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The Nigerian filmmaker reshaping Nollywood in her own image

When Amazon Prime Video was looking to enter the Nollywood film industry, once billed as the second largest in the world, the American streaming platform went to Jade Osiberu, a successful writer, producer and director.

An early result of this collaboration is Gangs of Lagos, a violent gangster drama that is billed as Prime Video’s first original on the continent.

Gangs of Lagos debuted in April to wide acclaim and entered the top three on Amazon Prime Video’s global chart. It is the story of Lagos writ large, albeit one that zeroes in on Isale Eko, an influential neighborhood in the old city district.

Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial and entertainment capital, is often glamorised as a city of energy and entrepreneurial hustle. But that narrative often sidelines the city’s poverty and organised criminal activity routinely weaponised by local politicians to serve selfish interests.

Gangs of Lagos, which, Osiberu told Al Jazeera, was inspired by the gangster classics of American directors Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, does this but also celebrates the culture, heritage and resilience of the people who inhabit this world.

“I always knew I wanted to tell a story about a child growing up in this world who is not able to get out,” Osiberu, 38, said.

Nigerian filmmaker Jáde Osiberu
Nigerian filmmaker Jade Osiberu [Courtesy of Greoh Studios]

To create a hyperrealistic version of Isale Eko, she worked with screenwriter Kayode Jegede, an Isale Eko native who brought authenticity and colour to the fictional version.

Not everyone was pleased by this representation, though.

In an early scene in Gangs, a character disguised as an Eyo masquerade – an important cultural tradition believed by the Yorubas to represent the spirit of the dead – commits murder in broad daylight. A voice-over narrator then describes the Eyo as “the first gang in Lagos”.

Some indigenes and descendants of Isale Eko have accused Osiberu and her film of disparaging their culture.

Even the Lagos state government stepped into the controversy. Its Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture decried the film as depicting a gang of rampaging murderers in the state. “It is an unjust profiling of a people and culture as being barbaric and nefarious,” its said in a statement.

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