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Check out first photos from Biyi Bandele's 'Death and the King's Horseman'

Should we be scared? EbonyLife unveils trailer for Biyi Bandele’s Death and the King’s Horseman [Pulse Contributor’s Opinion]


I’m sure you had the same question in mind when you saw the headline. You probably hissed thinking “these people sef, their problem is too much, film wey we never see”

Sheathe your swords and keep your ammunition. I assure you, this article is from a place of love – so it won’t be negative. At least not completely.

Once upon a time in 2018, Mo Abudu, the lady extraordinaire holding the reins of the popular EbonyLife Studios announced—via her Instagram page— that her studio had acquired the rights to adapt and produce Wole Soyinka‘s all-time classic; Death and the King’s Horseman.

Later, we were made to understand that it was going to come as a Netflix Original.

I remember that this announcement was met with mixed reactions from film and theatre scholars, critics, and lovers alike. Maybe Netflix’s involvement would mean a certain level of quality and depth the industry lacks and needs, or maybe there would be another sensationalist approach, and we would hate it

There was a long list of maybes that permeated the air at the time. Now, we are only a few weeks from getting to confront them.

Death And The King’s Horseman is one of Soyinka’s most famous plays and in true Soyinka fashion, it deals with grave themes and tricky subject matters.

According to ancient Yoruba tradition, the death of the king must be followed by the ritual death of the king’s horseman. This is known as the Theory of African Tragedy — Soyinka’s 4th Stage. If this ritual isn’t done, there will be an imbalance In the cosmic world. The world of the living, the unborn and the dead.

Directed by Biyi Bandele, the filmmaker who made his directorial debut with the film adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, this is where the fear stems from.

Half of a Yellow Sun was not a great adaptation of the source material, and this left literati who saw the film outraged at the execution of the adapted material.

Tom Bond, a critic on Rotten Tomatoes, said in his critique of the 2013 film, “There’s nothing terrible about Half of a Yellow Sun, but not much good either. A powerful novel has been neutered.”

Kate Muir, another critic said, “Director Biyi Bandele adapted the book, which was superb and gut-wrenching, but the film turns turgid and shies away from showing the true horrors of the war and is the poorer for it.”

In Half of a Yellow Sun, the plot goes everywhere and nowhere all at once, coming across as a disconnected series of events rather than a unified whole. The actors offer solid but unexceptional performances, as though hampered by the director’s lack of vision.

All critical observations honoured, the result is unanimous: Half of a Yellow Sun is just not good enough for a historical drama.

Now, when handling material with so many theories and complexity as Death of the King’s Horseman, there’s great fear in the hearts of serious movie lovers. We simply do not want another Half of a Yellow Sun — another film that shies away from the many strengths of the source materials.

The little drops of negative reviews of the film later formed an ocean that is enough to drown any glimmer of hope that you may have for the filmmaker — if he dares try his hands on any adaptation again!

Just like Half of A Yellow Sun, Soyinka’s source material is historical, nuanced and has to be married with all these historical idiosyncrasies—not like that’s everything needed— to shine.

The secondary source of the fear is the production studio: EbonyLife Studios. In recent times, Mo Abudu and her multimillion dollar studio have been subjected to scathing criticism due to the creative deficiencies evident in loads of their movies (Insert Chief Daddy 2). It seems numerous people are beginning to lose hope that anything sublime will come out of the studio’s disposal.

Now, with the trailer out, more fears are starting to get confirmed. They are no longer assumptions —truly, something might be wrong.

The glossy look from the trailer lacks the proper cinematic look for a period piece, and Elesin’s beard looks like it is made by year one theatre students with no proper experience in makeup and special effects. Why is Odunlade Adekola the lead actor, whatever happened to the veteran, Peter Fatomilola? Why is the language seemingly watery? If you are familiar with the source material, you’d know that the trailer already gave away the entire plot.

All these realizations make the future of the film very scary.

However, despite these fears, the film is proud to become the First Yoruba-language movie to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey said, “It was a pleasure to see Soyinka’s words and his mastery of tragic drama transformed into cinema. Odunlade Adekola gives a grand, impressive performance.”

These give rays of sunshine that may burn better, at least it’s not half. This movie better be good or —just like Soyinka postulated in his 4th Stage theory— there would be chaos in the world — The literary world.

Disclaimer: This article is the opinion of a Pulse Contributor, it doesn’t reflect the opinions of the company.

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