THE SHEET NG Man Of The Week: KUNLE AFOLAYAN- How A Small Town Farm Labourer Became Nigeria’s Most Celebrated Movie Director

Kunle Afolayan. Photo Credit: Trendy Photography.

The New York Times called him the “Martin Scorsese of Lagos”; The Guardian UK named him the “Stanley Kubrick of Lagos”, bringing an ethnic transfer into the theory of what Kunle Afolayan embodies.

There is an idea, or should one say a belief, that a nomenclature attributable to a foreign, far-away clime gives more credence to local stuff, and crowns the bearing of such with an air (and air is used in the positive light, here) of superiority, achievement, grace.

But does it do well to limit translocation of culture and a self-assurance in native wisdom and genius?

Yes, Kunle Afolayan panders to these adulations and encomiums- he has several times said of how award-winning Hollywood actor and director, Mel Gibson, serves as shining light and model in his quest- but, much more, he shrugs at the limit it brings.


In a sense, one could- without running towards assumptions and half-truths- call the “[insert name foreign name] of [insert local city]” branding as a lower course for Eurocentrism and colonial love over ethnic self-institutions. Kunle Afolayan honours the tags that have been placed between his shoulders, but his drive beyond local commendations and laurels goes to show how much more the world should expect from this creative genius.

Kunle Afolayan and mentor, Tunde Kelani. Photo Credit: Facebook.

There is a constant hunger that lines the belly of Kunle Afolayan—the hunger, in his words, could be said to be an “obsession”. That’s the stuff of obsession we pray his belly holds; the obsession that will burst out, as he runs with his guts to a place of excellence, changing the movies crafted in mediocrity we have been known to stomach.

Like he once quipped (perhaps humourously to lighten the burden to come): “My obsession with filmmaking makes me think I may not live long.”

He sure will live long enough to witness the death of mediocrity in the Nigerian movie industry—that’s the death we hope for!

41 year old Kunle Afolayan appears to, without slipping into clique, have the Midas touch in the Nollywood scene. His works have constantly written in the annals of history for scriptwriters, producers, directors to read of his magic!

Kunle Afolayan, the scion of the great theatre practitioner, Adeyemi Afolayan aka Ade Love, could be said to be apple falling from the great tree and as the legend of Isaac Newton, he found food to feed his generation with.

Tolu (wife) and Kunle Afolayan. Photo Credit: Facebook.

Having a father who was a popular Nigerian thespian could be said to have been Kunle Afolayan’s easy-way-to-success but that turns out to be a bit far from reality. Ade Love was protective of his children, considering exposure to the industry at a young age to be a distraction. Still, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

In an interview with Sam Umukoro, Kunle Afolayan said “For us our father shielded us from it because he just said, you would be distracted and you needed to go to school and be educated. Yes, I always enjoyed the cheap publicity of being a son of Ade Love but it wasn’t something I really wanted to do, not until I grew up.”

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Mrs. Afolayan (mum) and Kunle. Photo Credit: Facebook.

At 15, Kunle Afolayan couldn’t resist the beauties of the make-believe world as his ambitions began to well up in him. He pushed himself into going on film exhibitions and to locations with his father, Ade Love, but his death in 1996 cut short that experience as he was only beginning to learn more on the movie industry. Kunle Afolayan had to struggle to move through life after his father’s demise; moving from one petty trade to another to keep dreams and hope alive.

The Nigerian movie scene has grown from the days of Hubert Ogunde in the 50s and 60s, to Baba Sala (Moses Olaiya), to Kola Ogunmola, to Duro Ladipo, to Isho Pepper (Ishola Ogunsola) of the 60s and 70s, to the Pete Edochies of the 80s, to Kenneth Nnebue’s 1992 “Living in Bondage”, to the ever bubbling scene of today.

Though, the works of today can’t be said to be as good as the past; and this isn’t a “Good Old Days Syndrome” or romanticizing the past—quality has dipped and this is due to acculturation, which is not bad as long as the home culture is not subdued.

