Directed and written by Editi Effiong and a product of Anakle Films, The Black Book has quickly soared to the global Top 3 on Netflix, the very first Nigerian film to achieve such a milestone, and continues to increase its overall streaming numbers with each passing day. Last we checked, the film was at over 20 million viewers and top 10 in over 69 countries. That number could very well have increased by the time you read this, but the fact remains that The Black Book is a massive hit that has experienced unprecedented success. And yet none of it is a surprise when you meet the mastermind behind it. It takes about five seconds to realize that Effiong is an incredibly passionate visionary with a keen attention to detail. We caught up with the writer/director to hear a bit about the process behind his film and the importance of bringing Nigerian stories to the global stage.
'The Black Book' Director On the Film's Success, Nigerian Culture, and Why It's Not 'John Wick'
Editi Effiong is bringing Nigerian stories to the global stage
"Your lighting is off," he says to me, as we both laugh. "You see when you sit in the front of the window like that, the lighting can be a distraction." At the onset of our conversation, Effiong goes straight into director mode. Now that the ice is broken, I cut straight to the chase. Critics have been calling The Black Book a "grittier John Wick." I ask Effiong what he thinks about that comparison. "I know people would usually be flattered about your film being compared to something like a John Wick, but I'm not," he says, adding: "Let me take a step back. For most of its history, Nigeria has been ruled by military governments, and it was only in 1999 that we had a transition to a civilian government/democracy.
If you are a student of Nigerian history, you can see where the inspiration is. Someone was a hitman and retired because there was a history of hitmen, so it's not John Wick at all!
- Editi Effiong
"Nigeria has been under dictatorships, and if you watch The Black Book, that is something that is a part of the conversation inside of the film. As we transitioned to democracy—there was this truth and reconciliation committee type thing called the 'Oputa Panel' that was set up to right the roles of military governments, and it was eventually revealed that there were groups over time that did... things. My thinking over time has been: where are those men? One of those people was the inspiration behind the character Paul Edima. If you are a student of Nigerian history, you can see where the inspiration is. Someone was a hitman and retired because there was a history of hitmen, so it's not John Wick at all!"
In fact, as Effiong says, there was a conscious decision while filming and training to not incorporate Hollywood moves, fights, and "Hollywood car chases," with the director noting that it's time to start giving more voices a chance. "The Black Book is a story told by Black Africans with Black African faces and talent, and Black African Nigerian money, 100%. This is our take on problems that are ours specifically. Drug running is not exclusively an American problem. We have our own version. So, no, we're not trying to be American. We're telling an African story, you just haven't listened or paid attention."
I hate to do this comparison thing, but you can call RMD the Denzel Washington of Nollywood. He's bigger in Nigeria than what Denzel is in America.
- Editi Effiong
Richard Mofe-Damijo, aka RMD, plays the titular character Paul Edima. "I hate to do this comparison thing, but you can call RMD the Denzel Washington of Nollywood. He's bigger in Nigeria than what Denzel is in America—he can't go anywhere without people swarming him." As fate would have it, the two were connected by a very important person in RMD's life—his daughter. "Thankfully for me, his daughter was my financial advisor and she was overseeing my fundraiser at the time," Effiong recalls. The two met over lunch where RMD agreed to take the role.
From there, the casting continued to what eventually became an ensemble cast with names like Ade Laoye (who Effiong says is one of the best in her age range), Sam Dede, Alex Usifo Omiagbo, Shaffy Bello (who worked with Effiong on a previous project), Keleche Udegbe (Effiong says she gave one of the best auditions he'd ever seen), and more.
I am the biggest investor with over 30%. It eventually became obvious that to do justice to this film, we were going to need more budget to not half-ass it.
- Editi Effiong
Another major talking point The Black Book has commanded is the $1 million budget this film had. So, I asked Effiong exactly about that $1 million. "In Nigeria, having $1 million to make a film in this era is one of the biggest projects made by a Nollywood independent producer. I sourced my own money to make this film; I am the biggest investor with over 30%. It eventually became obvious that to do justice to this film, we were going to need more budget to not half-ass it." With Effiong being in the tech industry, he went to the guys he used to work with and "people pitched in." The original budget for the film was $700,000, and they ran out of money, which meant Effiong had to liquify his crypto and get some additional help from friends.
The investment indeed paid off with The Black Book now being the biggest movie ever in Nigeria. Not every filmmaker has those types of resources though, so I asked Effiong advice for those that don't. Democratizing access to funding for young filmmakers is one of the thing he tells me he's trying to work on. "I just had an email this morning—we're trying to set a fund for all filmmakers, and I recommended for the person to pitch to get funded by those guys."
I remember the first day I saw the movie was number one on the entire Netflix platform—the guys in my office were screaming. I was speechless.
- Editi Effiong
"I don't think filmmakers need to know or be connected to certain people in order to raise money," he adds. "We need to build the platforms to ensure that anybody that has a great idea can get access to the right amount of funding—that's what I'm working on right now." As we've seen with The Black Book, when you have the right amount of funds the execution and final result is one that pays off. That leads me to my next question. What is Effiong's favorite part of the movie he created? "It's the flashback scenes. I... love the film. I didn't watch my first film as a member of the audience until earlier this year and I almost cringed! With The Black Book, I've actually watched it as a viewer and love it! I can see why people like it."
People "liking it" is a bit of understatement in comparison to the film's global success, so how does that make the beaming director—who can't stop smiling—feel? "I remember the first day I saw the movie was number one on the entire Netflix platform—the guys in my office were screaming. I was speechless. I'm grateful and it's a privilege. African stories are good enough for the entire world. We're ready. I remember my U.S. agency would always tell me that I needed to attach a U.S. writer and director to the project—nobody is saying that now!
African stories are good enough for the entire world. We're ready.
- Editi Effiong
"We're ready for the primetime, and we were always good enough. Things Fall Apart (a novel by Chinua Achebe) was written in the 1960s or 70s. We have been telling global stories forever. Now we don't have to explain ourselves. A film with 100% Black faces was number one in South Korea, Romania, and trending across the entire world. We. Are. Ready."
You can stream The Black Book on Netflix now.
More from one37pm
The 12 Best Weed Documentaries and Where to Watch Them in 2024
Kristen Lappas on Directing Prime's 'Giannis: The Marvelous Journey'
'Bob Marley: One Love': Six Facts We Learned From the Film
The 30 Best Suspense Movies on Netflix
'Footloose' at 40: Revisiting the Movie That Made Kevin Bacon a Superstar
The Top 15 Marvel Rookie Cards to Scoop Up on eBay