2022 has been an incredible year for Nollywood. From the arrival of a new streaming platform to an action film that actually had audiences by the neck, I think it’s time to admit that Nollywood ate this year.
While the jump to consume more streaming content took a lot of our data and almost made us bankrupt, some Nollywood actors and their performances made all that time and money worth our while.
Genovevah Umeh — Blood Sisters and Far From Home
Stealing the show from an ensemble cast of heavyweights like Kate Henshaw, Ramsey Nouah, Kehinde Bankole and Gabriel Afolayan is no easy feat. But that’s the heist Genovevah Umeh successfully pulled off on EbonyLife’s Blood Sisters. With eyes that said much more than any dialogue could convey, Genovevah’s performance turned what could’ve been a caricature into a fully fleshed-out human.
Genovevah is undoubtedly the breakout star of 2022.
Meg Otanwa — For Maria: Ebun Pataki
Meg Otanwa is the only actor with one film on this list, but anyone who’s seen her performance in For Maria: Ebun Pataki will tell you that one role was all she needed to end 2022 on a high. Diving deeper than any actor I’ve seen in a while, Meg’s nuanced turn as Derin, a young mother struggling with postpartum depression, had the internet talking and researching for weeks.
This was the role of a lifetime, and Meg Otanwa definitely matched it with the year’s best performance.
Odunlade Adekola — King of Thieves and Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman
Odunlade Adekola is more than just a meme king; in 2022, it’s clear he wants you to know that. As the imposing Oba Adegbite Tadenikaro in the Yoruba revenge epic, King of Thieves, Odunlade turns the humour down but still makes his character charismatic and unforgettable.
While his “Father Christmas” beard in Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman might be unnerving, it takes nothing from Odunlade’s commanding work as the film’s conflicted titular character, a performance that’s one of 2022’s best.
Bimbo Ademoye — Anikulapo, Iya Barakat Teropi Secxxion and Selina
Bimbo Ademoye is the gift that keeps on giving. Since grabbing my attention with her colourful role in 2019’s Sugar Rush, Bimbo has consistently delivered incredible performances, even when the film’s plot happens to be the weapon fashioned against her.
While Bimbo has been hailed for her comedic timing, her dramatic and seductive turn as Queen Arolake was one of the best parts of Kunle Afolayan’s confused Anikulapo. PS: If you’re here for the hilarious Bimbo, her Instagram skit turned web series, Iya Barakat Teropi Secxxion will have you spitting out your food in laughter.
Uzoamaka Aniunoh — Juju Stories and Diiche
Uzoamaka Aniunoh makes her way through each project, making choices and doing things that feel natural for whatever character she’s playing. It’s acting that’s more like being. While I’ve wondered out loud why Nigerian TV shows don’t have the same pull they had in the past, Uzoamaka’s role as Inspector Ijeoma Anene on Diiche happens to be one of the few performances that restores my faith in television.
Deyemi Okanlawon — Blood Sisters and Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman
Deyemi Okanlawon is quickly turning into the Noah Centineo of Nollywood, but I can’t be mad because the man can actually act. Marking attendance on not just one but two major Netflix releases (the third, Far From Home, drops this December) in one year is a major flex for any actor, but all the flexing Deyemi does happen on screen.
As Olunde in Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman, Deyemi is dutiful and loyal, a far cry from his terrifying and unforgivable turn as Kola in Blood Sisters.
Bisola Aiyeola — Dwindle, Flawsome and Dinner at My Place
It’s hard to fault Nollywood producers who cast former reality TV stars in films when Bisola Aiyeola continues to hit her roles out of the park. An actress with incredible range, Bisola can make her audience laugh like they’re at a stand-up show in one scene and still make them cry like they’ve been served breakfast in the next. I’m waiting for a role that fully utilises her talents because that role hasn’t been written yet.
Daniel Etim Effiong — Collision Course, Blood Sisters and Selina
What can I do when an actor I like is cast in a role I dislike that’s also the centrepiece of a movie I can’t stand? If the acting works, I have no choice but to give this actor his flowers. And yes, Daniel Etim Effiong’s acting works in the deeply upsetting police-sympathy drama, Collision Course. I just wish he wasn’t in it.
That being said, Daniel’s roles in Blood Sisters and Selina slightly make up for the Bolanle Austen-Peters blunder.
Gabriel Afolayan — For Maria: Ebun Pataki, Blood Sisters and U Turn
If we’re keeping it one hundred, Gabriel Afolayan would make any list of the best performances of the year for just about any role, and with his eyes closed. He stays committed to every character and keeps it interesting, even when the film is undeserving of his talent. Thankfully, in 2022, Gabriel got the chance to sink his teeth into a wide variety of juicy roles, and he ate everything up.
From the supportive albeit confused husband in For Maria: Ebun Pataki to the scheming and overlooked brother on Blood Sisters, Gabriel created completely different characters whose only similarity was the actor that played them.
Tina Mba — For Maria: Ebun Pataki, U-Turn and Finding Hubby 2
Very few actresses command the screen like Tina Mba, even in minor supporting roles. While it could’ve been easy to dislike her as the mother-in-law in For Maria: Ebun Pataki, Tina plays the role with such dedication that we can’t’t help but understand her character’s point of view — right or wrong.
A memorable scene I can’t get over is when she sprinkles anointing oil around her daughter-in-law’s room and then uses some on her breast to get her to lactate. It’s totally uncomfortable to watch, but it’s still the most Nigerian mother thing ever.