After a three-year hiatus, Nollywood actress Ini Edo made a bold statement with the Netflix Original ‘Shanty Town’, released on the 20th of January.
Returning as co-executive producer and a cast, the 40-year-old Akwa-Ibom state-born actress brought her A game alongside other actors, including Chidi Mokeme, Mercy Eke, RMD and others.
Here, Edo, who began acting over two decades ago, tells PREMIUM TIMES about the story behind ‘Shanty Town’ whilst giving a sneak peek into her role as a special adviser to the Akwa Ibom state governor.
PT: What inspired you to take on such an ambitious project?
Ini Edo: It was a conversation that needed to be had, as this happens in our society. And it’s perhaps just being seen as just one of those feats. It’s not just about prostitution, it also deals with human trafficking, human organ harvesting, drugs, and just all the activities of the underworld.
And what drew me to it was what surrounds this business. We see it as people take to this profession as a substitute way of living. But the truth is, this is a cartel being operated by certain people, certain people in society; it’s a business that sometimes the rich people are the ones benefiting from these businesses.
It also highlights that some prostitutes aren’t pleased to be in the profession as some are forced or kidnapped.
To effectively portray my role, I visited some brothels to ask questions, interact with the commercial sex workers and get a feel of what goes down there.
When you see the way that they’re being brutalised, the way that they’re being treated, you will begin to wonder like, so why are you here if you receive such treatments from this man? And you best understand that most of them don’t have a choice, most o; most can’t leave because their lives have been threatened or their families have been threatened.
It was a critical angle to this conversation that we needed to shed light on. Some help may come at some point or become something we begin to look into as a society.
Organ harvesting is a massive business today in Africa, in Nigeria mainly.
And I don’t think that it’s been spoken about enough. Suppose you would get up and disappear. And you don’t hear anything about it. We get a lot of kidnappings, and sometimes we hear that these people killed them and their body parts are missing. People are profiting off this business. So you know, I felt we needed to put light on these narratives and, you know, bring awareness to it.
PT: Was the Ibibio language you highlighted in the series intentional?
Ini Edo: Oh, yeah, it was very intentional. It was intentional because, being a co-owner of the project, I have figured out that all my life in the industry, I’ve been made to speak different languages, which I’ve enjoyed all my life in the industry thoroughly.
But it was about time I put my beautiful culture on the map, and given this kind of platform, it felt like people’s time to be able to put that right.
PT: Tell us more about your character, Inem.
Ini Edo: I play Inem, whose real name is Amanda, and she happens to be a surviving twin and undercover policewoman. She can infiltrate the Shanty Town – a community in Lagos controlled by a pimp and gangster called Scar, played by Chidi Mokeme – because her identical twin sister once lived in the Shanty Town but succumbed to cancer unbeknownst to the community dwellers. I frequently challenge Scar without caring about the consequences. Imagine the impact on a female Ibomite who watches the series! She’ll feel she can take charge in a male-dominated society and achieve her objectives and goals. Not to talk of when she finds out I am one of the producers in real life! The sky will be her limit!
PT: What were the challenges you faced while shooting Shanty Town?
Ini Edo: Of course, we experienced a lot of challenges. It’s quite a big project. So you don’t expect a lot of technical problems. You know, internal issues, past situations. And we did have a few challenges.
We did have an excellent team with a very high level of professionals, professionals on your movies, making the job easier to appoint even when there is a problem. It’s already handled because you have professionals who know what to do when these issues arise.
In the car explosion scene, we did have a problem with one of the vehicles. The first vehicle we bought, the engine went wrong, and we had to buy another one; that meant that we couldn’t ship that date and the whole day and everything scheduled to be done that day and to be whichever another day, and that meant a whole lot of money wasted.
Those kinds of challenges would creep in every once in a while.
We did have issues managing the crowd. We had lots of cast extras and what have you. So yeah, we only had some of those challenges because our team was up-to-date with what they needed to do and handled everything. Shanty Town was shockingly less hectic than you would expect it to be.
I’ll also give that credit to the level of professionals we had onset. You know it could have otherwise been such a cumbersome shoot, such a problem if we didn’t have those people on set.
PT: You have featured in over 100 movies; do you have any personal favourites?
Ini Edo: Okay, as a filmmaker, it would be Shanty Town.
Shanty Town is like a dream, and it’s a dream to be a part of something like this that gets the whole world’s attention, so I would pick ‘Shanty town’ as long as Filmmaking is concerned.
As an actor, I’ve done many challenging roles that have challenged me in diverse ways. It’s always hard to pick a favourite because every one of them has been unique in very different ways.
Shanty Town is one of a kind in terms of role interpretation, interpretation and giving life to characters. I’ve had so many interesting characters over the years. It is always hard for me to pick favourites, to be honest. Because all of them are different, I relate very differently to each one.
PT: Was the script written with Chidi Mokeme in mind?
Ini Edo: Not Chidi was just a cast that dropped in. It was one of the most divine things about Shanty Town. Being able to make that casting work was a challenge as well because we wanted to set in a particular interpretation of the scar, and we couldn’t get it.
There are so many talented actors in Nollywood. We just wanted something different and something you were looking up different, something unexpected, something fresh, and something with a certain level of depth.
For me, he was my cast from the get-go, you know, but of course, we had to go back and forth trying to convince the rest, and eventually, thankfully, because it was so, I like to think everybody came around to just agreeing that he was just the best choice.
PT: Can you give us an estimated number of cast and crew involved in making this movie?
Ini Edo: The cast and crew were over 500.
PT: What are the lessons you have learnt in the industry so far?
Ini Edo: I have learnt no matter what you do, people will always try to discredit you, but that’s also okay; I have also known that dreams come true; you’d need to stay true to your goals, hold on to who you are and believe in yourself primarily.
The industry is structured to get people to give up hope, give up their dreams and stop. But if you can learn to believe in yourself and keep your focus on where you are going, you’ll eventually get through.
PT: How do you deal with acceptance and landing lead roles as a dark-skinned actress in Nollywood?
Ini Edo: I think we have evolved beyond skin colour-determining lead roles; I met that in the industry, but I think we have grown past that; I mean, we have the likes of Lupita Nyongo, We have the likes of Viola Davis leading roles in Big movies.
We had comfortably moved away from skin colour determining who gets specific roles. When we entered the industry, I couldn’t understand why my skin colour would matter.
However, I have just stayed true to whom I am and who my colour is.
PT: Tell us about your political part and how you fuse it with entertainment.
Ini Edo: I am a Special Assistant to Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State on Tourism.
READ ALSO: Ini Edo, Lateef Adedimeji, others to receive Face of Nollywood award
My focus right now is to give life to the creative industry of Akwa Ibom state; that is why in the movie, I said, let’s showcase the culture and language. We are setting up a studio, Ibom Creative Academy, in Akwa Ibom state to boost the creative industry in the state.
Every day, we film in congested Lagos areas while Akwa Ibom is one of the serene places in Nigeria; the infrastructure is top-notch. Together we would work to create an impressive academy. We have all it takes to make Akwa Ibom the next Creative hub.
The next point for filmmaking has to be Akwa Ibom state, so we are setting up the structures and training the skills needed.
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