Home Celebrity The Mo Effect: How a sole film executive became Nollywood

The Mo Effect: How a sole film executive became Nollywood

The latest update netting Mo Abudu’s Hollywood growing network is a multi-title film and television deal with Westbrook, a subsidiary of Westbrook Incorporation co-owned by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Abudu is in partnership with the Smiths via her production house EbonyLife Media, which will co-produce a slate of films and shows telling stories of the African continent by the African continent.

‘’We are thrilled to be working with a best-in-class producer like Mo and her EbonyLife team, to tell stories that uniquely celebrate African characters, perspectives and resonate with fans of great film and television around the world,’’ said Westbrook Studios SVP, Head of International TV & Film, Eli Shibley.

One might think Abudu’s dominance in Nollywood started in the 90s or earlier when major indigenous producers like Kenneth Nnebue, Teco Benson and Tade Ogidan were steering the wheels of the direct-to-video era. Although Mo’s track record doesn’t trace back to that period, her bold body of work and appearances blazons the unmatched surfeit of work she has produced over the last decade.

Beginning with a syndicated talk show, ‘Moments with Mo’, Abudu gave Africa its own undiluted platform to converse and explore the rich aesthetics of the continent. The talk show was an unleashed dream born out of a desire to help project Africa in its truest form.

‘’My passion to help change the narrative about Africa began to grow as far back as when I was a teenager living in the UK, schooling in Tunbridge Wells in Kent, a town that had just a few blacks at the time. As I have said many times in the past, here, I had to learn to stand up for myself, to defend my identity and my race in an environment where you continually got asked the most ridiculous and mind-boggling questions like ‘Do you guys live in trees and holes in Africa?’ ‘Do you guys dance around fires?’ ‘What do you eat for breakfast?’ Very ignorant questions. Those sorts of questions could either make or break your spirit but I was very determined that I was going to stay strong,’’ Abudu disclosed to Forbes in 2015, when she was named Africa’s most successful woman.

Mo Abudu interviews Christine Lagarde (then MD of the International Monetary Fund)

The concept behind the talk show naturally sunk in the hearts and minds of the African populace, prompting spin offs into other African countries. In its ninth year of existence, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and the headquartered country, Nigeria were all under the ‘Moments’ umbrella, helping shape the African narrative.

‘’As ‘Moments with Mo’ enters its 9th year, we are excited to see the ‘Moments with Mo’ brand expand across the continent of Africa in what we have called ‘Moments’. So now you have ‘Moments Nigeria’, ‘Moments South Africa’, ‘Moments Ghana’, and ‘Moments Kenya’, airing across the continent on EbonyLife TV,’’ Abudu said.

At such time, the ‘Chief Daddy’ executive was thought by many to have reached her peak in mainstream television – a talk show that everybody was glued to. Little did we know, Abudu’s sleeve was needling extra garments for a big roll out.

Intercepting the clichéd narratives that emboldened Nollywood’s television frame, Abudu transitioned into television production, staging shows that allowed African stories to grasp the best view point of what and how modern-day Africa looks like.

Popular shows such as ‘The Governor’, ‘Fifty’, ‘Sons of the Caliphate’ and ‘Castle & Castle’ are among the body of work stationed under EbonyLife TV. Aside their commercial success in Nollywood, impressive reviews have accompanied them. IMDb rates ‘Fifty’ 8.3/10 while ‘Sons of the Caliphate’ averaged 7.2/10.

Spinning the wheels to the big screen, the relentless powerhouse orchestrated a film hub scouting devastating societal troubles such as human trafficking in ‘Oloture’, social misjudgments in ‘The Wedding Party 1 and 2’, polygamy gone wrong in ‘Chief Daddy’, love and living it in ‘The Royal Hibiscus Hotel’, the complexities of African women in ‘Fifty’ and in ‘Your Excellency’, a satirical comedy about politics in Nigeria.

Omoni Oboli, Mo Abudu, Dakore Egbuson-Akande, Iretiola Doyle and Nse Ikpe-Etim at the premiere of ‘Fifty’ at the London Film Festival 

On the top five list of highest grossing films in Nigeria, ‘The Wedding Party 1 and 2’ place second and third with individual totals of N453,000,000 and N433,197,377 respectively. ‘Chief Daddy’ shelters at number four with N387,540,749. ‘Fifty’ which currently tallies at Number twenty-one on the list, was in the year of its release the highest grossing film N87,030,500 (2015).

Mo Abudu at the premiere of ‘The Royal Hisbiscus Hotel’ at Toronto International Film Festival

With all these pictures available to watch on Netflix, Abudu’s trophy on the local scene bangs forever mainstream. Despite the multitude of cinemas in Nigeria, the industry’s global penetration for the past years have relied on digital servers. Familiar with the new age of Nollywood is Netflix, the world’s most subscribed streaming service.

In 2020, the streaming platform officially launched its presence in Nigeria. Out of it, Abudu scored multi-title film and television deals in June amidst the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.

In the pipeline is a film adaptation of ‘Death and the Kings Horseman’ a play by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, and a series based on Lola Shoneyin’s best-selling debut novel, ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’.
The developing projects make Abudu’s EbonyLife banner the first African company to secure a multi-title deal with the streamer. ‘Oloture’ features as the first submission labeled with the N badge.

“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,” says Abudu. “This unprecedented partnership is testament to Netflix’s investment in African storytelling.”

