We recently called it and agreed that Nollywood men are doing the Lord’s work, but it’s important to make a second trip to the garden, pluck red roses and hand them to Nollywood actresses.
The industry is evolving like never before, and it’s so gratifying to see talents match up to the flair that made us fall for Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and Rita Dominic among others. If you don’t already have the Nollywood actresses on this list on your radar, here’s your call to do so.
Nollywood’s top young actresses in 2023
Kayode Kasum’s Obara M stayed with me for many reasons, but one thing I couldn’t quite shake off was Darasimi Nadi’s performance as Ihunanya. Cast alongside veterans like Nkem Owoh and Nancy Isime, the 11-year-old matched their energy head-to-head in a performance that earned her a Best Supporting Actress BFF award. Catch her magic in projects like The Pretty Ones Are the Loneliest, Rough Diamonds and Smokescreen.
Jade Osiberu’s Gang of Lagos introduced us to the talent that is Maleek Sani of Ikorodu Bois, but with him was another rare Nollywood gem — Pamilerin Ayodeji. Pamilerin was cast as Teni, a younger version of Bimbo Ademoye, and the way she ate the role up? I made a quick dash to my Google search console because where is more of this young queen? The Father, Special Friends and most recently, Alone, are some of her other notable works.
My first onscreen encounter with Genoveva Umeh was in the Netflix original series, Blood Sisters, where her major standoff with the iconic Kate Henshaw left my mouth gaping. I was hooked, and that singular viewing experience sold me on her ministry. I stumbled on Genoveva again in Netflix’s young adult series, Far From Home, and I knew this was one queen out to make her mark. She’s since landed roles in a 2023 season of MTV Shuga and the Amazon Prime original film, Breath of Life.
Filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan, took the decision to cast his first daughter, Eyiyemi, because “she’s beautiful and a natural at acting”, and honestly, we get it. Her debut as Princess Omowunmi on Anikulapo was a hit that had Twitter NG asking for the neck of her character. She’s among the Nollywood actresses making a bigger comeback in 2023.
During her time in the BBNaija house, Diane Russet was vocal about her gospel of dominating Nollywood. It might have taken a while to get our attention, but she’s gradually getting there, especially with her slate of YouTube shorts Bayi, Therapist and Storm. She featured in Jade Osiberu’s Brotherhood and executive produced her own Africa Magic show, Ricordi. We know there’s more she brings to the table, and we hope Nollywood is paying attention.
Next rated OGs of 2023
Uzoamaka Aninoh had us taking notes on her performance in shows like MTV Shuga and Africa Magic’s Venge. But she went on to show her level of depth and range in Showmax’s Diiche, the Domitilla reboot and Dika Ofoma’s short, A Quiet Monday. With CJ Obasi’s Mami Wata set to release soon, we know we’ll get another taste of her medicine, and we can’t wait.
Bimbo Ademoye has been at it for a while, and it’s beautiful to see the actress getting all the flowers that should’ve been in her garden for a long time. But they’re there now, and we can’t complain. Cast as Arolake in Kunle Afolayan’s Anikulapo
Elma Mbadiwe first popped up on my radar after I watched her in the short film, Without You. Later on, she’d show up on my screen in Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story, Ndani TV’s F.O.MO. and Rumour Has It, and at first, I thought, “Okay, work rate is super.” I was finally sold on her ministry when she played Carmen in Netflix’s first Nigerian young adult series, Far From Home, and I instantly added her to my “Watch out for this star” list.
Meg Otanwa has been at it since 2011, but she didn’t quite stick in the minds of the Nigerian audience until 2022, when she showed up and showed off in Damilola Orimogunje’s film, For Maria Ebun Pataki. The movie was about postpartum depression, and Otanwa was more than perfect to drive the serious message home. Her performance reminded us of her previous roles in films like October 1, Before 30 and Atlanta. Otanwa has all it takes to raise shoulder with our OG Nollywood actresses.
Efe Irele has had pockets of big moments in Nollywood but none quite come close to her riveting performance as Bianca in Niyi Akinmolayan’s steamy rom-com, Hey You! What could have made for cringe television had the audience delighted, especially her steamy scenes with resident Nollywood bad boy, Timini Egbuson. Efe bagged her first AMVCA in May 2023, for her role as Theresa in Izu Ojukwu’s period film, Four Four, Forty Four, and made a titillating return in Akinmolayan’s latest, House of Secrets. We love the exciting run for her.
Top-rated veteran Nollywood actresses of 2023
Kemi Adetiba dragged mummy Sola Sobowale back to the shores of Nigeria in 2016 to play Tinuade Coker in Ebonylife’s The Wedding Party. Two years later, Adetiba cast the iconic actress as Eniola Salami, the lead in her political thriller, King of Boys, and there’s been no greater career run like Sola’s since then. Sobowale’s character interpretation shocked her to the core and even drove her to watch a film she’d featured in for the first time. In 2022, she flexed on us with her role as Awarun in Kunle Afolayan’s Anikulapo, and we’ve just accepted that she’s back for a long time.
In June 2023, for the first time in a long while, I watched Twitter NG collectively agree on one thing: Give Kehinde Bankole her flowers. We knew she was a leading woman in Nollywood, but we needed Biodun Stephen’s Sista to remind us just how iconic the Kehinde Bankole of SuperStory, The Set Up and Tainted Canvas is. She’s poised to have an even louder applause with her portrayal of Olufunmi Ransome Kuti in Bolanle Austen Peters’s upcoming biopic.
Najite Dede has been around since the days of The Governor (2017), Riona (2020) and Gidi Up (2012), but we needed Niyi Akinmolayan’s House of Secret to show us her level of depth and star power as a Nollywood screen icon. Najite’s class-act performance in the psychological thriller has laid the foundation for an exciting 2023 for the actress.
It’s been over one year since Blood Sisters debuted on Netflix, and I still get flashbacks of Kate Henshaw’s performance as Uduak Ademola; the emotionally-wrought mum who gave zero shits for her daughter but would kill for her son. If anything, that role was a stark reminder of what Henshaw brings to the table of iconic screen goddesses in Nollywood. Seven months into 2023, we’ve seen more of her as Mrs Eket in Niyi Akinmolayan’s House of Secret, and we know she still has more up her sleeves.