Movie Review: Cultural Misrepresentation in Gangs of Lagos

Change is a constant phenomenon and this is particularly true of the ever-dynamic Nigerian movie industry. With the recent menu serving us some Hilda Baci outputs like the Blood Sisters and Brotherhood thrillers. And the sophisticated breakfast stories in Anikulapo and Far from Home. Finally, there’s a respite for the ‘shege‘ we’ve been experiencing in this country.

Gangs of Lagos
Image credit: Bella Naija

So, we were all excited with the release of Gangs of Lagos, not only because our thriller queen, Jade Osiberu produced it, but, it also built on existing momentum. However, the surprise came with the press releases from the Lagos state government and the Isale Eko Descendants Union, condemning what each described as a ‘mockery of cultural heritage’ and ‘cultural misrepresentation’ in the movie. Those are some serious allegations but, before we examine their correctness, let’s understand what the ‘Eyo’ festival means to an average ‘Lagosian.’

The Place of Eyo in Lagos

Eyo is a highly regarded festival among the people of Lagos. That we find many songs, movies, and stories told about it. Also known as Adamu Orisa play. It involves a cultural display of masquerades wearing white regalia, holding long sticks, with their faces covered and hats of different colors to indicate differences in their ranks and groups.

Adamu Orisa is a festival traditionally held as a rite of passage for departed Lagos kings or chiefs and to usher in new ones. However, due to its popularity, it now holds to commemorate different events in Lagos. The festival serves the same purpose in the movie but Isale Eko Descendants saw beyond that. The question that follows then begs for an answer: Is the portrayal of Eyo in the movie a ‘sub’ on the culture?

 Examining the Portrayal of Eyo in Gangs of Lagos

To those who criticized the movie and those who saw the criticism as a witch-hunt on creatives, ‘idan‘ is here for everyone. 

I won’t tell you which narrative to accept but it’s only right to judge the movie fairly. The article attempts that with the following points:

●    The Essence of Creative Freedom

 Just like we have freedom of speech, there’s freedom for creators to draw inspiration from whatever life event they think to create fiction. We should also note the disclaimer at the beginning that shows it as fiction that shouldn’t be mistaken for a real-life event.

Despite creative freedom though, we should be wary of sending the wrong signals to foreigners about events or a group of people. Thus, the description of Eyo as the first ‘gang’ of Lagos by the movie narrator needs some clarification. Freedom after creation is not assured. 

●    A Pass Mark would Do

As much as we want to criticize the shortcomings in the movie, it would be fair to note the positives too. Adamu Orisa’s play comes with a lot of colorful displays and excitement among the people of Lagos and we could catch glimpses of that in the movie.

Though the dance performance is to mourn the deceased, it also brings hope and joy to people who have experienced the loss. But was that enough to appease the Isale Eko Descendants group who felt a loss of cultural values?

●     Camouflage Truly Exist

To some people, the event of the movie looks like a script we’ve seen play out many times. We’ve seen criminals use religious and cultural garments to perpetrate evils. But we’ve also seen how that has badly affected people’s reception of those religious and cultural groups.

It looks like the movie tries to show the vulnerability and evil that comes with camouflage. If that is the case, one can say the Isale Eko Descendants Union’s disclaimer is rightly done to prevent any misconception about subsequent events. I guess that’s a W for both parties. 

●    A Portrayal of Existing Culture

We’ve seen cases of a similar event in the real world. In 2017, Punch and some majors published news about how an Eyo festival gave way to gang violence. