MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’ sets new standard for Nollywood biopics


MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’ sets new standard for Nollywood biopics

Movie Title: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Date Release: 17 May 2024


Running Time: 91 Minutes


Director: Tunde Babalola


Cast: Joke Silva, Kehinde Bankole, Ibrahim Suleiman, Jide Kosoko, Dele Odule, Adebayo Salami, Keppy Ekpeyoung, Adunni Ade, Omowunmi Dada, Patrick Diabuah and many others


What makes a biopic stand out? Is it because it is the story of people we already know, or because it focuses on their heroic experiences in life, making them the superman or superwoman everyone wants to watch?


A biopic, short for “biographical picture,” is a film that dramatises the life of a natural person or a group of people.


But beyond telling true stories, biopics blend storytelling that educates and engages, offering insights into the lives of influential and extraordinary people. ‘Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’ is an example.


However, making a biopic can be delicate. Overloading the narrative with too many details can make it manageable, focused, and, in the worst case, boring when it focuses on an already well-known fact about the person.


That is why, despite the numerous Nigerian heroes and heroines, there are only a few biopics on them, maybe because filmmakers have yet to find that intriguing niche in their stories.


‘Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’’s biopic doesn’t just focus on her being the mother of legendary Afrobeat singer Fela Kuti or the first Nigerian woman to drive a car. It reveals so much more about her life.


Tunde Babalola, the director of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, avoids this pitfall by focusing on one significant aspect of her life and weaving other minor details around it.


The film focuses on the lesser-known women’s revolt of 1947. As leader of the Abeokuta Women’s Union, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, along with Eniola Soyinka (Wole Soyinka’s mother), led the Ẹ̀gbá women to protest high taxes and gender marginalisation. Their protest led to the abdication of the Aláké of Ẹ̀gbá Land, ended taxation on women, and secured seats for women on the local council. Funmilayo’s actions earned her the title “The Lioness of Lisabi.”


Her heroics in the struggle for women’s rights are the focal point of the biopic, supplemented by other pivotal moments, like being the first female student of Abeokuta Grammar School and promoting education for women and children. This comprehensive approach ensures her inspiring character isn’t reduced to a single narrative.



The film introduces Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti at three stages in her life: As a little girl (portrayed by Iyimide Ayo-Olumoko), a young woman (portrayed by Kehinde Bankole), and an older woman (portrayed by Joke Silva).


The story begins dramatically with the 1977 invasion of Fela Kuti’s home, the Kalakuta Republic, by Nigerian police. They throw the elderly Funmilayo, played by Joke Silva, from a balcony, an injury that would eventually lead to her death a year later.


The narrative then seamlessly intertwines her life events, showing her journey from childhood to adulthood.


As a young girl named Francis Thomas, inspired by her father, Chief Daniel Olumeyuwa Thomas (Patrick Dibuah), the son of a returnee enslaved person from Sierra Leone with roots in Egba land, she developed resilience and determination.

Dele Odule, Oga Bello and Jide Kosoko

Her father encouraged her to cross boundaries, leading her to become the first female student at Abeokuta Grammar School despite the teasing and bullying from her peers. Her friendship with Israel Ransome-Kuti (Iremide Adeoye) began here, eventually blossoming into genuine love.


Israel went to Sierra Leone for further education, while Francis went to London, where she adopted her Yoruba name, Funmilayo. They continued their relationship through letters.


Israel (Ibrahim Suleiman) returned to Nigeria as a clergyman and principal of their alma mater, and upon Funmilayo’s return (Kehinde Bankole), they married and started a family.


Despite being part of the elite, Funmilayo was passionate about educating children rather than in school. Her life changed when she met a market woman, Iya Supo, whose son had stopped attending school. At the market, Funmilayo confronted the tax collectors, the Parakoyi, challenging their excessive taxes. This act earned her the praise of the market women.


However, the Alake and his tax collectors persisted in their oppressive practices. Funmilayo’s efforts to address the issue through formal channels were fruitless, leading her to form the Abeokuta Women’s Club, which later evolved into the Abeokuta Women’s Union. By uniting elite women with market women, they collectively fought against unjust taxation.


How far can Funmilayo and her union go in battling powerful authorities? Can they genuinely stand against the throne and colonial masters?


