Last year, NYU graduate student Faraday Okoro became the inaugural win of the Tribeca Film Festival’s AT& T Untold Stories program, a competition designed to champion diverse artists who are underrepresented in mainstream cinema. Devoted that he’d merely previously rendered shorts, this victory was a life-altering event for the 31 -year-old New York-based Okoro, since the reward was$ 1 million to shoot his debut feature.
The only catch? He had to have it ready to premiere twelve months later at this year’s fest. And complicating matters further? His story was set in Lagos, Nigeria.
A year after procuring that prize, Okoro has fulfilled his obligation with Nigerian Prince , a saga about dislocation, estrangement, and the entails by which those in uncomfortable( and desperate) situations define their identity. And though it’s rough around the edges in spots–a likely consequence of its hurried production for the purposes of the stewardship of a relatively novice director–it’s not simply a success for having been completed; it’s a run that’s compelling and illuminating in its own right.
Nigerian Prince immerses itself in a particular criminal Nigerian underworld populated by scammers, and particularly focuses on one such individual, Pius( Chinaza Uche ), whose favorite con involves sending out those infamous spam emails from wealthy Nigerian tycoons who will induce you rich if you simply react by providing some basic personal information. As Pius says at one point, if those scams were duds, humen like him wouldn’t waste their hour perpetrating them in the first place. Still, while we hear him narrate some of those phony missives throughout the film, he’s a defraud who by and large likes to do his cheating in person. That’s born out by the amusing opening scene, in which he negotiates the sale of a Toyota sedan to a hesitant client and then, after sealing the deal, takes off with money and auto in hand.
Pius executes his devious ruses with a big smile and cheery demeanor, which help him sell himself as trustworthy. He’s a streetwise man who’s been around the block more than once, and thus the opposite of Eze( Antonio J Bell ), a Nigerian-American teen born and raised in the Nations who departs his airliner in Africa and immediately falls for an airport agent’s lie–which sets him out $10 that he only recovers thanks to the efforts of different kinds Australian hedge fund director( Craig Stott) he satisfies at luggage assert. Eze’s gullibility constructs him a ripe target in this crime-ridden world. Thus, it’s fortunate that he gale up in the care of his no-nonsense aunt Grace( Tina Mba ), in whose apartment he plans to reside for the next month.
The reason for Eze’s visit isn’t made clear until midway through Nigerian Prince , and even then, the explanation–that he’s being punished for a school oppose, and also that his mother wants him to reconnect with his Nigerian roots–feels frustratingly tossed-off. Fortunately, the film’s narrative revolves less around why Eze is in this foreign land than how he wants to cope with his situation. With spotty energy, a faulty cell phone, and no internet, Eze quickly determines himself a miserable fish out of water. And when he was found that his stay is going to be quite a bit longer than four weeks, and that neither his mama nor dad will humor his pleas to return home, he increasingly becomes enticed by the crooked career of Pius–who, it turns out, is Grace’s disreputable son.
Eze is the audience’s proxy in Nigerian Prince , the endearingly naive and displaced figure who slowly comes to learn about the day-to-day particulars of life in Lagos, which include taking baths rather than showers and lighting kerosene lamps to cope with power outages. Bell handles his role proficiently, but it’s Uche’s Pius who quickly becomes the charismatic centre of attention. In his orchestration of a black money scam alongside partner Baba( Toyin Oshinaike )– which has the duo trying to convince deceives that dark construction paper is actually American currency coated in gunk that can be removed with a special chemical concoction–Pius affords a window onto a unique illicit milieu. Not that Pius is a peerless pro; on the contrary, he’s a hustler struggling to make ends meet( hence his stealing food from his mom’s house ), and also to ensure that police captain Smart( Bimbo Manuel) is happy, since the corrupted law enforcement bigwig demands a cut from Pius’s every job. And if he doesn’t get that fund, or is double-crossed, dire punishment follows.
Co-written by Andrew Long( and executive-produced by Spike Lee, who served as Okoro’s NYU mentor ), the film can occasionally be clunky, as when Eze’s mom bluntly tells Eze,” You’re there to learn who you are, and where you’re from .” And though its esthetics are often no more competent, Okoro’s habit of situating Pius at the far edge( or in the corner) of the frame proves a subtle the ways and means of giving both his isolation( especially from his mother) and his less-than-straightforward character. Even with its$ 1 million budget, Nigerian Prince looks like a low-fi affair, which can make its storytelling feel wobbly but be enabled to capture an authentic sense of its underdeveloped settings.
More than its good-natured humor or intermittent suspense–both of which are encapsulated by an extended single take that tracks Pius through a parking lot as pursuers multiply around him–it’s newcomer Uche who truly invigorates Nigerian Prince . Not only faintly resembling Wesley Snipes but also exhibiting the star’s blend of mega-watt charm and ruthless menace, the actor is an apprehending screen presence, capable of carrying the material’s primary dramatic load without resorting to overblown or affected theatrics. He’s a naturally magnetic performer, and in a scene that features Pius breaking down in tears outside an apartment door, merely to then compose himself before anyone witnesses this moment of weakness, he situates the internal and external dichotomies at the heart of Okoro’s tale. Like Eze, his criminal ultimately seeks fleeing from his surrounds. If Hollywood were wise, it’d welcome the promising performer with open arms.
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