Interrogating Kunle Afolayan’s ‘The CEO’ as a contemporary parable – Toni Kan (#Throwback)
In the wake of Kunle Afolayan’s world press conference to announce the take off of his latest movie project, Citation, which features an eclectic and international cast thelagosreview brings you a throwback review of his hit movie The CEO which also featured an eclectic and international cast.
Most great movies are defined, maybe, propelled, more like, by the trifecta of tropes, stereotypes and archetypes.
These continue to recur and define three of the movies made by Kunle Afolayan, from Figurine to October 1st and now The CEO.
The other English language movie from his oeuvre, Phone Swap,
even though evincing elements of the trifecta, is eliminated from consideration
because it is a comedy.
Kunle Afolayan, son of Ade Love has produced 5 feature length
movies in the space of 10 years.
Four years earlier in an interview with this writer, Mr.
Afolayan had scoffed at the use of the term, new Hollywood, which now seems
ironic because he has become the poster boy of that new Nollywood, a term that
encapsulates what Nollywood should aspire to, big budget features with
international collaborations and superior technical quality.
To return now to the trifecta; Mr. Afolayan’s recent movie, The CEO rides the trope of Reality TV to deliver a masterful movie. The premise is simple and familiar to every cable TV subscriber.
TransWire, a telecom company with footprints across the African continent is seeking to replace a recently departed CEO. Five top executives are picked from across Africa to take part in a strategy boot camp run by Dr. Zimmerman, a very wooden Angelique Kidjo, who is clearly in the movie just for her star wattage
The five are Kola, a Nigerian who, to continue with the Reality
TV analogy, would approximate to, considering his carefree and blasé attitude,
Ebuka, quaffing Guinness stout in the first edition of Big Brother to grace our
screens in Nigeria.
There is Eloise, the Ivorian, with a sick husband. She is
reluctant to take up the challenge but prodded by her husband, she comes to
Nigeria where an indiscretion leads to tragedy.
Jomo is Kenyan. An inveterate gambler, he has been filching
money from his company’s account. Scared of being found out, Jomo’s paranoia
leads to tragedy.
Yasmine is French. Based in Nigeria, she has been fingered in a
deal gone sour and the authority’s interest in her leads to disastrous
Riikard is the South African wunderkind. Cocky and without a
care, he says he is in it to win it.
And then there is the talented Lala Akindoju, who despite flying
under the radar as the mousy HR executive, delivers a wallop by movie end.
But the winner of it all is the Nollywood returnee, Hilda Dokubo
fresh from a tour of duty as a government appointee. Her police detective role
is invigoratingly flesh and recalls not just Sadiq Daba’s Inspector Waziri character
in October 1 but also Frances McDormand’s pregnant detective character in the
Coen brothers’ vehicle, Fargo.
It is proof of Dokubo’s star power and superior talent that even though she delivers almost all her lines sitting down, she still grabs our attention solely on account of her voice and facial expressions. When she says ‘Sit your yansh down’ one can feel the weight of exasperation and authority colliding as one.
The most obvious trope is that of the Reality TV, while the
characters’ bear out various stereotypes; the swashbuckling Nigerian with arms
thrust out as if he owns the universe, the cocky South African with a chip on
his shoulders, the flirty French charmer sleeping her way to the top, the hard
drinking Kenyan and submissive francophone African wife.
But it is the archetype that drives the movie and which will leave the discerning viewer seeing the three movies as an extended meditation on the contemporary human condition, one that is not obviated by his casual references to our deepest existential and primordial fears.
The three movies are defined by a quest, a seeking-after something and there is always a culprit or killer hiding in plain sight. Kunle Afolayan also manages to throw in a dash of the supernatural, which begins, usually, almost as a practical joke but with deadly consequences; the figurine that keeps appearing, the X carved into the chest of the female victims in October 1 and the game of musical chairs with losers losing their lives in The CEO.
The questions are always there; where is the figurine coming
from; what does the X mean and how are the deaths related to the game of
As Africans, the temptation is always there to explain away the
conundrum as a supernatural occurrence, a fetish consequence. And it is easy to
see why. Kunle Afolayan, the son of Ade Love grew up steeped in the Nigerian
movie tradition of the supernatural and the fetish. In his movies, there is
always a nod to that atavistic essence but it is a homage paid with a wink. His
audience is being had and he is complicit in the deception.
What now emerges is a movie that adopts a very modern trope in
explicating an archetype as old as antiquity. The CEO is both Reality
TV and yet a philosophical treatise and business primer that could very well be
required viewing in business school. It riffs not just on ethics and
professionalism, leadership and responsibility but also on public relations and
Dr. Zimmerman is unto something when she says “idealism and
pragmatism are not birds of the same feather.”
But it is Wale Ojo as Kola who has all the best lines from
“Oyibo, you are not my broda,” to his sharp riposte to Dr Zimmerman which
elicited applause to wit: “the CEO must be able to keep what he does
in the boardroom separate from the bedroom.”
In proving his progressive mettle, Kunle Afolayan, as he did in Figurine and October 1, shows again that we remain prisoners so long as we allow ourselves to be shackled by our primordial fears; a sentiment that is echoed by Riikard when he says “I don’t believe the psychobabble crap.”
Set in the idyllic locale of Inagbe resort, there is, aside the obvious thematic similarities already mentioned, a noticeable similarity in the pacing of his movie. The pace of Kunle Afolayan’s movies is often sedate and languid but never languorous.
And then there is the Chinese angle. Napoleon once wrote: ‘LetChina sleep, for when she wakes she willshake the world.” That day is
here and Afolayan, in putting Cantonese in the mouth of Kola (Wale Ojo), is
signposting an imminent reality, a time when Cantonese or Mandarin would become
the language of business even in Africa.
Kunle Afolayan has delivered another major movie in
The CEO, which he is marketing as a Pan-African movie and deep within
the core of his continuing success as a Nigerian filmmaker lies
the challenge for Mr. Afolayan because for his next movie project to grab
the attention of the discerning viewer who is now on to him, our director must
His next movie must pack a punch and distance himself from what
is beginning to appear like a template.