After seeing Anikulapo, I have come to the conclusion that our people either do not understand the context of the movie or that they simply wish the flick had elements of their own fantasies. Some reviews that I have seen are rather harsh, and condemn the story for misleading the viewing public about the majesty, sanctity, pomp and circumstance of Oyo Alaafin or the mystical political headquarters of Yorubaland. The reviewers think Kunle Afolayan portrays Yoruba kingship as cheap.
They go further to contend that the transactional relationship between the young (and barren) ‘Olori’ (the king’s wife) and Saro (Anikulapo) is an aberration, for the fact that the Yoruba king’s wife cannot give herself so cheaply in an affair with a common cloth trader. The critics also believe that the real Oyo (or whatever the Yoruba empire or kingdom the movie is projecting) and the king’s palace of yore were too fortified for one poor stranger to be able to grab her and make out with her in one miserable bush nearby or right inside the king’s palace. In addition, they say Gbongan, a town in present-day Osun State, wasn’t the hub of cloth-making in pre-colonial Yorubaland as depicted in the film. For these reasons (and more), those critics dismiss Anikulapo as nonsense, mediocre and a disservice to the Yoruba culture or the majesty of Oyo.
While the submissions above may be true if indeed the movie is an attempt to tell the story of Oyo or a pre-colonial Yoruba kingdom, the arguments above will be balderdash if the critics understood that the context of that movie is a sharp contrast from their thinking. First, the Anikulapo that I watched has nothing to do with telling any story or constructing any history about the old Oyo empire or any Yoruba kingdom. Kunle Afolayan himself hasn’t pretended that he’s presenting any historical movie. It’s neither about Oyo, Ife, Abeokuta, Ilorin, Osogbo, Ibadan; nor is it about any of the landmark events in Yoruba history. It’s just another beautiful movie with a fantastic storyline, with a Yoruba cultural context to the story. It could have been centred on any other culture- Hausa, Igbo or Ibibio. Anikulapo is a fiction, not even a faction.
Anikulapo appears to simply be a movie with a storyline about a fortunate young man who is fancied by powerful women and members of the kingdoms he finds himself. He is a beloved trader who finds favour in the eye of the queen and other women. His intransigence with the queen is however, found out and he’s banished and nearly killed. An encounter with the mystic, aided by his wife, led him to possess powers to raise people from the dead. He becomes so famous, rich and powerful that he begins to carry his shoulders too high. This, coupled with his love triangle occasioned by greed for women, makes him hurt his first wife (the former queen) so badly. The former queen had to leave her life of affluence to follow Saro just for the sake of love. Saro didn’t reciprocate this, but only used her for other ends- women.
Saro’s main nemesis was women, which forced his wife to leave him. However, knowing the secret of his resurrection powers, she destroyed it without his knowledge and flew from the town. A grand attempt by Saro to demonstrate this power failed woefully, particularly after disrespecting the king and his people who had been so nice to him. He placed an impossible demand on the monarch as a condition for raising the crown prince from the dead. After three wives already, he wanted the king’s daughter before he could raise the dead prince. But this failed as his first wife had emptied the amulet of the magical powers. His failure led to his ultimate and fatal fall.
This is a beautiful storyline that teaches several moral lessons that are common in Yorubaland: gratitude, contentment, humility and loyalty/faithfulness to one’s loving spouse. The message is a strong one. The costumes, creative scenes, and constructed locations are out of this world. Kunle Afolayan reconstructed a typical 18th century Yoruba kingdom by the splendiferous work of art. The cast is grade A and the acting is flawless. It’s a high-budget film. Suspense-filled and dramatic through and through, this is one movie that should make the Oscars someday.
- Professor Sheriff Folarin is of the Department of Political Science, Texas State University