Mo Abudu Brings Nigerian Literary Classics to Life for Netflix

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Netflix has signed a major deal with the award-winning producer, Mo Abudu, to bring two Nigerian literary classics to life, writes Ferdinand Ekechukwu

American streaming giant Netflix has partnered with film producer Mo Abudu/EbonyLife to bring two literary classics to life. The two critically acclaimed novels by award-winning Nigerian authors — Wole Soyinka‘s “Death and the King’s Horseman“, and Lola Shoneyin‘s “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives”, are being adapted into on-screen works and set to premiere on the streaming platform. Lola Shoneyin’s debut novel, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives,” published 2010, will be developed into a television series, and Wole Soyinka’s 1975 play, “Death and the King’s Horseman,” will be adapted into a film.

Netflix added that through her production company EbonyLife, Abudu will “produce two new Nigerian originals plus licensed films and a series”. One of the unnamed projects will premiere on the platform later in the year. Lola Shoneyin’s “Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” details the struggles of women as well as the practice of polygamy in Nigeria. The novel was listed for the 2011 Orange Prize. It won the 2011 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award and two Association of Nigerian Authors’ Awards. While Wole Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman” is based on a real incident that took place in Nigeria during British colonial rule in which the horseman of a Yoruba King was prevented from committing ritual suicide by the colonial authorities.

In addition to the British intervention, Soyinka calls the horseman’s own conviction toward suicide into question, posing a problem that throws off the community’s balance. Mo Abudu shared a post on social media, where she talked about Professor Wole Soyinka being her first guest on her talk show, “Moments with Mo”, in 2006 before revealing that she had spent a long time trying to acquire the rights to Soyinka’s literary work, “Death and The King’s Horseman”. Five years later, Mo Abudu is grateful for the opportunity to bring this epic play to life with Netflix, and she thanks Wole Soyinka for trusting her with it.

Reacting to the newly commissioned adaptations, Wole Soyinka said: “In a creative industry which, even in pioneering countries, is so male dominated, it is always a delight to see robust challenges offered by the female gender, and of attestable quality. Mo Abudu’s incursion into this arena as film and television producer has been especially stimulating. It becomes part of one’s sense of achievement, if one has contributed, however minutely, to the creation of an enabling environment.”

For the executive producer of “Chief Daddy, Wedding Party 1 & 2, Fifty, Castle & Castle” among others, the need to create authentic Nigerian stories has motivated her filmmaking style over the years.

“As a Nigerian storyteller, my biggest motivator has always been to tell authentic and untold stories that resonate with every person, regardless of where they’re from in the world while showcasing our culture, heritage and creativity,” Abudu said, adding, “this unprecedented partnership is a testament to the Netflix’s investment in African storytelling and we at EbonyLife are grateful and excited about the opportunity to work together with the Netflix teams led by Dorothy and Ben to deliver a slate of unique and riveting stories from Nigeria over the next few years for Netflix audiences around the world.”

On her part, Shoneyin acknowledged the opportunity to have her work adapted on-screen, saying, “I was thrilled when Mo contacted me about making a show out of my novel. I’d turned down so many offers but this one felt right. It was an opportunity to see my work in the hands of a woman who pursued excellence in Africa in the same way that I did. I grew to trust her very quickly, so when she told me about the possibility of working with Netflix, I was overjoyed. Soon, people everywhere will have access to the story of Baba Segi, and that is more that I could have asked for as a writer.”

Netflix’s lead for original series in Africa, Dorothy Ghettuba in a statement said: “Mo is at the forefront of creative storytelling in African television.

Her passion for creating high-quality, riveting multi-genre films and TV shows that capture the imagination while showcasing the diversity and richness of Nigerian culture is evident in her impressive body of work. We’re thrilled about this first-of-its-kind partnership in Africa that will bring some of Nigeria – and Africa’s most iconic storytelling to screen. We look forward to supporting Mo as she brings all these diverse Nigerian stories to the world.”

Since becoming a household name in the 2000s with her daytime talk show “Moments with Mo,” Abudu has become one of the most popular names in Nigerian entertainment. In 2018, EbonyLife struck a three-series deal with Sony Pictures Television, with the first project set to tell the story of the female warriors of the ancient West African kingdom of Dahomey. The Netflix deal comes just a few months after Netflix launched “Netflix Naija” and also announced that the first Nigerian Original Series is in the pipeline, although not giving away any details until recently. The deal also follows just months after Netflix partnered with British-Nigerian actor, John Boyega’s UpperRoom Productions for a slate of three features, two from Nigeria and one from Egypt.