If you are not a fan of Marvel movies, you may be surprised by the crazy reactions to the news that a Nigerian has been cast in “Avengers: Infinity War” – and it’s Funke Akindele Bello.
Akindele has been listed among the full cast of the movie on IMDb as a member of Dora Milaje, the personal bodyguards of the Black Panther, recruited from every tribe of Wakanda.
“Well, what’s the big deal?” you may be wondering.
In the past 10 years, there have been quite a few efforts to break into the Hollywood mainstream pool by Nollywood actors.
In 2011, Mirror.Co.Uk reported that Genevieve Nnaji was being considered to become the next Bond girl but it eventually didn’t happen.
In 2013, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde made a cameo appearance as Akon‘s date in “Hit The Floor,” a VH1 popular drama series.
In 2017, Genevieve Nnaji finally made her debut, starring alongside Kate Beckinsale, Damon Idris and Gugu Mmbatha-Raw in “Farming,” an autobiographical story by Nigerian-British actor, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
In 2017, Adesua Etomi told her alma mater, University of Wolverhampton, that she would love to put Nigeria on the map as an actress.
So it’s the dream of most Nollywood actors to receive even the slightest global recognition for their work.
In this case, Akindele isn’t getting credit for just any Hollywood film, she is getting it for a Marvel film. And not just any Marvel film, but one that assembles almost all the superheroes in the franchise.
So what’s the big deal about Marvel?
The grand Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is an American media franchise that centres on a series of superhero films based on characters that appear in comic books published by Marvel Comics.
The first film released in the MCU was “Iron Man” in 2008, and since then, four films in the franchise have earned over a billion dollars each at the global box office. Those films are “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and “Captain America: Civil War.”
So Marvel movies are big deals.
Funke Akindele in “Avengers: Infinity War” is a big deal for actress and Nollywood as a whole
Marvel Cinematic Universe has been around for over a decade and has never cast a Nigerian actress. Akindele being the first is a big deal for her career and the Nigerian film industry as a whole.
“Avengers: Infinity War” features Akindele alongside Marvel characters such as Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow among others, and alongside actors such as Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr, and Scarlet Johannson.
Featuring in Hollywood movies, even as an ‘extra’ that would eventually get listed on IMDB,’ is not an easy feat.
“You also try and showcase some of the decent works you’ve done, just to get them [international] to see who you are,” OC Ukeje recently told Pulse during an interview.
So there must have been meetings before the decision to choose and cast Akindele was made.
It’s hard to imagine this casting possible, say, 10 years ago. But now, Nollywood movies and actors are being exposed to new markets. Nollywood movies are showing in International cinemas, accepted at international film festivals, and critically received globally.
A major or waka pass role in a Marvel film is further proof that indeed, Nollywood is being recognized internationally.
Funke Akindele’s success in Nollywood
Funke Akindele is a household name in Nigeria. Her role as Bisi, a curious secondary school student in the 1998 United Nations-sponsored sitcom “I Need to Know,” is a pop culture staple.
In 2000, and 2003, the actress played minor roles in “Final Whistle” and “Sharon Stone,” respectively. While Funke Akindele tried to break into the Mainstream Nollywood, her career was established in the Yoruba Nollywood industry, with a string of impressive Yoruba movies to her name.
In 2008, she finally broke into the top tier of Nollywood stardom with her commercially successful comedy, “Jenifa,” where she acted the role of Suliat a.k.a Jenifa, a secondary school dropout who lives in a backwater town called Aiyetoro.
Her smattering English and outlandish behaviour endeared her to a new set of fans including the non-Yoruba demographic.
In 2011, she took her first step into the cinematic world with “The Return of Jenifa,” a sequel to the 2008 comedy movie, and in 2015, the actress returned to TV with a spin-off TV series titled “Jenifa’s Diary,” under her production company SceneOne Productions.
In 2017, she also created a music-oriented TV series titled “Industreet.” She has featured in other successful movies such as “Maami,” “Isoken” and “Married But Living Single.”
With a successful franchise, a hit TV series, A-list status, a high fee, and a role in one of the most anticipated movies in history, Akindele is arguably an unrivalled A-List star.
A source of inspiration
Akindele’s “Avengers: Infinity War” casting is a source of inspiration to many. Seriously, if nothing else, it’s important for more people to believe in their hard work and dreams.
So, yes, Akindele starring in “Avengers: Infinity War” – an highly-anticipated comics hit by Marvel – is a very big deal.