‘The Black Book’ Director Editi Effiong Brings Nigerian Storytelling to Netflix: Q&A

"I didn't come to the film industry through the traditional Nigerian route."

Director Editi Effiong
Netflix’s The Black Book was shot by Editi Effiong on a $1 million budget. Aham Ibeleme

In 2023, Nigeria‘s film industry showed Netflix (NFLX) how much value a low-budget movie could create. The Black Book, a Nollywood crime thriller directed and produced by Editi Effiong, peaked at No.3 on Netflix’s English-language global charts in 2023 while staying in the top 10 for three weeks. It also took the top spot in South Korea and the No.2 spot in South America.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="nofollow noreferer" href="http://observermedia.com/terms">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

The Black Book is about a father and pastor named Paul Edima, played by Nollywood star Richard Mofe-Damijo, who sets out to clear his son Damilola’s name after he is killed and framed for kidnapping. The film was shot on a budge of $1 million, a fraction of what most Hollywood films cost but a sizable amount in Nigeria. Effiong said it proves Nigerian filmmakers can put together equally high-quality productions at a much lower cost; they just need access to the global market.

Effiong, who owns the production company Anakle, comes from a tech background and has worked in data analytics, software development and artificial intelligence. His entrepreneur friends, though not all “millionaires and billionaires,” Effiong said, eventually became the investors in The Black Book. These are my people,” Effiong told Observer. 

Effiong spoke with Observer in December 2023 about the making of The Black Book, his increasing identification with the film industry and how much distribution and access played into the movie’s international success.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Observer: You’ve said that you weren’t surprised by The Black Book’s popularity and the success. How did you initially expect viewers to respond? And what elements of the movie did you expect people to connect with?

Editi Effiong: I generally believe that all humans are the same. We have the same emotions: we feel love, we feel hate of your joy, we feel sadness, we feel fear. You know, I feel anxiety and grief, which I generally say is a different emotion on its own. If you tell a story that captures these emotions and allows people to connect to the stories, it doesn’t matter where the person is. So distribution is important to get as many eyeballs to see it. 

And so, if you tell a good story but it doesn’t look slick, no one’s gonna watch it. Your great story has to be produced very properly—the picture has to be great, the sound has to be great, the marketing of it has to be great for you to be chosen. I always say that, if we do the things that we are supposed to do in terms of storytelling, the production and post production, then this will be a global hit.

Were any of the responses unexpected? 

Korea, easily Korea. Nigerians consume a lot of Asian content generally, but Korean especially. And to see a Nigerian film be No.1 in Korea, it was really cool. I will go to Korea, because I really need to speak to people there and understand why. Koreans love revenge thrillers. The Black Book was not a revenge thriller per se, but they loved the idea that, you killed mine, I’m gonna kill yours. 

I’m curious to see what you find out when you are able to visit South Korea. Any other markets you plan on visiting?

I’m going to Brazil as well. We’re tracking No.1 there and No.2 across the entire South America. And I can tell because we’ve similar cultural backgrounds, we had military dictatorships, so they could see police brutality and corruption in the way that they see in their homes. I had a guy from Colombia who messaged me on LinkedIn, “If you ever passed through my country, my home is your home, come stay in my home.”  

One thing I wanted to bring up was the viral #EndSARS protests in Nigeria (#EndSARS calls for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigerian Police notorious for abuse on Nigerian citizens) because there’s a similarly named police unit called SAKS in your film. #EndSARS was something that made a lot of people in the world, especially in the U.S., aware of police brutality in Nigeria. Was it your intention to send a message about some of the biggest social issues facing Nigeria? What did you hope your audience would take away from the film? 

I work in the tech industry and advertising industry in Nigeria. Every couple of weeks we’ll have to go and pay money to get a kid (an employee) out of a place because he has long hair or he’s carrying his work laptop or he’s driving a really nice car.

We were going to tell the story long before #EndSARS. But #EndSARS happened, and the government put together a panel of inquiry to examine some of the demands and some of the police brutality cases. Court cases are pretty boring and nobody really has the patience for it. So I took my bag and worked from the court, every single day, providing citizen reports with a language that people can understand and add humor to it. I did that for months, so I understand this issue, rather deeply. 

What did I want the world to understand? You’re not alone in this. It’s happening everywhere. It’s a global problem: people in places of power tend to abuse power. 

This movie was heavily backed by the tech community in Nigeria. Was the intention from the jump? How did you sell the story to investors? 

The big tech guys in the industry are my friends. It was a question of going to my guys and saying, “I want to do this, this is how much I have, I would need you to come on board as well.” So, I don’t think it mattered what kind of story I wanted to tell. What really mattered was what I was trying to do with this film. I told my investors we’re going to make a film that opens the global door to African storytelling. You’re gonna get a chance to back bigger stories in the future because we’re going to open new doors of investment by being able to access new markets.

Do you still identify as a tech person? 

I always say that I’m an entrepreneur working in tech, advertising and film (in that order). But now I think it sounds more like I’m an entrepreneur working in film, tech and advertising. And I’m always going to do the things that give me joy. Building [advertising] campaigns that change people’s lives excites me a lot. So, of course I’m always going to do those things. Being a tech guy has made me a better filmmaker than I would’ve been if I did not have that experience. 

You mentioned the issue of distribution rather than funding at the moment. What other challenges have you identified for filmmakers trying to break internationally?

Access is a very important factor. I have to always admit that I’m an incredibly privileged person. I didn’t come to the film industry through the traditional Nigerian route. I brought my story to the table. I brought money to the table. I have to use that privilege as a service to everyone else in the industry who does not have that. It’s using the privilege of being able to raise money to help other young filmmakers raise money as well. That’s what I’m currently doing. 

If you look at The Black Book, the scenes and locations are amazing. I could get access to an actual seaport to shoot my film. That is not something that the average filmmaker at the highest levels in Nigeria has access to. I have this privilege, and I want to help other filmmakers access this privilege by making the right introductions.

Do you need every movie to be at that level of budget in order to have that access? 

For example, the military and police collaboration wasn’t as much a money thing as it was a patience thing. Having the patience to apply for military permits and police permits and waiting months for that. Money buys you time. Money is what allows you that patience. If someone wants to do the same and asks me, I will just point them to how I did it and introduce them to the people who helped me do it. Whereas for me, it was a question of knocking on several doors and finally finding the right door. I can cut 90 percent of that process and point you straight to the right door. 

‘The Black Book’ Director Editi Effiong Brings Nigerian Storytelling to Netflix: Q&A