'Black Mail' - Review

As the largest UK-wide release of an independently produced and distributed Black British film to-date, Obi Emelonye's latest exceeds expectations and brings a familiar story with a twist to a screen near you.
'Black Mail' - Review

We've all received those spam emails that say something along the lines of "I have bad news for you, your computer has been hacked and I have videos of you in compromising situations that I'll post online unless I receive (add in a variety of amounts, in currency of choice) in bitcoins, within 24 hours." We usually delete the email and go on with our day. End of story.

But what is you answered one of those emails, in good faith, thinking those criminals really had gained access into your personal online account, and life? And you wished to protect yourself and your family...

That is exactly what happens in the upcoming release Black Mail to leading man Ray Chinda, played by renowned Nollywood actor O.C. Ukeje (Half of a Yellow Sun, Gone Too Far), a kind, well-meaning family man who happens to be a famous Nigerian actor living in London. Black Mail is set to break records as the first UK wide release across 100 cinema screens for an independently produced and distributed Black British film to-date. And that is not a bad way to start the conversation!

Black Mail is written and directed by Obi Emelonye, a Nigerian-born, UK-based filmmaker who gave up his job in law at the start of the 21st century, to devote his full time and attention to making films. Emelonye inhabits a particular niche, as he makes Nollywood titles set in London locations. "Nollywood" is a word coined by the media to describe films made for and by the Nigerian market, although recently work from other countries such as English titles made in Ghana have been included in the genre. The Gulf countries have definitely taken notice of this burgeoning market, with its accompanying large, cinema-hungry audience, and there is even an upcoming Cinema Forum Africa organized by UAE based company GM Events Management scheduled to take place in Accra in November of this year.

To coincide with the UK cinema release, there will also be a way to stream Black Mail and its intimate setting -- the film was shot in 2020 during the worldwide pandemic -- lends itself to both a cinematic viewing and large TV screen.

So back to the story. Chinda has a wonderful family life and a good following as an actor. His wife Nikki, played by the stunning Julia Holden, is the tough cookie in the family, an attorney who runs a tight ship of a household and keeps her husband, as well as their two teenagers, in line. But Chinda himself is weak -- and we love the idea of the strength of the woman figure here counteracting his male weakness. It is a leitmotif that is often present in Nollywood titles but with Emelonye's skill and mastery of the craft, plus the lush London settings, it is a much-needed message amplified for all to see.

Alessandro Babalola (who has been featured in Netflix's Top Boy) plays Chinda's manager and friend, ready to put his life and safety on the line for him. Because answering that email, which Chinda does in a state of mind which stems from a mixture of panic and naivety, brings some really bad dudes into all of their lives. Baddest of all is Mighty Igor (played by Russian-born actor Nicolay Shulik, also doubling as Associate Producer on the film) who is the London head of a ruthless Russian cyber gang. And what a time to feature a horrible, insatiably greedy and violent Russian villain a film!

There is also a sub theme in there about human trafficking and the desperation some of our choices can bring to our lives. Black Mail features a human story of such desperate choices which may feel familiar yet takes place in the underbelly of our society.  A perfect combination.

The film is shot in close quarters, the Chinda family home, the "office" of the Russian villain and some shooting locations for the film Chinda stars in. Those intimate shots are complemented by stunning aerial views of the city of London, which give the film an extra layer of reality -- a tragic, corrupt, underbelly reality that we can perceive around us when we live in big, rich cities and manage to take our eyes off our mobile phones to view the world.

Black Mail is releasing in the UK on 26 August 2022 in Nigeria on 2 September 2022. For a list of cinemas check out the film's website.

Written/Directed/Produced by Obi Emelonye

Cinematography by Robert Ford

Editing by Andrew Webber

Score by Joel Goffin

Black Mail is produced by TNF Studio and released in the UK in association with leading Black British distributor Evrit Films alongside Screen Nation Media, the UK’s leading international Black film marketing consultancy.

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