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Hooray for Nollywood

NOLLYWOOD IDOL: Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde stars in director Obi Emelonye’s hughly anticipated new film, Last Flight to Abuja, which premieres at London’s Troxy Cinema this week

SHE HAS been hailed as the Beyoncé Knowles of the Nigerian entertainment industry. And with a plethora of credits to her name, it’s perhaps no wonder.

Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde has starred in hundreds of Nollywood films and she also boasts a successful music career, which has got many in Africa talking about her.

Such is the appeal of the Nigerian star that she has been fondly dubbed by her fans as ‘Omosexy’ [sexy child], and she has more than 65,000 of them following her on Twitter.

Suffice to say, the 34-year-old has come a long way since starting out as a model in her teens. She recalls her introduction to the acting world.

“I escorted a friend to an audition where they were casting for a movie,” says Jalade-Ekeinde. “My friend did not get the role but she encouraged me to try it out.”

Her first movie appearance was in Venom of Justice in 1995 but it was her fourth movie, the Nollywood hit, Mortal Inheritance, where she played a sickle-cell patient who fights for love that earned her widespread recognition.

The film won her several awards and is regarded by many as one of the best Nollywood movies ever made.

However, Jalade-Ekeinde admits that this success left her feeling underwhelmed.

“At the time, I actually did not feel excited because in 1995, the [Nollywood] movie industry was not as it is now. It was not big, it was not exciting, and there was not anything major about it. It was more like a burden than a blessing at the time.”

However, over a decade later, things have changed. Nollywood now churns out about 2,000 films each year, with revenues of $250 million (£160 million) a year.

Jalade-Ekeinde’s latest offering Last Flight to Abuja, from acclaimed Nigerian director Obi Emelonye, marks a new direction for Nollywood. Based on a series of aviation incidents in Nigeria in 2006 that left hundreds dead, the film’s budget of $500,000 (£300,000) makes it one of the most expensive Nigerian films ever made.

The production team hopes that its star cast, including Hotel Rwanda actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim, will expose Nigerian films to a wider audience.

“As the name connotes, Last Flight to Abuja is about a journey by air and some intrigue that happens on board,” says Jalade-Ekeinde who joined the rest of the film’s cast at the Troxy in London last week for the film’s UK premier.


ALL SMILES: On the set of Last Flight to Abuja

“You have individual stories and they all meet on the plane. I play Fizzy and I have my own story. I get on that same flight which is the last flight to [Nigerian capital] Abuja.”

Ironically, the actress is married to an airline pilot, Capt. Matthew Ekeinde. But she says her character’s story in the film isn’t a case of art imitating life.

“In this movie, I am not married to or dating the pilot,” she laughs. “I am just one of the passengers.”

Apart from being one of the most recognisable Nollywood actresses of all time, she is also a successful singer and is involved in extensive charity work in and out of Nigeria.

Believing in the ethos of giving back, Jalade-Ekeinde does just that through her charity work as an Ambassador for Amnesty International, and through her foundation, the Omotola Youth Empowerment Project (OYEP), which she established in 2005.

“Our dream is to encourage young people to be focused and to have value.”

Her phenomenal success in Africa and beyond has brought her to the attention of large organisations around the world. Last year, she was given the red carpet treatment at the Grammy Awards, becoming the first Nigerian actress to ever be given the opportunity.

“The Grammy board actually hosted me, which a lot of people did not notice. It was more than walking the red carpet. They listened to my music and liked what I represented.”

Strangely though, Jalade-Ekeinde admitted she’s not a fan of her own singing voice.
“I don’t like the sound of my own voice,” she says with a laugh. “I really can’t take it! So sometimes I find it really difficult when people say they like this or like that about me.”

Despite her stardom, the mother-of-four is able to balance her successful career with a stable home life.

“I got married at 18 and my family supports me 100 per cent, which allows me to go out there to do what I am supposed to do. The older ones are in boarding school and the youngest is still at home. My husband helps me to take him to school in the morning.”

She continues: “Some of my colleagues that I started out with are no longer in the industry. So I am thankful to God that I am still here in spite of everything I have gone through like marriage and having four kids in front of the viewing public.

“People are still accepting me and my craft, and I feel very grateful and thankful that I am still here.”

Considering the key to her success, she says: “Focus and a lot of hard work. People might not always get you and [success] is easy to tear down than to build. It is easy for people to say [negative] things about you, so you have to be strong so those things do not affect you.
“You also have to love what you do and most importantly, you really have to be close to God especially in this industry, where you can easily lose your head.”

4Last Flight to Abuja premieres at Troxy Cinema, London E1 on June 8. For more information visit
www.lastflighttoabujamovie.com

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