The Black Book, the action thriller on Netflix from Anakle Films, has made cinematic history. It’s the first Nigerian-made film to soar to the global top three on the platform, with a staggering 20 million viewers and a presence on the top 10 lists in over 69 countries.
The Black Book tells the story of Paul Edima, a seemingly mild-mannered deacon living a normal life with his son. But when his offspring is falsely accused of a high-profile kidnapping and brutally disposed of by crooked cops, Paul taps into his dubious and highly-trained past to avenge his son’s death.
Director Editi Effiong isn’t surprised by the action movie’s success. “I remember telling my crew that if we do what we’re supposed to, this film will be global; the world is gonna see this film.”
Not only does Effiong have big aspirations for the future of African film and its storytellers, a tradition passed down from grandmothers in the circle, but he’s also ready for movies made in the motherland to receive the highest honors in cinema.
EBONY: The Black Book is a Netflix Top 10 worldwide! How does it feel to achieve this honor?
Editi Effiong: After we released the film on a Friday, I was at dinner with my writer, and they called me to say, “Your film is number four globally.” That was the first call. I’m excited not just for the opportunities for us as a studio but for Nigeria and African storytelling going forward.
What inspired Paul’s journey and his unique set of skills?
Before the advent of democracy in 1999, Nigeria was under a military dictatorship. There were killing squads in Nigeria—they were disbanded—but those men still live among regular people. People today don’t know who they are. It was a question of where are those men and who they could be. What if someone killed the son of one of these guys who was a hitman back in the day? What would that person do? That is the inspiration for the story.
At its core, The Black Book is a story of a man seeking redemption for his innocent son and reconciling his past. Is that why it’s had such an impact on audiences worldwide?
Art is a very important tool in shaping society. We need to tell stories that unite us and have a positive influence on society. I think the world is connected to The Black Book because they see all the emotions they experience in their own countries that are not often seen in Hollywood pictures. I remember my editor asking if this story reaches a global audience, can they connect with this kind of expressive emotion? That is a very African thing. People may not grieve the same way. But they understand the meaning of loss. A viewer shared that The Black Book is the story of Pakistan. And South America. I see how this human emotional story has connected with so many people worldwide. I am so happy to have had the privilege to tell the story.
Can you share a bit about your directing style?
I wanted people to sit inside the story and go on an emotional journey. However, there are points I don’t want them to be able to control. When people are in a story, they want to feel they have a sense of control over where the story is going. When Paul’s son is killed, that scene is shot very differently from the rest of the film. You’re taken out and put on the story’s edge. I want you to feel helpless because you want to save this boy, but you can not. Once that is done, we put you back in the action. And then there’s the use of sound and music. I love using music to immerse people completely in what is happening. At the film’s end, I want people to be silent, so we take the music up and then drop—go to black.
Richard Mofe-Damijo, who plays Paul, kicks butt in this film! Did he do his own stunts?
He was so committed to the story. He did a lot of his stunts, yes. There’s a scene where he is literally hanging, tied by the wrist and suspended. We had a stunt double, and he said, “No.” He trained and dieted for about 13 months. He worked with a marine to train with weapons and learned Judo throws to ensure that he would do the fighting himself.
How did you finance the The Black Book?
I worked in tech, and a lot of people who are tech founders are personal friends. So it was just knocking on different doors and saying we’re doing this thing, and it’s quite big, so come on board. I’m the biggest investor because I always believed African stories could be on equal footing worldwide. If we put more funding into African films, we can win Oscars: Best Picture. How do I know it? The Black Book is a film with all Black characters made by Black people, 100 percent Nigerian money, 100 percent African money and 100 percent Black money. And it’s one of the biggest films of the year. It’s a blockbuster by every standard and cost just $1 million. So the question is, what if we expanded and gave more budget to our films? Then what can we do? It’s limitless. We’re limitless. And we’re not the only tree in this forest. There are other filmmakers and storytellers with incredible stories for a global audience. Our job is to build a platform not just for ourselves but for other filmmakers to be able to tell their stories to the world.
What’s next for Paul? Will there be a Black Book sequel?
We’ve created a global superstar out of an African picture. Richard doesn’t need to be in Hollywood; he can get into a film in Brazil and South Korea. He’s recognizable. Beyond that, it truly means that an African picture can compete globally. How do we ensure that we fund the next generation of African stories? How do we ensure access to new markets now that we’ve proved that African pictures can compete? How do you ensure we create that quality for the world in a way that has never been done before? That’s what is very important to me as the bigger picture.
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