Two African Classics to Feature on Netflix: Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and Wole Soyinka’s Death and The King’s Horseman
Two African classics, Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and Wole Soyinka’s Death and The King’s Horseman, will feature on Netflix. In 2018, it was revealed that EbonyLife TV had acquired the rights to Death and The King’s Horseman. The founder of EbonyLife Studios, Mo Abudu, said during the 2018 announcement, “EbonyLife Films has acquired the rights to make this incredible work into a feature film for global distribution.”
The recent announcement about the adaption of the two African classics was made by Netflix Nigeria, the Nigerian arm of the online streaming platform, on June 12, 2020. It is not surprising that Netflix Naija is partnering with Nigerian media mogul Mo Abudu, recognised by Forbes Africa as the first woman to own a pan-African movie channel, to adapt both books into movies. EbonyLife Studios produced The Wedding Party, which has become the highest-grossing title of all time in the Nigerian film industry.
While this partnership comes after the successful re-release of the Nigerian classic Living in Bondage and AY-produced Merry Men, this is the first time Netflix Naija is signing multiple deals at once with a Nigerian/African production company.
We, at Elsieisy, are excited about this great addition to an ever-growing number of African novels to cross over into the motion picture and television industry over the years: Jacqui L’Ange’s The Seed Thief; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah; Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation; Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls; Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death?; Kpano Matlwa’s Coconut; Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other; and Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King.
Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman is a fictional account of a real-life event in colonial Nigeria: the horseman of a Yoruba king has trouble fulfilling the royal duty of ritual suicide. It was performed at London’s Royal National Theater in April 2009 and a Yoruba translation at the National Theatre, Lagos.
Wole Soyinka is a literary giant in the African literary scene seeing. In 1986, he became the first black African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Death and the King’s Horseman is a play based on a real incident that occurred in Nigeria during British colonial rule. The play, which was written by Soyinka in Cambridge when he was in political exile from Nigeria in 1975, focuses on how the horseman of a Yoruba King was prevented from committing ritual suicide by the colonial authorities.
This is not the first time Soyinka’s work will be adapted to films. His 1965 play Kongi’s Harvest was brought to the big screen in a movie directed by the American Ossie Davis. Also, the author’s 1981 memoir, Ake: The Years of Childhood, was adapted into a film directed by Nigerian Dapo Adeniyi.
Lola Shoneyin’s debut novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, a gripping, exciting, eye-opening novel on polygamy in modern-day Nigeria, was published in 2010. Since its publication, the novel, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, has been adapted several times on the stage. One of such adaptations, written by Rotimi Babatunde, has been staged at the Ake Festival in Abeokuta, in Lagos, Nigeria, and London, UK more than once. There is also an impressive adaptation, a one-woman show by Maimouna Jallow, which has been seen on stages across the world.
This announcement is a huge milestone for African literature, and we hope to see more African literary texts adapted into the big screen.