After making us fall in love with his work on and offscreen, popular playwright, novelist and director, Biyi Bandele has passed away, according to a Facebook statement by his daughter, Temi Bandele.
While Biyi may be famous for directing the 2013 adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Nollywood’s Netflix megahit miniseries, Blood Sisters — not to be confused with the early 2000s Nollywood home video, his work cuts across stage, books and television.
Here’s a timeline of his incredible work.
1980s — 1990s: Biyi Bandele’s penmanship got the world’s attention
Leaving Kaduna, where he’d spent most of his life, Biyi Bandele made the big boy move to the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, to study drama in 1987.
While there, Biyi displayed incredible talent as a writer, winning the 1989 International Student Playscript Competition and the British Council Lagos Award in 1990.
Biyi eventually moved to London in 1990 at just 22, where he worked with the Royal Court Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He wrote screenplays for TV and Radio, including Rain, Two Horsemen and Marching for Fausa. He also wrote the acclaimed books: The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond and The Street.
2007: Burma Boy
After years of killing it as a playwright and author, Biyi released one of his most famous works, Burma Boy, in 2007.
The book is a fictionalised story based on stories Biyi himself heard from his father as a child about the Burma Campaign during World War II. The book became a hit, with Oloture director Kenneth Gyang recently revealing that he was in talks with Biyi to turn it into a feature film.
2013: Biyi gave us a little Shuga with Half of a Yellow Sun
Many people consider Chimamanda Adichie’s 2006 book Half of a Yellow Sun to be one of the best works of literature to come out of Nigeria. So when it came time for the book to transition from page to screen, Biyi Bandele was the director trusted to do the job.
After months of shooting in Calabar with stars like Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anika Noni-Rose and Genevieve Nnaji, Half of a Yellow Sun premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2013.
Two months after Half of a Yellow Sun, Biyi struck again, this time with his work on MTV’s sexual health-themed show, Shuga Naija featuring Tiwa Savage, Olumide Owuru and Ms DSF.
2015: Biyi teamed up with Nollywood’s leading ladies
Most people may know EbonyLife Films for their chaotic wedding ensemble, The Wedding Party. But before the Kemi Adetiba hit, Ebonylife’s first film was actually Fifty with Ireti Doyle, Dakore Egbuson, Nse-Ikpe Etim and Omoni Oboli as four fifty-year-old women trying to hack life and love in Lagos.
Fifty premiered on October 17, 2015, at the BFI London Film Festival, London. At this point, it’s safe to say that Biyi was the king of international premieres.
2020: Biyi works on a Fela project
To celebrate the real don gorgon of Nigerian music, Biyi Bandele directed Fela Kuti: Father of Afrobeats, a special documentary for the BBC, narrated by Julie Adenuga.
2021 — 2022: Biyi made us fall in love with fugitives
Towards the end of what seemed like a calm 2021 for Biyi, we started spotting behind-the-scenes photos on his Instagram page of Kate Henshaw, Ini Dinma-Okojie, Nancy Isime and Ramsey Noah from a secret project he was working on with EbonyLife Films.
Originally announced as a film, the secret project was then revealed to be the limited series Blood Sisters, which premiered as a Netflix exclusive on May 5, 2022.
Blood Sisters was a massive hit, scoring 11 million viewing hours in five days and inspiring Astor to write his first positive So You Don’t Have To review. Everyone still talks about the show today, not just because it was entertaining, but because it renewed a sense of hope in Nollywood after a rough start to the year.
Teaming up with EbonyLife one final time, Biyi directed the studio’s adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, retitled Elesin Oba, the King’s Horseman.
The adaptation, which features Odunlade Adekola, Omowunmi Dada, Shaffy Bello and Deyemi Okanlawon, is set to premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.