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Kunle Afolayan and kids. Photo Credit: Filed.

Kunle Afolayan has dedicated his post-banking life to ensuring that our culture reflects in movie flicks and, more so, a positive, actual reflection of said culture. Kunle Afolayan stands as a gatekeeper of the Nigerian culture. Be it in the reflecting of the Yoruba culture in his first-directed movie, 2007 “Irapada”, or “The Figurine (Araromire)” shot in 2009; a cross-pollination of Igbo and Yoruba cultures gets expressed in the 2011 “Phone Swap”- a technology driven love adaptation. Kunle Afolayan is a strong believer of Nigerian culture and its representation/influence in post-modernism; so when he directed the award-winning “October 1” psychological thriller, Kunle Afolayan was, once again, showing the proudness of our almost-forgotten cultural aspect.

Trailer of October 1. Source: Youtube.

So, when Kunle Afolayan says “Culture is very essential and you can only use audiovisual to correct or to interpret our cultural ideas,” he is summarizing his own experience and that of millions of Nigerians. For one who grew up with a father in tone with culture and had to journey from Ebute Meta to Kwara and work and relate with uncles, aunts and cousins on the farm; he has been through the melting pot of the Yoruba culture to speak fluently. Not only does he represent one of his origin, but he has done well to learn the ropes of other cultures and make representation for a generation with dying history.

Our Nigerianess is key, and our Nigerian stories must be told.

One could glorify the learning, but working on a farm at that tender age was far from a photo album collection– it was part of the struggles Kunle Afolayan had to face, and this has reflected in his resilience in Nollywood, inspite of challenges.

The multiple African Magic Viewers’ Choice Award and African Movie Academy Award winner represents a time- like Chimamanda Adichie- where “stories matter [to] empower and to humanize.” Kunle Afolayan ditched his Economics degree and banking career after being burdened by the state of Nollywood to effect change; a decision inspired by the Tade Ogidan-directed “Hostages” in 2004.

Mentored by veteran Nollywood director, Tunde Kelani (Uncle TK), and through self-tutoring and getting educated at the prestigious New York Film Academy, Kunle Afolayan set himself on a path for actualization of his dreams with “Golden Effects Studios” in 2005.

To stamp his authority and lay claim to something better than the present in an era infamous for mediocrity and absence of professionalism; Kunle Afolayan took risks—risks that could at different times send him into bankruptcy.

Kunle Afolayan started out with his semi-polished ideas on the “Irapada” and pushed further on “Figurine” but the obvious flaws couldn’t be ignored. The blemish in the set handling and costuming couldn’t be ignored. It was considered ‘insane’, a poor business move for any Nigerian producer to invest $500,000 on a movie when Alaba pirates wait to feast on your sweat; but Kunle Afolayan did it with “Figurine”. And he took it a notch higher, in an industry known for low-budget movies, with $2 million splashed on his 2014 release, “October 1”. It was a risk. Just like when he left a flourishing banking career for a fickle make-believe world.


He is known for taking risks and those risks paid off with the near-flawless cinematography, set handling, costuming, and screenplay on “October 1”—a movie that got sponsorships from Oando, Michael Ade Ojo. It was no surprise when the movie got 9 awards at the 2015 African Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards.

Kunle Afolayan has shown resilience even in the face of stifling situations experienced in life and in the Nollywood industry, chief among them piracy. He has displayed that Nigerians can mine success and excellence in the midst of mediocrity; that the Nigerian culture should be projected and not merely referenced in “juju”, 419, corruption, poverty conversations.

Kunle Afolayan is changing the Nigerian narrative one step at a time, one flick at a time!

One won’t be wrong to call him the “Kunle Afolayan of The Nigerian Movie Industry”– since he has proven to be one of a kind and a pacesetter for others to emulate.

Kunle Afolayan is The Sheet NG Man of the Week.

See Also: THE SHEET NG Man Of The Week: Hakeem Belo-Osagie- A Billion Ways To Give

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