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Obi Emelonye: Nigerian filmmaker pushing diversity storytelling in UK

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In August 2022, Obi Emelonye, a Nigeria-born, London-based filmmaker, made history with Black Mail, his latest Nollywood feature, which recorded a wide release across 100 cinema screens in the United Kingdom.

The film was adjudged the biggest ever release by an independently produced and distributed Black British film to date, despite that it was made for just $100,000.

Made in London, the feature film centered on O.C. Ukeje, an actor and family man, whose private life is used against him by a ruthless Russian criminal gang.

Of course, O.C. Ukeje is a Nollywood actor, who played the leading role in Half of a Yellow Sun.

For Emelonye, the feat was possible because Black Mail highlighted diversity in the storyline, in a way that many haven’t seen before.

You need to watch the film to appreciate how the Nigerian-born filmmaker changed the narrative in telling stories well-received by many despite it being told by a Nigerian and for UK’s very sophisticated and diverse audiences.

However, when the announcement of the 100 cinemas milestone came, Emelonye was excited, but had some reservations.

He considered it something worth celebrating even more if only the success will help inspire further diverse storytelling.

Having set an example, Emelonye thinks that more of such diverse storytelling would encourage more British cinemas to open more opportunities for such projects now and in the future.

Speaking to a UK tabloid in August last year, shortly after the film release, the filmmaker noted that it is good that UK is beginning to recognize diversity even through film, but he also insisted that furtherance of the success achieved by Black Mail depends on how the feature film helps to propel more diverse stories into cinemas.

Read also: Albantsho to scale Nollywood screenwriting at iDraft 2.0 workshop

As this August marks one year of the 100 cinemas feat, Emelonye looks forward to more films on diversity breaking his record and will be happy to hear of one of such being seen in over 200 cinemas across the UK.

Trailing the journey of making the record-breaking film, Emelonye, who have not had a theatrical release in the UK since 2013, said he had used that time to prepare himself for the next phase of his career as a filmmaker.

Within that period of preparation, he picked a lecturing job at the University of Huddersfield where he teaches film and from there, he evolved and was able to hit his next level, which is being able to make something like Black Mail.

Excited that the waiting and preparation were worthwhile, he enthused that it is time for Black Mail and time to push diversity and storytelling to a much higher level in the UK.

“I am proud to be at the forefront of that”, he said.

The filmmaker, former professional footballer and lawyer, is also urging more viewership of diverse films at the cinemas as a way to support diversity in UK cinemas.

For him, the success of Black Mail is a big boost to increasing the number of other urban Black films in mainstream U.K. cinemas.