Amina: The Heroine Needs a Purpose
(originally published on LinkedIn on 17 Nov. 2021)
Amina, is written by Okey Ogunjiofor and Frank Uba, directed by Izu Ojukwu, and stars Lucy Ameh, Ali Nuhu, Abu Chris Gbakann, Ummi Mohammed, Ibrahim Mijinyawa and Madaki Asabe.
I’m a young, Nigerian, female, writer who used to create stories out of what I learned in my history classes so that I could remember them for my exams, who argued through her Master’s Thesis/project that TV is a great tool to teach ourselves about our culture, and who is currently working to use it for that purpose, so I was really happy to see that a movie about the great Queen Amina of Zazzau had been made and was coming to a global streaming platform like Netflix.
But even though I found the film enjoyable, I wish I loved it more than I did.
And I really did find it enjoyable.
The film starts with Amina as a young girl in the 16th century who witnesses the power the Kingdom of Zazzau possesses under her father, the Sarki. After seeing a fight in which Zazzau’s best fighter, the Kabarkai, is defeated, Amina requests to be trained. Her father resists but only for a moment, and the defeated Kabarkai is appointed to train her and her sister, Zaria. Amina grows to be a fierce fighter and the film takes us through different situations- love, loss and betrayal- which ultimately end with her taking the throne. I like to call this Queen Amina’s origin story.
The image at the end of the movie is “it’s lonely at the top” if it was a series of film frames. Or more than that, it exemplifies situations where you cut people off/lose people on the way to the top. Queen Amina has spent her life with Zaria and their friend, Aladi Ameh, by her side. Her father very intentionally wants to see her thrive, she finds a mentor in the Kabarkai and finds love in Prince Danjuma of the Igala. However, by the end of the movie, all these people are either gone, or not talking to her anymore (cue Aladi Ameh angrily glaring as she turns away).
I watched this film with a friend and would explain what was going on/who was who at intervals, because *I think* I was paying more attention than she was. I must admit though, that when she pressed on why Amina was doing certain things, I realised I didn’t know. In fact, it is just upon revisiting the scene while I write this, that I realise why she started off on what we would call her "heroes journey". I found that her ‘why’ changed so much that halfway through the film, we had forgotten what sent her off in the first place.
This is probably what got to me the most about Amina: that our heroine didn’t seem to have any main goal that drove her actions throughout the film and would make for a more satisfying ending. For the most part, she is reactionary- the priestess tells her she needs to do get blood water from the well of Bayajidda to save her people, so she does; she loses her sister in a battle she thinks was started by the Igala, so she helps her father fight against them; her father is overthrown by his advisor so she abandons her mission to avenge her sister (and now boyfriend ?) and returns home to fight her father’s usurper and take back his throne. When Amina finally sits on the throne, it’s not that big a deal to me because it wasn’t shown to be something she aspired to and that she had to overcome obstacles to attain. Our main character hasn’t grown from the moment we first see her to the end. She’s the same, only not as happy, and that doesn’t give the audience a lot to root for as they watch.
In terms of how it looks, we’ve certainly come a long way from early Nollywood. I really can’t tell you anything more than that because I’ve never really been interested in cinematography. The friend I watched this with, who is a phenomenal Director, did point out that the movie feels like a filmed play, and I agree. I appreciate the hard work that went into it, because I know a lot of hard work did go in and I know that the more we make, the better we get. It would just be nice to see more creativity in the way we film things, and to see intimate nuance in the actors' delivery that film allows for as opposed to the theatrical line delivery we might be used to.
I should note that I went into this thinking we would see more of her as a Queen, and I hope with everything in me that someone brings that story to the screen one day. That’s just me throwing my wishes on here.
Should you see this film? Yes. Again, I had fun watching it. Plus, audiences showing interest in stories like this encourages producers to create more of them; and, as I said before, the more we make and learn the better we get at creating.
Amina is streaming now on Netflix.