Alhaja Eniola Salami is one of Nollywood’s most important female characters

Kemi Adetiba has begun promotion for the ‘King Of Boys’ sequel, and as you can imagine, everyone is super excited. Following the well-deserved critical and commercial success of her directorial debut, ‘The Wedding Party’, expectations for her second film were high and she managed to exceed them with ‘King Of Boys’. The film instantly received rave reviews from cinema goers, had the highest opening week in 2018 for a non-comedy film, and the second highest ever by a female director. This is what made it even more exciting when it was premiered on Netflix a few months later, giving viewers all over the world access to the fantastic film.

King Of Boys follows Alhaja Eniola Salami (played by Sola Sobowale), a businesswoman with a promising political future, who made her way to the top with a checkered past. As her ambitions see her outgrowing the underworld connections responsible for her wealth, she’s drawn into a power struggle that threatens everything she holds dear. Alhaja Eniola is one of the most important female characters in Nollywood history, as we rarely ever see a woman in as much control as she is, daring to cross as many boundaries as she did.

From the way she rose into her position of power, to the way she handled male opposition who constantly undermined her, her character flips the damsel-in-distress cliché on its head. Even though she was in distress, she wasn’t presented to viewers as such, even at her lowest points. From her regal clothes to the way she switched between loving and evil, Eniola Salami is nothing like we’ve ever seen in Nollywood before.

Nollywood typically portrays women in that age bracket as either inherently good (making ridiculous sacrifices as a labour of love) or inherently bad (wicked stepmothers/wives who poison men). Nigerian films tend to translate the way women are viewed in real life to the screens, and all the things society imposes on women are heightened in film. At this point in society, we’re shedding these imposed beliefs, and Instagram pages such as Yungnollywood and Nollybabes offer us different perspective from what we were taught when these older films were being made.

This is a result of women taking charge of their own narratives and breaking away from what’s considered as the set norm, and Kemi Adetiba’s female anti-hero, chucks a middle finger up to what society dictates that a woman should be. Alhaja Eniola defies the idea that women in film and TV are either inherently ‘good’ or pure evil, by being a mix of both. Outwardly, she’s loving and caring to her children and other women in her community, whilst in secret, is evil to those who step on her toes or attempt to interrupt her grinding.

Toni Tones as Young Eniola Salami

– SPOILER ALERT –

While she’s still punished for her diabolical ways, by losing her two children, her entire dynasty and position as the official King Of Boys, the end of the film suggested that even though she’s been ostracised from society, she’s still in control of affairs. Even though at this point, we were aware that she was a murderous villain, we still stan, and this is because we are finally seeing women on the big-screen presented as real, multi-faceted characters. In the early noughties, television in the States was turned on its head with protagonists like Don Draper and Tony Soprano: completely deplorable characters who constantly did terrible things, but you still cheered them on. Not long after, we were finally given female anti-heroes to both love and hate, such as Claire Underwood and Cersei Lannister.

What’s interesting about all these women, and Alhaja Eniola included, is that their characters don’t deny their femininity and womanhood, in fact, that’s what their strength as villains is. It’s revealed in King Of Boys that a lot of Alhaja Eniola’s motivation came from trying to provide a good life for her adopted daughter, Kemi (Adesua Etomi), after promising her late mother that she would. We also see her helping other women out of troublesome situations, like when she bought a hawker’s entire stock, after noticing that she was pregnant again and clearly wasn’t doing any family planning.

While presenting the notion that not all female villains have to be femme fatales, a young Eniola Salami – excellently portrayed by Toni Tones – gained her wealth and status by seducing a married man, before she killed him and his entire family off and inherited his wealth. Again, women like this on television typically get ‘their due’, and are eventually punished for their actions, however, a young Eniola, built a dynasty through this evil act, and remained on top even though she seemingly lost everything.

Her methods are totally diabolical and definitely questionable, but there’s definitely a thrill in seeing her manoeuvre this role, mostly because it’s nothing like we’ve ever seen on Nigerian television. A few months ago, we learnt that we’ll be seeing more of Young Eniola, in the sequel, which director, Kemi Adetiba has already started teasing with flyers and a teaser video. While the recently released clip doesn’t give much of the sequel away, the smoky effect, loud footsteps and ominous figure appearing out of the smoke is enough indication of where the film is headed, and we can’t wait.

Since we have all the time to, thanks to the ‘rona, you should watch ‘King Of Boys’ and all the other original African content on Netflix!

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