When the Alaafin (King) of Oyo dies, the Elesin Oba (the King’s Horseman, played by Odunlade Adekola) must accompany him to the afterlife. The people have prepared and as Elesin is on his way to fulfil his duty to his King and his people, he spots a woman (Omowunmi Dada) who he decides to marry before he joins the ancestors. This causes a big enough delay that the British, who are also ruling and have heard about what is to take place, are able to get involved, which throws a wrench in the plan.
The film is based on the play Death and the King’s Horseman by Prof. Wole Soyinka which critiques colonialism and westernisation and was written and directed by the late Mr. Biyi Bandele. It deals with the idea of duty- one’s duty to themselves, their people, their land; and while the film has an outcome that many people will clutch their pearls at, it highlights a ‘war’ of ideologies. What happens when two differing ideologies coexist on a land and clash on a specific issue? Who decides which one is ‘right’? Is it whoever was there first, or whoever has the most power? The hypocrisy that politicking tends to have is also exposed here; claiming to care about human life while actively contributing to a war that kills thousands – for example. With this film, Bandele takes the complexities presented in Soyinka’s play and makes them accessible on the screen.
I am so excited that this film premiered at TIFF and will be coming to Netflix in November. It beautifully
puts the Yoruba culture on display, with the language the dressing, the food, the music and the customs; and brings some of Nigeria’s finest together to bring these characters to life. I see this as a revival of our historical education, an oriki (a praise song or poem recited amongst Yoruba speakers) of sorts, that will let us know where we came from, remind us of who we are and will help us hold our heads high in the world, as I think all art should.
The King’s Horseman premiered at TIFF ’22. For more information, click here.