By Ayọ̀délé Ìbíyẹmí
KING of Boys: Return of the King, the sequel to Kemi Adetiba’s 2018 blockbuster, King of Boys, arrived as a 7-part series on Netflix, the streaming platform, on August 27, 2021.
The welcoming committee was composed of a large expectant audience, who had been anticipating a follow-up to the political/ gangsta thriller that grossed over N450million at the box office three years ago.
Naturally, the series sparked uproarious conversations on social media.
Eniola Salami, the rambunctious lead character played by Sola Sobowale, returns from exile after being cleared of previous charges and she declares her intention to contest for the Lagos State Gubernatorial seat. The series chronicles the intrigues that surround her return to the country and her ambition. Election seasons are usually eventful in Nigeria and this is what the movie details.
The criminal syndicate in this fictional Lagos is a well-oiled machine. Salami is the king of an organised crime table where major decisions are made and political leaders are elected. The optics are more than a little concerning as they prompt the question: Are Nigeria’s criminal and political establishments this intertwined in real life?
Ms. Adetiba jogs our collective memory of the dastardliest events in Nigeria’s national life by creating relatable parallel events in the movie. The journalist who was doing a story to expose Mrs. Salami’s criminal past was sent a letter bomb which killed the office janitor. This is a reference to the gruesome murder of Dele Giwa, the widely respected Nigerian journalist, in 1986. Poor masses are like toys in the hands of both the wealthy and the powerful criminal bosses. Alhaja Salami is a Robin Hood figure, popular among society’s losers. The movie references the criminal syndicate’s connection to the illegal drug business but Alhaja Salami’s connection is only hinted at when she meets with the president. While the drug business is important to the story, it is not foregrounded.
The casting of King of Boys: Return of the King reflects a diverse mix of some of Nollywood’s most acclaimed actors as well as also rans. Despite winning an AMAA for Best Supporting actress, the character of Adesua Etomi Wellington had died in the sequel but several new entrants into the story all came with award-winning performances. Richard Mofe Damijo portrays Reverend Ifeanyi, a typical Nigerian ‘Man of God’ who loves money and the trappings of power but does not want to publicly endorse a candidate for the elections. Nse Ikpe Etim has delivered stunning performances in the past but she outdoes herself in her portrayal of Jumoke Randle, the first lady of Lagos State. Efa Iwara is used to further the trope of the passionate journalist who is obsessed with his job. Besides not having mob ties in real life, Charles ‘Charly Boy’ Oputa simply went into the movie to be himself, scary and eccentric. Taiwo Ajayi Lycett is a natural in the portrayal of the matriarch of the Randle family. Bimbo Manuel seems to be enjoying his role as a senior journalist with hot-headed reporters and he plays this role in this series and Tunde Kelani’s Ayinla.
The other characters returned to the series to beat their previous performance in the sequel. Akin Lewis is one of Nollywood’s biggest ‘Big man’ actors and he brought his A-game into his role as Aare Akinwande, as he did in the prequel. illBliss Goretti and Remilekun ‘Reminisce’ Safaru are both rappers who already depict the Gangsta life in most of their careers so their portrayal of underground crime bosses is a way of finding expression for their careers.
Sola Sobowale deserves another award for her portrayal of Alhaja Eniola Salami in the series and as the series builds up, she improves so much that it becomes difficult, if not impossible to think of any other actress in the industry who can play the role better than she has done. Meanwhile, Toni Tones, as the younger (and more evil) version of the Eniola Salami character, is considerably feisty and passionate. The inner dialogues that Eniola has with her young self comes on the screen often, with the younger Eniola tormenting the older self. This feature is a very important part of the story and it qualifies it as a psychological thriller. The dialogue between the two characters is well written and could qualify as a radio play on its own. Sola Sobowale’s lines are also witty and filled with Yoruba proverbs and post proverbial. Odogwu Malay, Odudubariba, and other Igbo characters also use the Igbo language in the movie. This use of indigenous languages does not take from the merit of the movie as the cinematography is enough to push the story and the subtitle is perfect.
One thing that director Adetiba did better than the casting is the sound scoring. The chants and songs were composed for the movie with some classical songs scattered in appropriate places. It was not surprising to see that Bayo Adepetun, a medical doctor by training but a legendary sound producer is in charge of the music.
Typically, Gangsta movies are expensive and difficult to make because of representation issues. Adetiba is careful in representing people and groups in this movie but she still does well to portray everyone fairly. She also uses subtlety and minor characters to push the plot. Notable is also the movie’s strong female leads. The lead character, Eniola Salami is a female king of boys, Jumoke Randle is the powerful first lady who has more power and ambition than her husband and the governor’s mother is also a powerful aristocrat.
It is impressive watching strong female characters with real power and not just characters who use sex as a bargaining chip. Governance in the movie’s Nigeria is rescued from the sleaze that marked it by the character of Nurudeen Gobir, the incorruptible Director of NCCC, the state anti-corruption organization.
The movie’s plot is resolved and the series is concluded when Makanaki is crowned the King of the crime table, with Eniola Salami set to resume her role as the Governor of Lagos State. Makanaki says ‘You rule from above, I rule from below’, noting the relationship between the political leaders and the underworld.
Still, a few things need more clarity. Some resolutions are unclear and the plot becomes jumpy in some instances. There are also too many subplots that are not necessary but considering that it is a series, it is understandable that it needs to be lengthened. The plot also has a hole as there are no enough details on Eniola Salami’s dealings with the president. One wonders how she was able to help him win a national election while she struggled to hold on to her own state. Also, some of the other members of the crime table are ill-fitting and they constantly overacted, giving an unconvincing performance. For real Gangsta leaders, they looked too jumpy. One also wonders why there was no Deputy Governor figure in the movie since it is an election season staple in Nigeria.
Generally, movie sequels and series are not things that Nollywood has done properly, seeing Kemi Adetiba deliver a stunning sequel is delightful. After the credits scene, there is a hint at a new season. The lady who follows Makanaki around is shown to be pregnant, hinting that he would flout the warning given to him by the oracles he consulted to not have a child. Kemi Adetiba also responded to some fans on social media that there will be a prequel detailing the story of young Eniola Salami.
Ms. Adetiba has won significant social media following for the movie and this is not out of place for movies with strong leads. King of Boys has its own merchandise and the fans are called KOBArmy. Expectedly, the movie uses a lot of popular culture references, and a lot of popular phrases are used by Toni Tones, who portrayed young Eniola Salami. This is a movie that is relevant and when things eventually change in Nigeria, it would still be relevant. It would then be seen as a testament to Nigeria’s sordid past.
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