Courtesy of KORJ/Joseph Korode
Amazon Prime Video launched the latest chapter in its global expansion Thursday night in Nigeria with the flashy premiere of its first African Original, “Gangs of Lagos,” a gritty crime thriller from celebrated multi-hyphenate Jade Osiberu.
At a packed house on Lagos’ ritzy Victoria Island, luminaries from the Nigerian film and fashion industries turned out to toast a movie that electrified the boisterous homegrown crowd ahead of its global release.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Osiberu after a rousing ovation. “It’s a dream come true.”
“Gangs of Lagos,” which drops globally on Prime Video on Friday, is the first film to come out of the streamer’s three-year overall deal with Osiberu, the creator of domestic box-office sensations “Sugar Rush” and “Isoken” — one of a host of recent pacts with Nigerian creators from the U.S. tech giant as it tries to outflank Netflix in Africa’s biggest market.
Ned Mitchell, the Los Angeles-based head of originals for Africa and the Middle East for Prime Video and Amazon Studios, and London-based head of Nigerian originals Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu were both on hand in Lagos to celebrate the launch.
“This is such an amazing moment for Africa, and for filmmaking,” said Mitchell at a press event before Thursday’s premiere. “We look at ‘Gangs of Lagos’ as a tentpole for the whole world. When we think about originals at Amazon, we put all of our heart and all of our effort into opening it and making it feel like a big experience for everyone. No matter where you are, no matter where you’re watching from, you really do feel like you’re part of an event. And that’s what ‘Gangs’ is. ‘Gangs’ is an event.”
“Gangs of Lagos” is a tale of brotherhood and betrayal, of competing loyalties and bloody retribution in a place where gangs backed by powerful political bosses rule the streets. Unfolding amid the dizzying hustle and clamor of Isale Eko, a neighborhood rife with poverty and crime, it offers a portrait of lives lived on the margins of a city whose promises of fast fortune remain, for most, out of reach.
Set to a pulsing Naija pop soundtrack, “Gangs of Lagos” stars Tobi Bakare (“Sugar Rush”), Adesua Etomi-Wellington (“The Wedding Party”) and musician-turned-actor Chike as three childhood friends struggling to escape Isale Eko, only to find the pull of the criminal underworld drawing them back in. The film is co-produced by Osiberu and Kemi Lala Akindoju.
Speaking to Variety ahead of the premiere, Osiberu was giddy about the global launch of a film 10 years in the making and described the collaboration with Prime Video as “a dream come true.”
A party-goer at the “Gangs of Lagos” premiere.
(Courtesy of Christopher Vourlias)
“We’ve interacted with other global companies that have come to Nigeria. But what I like about the Amazon team is that from the get-go, from the first meeting, it was obvious that they were respectful of the filmmakers and the creators,” she said. “The integrity of your work mattered to the Amazon team, and that for me was important. I was passionate about ensuring that the home for this film is on Amazon.”
With subscriber growth slowing for streaming giants across much of the world, Africa — with a population of 1.2 billion — represents a largely untapped market. According to London-based Digital TV Research, the continent had just 6.2 million paying SVOD subscribers at the end of 2022, a figure that’s expected to more than double to 15.6 million by 2028.
Last year, Prime Video introduced local currency services for the platform in Nigeria, signaling its designs on a market of some 200 million-plus potential subscribers.
Speaking Thursday in Lagos, Mitchell also revealed details of a partnership with African telecom giant MTN, offering a low-cost, mobile-only Prime Video plan for Nigerian MTN customers similar to a subscription model that’s already found success in India and South Africa. He described it as a major step toward “democratizing access to film” in countries where even low-cost memberships can be prohibitively expensive for many consumers.
Across the continent, meanwhile, the race is on to scoop up top talent — perhaps nowhere more so than in Nigeria, which boasts the largest economy in Africa, as well as a prolific, homegrown film industry with a devoted following.
Along with its three-year overall deal with Osiberu’s Greoh Studios — a pact that Mitchell has described as “unprecedented for Africa” — Prime Video has signed multi-title agreements with leading production outfits Inkblot Studios, Nemsia Films and Anthill Studios. Netflix, meanwhile, has inked output deals with prolific producer Mo Abudu’s EbonyLife Studios and veteran filmmaker Kunle Afolayan. Both streaming services are aggressively licensing Nigerian films to build out their local catalogues.
Though neither streaming service provides subscriber numbers, Mba-Uzoukwu told Variety Prime Video was witnessing “a positive and a growing trajectory” in Nigeria. She also said the company is committed to scouting, supporting and launching local talent.
“We want our stories to travel in our language, the way we want to tell them, and we’re telling them by ourselves, for ourselves, in the way we prefer,” she said. “There’s a lot of talent and expertise here. Our main mandate at Prime is to encourage that: It’s to find it, see it and then push that forward. So [‘Gangs of Lagos’] is just one of many.”
While most of the global streaming platforms have been reining in content spend as subscriber growth slows, Mitchell said Prime Video remains committed to expanding its African footprint. “We’re really working to make sure we get it right in Nigeria with the right partners, to get the right partners in South Africa. Once we figure that model out, there’s more [to come],” he said.
Prime Video’s Ned Mitchell (center) with Nigerian actors Jimmie Akinsola (left) and Ebuka Obi-Uchendu (right). (Courtesy of KORJ/Joseph Korode)
Last week the streamer announced its first South African original, “LOL: Last One Laughing,” a local adaptation of the hit unscripted comedy series, hosted by Trevor Noah, which will launch in early 2024. Next up for Prime Video in Nigeria is a West African spin on that wide-traveling format, “LOL: Last One Laughing Naija,” as well as the feature film “Breath of Life,” which will be the first pic from Amazon’s three-picture deal with Lagos-based Nemsia Films. Both projects are expected to drop later this year.
Though the details of other projects are being kept under wraps, Mitchell said the company is “working with a really interesting assortment of creators who really feel very passionate about what can be done” across a range of genres and formats. “We will push the boundaries,” added Mba-Uzoukwu. “Nigerians are quite sophisticated in their needs for content. Nigerians want it all.”
Variety's Christopher Vourlias contributed to this post.