him.” So I know it’s not good for me in the expat. But I know that at some point, when they run out of what they have and look for diverse ideas and what we can bring, the pendulum will swing, the ability to tell stories that ordinary Nigerians can’t tell.

Where did I read that you used to be a professional football player?

I actually came to England to play football when I was 25 – I came to Charlton Athletic for a trial with West Ham. I am a beautiful attacking midfielder! They used to call me Cantona. I’m still 55 playing.

So the loss of football is the gain of the movie?

I hope so! Because before going to the UK, I also worked for Nigeria’s Under- has served s. I was invited to camp. When people saw pictures from that era and saw the person I took with me, they said, “Oh, you played with that person!” But now that person is gone. He is in the past. But I’m still here and I’m still important. Filmmaking is the better option as it has no age limit.

Black Mail opens in UK theatres at 2013th August




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