Funke Akindele’s star-studded Christmas submission, A Tribe Called Judah, is a good film. That is one part of criticism simplified: To arrive at the point as early and quickly as possible. The film hits all the right chords for a warm Nigerian family drama. There is the hardworking parent, there is the financial struggle in the family, and there are good children, and there are black sheep, and then there is the adversity that finally brings them all together. A Tribe Called Judah highlights that fear we all have as Nigerians. That every middle to low-income family is one surgery away from financial ruin.
We do incredible things to gather money to save those we love. The film successfully highlights that sacrifice. Now that the easy part of the review is out of the way, here is why Adeoluwa Owu and Funke Akindele’s film is good.
The story follows Jedidah Judah (Funke Akindele), a single mother of five boys. A profligate lover, Jedidah had each child with five different fathers. She is a single parent excessively in love with motherhood. The children in descending order, Emeka (Jide Kene Achufusi), Adamu (Uzee Usman), Shina (Tobi Makinde), Pere (Timini Egbuson), and Ejiro (Olumide Oworu), are also from different tribes. While the first two children are well-adjusted, the last three are essentially problem children. Pere is a chronic pickpocket, Shina is a community thug, and Ejiro is a mischievous child along with his girlfriend, Testimony (Genovevah Umeh). When their mother falls to a failed kidney and quickly deteriorates, the children must find a way to raise 18 million to fund her operation. They decide to rob Emeka’s money-laundering ex-boss of his dollars. Complications arise when they arrive at the scene and find they are not the only ones with eyes on the money.
We must praise A Tribe Called Judah’s storytelling. It felt like the writers were ticking off storytelling 101 in the first act. Set up Jedidah, check; the boys, check; and do so within as little time as possible; check. The single mother and problematic children are archetypal characters. If not universal, then Nigerian. The Nigerian mother’s greatest ally is prayer, and so is Jedidah’s. She is a strong, no-nonsense pillar in her community as well. We all know that woman in the neighbourhood we grew up in. Jedidah is an easy character to like. Funke Akindele, although a tad excessive at the start, brings a quietly honest performance as the movie progresses. Only an extraordinary situation, or in other words, a miracle, could unite problematic children with level-headed older siblings. And in this case, an ailing mother is the perfect recipe. The story recognizes this early, so it sets up Jedidah’s relationship with every single one of those boys. It makes their sacrifice later in the film genuine and believable. Once the viewers realise the story takes them seriously, nothing else matters; they pay attention.
To cap off its interesting protagonists, A Tribe of Judah has two well-played archetypal antagonists. Nse Ipke-Etim’s manager character and Uzor Arukwe’s Chairman character are Emeka’s superior and ex-boss, respectively. While Nse Ipke-Etim (4:4:44) is always an impressive performer, Uzor Arukwe (Bank Alert) brings some humorous truthfulness to this character. When people play stereotypes—in this case, the rich Igbo boss—they usually overplay the comedic side, reducing the character to a caricature. Uzor becomes that gaudy semi-literate Igbo businessman with struggling English and a permanently effervescent personality. Even when he is shooting a character, he is saying goodbye with a lively joke. The greatest compliment to an actor is when you see a human truth in their performance, and Uzor achieves that. His character’s permanent liveliness makes him unpredictable and fearful; we know the only thing important is to retrieve his money, regardless of how many people die, Jedidah included.
While the story structure is impressive, the pacing faults it in some parts. Perhaps the inciting incident, Jedidah’s illness, might have arrived earlier. The film does well to hint at Jedidah’s drinking problem early, setting up her kidney failure. But it could have moved faster. The story could have moved faster in some bits, but it is not such a significant flaw that it derails its quality irreparably. There is occasional melodrama, but you can brave through that as well. The story’s ability to create conflict, resolve it, and then create a more complicated conflict is a redeeming plot quality. Every time the characters find a solution, something more complex challenges them. It keeps the plot from becoming stale. And when we arrive at that final scene, we feel like we have truly gone through a journey with the characters, and none of them will be the same after the film’s events. That is the first, clearest evidence that a film is good: you do not leave it as you came to it.
A Tribe Called Judah premiered on December 15, 2023, in cinemas.
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- The subplots in the film are quite good as well. Especially Ejiro and his girlfriend’s. Shinene and his gang’s subplot is quite good.
- One questions why Adamu would return to where he hid the money so quickly. He should know they’d be following him.
- The soundtrack quietly does a good job too.
- A Tribe Called Judah has just scored the biggest opening for a Funke and Nollywood film ever, with 122 million naira. List of highest-grossing Nollywood films.
- Find out how well you know Funke Akindele in our latest quiz.
(Edit: an old version wrongly named Genoveva Umeh’s character as Promise. It has been updated to Testimony. )