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With McQueen Out As Director And Dosunmu In, Could A 'Fela' Biopic Casting Change Be Next?

by Emmanuel Akitobi
September 27, 2013 3:22 PM
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Clockwise from bottom left: Olamide Adedeji; Jude Akuwudike; Kevin Mambo; Sahr Ngaujah; Chiwetel Ejiofor

The recent news that director Andrew Dosunmu has been tapped to replace Steve McQueen as helmer of the long-talked-about biopic on Nigerian music icon Fela Anikulapo Kuti has got a lot of people talking.  Many are wondering what this change means for the look and feel of the project.  I'm wondering what it might mean in terms of casting.

As we already know, Chiwetel Ejiofor is currently attached to he film in the lead role.  But is he the right man for the job?  Should the film's producers be looking in a different direction?

Here's my take on some of the actor's names who are, could be, and should be mentioned as contenders for the role:

*The No-Brainer Pick:  Chiwetel Ejiofor

Why He's Right For The Role:  As far as we know, he still has the job, and it makes sense.  With recent roles in the films 12 Years A Slave and Half Of A Yellow Sun, he's hot right now.  Ejiofor's is a name that can sell tickets.  Not to mention the fact that he's an excellent actor who, seemingly, can master any role he undertakes.

Why He May Not Be Right For The Role:  Like I said, he seemingly can master any role.  But can the perpetually smooth Ejiofor fully capture the acerbic persona of the late music legend?  I have my doubts.

*The Safe Pick:  Sahr Ngaujah or Kevin Mambo

Why They're Right:  These two have, in recent years, portrayed Fela in the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of FELA!  They may not have the immediate name recognition that Ejiofor has, but their performances have been heavily praised, they are familiar with the musician's story, and audiences of the stage production are familiar with them.

Why They May Not Be:  No one wants a rehashing of the stage musical on-screen.  Would Ngaujah or Mambo be able to deliver fresh, nuanced performances that separate the stage and film productions from one another?

*The Wildcard Pick:  Olamide Adedeji

Why He's Right: Even though the popular Yoruba rapper-turned-actor (Osun Funke) doesn't have the experience that the three previous names bring to the table, something about this guy makes me believe that with the right guidance, he could surprise us all with a very convincing performance as Fela.  He not only has the look, but the confident, defiant attitude as well.

Why He May Not Be: As a newcomer, taking on what amounts to the role of a lifetime, the pressure to get it right could work against him if he's not prepared.

*The Best Pick:  Jude Akuwudike

Why He's Right:  This veteran of stage and film is likely the most unknown of the bunch.  In my opinion, though, Akuwudike's the one who could best bring Fela to life on-screen.  Probably best remembered for his turn as the sinister Matthias Mutukula in BBC's Moses Jones, Akuwudike has the look, the acting chops, and the anonymity needed to make the role authentically his own.

Why He May Not Be:  Is a major studio willing to entrust the fate of a project so heavily-anticipated to a virtual unknown?  Probably not.

Did I miss any possible contenders?  Is there anyone on my list who shouldn't be? 

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  • L | September 30, 2013 11:19 AMReply

    Adesola Osakalumi's performance in the musical FELA! was amazing. He is definitely the man for this film.

  • L | September 30, 2013 11:19 AMReply

    Adesola Osakalumi's performance in the musical FELA! was amazing. He is definitely the man for this film.

  • Nic | September 27, 2013 2:59 AMReply

    Absolutely, positively---Adesola Osakalumi! I saw the musical FELA! at least 6 times (on Broadway and on tour) and saw him, Sahr, and Kevin play the role. Unfortunately, with all the hype that was put on the latter two gentlemen, Adesola was grossly overlooked and in my opinion not given enough press push as was bestowed upon Sahr and even Kevin (kind of makes me wonder if after putting him on the back burner for so long and then realizing his supreme talent that clearly shined brightly, the powers that be felt a wee bit--ugh--stupid for ignoring him for so long). And while they were good, without a shadow of a doubt, Adesola nailed every single minute detail of Fela to the point it felt as if Fela had come back from the grave and took over this man's body. I am not one who is prone to exaggeration, but when I say he was amazing, I mean he was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

  • Africiate! | September 26, 2013 2:56 PMReply

    To have the best performance for FELA in this movie, the person has to be a Nigerian. There's just something about our culture, traditions and psychology that would be hard for anyone to understand and embody for this role. Fela is a complicated man and the actor needs to dig into his psycology for sure which takes more than a couple months.

  • Dee | September 25, 2013 11:29 PMReply

    Adesola Osakalumi played him best on broadway

  • Teal Mays | September 25, 2013 10:59 PMReply

    Adesola Osakalumi is the truth! Add him in the mix. Saw him play the lead role ai Fela in Miami. Dude is the truth.

  • Chike | September 25, 2013 5:44 PMReply

    Why isn't there a mention of Fela's alter ego - Dede Mabiaku who is first a fantastic actor and a musician who worked with Fela for years before the legend passed on. He already is a walking study on Fela.

  • BA | September 25, 2013 2:52 PMReply

    Maybe Dbanj, the musician.

  • Winston | September 25, 2013 10:18 PM

    D'Banj? Me thinks not. Unless Don Jazzy is there to hold his hand and guide him in his acting as well.

  • CT | September 25, 2013 11:07 AMReply

    Im sure actor Wale Ojo, would put himself forward for what we know would be his dream role as he already performs as Fela in a tribute band. Very well I might add.

    Definitely do not underestimate Chiwetel as he can definitely play Fela in all his glory, but certainly Jude would be an outstanding choice. All depends on the script.

    He is ceratinly a hugh talent, but somehow Im not yet convinced that Andrew Dosunmu is the right director for this project.

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