Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: NIGERIAN PRINCE (2018): Ugly American Meets Ugly Reality [Tribeca 2018]

Antonio J Bell Nigerian Prince

Nigerian Prince Review

Nigerian Prince (2018Film Review from the 17th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Faraday Okoro, and starring Antonio J Bell, Chinaza Uche, Tina Mba, Bimbo Manuel, and Craig Stott.

Yes, we’ve all been made aware – either as stern warning or meme parody – of the titular scam; but scamming has become such a universally reviled criminal corner, that I doubt relatively few among us care to know who these people are (as actual persons, anyway). Nigerian Prince brings some context to this issue, by touching on certain universal motivators.

On its face, Nigerian Prince was a fish-out-of-water tale, about American teen, Eze (Antonio J Bell), sent – unwillingly – to experience his Nigerian roots. Once the stern & spartan conditions of his stay – embodied by hosting Aunt, Grace (Tina Mba) – becomes clear, however, he resolves to get back to the U.S. by any means necessary. To that end, his path converges with titular native cousin, Pius (Chinaza Uche), and an escape plan evolves out of a convolution of scams. Beneath the surface, however, Nigerian Prince had more going for it.

For starters, at no point was Eze ever made out to be either relateable (to anyone I’d associate with, anyway), or even likable. He was a brat from the get-go; and any expectation of character evolution would bear disappointment. At best, he initially served to establish Grace as a much needed voice of reason & discipline; not just because of Eze’s Ugly American shtick, during the film’s many culture shock moments, but because of the real risk of Eze falling into the orbit of her wayward son, Pius.

So what was the point of making this Eze’s story? Well, it really wasn’t. This wasn’t a film so much about an American coming face-to-face with a Nigerian scammer, as it was about a Nigerian scammer having an actual American as a (literally) relative resource.

With Eze’s arrival, multiple estranged relationships are exposed – all of them either a product of, or resulting in the need to hustle someone else. Eze was introduced as the first victim; but not necessarily in the narrative’s given order. By the time he realizes this, the film made clear that everyone is either the hustler or the hustled, that leverage is key, and that no good deed goes unpunished. No, Eze was not the center of this plot; he was merely the catalyst to Pius’ story.

Chinaza Uche infused Pius with enough charm & charisma to make him an effective confidence-man, but also made him earnest enough to be taken seriously. Through Pius, the film not only went into the desperate circumstances of the scammer, but touched on just how easily anyone can find themselves caught up in such a vicious cycle. The character also provided much of the film’s humor – which, in turn, made its violent turns that much more jarring, upping moments of tension.

There were thin lines – between necessity, ambition, and greed – that the film suggests anyone can cross, given the right/ wrong circumstance & motivation. Leverage was key; but motivation provided the leverage.

Eze was motivated by getting home; Grace was motivated by an opportunity to succeed with her nephew, where she had failed with her son; Pius was motivated by survival, in the strictest sense. Even peripheral characters had motivational factors – like helping a fellow foreigner – used against them; and the film may win no favor with the Nigerian tourist board, given its depiction of corruption infusing almost every aspect of Nigerian life.

Of course, the biggest scam of all remained the notion of who was driving this plot; resulting in a resolution that made perfect sense, in terms of both story & setting.

Nigerian Prince did not provide context that redeems the scammer, nor should it have. It does succeed at providing a relatively sympathetic face to the devils, however; and, ultimately, that’s all the context this subject really needs.

Rating: 6/10

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About the author

Sam Joseph

Sam is an Avid consumer/observer of Geek culture, and collector of Fanboy media from earliest memory. Armchair sociologist and futurist. Honest critic with satirical if not absurdist­­ wit with some experience in comics/ animation production.

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