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This Netflix story created by Xavier Ighorodje begins in an idyllic but visibly deprived rustic setting with twin sisters who have awoken to a beautiful morning and are being watched over by what appears to be a pet monkey in their room. Their tentative peace is pierced for what will be the first of many times that day by a visibly angry mother who chides them for failing to say their morning prayers. Why had this mother of twins woken up so annoyed? Why was she so upset this early in the day even when all around her appeared so serene?
Thus begins a trying morning and life for identical twins Inem and her sister whose name we never really get to know. One as we find out in what seems a hurried narrative end gets adopted and has her lot take a positive turn while the unfortunate other would go on to lead a tortured existence that we can only snatch at but never fully grasp. They would as the harrowing day progresses come to be introduced to Scar, a young thug who alongside other marauders has besieged their commune, killing and in some cases molesting all in sight. In their onslaught against these harmless villagers the assailants deploy explosives but it is unclear to what end beyond shock and awe. It remains puzzling how this seemingly ragtag army could secure such weaponry and even more so why they would seek to use it against these particular villagers.
Shanty Town Poster
Scar or Aboderin as he is sometimes called by those with an intimate knowledge of his past spends his time on-screen brooding for no real reason when one considers his hallowed status in the underworld and his value to some movers and shakers outside the Zanga. We don’t know how he rises to become the violence supremo of Shanty Town and willing enforcer for its even more merciless but well-heeled baron Chief Fernandez. Our confusion is further beclouded at how quiet the writers are about the origin story of this menacing polyglot character and the aftermath of his ignominious demise.
Enewan is a madam who alongside Scar is on the leadership team which runs the sex workers guild in Shanty Town. There are a few nods to her coming up through the gritty system alongside Inem but we are left baffled about the reasons behind her determined side-hustle in human parts and its origins but also why and how it is more profitable than the regular prostitution ring and escort services she also runs. Instead of risking the consequences of killing alumni could she have formed more profitable business alliances with them? Given how scared she always appeared to be of Scar, could the alumni network have offered a more sustainable and practical offramp for her? Why oh why if she appeared severely threatened by Inem would she cover for her when she stole from Scar?
Shalewa the benighted mixologist who finds herself in a really challenged existence after she tries to follow the footsteps of Jackie a newly minted member of the free worlds is a bundle of knots. We hear about her father’s debt to Scar but have no insight into how it was incurred. We find out about her superior cocktail-mixing abilities and a desire to open up a bar but have no way to probe it further or understand how she has acquired this incongruous pastime. We know she’s been saving but have no idea of how long for. For the screen time she gets you get the sense that hers is a story that could have been better told in the round.
Of all the characters in the series, none are as malnourished as Femi Fernandez the baron’s son who seems to have no real purpose in life. Apart from having a really poor wardrobe for a man of equally questionable means and apparently not knowing his cocktails, his hollow, friendless two-dimensional character lacks any credibility as he also has no relationships of note – not even with his father. We ask would the story have materially changed without him?
The incumbent Governor of Shanty Town’s Lagos, Dame Dabota, ends up an equally vacuous character. We still don’t know why she is so concerned about the historically aware but morally depraved Chief Fernandez as a political rival if she’s already pipped him to the prize once. The theatrics involved in setting up the meeting with Scar and the inane dialog and overacting during their meeting is devoid of any respect or consideration for the viewer’s time. Were there other ways a person of her apparent and fathomable resources could have gotten one over Fernandez if she were intellectually more engaged? How did she so easily explain away her presence at the scene of such physical – albeit poorly choreographed – violence? Apart from serving as a paper villain for Chief Fernandez to go up against, what real value did she bring to the dramatisation of this story?
The production of Shanty Town clearly wasn’t lacking funding, ambition or breath-taking moments of acting by a star-studded cast. Where it fell down hard and often was meticulous planning and execution. For more than four hours of television over 6 episodes there was enough time to tell an important story in long form but they didn’t just do it justice. They did get an important number of things very right though. The masterful use of Yoruba in the dialogue and the inclusion of the dreamy sounding and sensual Ibibio language in the story-telling made this a compelling watch which showcases the latent but as yet untapped potentials of Nigerian arts. Special mentions for the acting by Chidi Mokeme, Nancy Isime and Zubby Michael.
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