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The Black Book review: Chapters in Effiong’s directorial debut

Black Book funding: Why Nigerian tech ‘money bags’ were the first choice

The Black Book, Nollywood’s most expensive movie is out and is causing the expected buzz.

Directing The Black Book is Editi Effiong’s toughest challenge as a Nollywood movie trader. The movie’s massive budget of $1 million is the biggest for a project in Nollywood and for a first-time director, it is a set-up. But Effiong is undaunted by such challenges.

Effiong says he had to step in as director when efforts to shop for a suitable director failed. It was a daunting decision at first, especially in convincing iconic actors like RMD to join the cast.

RMD recalls how he struggled with the news of Effiong directing The Black Book. RMD plays the grieving father, Paul, with a brilliant combination of sternness and softness. The 62-year-old actor says the character was the most challenging he has played in his more than 25 years career in Nollywood.

“Well, I’ve seen some young first-timers pull off some good stuff, from Chico Ejiro years ago showing up and telling me he was going to be the directing a film we were going to do, to Kemi Adetiba pulling off the Wedding Party. Now here is this one saying he is about to direct one of Nollywood’s biggest films by scale. To be or not to be? To be. I let go and decided to trust him too to deliver since he had delivered on every other thing he promised,” RMD noted in an Instagram post.

Effiong is not the first Nollywood investor to be faced with directing a big-budget movie for the first time. Ramsey Nouah’s directorial debut Living in Bondage: Breaking Free was made with a budget of N10 million. Although far below the scale of The Black Book, it was quite significant for the industry and a first-time director. The movie went on to gross N168.7 million at the Box Office, a record for a directorial debut. Genevieve Nnaji also made her directorial debut with Lionheart which went on to become the first movie from Nollywood to be acquired by Netflix.

While Nouah and Nnaji may have had to leverage their deep connections as Nollywood insiders to their advantage, Effiong has only been involved in very few movie projects, Up North, Fishbone, and the Set Up. He would still be regarded by many as an outsider.

The Black Book is likely to change that. Effiong may be new in Nollywood but he projects a hunger to learn, replicate and improve. The compulsive attention to detail is also refreshing.

Read also: The Black Book: Behind Nigeria’s film funding revolution

“I gave so much to this film, but the film gave back too. I got an education in return,” Effiong said.

Editi Effiong with the late Pat Nebo who built the set of The Black Book

But Effiong may have borrowed his ideas from a similar Hollywood movie. The plot of The Black Book reads like a script from Liam Neeson’s Cold Pursuit released in 2019. Neeson’s character Nelson ‘Nex’ Coxman lost his son to a drug cartel. He decides to seek vigilante justice.

The Black Book’s challenge from the first cut was how to set itself apart and not live in the shadow of the older movie. Movie producers borrow ideas all the time but the responsibility lies on the borrowers to create something fresh from what they have borrowed.

In the case of The Black Book, it didn’t take much of an effort to set the storyline apart, thanks to Effiong’s tendency to try new things and the rich chaos of Lagos street life, characterized by poverty, crime, corruption and an over-assertive flamboyance.

“To make The Black Book, we barged across the sea, built a road and airstrip, and blew up a house. But our biggest foe was always nature. It was a sandstorm and haze season in Kaduna, and one day was worse than the others. It was an adventure,” Effiong said in a post on X.

The Black Book had 38 new sets built from scratch. They broke down afterwards.

Paul Edima, the character played by the veteran Nollywood actor Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), is one of us, a father who loves fiercely and would not take “No” for an answer from a corrupt police force when the only son he has is labeled a kidnapper and shot in cold blood.

Paul Edima wanted to live a normal and quiet life after retiring from active military service many years ago. But he will soon discover that for men with a bloodstained past, there is no such thing as “normal”. His past will come finding him even in the remotest part of the earth he chose to start a new life.

After his son Damolola Edima is killed, Paul wanted nothing else but to give his son a befitting burial but the more he tries to move on, the evidence that there was more to the death of his son. He is also confronted with public bureaucracy and criminal police who beat him up and left him for dead in a river.

He then agreed to the persistent Vic Kalu, a journalist who had suspected foul play and was working to uncover the corruption in the system. She had the doggedness of her mother who was a past journalist.

There are many things that makes The Black Book relatable; the street thug life, the loud horns from danfo buses so poignant of a Lagos street, the street child knocking on the window of a yellow taxi asking for helps, the afrobeats jams that kicks up some of the scenes, and the two-timing owner of a newspaper attempting to cover up stories for her powerful patrons.

Read also: The Black Book: When tech founders turn Nollywood producers

“#BlackBook was fantastic! The intentionality and attention to detail in every scene,” said Timini Egbuson, a popular Nollywood actor.

But Editi’s story telling may have fallen under the trap of a few exaggerations. For instance, the senator’s description of Paul Edima’s past assassination jobs and coup participation records gives you too much to grapple with. Also, Professor Craig, who lost her son to the same killers led by the criminal mastermind Angel, claimed she had 14 failed IVF procedures before getting one successfully, only to have the child taken from her.

Editi’s storytelling is as potent as his role as directorial skills. This is particularly the case with the twist in the relationship between Paul and Vic. Vic is almost the daughter Paul never had, and since he became fatherless, he will go to lengths to protect Vic, whom he now sees as his child.

The fight scenes are believable, nothing outlandish that you will not expect from a retired well trained military man.

There are some characters that may have used a little more srentime. For example, the hired assassin Jesu who leaves many corpses behind that are pinned on Paul by the police, could have used a little more introduction. It is probably a result of the 2 hour screen time that didn’t happen.

Effiong summarizes The Black Book on Friday morning as a story which connects a forgotten past to a ruthless present.

“Everyday in Nigeria, and indeed Africa, young citizens face persecution by the systems which are meant to protect them. The powerful are often beyond the reach of civil society systems. But what happens when the corrupt system eats its own? This is the story of The Black Book.

“In telling this story, there was a deference to authenticity and simplicity, an acknowledgement that every silver lining has a dark cloud and every star was formed out of a violent darkness,” he noted.

The Black Book is currently streaming at No 1 on Netflix and is likely to stay top throughout September and into October. Effiong made a first class director announcement with his movie.