Director Steve McQueen (Hunger) has been developing a biopic on Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti over at Focus Features, and Deadline reports that Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) is “formally attached” to play the Nigerian icon on screen. Though the two projects are unrelated, the Broadway musical Fela! has enjoyed a great run (it recently earned eleven Tony nominations) and brought Kuti’s music back to the forefront of American culture.
On the set of the upcoming Angelina Jolie thriller Salt, Ejiofor started learning how to play the piano and saxophone to do the role justice, and has apparently gotten “quite good.” Given the political bent of Kuti’s music, the considerable chops of Mr. Ejiofor, and the awards prowess of Focus Features, this biopic has Oscar written all over it. To get a taste of Kuti’s funky brand of political activism, hit the jump.
Influenced by the Black Power movement in America, Kuti was a key supporter of human rights in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of his songs attacked the military dictatorship and the way they ruled his country, but he was also critical of fellow citizens whom he felt had forsaken African traditionalism.
My personal favorite Kuti song is “Zombie.” Not only is it a vicious critique of the government that compares Nigerian soldiers to zombies, it’s a real party starter. Have a listen: