Mixed reactions have been trailing the airing of Gangs of Lagos, the first Amazon Original Movie from Africa, which starred former Big Brother Naija celebrities Tobi Bakre and Tayo Faniran. The political thriller, which was released on Amazon Prime Video on the 7th of April, also featured Nollywood stars, including Bimbo Ademoye, Adesua ‘Etomi’ Wellington, Iyabo Ojo, Chioma Apkotha, Toyin Abraham and skit maker Mr Macaroni. The list continues with star artists Chike and Zlatan Ibile making their first appearances in the acting scene and Fuji star, Pasuma, who has acted in several films in the past.
The reactions towards Gangs of Lagos, since it premiered on Amazon Prime Video on April 7th, have ranged from excitement, delight and acceptance by loyal fans to disappointment and condemnation by critics and some Lagos indigenes.
In this article, we’ll review the factors that stood out for us and outline the controversies surrounding the themes and setting of Gangs of Lagos.
What Stood Out
- Realistic fight scenes: From chopped-off ears to bloody half-limbs, and accident scenes, the violent scenes portrayed in Gangs of Lagos were quite graphic and believable. If you haven’t seen Gangs of Lagos, keep a box of tissues close by because the tears will flow. Also, if you get squeamish at the sight of blood, get ready to close your eyes. That’s how realistic the scenes were.
- Apt music selection: The array of traditional and contemporary local genres playing underground including Fuji music from the legendary Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, Juju music from the iconic King Sunny Ade, Naira Marley’s Afrobeats sound, and Chike’s Highlife soundtrack ‘On Fire’. The songs blended with appropriate scenes and did not dominate the dialogue. The song selections also trailed the movie’s progression from the 90s to the 2000s.
- Coming of age angle: Gangs of Lagos also depicted the coming-of-age stories of the three main characters (Ify, Oba and Gift) meticulously, ensuring that viewers could easily follow the story. The apparent innocence that also clung to characters such as Ify, aka Panama, inspired hope in the mind of viewers. Although the hope was dashed when Ify died in a later scene, his character gave a positive balance to the movie’s gritty overview.
What We Know
Now, as to the controversies surrounding the choice of Isale Eko as the story location and the apparent linking of ‘Eyo’ to violence and cultism, we have outlined a summary of what we know about both factors.
About Eyo and the Eyo Festival
‘Eyo’ is derived from the common Yoruba festival, Eyo Festival, which, in the past, happened in honour of deceased monarchs in Lagos State. During the festival, Eyo masquerades would dance in honour of the deceased monarch. However, the modern-day Eyo Festival also celebrates incoming or reigning monarchs. The Festival also serves as a tourist attraction that generates revenue for the Lagos State government and SMEs.
About Isale Eko/Lagos Island
Isale Eko, which translates to ‘bottom of Eko’, got its name because of its location south of the area called ‘Eko’ (later called Lagos). The story of Isale Eko is rooted in monarchy, colonial rulership, and democracy. These forms of rulership have shaped the Isale Eko that we know today.
While there’s an inseparable tie to Lagos’s intricate politics, Isale Eko is a lively city renowned for its commercial activities, historical landmarks and monuments, and the ever-present reference to classical Nigerian art and culture.
Where it Gets Fuzzy
The central motif of Gangs of Lagos revolves around politics, political godfatherism, political thuggery, and child labour, and the setting is Isale Eko (Lagos Island). While there are other supporting themes, including hope, courage, determination, and even love, you must agree that the political motif and explicit violence perpetuated by the ‘Eyo’ overshadow everything else.
The masquerade’s relevance was established at the beginning of the movie, where the main character’s father was murdered, and towards the end, it played another significant role in eliminating the character that gave the order to kill Oba’s father. But are these glaring symbolisms enough to make indigenous Lagosians outraged at the depiction of their tradition?
Although there’s a claim that origin of Eyo can be traced to early secret societies and organisations, there are no facts to link the practice to violence. So, why did the makers of Gangs of Lagos make that connection?
Considering that all Nollywood movies go through the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), is it safe to say that the board didn’t notice the perceived ‘misrepresentation’ by the movie producers Jade Osiberu and Kemi ‘Lala’ Akindoju?
It seems we aren’t the only ones pondering this angle because just a few days ago, there was a report that the Isale Eko Descendants’ Union (IDU) formally wrote to NFVCB concerning the perceived defamation of their community and respected Eyo tradition in the film.
A Creative Thriller or Reel of Half-Truths?
With a star-studded cast and exciting and equally emotional action scenes, Gangs of Lagos is undoubtedly a creative thriller. But a question persists – is the portrayal of ‘Eyo’ and ‘Isale Eko’ accurate or over the top? Does it properly represent the people of this community or their famous tradition? What do YOU think?
Let us know what you think in the comment section.