Character Analysis

The film’s exceptional cast, featuring luminaries like Joke Silva, Kehinde Bankole, Ibrahim Suleiman, Jide Kosoko, Dele Odule, Adebayo Salami, and many others, delivers groundbreaking performances that captivate the audience from start to finish.


A particular highlight is the inclusion of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’s grandchildren, Dotun Ransome-Kuti and Kunle Ransome-Kuti, who portray their fathers, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and Fela Kuti, respectively, adding depth and authenticity to the narrative.


The portrayal of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti by three actresses—Iyimide Ayo-Olumoko, Kehinde Bankole, and Joke Silva—closely reflects her real-life personality. Each actress effectively captures the character’s essence during different life stages.


For Iyimide Ayo-Olumoko, as a vibrant and fearless teenager, Iyimide brings youthful energy and determination to the role, embodying the early signs of Funmilayo’s indomitable spirit.


Then, Kehinde Bankole shines as the young adult Funmilayo. Kehinde captures her transformation into the formidable “Lioness of Lisabi,” reflecting her growing political activism and leadership.


Joke Silva, as the older and more serene Funmilayo and the story’s narrator, beautifully portrays the wisdom and resilience of a woman who has endured and achieved so much.


However, while the main character is given a rich, multifaceted portrayal, most secondary characters receive a more mundane depiction. At times, they appear almost detached from the action, possibly an intentional choice to keep the focus firmly on Funmilayo. This approach ensures that the main character’s narrative remains central but limits the depth of the supporting cast’s performances.


Despite the limited scope for the secondary cast, actors like Jide Kosoko, Dele Odule, Adebayo Salami, Keppy Ekpeyoung, Adunni Ade, and Omowunmi Dada add layers to the story, enriching the film’s historical and cultural context.


Overall, the film’s cast, especially the actresses playing Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, delivers compelling performances that bring to life the inspiring journey of a remarkable woman. Including her real-life grandchildren adds an extra layer of authenticity, making the biopic a profoundly engaging and memorable cinematic experience.


Movie Analysis

Indeed, when history and storytelling meet, magic is made on screen.


“Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti,” directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters, is a masterpiece that brings the remarkable life of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to the silver screen with brilliant storytelling, unique characters, and impeccable craftsmanship.


The film elegantly chronicles the life of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, portrayed brilliantly by Kehinde Bankole and Joke Silva. From her pioneering days as the first female student at Abeokuta Grammar School to her marriage to Israel Ransome-Kuti, played by Ibrahim Suleiman, the movie vividly depicts her tireless activism against oppression.


Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a trailblazer in many aspects, and the film does justice to her legacy. Its costumes beautifully recreate the era, transporting the audience back to when these events unfolded.


Using both Yoruba and English languages adds depth to the storytelling, capturing Abeokuta’s cultural and historical nuances at that time.


One of the film’s standout achievements is its depiction of female power and feminism as underlying themes. It showcases the strength that arises when women unite to fight injustice, emphasising the power of unity among women. Moreover, it portrays women as powerful beings capable of achieving incredible feats when they set their minds to it—much like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti herself.


The movie also shows the influence of colonial powers and corruption within traditional rule during that era. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and her women challenge both the chiefs and the government, highlighting the systematic pauperisation of the masses.


The cinematography effectively complements the movie, enhancing the storytelling by visually conveying the characters’ emotions, struggles, and triumphs.


Attention was paid to historical accuracy in recreating the visual aesthetics of the period. The movie’s costumes, set design, and overall visual style transport viewers to the early 20th century, providing a sense of authenticity that adds depth to the storytelling.


We should also applaud the director’s vision and aptness, saved for it; there are many ways that Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti could have gone south very quickly. If Austen-Peters had allowed the movie to cover a broader scope of Ransome-Kuti’s life as an educator or mother, perhaps the story would have been crushed under its weight.


This movie undoubtedly alters the narrative and guarantees that people view her as more than the tired and outdated narratives that have the threatened to erode her legacy.


“Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” sets an example for other subsequent biopics to build on.






Funmilayo Ransome Kuti is currently streaming in cinema nationwide.

Credit: Adesina Kasali


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