The phrase “female rage”, is often attached to the image of petty, arrogant women acting out of spite, with the lame excuse of, “it’s that time of the month”. When a woman points out an injustice, or god forbid, demands that men be held accountable for their actions, she is gagged by the label of “angry feminist” (coming from mysognists this is quite the compliment, thank you). When men get to decide what is appropriate behaviour, society is encouraged to villainise women who challenge their authority. The punishment that follows brings either mockery or dismissal, with angry women caricatured as evil high-heeled witches out for blood, or desperate noisemakers looking for “clout”. To avoid the heat, a culture of shame has dominated women’s anger, forcing a need to repress our temper if we want to be taken seriously.
In “King of Boys: The Return of the King”, director Kemi Adetiba calls bullshit on these cliches with an incisive character study of a woman scorned by a failed state. Instead, she directs the anger towards crooked male figures of unearned authority wreaking havoc for the sake of their own pride and vanity. A self-proclaimed child of “the streets”, Alhaja Eniola Salami’s meteoric rise is far from a neatly woven tale about how the meek shall inherit the earth. Yes, she makes unbearable sacrifices and does the dirty work required of success, but her motivations in the series far eclipse the wide-eyed hunger of a vulnerable girl from the slums clawing her way out. Five years after the events of the 2018 film, Alhaja Salami’s return to Nigeria is fueled by rage, loss, and an insatiable hunger for reparations. She has come home to collect from the debtors who violently stole everything from her, and her enemies must pay the ultimate toll.
In this fantastic portrayal of a wronged woman out for revenge, contemporary Nollywood offers an exposition of repressed female range unseen since the likes of the original “Nneka, the Pretty Serpent” helmed in 1994 by Zeb Ejiro, or its spiritual sequel in brother Chico’s 1998 supernatural thriller, “Scores to Settle”. In Nollywood tradition, the series is not without its didactic moments- a tired exchange between Eniola and her campaign staff comes to mind, where the Alhaja scolds a young girl on her marketing team for suggesting rumors of an engagement to sway voters in her favour.
In a patriarchal society that is notoriously weary of single women, it’s an expected though uninspired strategy. While the “I can do bad all by myself” speech is redundant of the woman known as Oba, Sola Sobowale’s piercing delivery underscores the scene with a gravitas that binds Eniola to the ethos of the series.
In her latest quest for power, the Alhaja meets a foil in Jumoke Randle, a charismatic adversary portrayed by a dynamic yet underutilized Nse Ikpe-Etim. In contrast to Eniola’s one-woman brigade in flamboyant caftans and a collection of turbans that rivals any sultan of our time, the prim and proper governor’s wife is a cunning political animal with a thirst for domination disguised in sleek, monochrome ensembles from the Olivia Pope x Topshop collection and a meandering British accent that begs affiliation with the Ikoyi one percent. Where Jumoke employs tact and underhanded schemes, Eniola favours brass tacks and artillery.
Though similar to each woman would care to admit, Jumoke’s secrets and backroom deals become blinders in a battle of wills against Eniola, who is only emboldened by the strength of her reputation for wanton violence with a flair for the theatrical. Adetiba drives home this contrast by complementing Ikpe-Etim’s cool delivery and stealthlike movement with Toni Tones’ shrewd embodiment of young Eniola’s caged anger, and Sobowale’s commanding presence as the Alhaja in every frame. The portrayal of female rage echoes loudest in the character of Eniola, but through the other women in power, Adetiba introduces a nuanced expression of rage that is internalized and expressed mainly in verbal and practical shade. A coping mechanism necessary for assertive, driven women who perform gender roles as a means to secure a seat at the boys’ table.
Chief Randle appears as the overbearing mother, imposing her aspirations for higher office onto a lackluster son who lacks her appetite for dominance. In her daughter-in-law Jumoke, the public sees a cheerful First Lady and doting wife to the governor, while she acts as his fixer behind closed doors. Though cunning and ambitious in their own right, the Randle women are cushioned by generational wealth and so accustomed to letting others do their bidding, like hands on a chessboard. These women, coerced by the court of public opinion to hide their true ambitions, fall to the danger of repressed anger. Their rage turns inwards, manifesting as bitter rivalries in competition for the approval of men, rather than rebellion against the patriarchal systems that keep them sidelined in their own plots.
Chief Randle, Jumoke and Eniola are all clever masterminds with parallel aspirations to power, yet at every turn, there is a man needing to be coddled, manipulated, or threatened into removing the roadblocks they put in place. Widowed with no heir apparent, Eniola bucks this tradition of being the woman behind the man in favour of something with a little more audacity. She dares to act as king and kingmaker. When Jumoke says “he [her husband] owns the penis, but I do the thrusting”, what is meant to boast her competence merely unmasks the pathetic reality of being a self-possessed woman in Nigeria. No matter how intelligent, talented, or accomplished you are, there will always be some entitled prick standing between you and your dreams.
Though mired in egotism and a narrow-minded focus on vengeance, Eniola’s pursuit of absolute power goes beyond an inflated sense of self-righteousness. In the Alhaja’s quest, Adetiba fans the flames of a boiling tension between oppresors and the inevitable revolt of the oppressed. The result is a visually stunning capture of guts and glory that leaves you bowed to your screen until the very last credit.