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'Lionheart' (2018) Review: In a Male-Dominated World

By: Larissa Couto

Netflix seems to have figured out its place as a “bridge builder” in the movie industry this last year. Releases such as Roma, The Last Hangover and Lionheart are examples of the platform introducing new ways (and languages) to make movies. Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart is a look into the Nigerian movie industry (or Nollywood) style of telling stories. Netflix’s brief description says that this is a movie about Adaeze (Genevieve Nnaji) proving herself in a male-dominated world, but it’s essentially a film about identity. Adaeze spent some time in the United States, and on her return to Nigeria she’s been trying to find her place in her home, in the family’s company, and in her own country.

Adaeze wakes up at 5 a.m. for a run and then goes to work, where she’s a competent businesswoman, but not brilliant enough (yet) to inherit the director’s chair from her father at the bus company. When the company faces a crisis, Adaeze, along with her peculiar uncle Godswill (Nkem Owoh), needs to not only save the business from bankruptcy, but also prove her value—and her family’s value. Lionheart is about this go-getter woman in the pursuit of validation; but here is where the film loses some of its strength. With a simple screenplay, the film has Adaeze as its main character with a plot that suggests that the premise of “proving herself in a male-dominated world” will not be completely fulfilled. The eventful parts of the film happen because of a man: her father decides her path in the bus company, the heir of another company (Hamza Maikano) explains to Adaeze her own goals and motivations, and her uncle is the one who protects her and—in a move that kills the unpredictability of the plot—shows her how to save the company. In contrast, the few women we see on the screen either need two men behind them finishing every sentence or are occupied taking care of someone else. In one of the best dialogue scenes of Lionheart, Adaeze is mute while her family explains to her the best way to find a good husband.

If the plot is not very well written and struggles in making its main character take charge of the story, the acting compensates for it. Veteran actors like Nkem Owoh and Pete Edochie are great as business chiefs. They give their characters necessary quirkiness and respect (respectively, as the uncle and father), without ever losing kindness. Nnaji’s acting is equally good; she gives Adaeze a powerful presence that sometimes compensates for the character’s not very authoritative personality. Her work as the director of Lionheart is also very well developed. She makes simple and objective directing choices, while presenting clever camera movement—especially to situate the viewer in the rich Nigeria
she wants to show.

As an international film, Lionheart is both curious and entertaining. With a relatable story and some use of the native language mixed with English, the film can’t be labeled as overly exotic, allowing the Nigerian production to reach a wide audience through Netflix. Although it’s a good film, Lionheart still doesn’t accomplish a fair plot for its female main character. Even after conquering her objective, we still wonder if she will be able to succeed without her father or uncle at her side. As mentioned earlier, Lionheart would be better defined as a film where Adaeze seeks her own identity. As the rich daughter that needs to prove to her family that she has what it takes to be a director (and prove she has what it takes to be a true Nigerian to everyone else), Adaeze looks for her identity. The scars from her male-dominated world make it difficult for Adaeze to own her value; she relies on her uncle to tell her that she’s a leader, that she’s capable. In a sexist society, she’s a mighty woman who makes her own money and will, as the ending suggests, follow the advice of her family and end up with a wealthy husband.

Grade: B -

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