The reward for the exploration of culture and the showcase of elements of tradition in movie projects, particularly in Nollywood, is tangible, and often guaranteed – Nigerians, including the critics among us, are known to have a soft spot for stories that project intricate aspects of our existence as a people. Filmmakers like Tunde Kelani and Kunle Afolayan have repeatedly made hits off the back of this factor of appeal; and Genevieve shows interest in this reward with her directorial debut – Lionheart.
The story revolves around an ambitious woman, Adaeze, played by Genevieve, who works as a director in her family’s transport company, understudying her father, Chief Obiagu (Pete Edochie) – a wealthy Igbo businessman. At the same time, she nurses personal aspirations towards taking over from him as the company’s overall head and being the one to move the family legacy into a new generation. Adaeze faces the ultimate test of her credentials, as her ailing father steps away from his seat, and entrusts the company into the hands of his brother, Godswill who is supposedly taking her spot, amidst the revelation of financial troubles and challenges that could sink the entire empire.
The simplicity of the story, despite its ground breaking status as Nigeria’s first on Hollywood’s new rave – Netflix, is unexpected. The most robust offering would usually be served first on the new and shinny plate, however, Lion Heart’s unambiguous but detailed plot does it this time. The beauty of the story is in the communication of undertones such as feminism, ageism, and the potentials of inter-tribal collaborations. In one of the movie’s most impressionable scenes, Adaeze’s calm, confident and intelligent person is established, as she diffuses a situation where area boys oppress her clients and staff members.
Another scene with a subtly communicated message in Lion Heart, sees Godswill Obiagu (Nkem Owoh), Adaeze’s uncle – a playful man with intelligence from experience – show the difference between the older generation’s heavy reliance on divine events and much of the younger generation’s belief in human qualities like hard work and skill. Godswill, upon assuming the role of acting chairman, introduces morning prayers to the work routine, obviously for “showers of blessings”, while Adaeze repeatedly starts her days with a jog.
The portrayal of Igbos as daring, competitive and opportunistic in business; as people of strong extended family units; as lovers of colourful and flamboyant ceremonies, is brilliant in its depth and fullness of cultural showcase. And the power of the language – in negotiations – is made evident in the film; maybe a bit overdone with Igbo-speaking external auditors. The few seconds dedicated to showing Kano’s elegant outlook must have been inspired by patriotic intention. Plus, the event of an Igbo-Hausa engagement in a business partnership to ease the access of the East from the North, and vice-versa, is encouraging to see, especially because of the movie’s position as an export material.
The idea of handing musicians movie roles has become a practice among Nollywood filmmakers, and Genevieve joins in this practice with Phyno and Peter Okoye playing part in the movie – hers seems to be for a different effect however. While in the cases of Mo Abudu’s Wedding Party and Chief Daddy, and Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys, big cases are made of the Nollywood debuts of musicians – much like publicity moves, Genevieve brings them in as pleasant surprises, particularly Phyno, who plays an unmissable role as Obiagu’s son, but was unseen in the trailer.
Because it is Genevieve and because it carries an uncommon Netflix badge, Lionheart is likely to be approached with big expectations, but it might be better enjoyed without inflated expectations, just openness to a story that showcases some beautiful elements of Nigeria to the world.
P.S. Lionheart is still available on Netflix for those who haven’t seen it.