Genevieve and her dad Theophilus

Genevieve Nnaji’s rise to the top in the Nigerian movie industry is a tribute to her parent’s unwavering faith in God when all seemed lost.

When 8-year-old Genevieve debuted in “Ripples”, a prominent soap opera that gripped the nation in the 1980s, everyone was sure that she was destined for fame. The fourth of eight children, she was the rising star in the family and her parents, Theophilus and Benedatte Nnaji, spared no expense in her education, to fulfil her dreams. 

But tragedy struck, unexpectedly. At 17 she came home from school pregnant. At a time when her career was about to take off like a rocket, all seemed lost.

To save her career, it would have been so easy to succumb to pressures and abort the unborn child. Few parents can ignore the danger of being ridiculed, and yet, despite their dismay and sadness, despite their fear of the unknown, of possible failure, Genevieve’s parents paid no court to public opinion, and insisted that she give birth to the child.

“My dad was, like; it’s a child for goodness’ sake,” Genevieve, who is now 40, said. “God knows why he wants to bring that child into life.”

“We are Catholics,” Genevieve continued, “and it’s just that in conscience, if you do wrong once, doing another wrong would not make the first right. So, you correct your mistake by doing the right thing. If I had an abortion, it would have been like murder after fornication! That was wrong.”

Thanks to their unwavering obedience to the teaching of the Catholic faith, and a well formed conscience, her parents rallied and protected her and the child. And as soon as the child was born her mother cared for the baby, allowing her to return to her studies and work.

Today, that child, Theodora Chimebuka Nnaji, is 25 (pictured right with Genevieve) a startling beauty, married with her own family, and the spitting image of Genevieve. She is a companion, confidant and constant source of joy to her, and more so as the years go by.

“I am so happy I did not abort my daughter,” Genevieve said, eyes shining with gratitude.

By not succumbing to shame and going against their faith and conscience, Mr and Mrs Nnaji have instilled in their daughter values solid as a rock on which she has stepped to greater heights.

In 2005, she won the Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (the first actress to win the award).

Her first movie, Road to Yesterday, won Best Movie Overall-West Africa at the 2016 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards. But the best was yet to come

On September 7, 2018 her directorial debut, “Lion Heart”, was acquired by online streaming service, Netflix, marking it the first Netflix original film from Nigeria. The movie had its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and has since been making waves the world over.

Lion Heart has been dubbed Nollywood “reinvented” because it differs from other Nollywood movies, replacing poor screenplay and scripting with positively enjoyable high quality cinematography, and gripping story line.

The film tells how Adaeze (played by Genevieve), an executive in her father’s bus company, was forced to a second position when her sick father chose an uncle over her to run the company. But bankruptcy and a hostile takeover bid forced her to abandon her recrimination and work with her uncle to save the company.

Particularly delightful is the stable traditional family values on offer throughout the movie as opposed to rampant divorce, rancour and infidelity in other movies. Abigail, Adeaze’s mom, is like a brilliant moon on a dark night, and her presence fills the house with light and warmth.

The effortless transition from high quality Ibo to flawless English without fake phonetics was as mesmerizing as the aerial shots that brought out Enugu’s beauty in ways not seen before, even by longtime residents of the coal city.

Netflix acquiring the movie sends a powerful message of hope to other Nollywood directors, that with the right efforts and doing things properly, there is nothing to stop them from competing with the best in the world.

Just like a good driver knows that obeying road signs on a winding hilly road guides him to safety, and protects him from falling off the edge, Genevieve has learnt from her parents that obeying God laws, keeping an unwanted pregnancy, carrying it to term and giving birth to the child constitutes no obstacle to a woman’s future educational or professional success. Rather, it is a sign of a lion heart.

Chinwuba Iyizoba lives in Nigeria and blogs at Authors-choice, where this article was first published. His first novel is After the Juju man.

Chinwuba Iyizoba

Chinwuba Iyizoba is an electrical engineer in Enugu, Nigeria.