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

Shadow and Act By Emmanuel Akitobi | Shadow and Act September 27, 2013 at 3:22PM

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.
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Clockwise from bottom left: Olamide Adedeji; Jude Akuwudike; Kevin Mambo; Sahr Ngaujah; Chiwetel Ejiofor
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? 

This article is related to: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jude Akuwudike, Kevin Mambo, Sahr Ngaujah, Olamide Adedeji


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