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"The Black President" The Fela Anikulapo-Kuti biographical movie that never happened

40 years ago, an attack on Kalakuta Republic denied the world of a Fela biographical film which was titled "The Black President."

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Fela Kuti play

Fela Kuti

(Getty Images )

Today, Wednesday, August 2, 2017, is exactly 20 years since the legendary Nigerian musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, passed away.

A man who, even in death, remains one of the most globally influential pop artists. He created the Afro-beat, a genre that is now an important constituent of international music.

Fela was a fascinating music personality play

Fela was a fascinating music personality



In the 70s, Fela financed a biographical film that never came to realization. Titled "The Black President," the biopic was co-produced by Fela, Faisal Helwani, Alex Oduro and J.K. Braimah.

It was shot in Ghana and Kalakuta Republic; the communal compound that housed his family, band members, and recording studio.

play The Black President was self-financed by Fela and would have been a biographical film (Amazon)


On February 18, 1977, an attack on the Kalakuta Republic denied fans and generations to come the gift of a biographical film of the late legend.

On the morning of the above-mentioned date, one of Fela's drivers accidentally knocked down a uniformed man. Some soldiers visited the compound to demand that Fela allow them charge his driver with careless driving.

The vinyl cover of the Zombie record play

The vinyl cover of the Zombie record



The late singer didn't only refuse their request, he started playing Zombie; one of his songs that criticized the Nigerian army for obeying orders blindly.

Later in the afternoon of the same day, the soldiers attacked and burnt down the house, destroying Fela's library, recording studio, sound for the movie and other related tapes; halting the release of what may have been the greatest biopic in the African cinema universe.

play Femi AnikulakpoKuti, Faisal Helwani and Stan Plange in Accra, July 1997. (Michigan State University journals )


37 years later, Yasmeen Helwani, the daughter of Faisal Helwani, revealed that they were revisiting the release of the biopic. After the Kalakuta attack, they were left with just the video which had been in possession of one of the Italians, who worked with them on the project.

“It will be very difficult for it to come out as the originally intended movie. But when it is done, it will look more like a documentary and not necessarily the movie that they intended at first,"
Helwani said in an interview with News-One.

Fela Kuti play

Fela Kuti

(Getty Images )


Although "The Black  President" may never happen, further films on Kuti exits and it's easy to see why.

Born in Nigeria in 1938, Fela lived a complex and intriguing life as a musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, human rights activist, and political maverick.

He fostered the idea of a Nigeria that was free of dictators and promoted an Africa free from Western control. He simply lived an interesting life perfect for the cinema screen.

Fela Kuti speaking at the tribunal play

Fela Kuti speaking at the tribunal



In 1982, a documentary titled "Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon," made its debut, containing interviews with Fela alongside unpublished versions of some of his songs.

In 2006, the documentary "Fela: Fresh From Africa" premiered. Iit followed Fela's historic visit to New York City after his release from prison in Nigeria and a 17-year absence.

In 2009, The musical Broadway production "Fela!" premiered in New York  City, based on music and lyrics by the late legend.

In 2014, "Finding Fela," a documentary feature about Fela's life, music and political importance was released, directed by Oscar winner, Alex Gibney.

  play The cover for the 2014 documentary, "Finding Fela" (YouTube)


The closest the world got to getting a big screen treatment of the life and times of the legend was in 2014, when Chiwetel Ejiofor would have played Fela in a movie that would have been directed by the Oscar winner, Steven McQueen.

Unfortunately, the movie would never happen. "The movie is dead. They didn't have the money. It's just one of those things that happens in this business," McQueen said to The Hollywood Reporter in 2014.

play Chiwetel Ejiofor would have played Fela in a movie that would have been directed by the Oscar winner, Steven McQueen. (Slash Film)


Fela Kuti has had an impressive film legacy, but the legendary musician deserves a well-made big-screen biopic that captures his chaotic life, complex personality, global reach, excesses and brilliance as a musician.

Rikki Stein and Fela play

Rikki Stein and Fela


"Our plans to make a movie, directed by Steve McQueen and with Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Fela fell apart when McQueen headed off to make 12 Years A Slave, taking Chiwetel along with him," Fela's manager Rikki Stein said to Pulse Nigeria.

"That won't stop ups though. A film WILL be made! Watch this space," he added.

Fela died from Aids-related complications in 1997.

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