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Kunle Afolayan explains why he needed to make an 'Aníkúlápó' series

The director breaks down why he makes the types of films he does and the decision to return to Old Oyo Empire.

Kunle Afolayan on the set of Aníkúlápó the series [Instagram/KunleAfo]

But he did not set out to make a two-hour-plus film. “I have always wanted to do a series, but we felt we had to do a film first to introduce the world of Aníkúlápó,” he told Pulse Nigeria recently.

It was a longer project he wanted, that would follow the lives of Saro (Kunle Remi) and Arolake (Bimbo Ademoye) while touching on everything from gender, the arrival of Islam, to the palace intrigues of the Old Oyo Empire.

The scale of what we wanted to show and tell was so exciting and expansive and the series does a great job showcasing this – we have introduced new characters and new towns, and our returning characters have evolved story arcs,” he said.

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On March 1, 2024, Netflix rolled out Aníkúlápó: Rise of the Spectre, a sequel to the 2022 film. For Afolayan, who cut his teeth as a director in a league of his own on projects like The Figurine (2009) and October 1 (2014), the Aníkúlápó story is deeply personal.

He said he wanted to return to the project because of “the zeal to want to tell authentic African stories.”

Not just tell the stories, but then document our history and enlighten people about who we are and where we are coming from. And at the same time, educate people on a lot of areas of misconception,” he said. “For me, motion picture or audiovisual is one of the strongest tools, if not the strongest tool, for information documentation. And I want to entertain people,” he added.

In the process, he has created a very articulate project that bears witness to a time of heavy religiosity in Yoruba history and social norms as an uncontested diktat for members of society.

The material that we used is partly fact, partly fiction. In a way, when you’re trying to re-enact facts, you have to stay close to being as realistic as possible,” he said.

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Aníkúlápó is heavily influenced by Yoruba cosmology, featuring Akudaaya – ghosts that return to the world and live as human beings, Alaka, and hypnosis.

If you look at most of the projects that I have done, for me, I go all out to make sure that all the key elements are correct regardless of the genre, even if it’s comedy. I try to make sure that it is believable, and this is done through ensuring that the key element of the culture is covered,” he said.

The series has also ignited the debate about consent at a time when rape has entered into the lexicon of many cultures across the world. A sexual scene between Saro and Olatorera, a new love interest played by Oyindamola Sunni in the new series, has been a talking point on social media. Barely hours after all the episodes dropped on Netflix, the anonymous gossip blog, GistLover, ran a post that said “‘He gave her head’ – Kunle ‘Saro’ Remi intimate scene stirs reactions.

On whether he saw Saro as a sexual predator or not, he dismissed him as “an asshole.”Listen, an asshole will always be an asshole. I think Saro is greedy and he takes advantage of every slightest opportunity,” he said. But with Olatorera, Afolayan said he was very intentional.

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I used that character to portray a lot of kids of nowadays who just jump at things. You don't have in-depth or detailed information on how certain things came about. She sees this guy who is new in town, he has charming looks and all that. He is even like your father’s enemy and you're aware of it, and the next thing, he charmed you and you’re so cheap. And there will always be repercussions,” he said.

But he cautions that it wasn't about some antiquated idea of morality for him.

I'm not all out to teach morals. But I like to play with the reality of life – checks and balances – to say if you do this, there is every possibility,” he said, that luck might run out.

Nollywood has come a long way from those days of pushing The Figurine. Does Afolayan think the industry is now flourishing? “The real definition of flourishing for me is that our content can be seen all over the world,” the director said.

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If content from this country that is being tagged third world country, and is being tagged as one of the most corrupt countries, and is being tagged as all of the negativity in the world, a big platform like Netflix will say, ‘Ooh, let me take your content. I love it. We are going to show it in 190 countries.’ That says something about the fact that it’s different. It is not a struggle anymore to say ‘I’ll go all out, make this nice story, but then, who is going to see it? Or how do I get it to the world?” he added.

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