When the news broke, international outlets with credible footing in the media made it the topmost story in Hollywood. Variety headlined ‘Netflix Grows in Nigeria, Striking Multi-Title Deal With Producer Mo Abudu’s EbonyLife (Exclusive)’. The Hollywood Reporter also scripted, ‘Netflix inks Multi-Title Deal With Nigerian Producer Mo Abudu’.

Prior to Netflix’s engagement, Sony Pictures Television was already in the crib with a three-project co-development deal signed in 2018. The first of it tells the story of the female warriors of the ancient West African kingdom of Dahomey.

Extending the partnership further, SPT struck an exclusive first-look deal for all new EbonyLife controlled scripted television projects created, originated, or developed by or for EbonyLife and intended for global audiences earlier this year.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Sony Pictures Television over the last few years, and we are so pleased to be deepening our partnership with them,” said Abudu. “Taking African storytelling to global audiences is something we are very passionate about, and this new opportunity with Sony gives us a chance to reach massive audiences worldwide with our scripted TV series. So get ready – we are coming to entertain and thrill you!”
A super-combo of force and vision, Abudu erases every doubt of an African distinction. Her creative powers are irrepressible. She has wowed the Nigerian film market with her fascinating triumphs and continuous to do so now more than ever.

Lots of accolades beguile her unassailable power moves. Forbes rated her as Africa’s most successful woman and in 2017 inducted into The Hollywood Reporter’s list of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Global Television for the second time. Her first appearance was in 2013, immediately after the launch of EbonyLife TV. The distinctive aspect of this feat is that Abudu was the only African woman on the list – she is that mighty.

“It’s an honour and privilege to be acknowledged again by The Hollywood Reporter. I am proud to represent Nigeria and the thousands of women in Africa, striving to make their mark in a male-dominated industry,” she disclosed about the second mention.

In another first ever rank on the African chart, Abudu was awarded the 2019 Medailles d’Honneur (medal of honour) at the MIPTV ceremony in Cannes, France.

Mo Abudu receives the 2019 Medailles d’Honneur in Cannes at the Marche International des Programmes de Television (MIPTV)

The honourary category is allotted to senior executives who have, through their talent, leadership, and passion, made significant contributions to the world of television and the development of the international TV community.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank MIPTV for this incredible award. My big dream was and still is, to change the narrative about my continent. As a continent, Africa has remained creatively silent for centuries. Our stories seldom told outside of our families and villages and often from the perspective of ‘someone’ looking in. It is therefore with great pride that we, at EbonyLife Media, bring our stories to the world with our TV series and our films,’’ Abudu chimed.

“Entrepreneur, pioneer, award-winning television host, TV and film producer, role model and mentor, mogul… these are some of the many labels that Mo sports so elegantly. The press in her own country, Nigeria, and around the world, recognise her as one of the most influential media figures of our time, as evident by her recurrent placement on the Hollywood Reporter’s List of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Global Television…I for one, cannot wait to hear what she has in store for us in 2019,” said Camille Bidderman, executive director, International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, when he presented Abudu with the award.

Abudu received the award alongside Ilene Chaiken, U.S. writer, showrunner and producer, Stéphane Courbit, chairperson of the Banijay Group in France and Jane Millichip, UK managing director of Sky Vision.

Stéphane Courbit, Mo Abudu, Ilene Chaiken and Jane Millichip, recipients of the 2019 Medailles d’Honneur

Looking at past recipients of the prestigious honour: Jan Motjo, (CEO of Beta Film, one of the largest international licensors of film rights outside of the U.S), Armando Nunez (President and Chief Executive Officer of CBS Global Distribution Group), Masao Takiyama (Executive Officer, Vice President, Television Network, Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan), it validates Abudu’s arrival as the one and only executive in Nollywood.

Next to it came an appointment from The International Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences. Abudu was made Chair of the International Emmy Awards Gala held in November 2019 in New York. She was the first African, male or female, to land the coveted role.

Speaking at the gala, Mo Abudu said, “These partnerships are the first of their kind between Hollywood studios and a Nigerian television company. We are happy to be at the forefront of forging these new partnerships because it is truly about sharing our local stories with a global audience – stories that are historical, authentic and progressive.”

To date, neither young admirers nor predecessors have warranted such a class act. Although on equal footing with some revered colleagues on the local soil (to some extent), the international placard reads otherwise.

Described by CNN as ‘Africa’s Queen of Media who conquered the continent’, Abudu heads several divisions of the EbonyLife Studio and Media empire: EbonyLife TV, EbonyLife Film, EbonyLife Place, Nigeria’s first lifestyle and entertainment resort.

With an influential brand that sets her apart from her peers, Abudu continues to be the gatekeeper of the thriving industry.

Through the EbonyLife Place establishment, Abudu in partnership with the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture and the Nigerian International Film Summit minted the Eko Star Film & TV Awards, a gathering that recognizes outstanding women for their work in the Nigerian Film and TV industry.

Its first edition celebrated heavy players, Kate Henshaw, Joke Silva, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde (MFR), Iretiola Doyle, Sola Sobowale, Ebele Okaro among others.

Mo Abudu at the 2021 Eko Star Film & TV Awards

Within the same period of the ESFTA announcement, Abudu collaborated with the Lagos State Creative Industries Initiative (LACI) through the Ministry of Tourism, Art & Culture in mounting the EbonyLife Creative Academy to offer practical training for upcoming creatives. The institution runs on a free programme admitting 120 students per semester.

At this juncture, Abudu is Nollywood and is easily wrapping it up towards a formidable pinnacle.

What’s Next? Probably a Cannes Film Festival Jury President portfolio or a golden statue from the Academy Awards. Nothing is impossible for Mo!

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