For Amazon Studios, ‘Gangs of Lagos’ is the first of many African ‘tentpole’ releases

Earlier this month, Amazon Studios transformed New York City's Bryant Park Hotel into a bustling replica of Lagos, Nigeria.

In honor of its first-ever original “Nollywood” film, Amazon Studios took over the Bryant Park Hotel, transforming it into a bustling mini-replica of select backdrops from “Gangs of Lagos,” a politically-charged action film featuring Nigerian film stars Adesua Etomi-Wellington, Tobi Bakre, Chike Osebuka, Chioma Akpotha, and Iyabo Ojo.

The studio threw the star-studded “tentpole launch” to mark “the beginning of our original investment plans in Africa,” a studio representative told theGrio via email.

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Signage inside the Bryant Park Hotel for the New York City premiere of Amazon Studios’ original film, Gangs of Lagos. (theGrio Photo/Chinekwu Osakwe)

“We are looking to work with original voices to create spectacular stories and events that audiences can connect with wherever they may be. With the balance of high-octane set pieces and the human story behind it, ‘Gangs of Lagos’ does that,” the rep said.

The film follows a group of friends growing up together and attempting to navigate the Lagos gang scene while maintaining loyalty to the found family. According to Amazon, parts of the story came from director Jade Osiberu’s lived experience, though the film is heavily dramatized.

Amazon Studios signed an exclusive overall deal with Osiberu and her production company, Greoh Studios, in 2022.

For the April 13th premiere, the Bryant Park Hotel was decorated with brightly patterned Ankara fabrics and fruit stands to mimic a bustling Lagos market. During the screening, the audience kept up the noise by commenting on every twist and turn in the plot.

Stars Bakre and Etomi-Wellington, the latter of whom was reportedly five months postpartum and breastfeeding during filming, performed multiple intense action scenes. But the passionate performance of Chioma Akpotha as the doting mother of an aspiring singer/part-time gang affiliate stood out, helping to drive the movie’s poignant message home.

Adesua Etomi-Wellington (L), Tobi Bakre (C), and Chioma Akpotha (R) pose at the New York City premiere of their Amazon Studios original film, Gangs of Lagos, on April 13, 2023. (theGrio Photo/Chinekwu Osakwe)

The profound talent that went into the film extended well beyond the acting. Not only was the film’s production quality on par with many Hollywood films, but the soundtrack helped transport the audience to the streets of Lagos, featuring a range of songs from artists like veteran juju singer King Sunny Ade, 76, to outspoken 31-year-old rapper Naira Marley.

The movie, filmed in 2021, is also full of political themes. It was released when tensions were high in Nigeria following a contentious presidential election. In response to questions about the film’s political message, Etomi echoed sentiments shared by director Osiberu, who was not in attendance.

“For Nigerians watching, ‘Gangs of Lagos’ is like a mirror to society,” said Etomi. “It’s just showing you this is who we are. Are we happy to remain this way? And if we’re not happy to remain this way, what part do we have to play in bringing the change that’s required?”

Amazon Studios said it does not share any viewership data publicly. Still, during a post-screening conversation, Bakre said the film was trending in countries like South Korea and Vietnam only a week after its global release.

“We have a lot of Nigerians in the U.K. in the U.S., and we know they’re going to consume this content,” he said, further speaking enthusiastically about the film’s popularity amongst “people who cannot relate to the background.”

Calling its first original release a “global cultural moment,” Amazon Studios said it intends to continue working with African filmmakers.

Signage inside the Bryant Park Hotel for the New York City premiere of Amazon Studios’ original film, Gangs of Lagos, on April 13, 2023. (theGrio Photo/Chinekwu Osakwe)

“Audiences everywhere can see the full power and talent of Nigerian and African voices on a global stage and the depths of our continued commitment to the local TV and film industry,” the studio told theGrio.

Amazon first entered the African film market in 2021 when Amazon Prime Video inked a three-year distribution deal with Nigeria’s Inkblot Studios. Inkblot is the studio behind various major Nollywood blockbusters, including “The Wedding Party” and its sequel “The Wedding Party 2.”

Chinekwu Osakwe is a weekend editor for theGrio. She is a graduate of NYU and Columbia University and has written for Rolling Stone and Reuters.

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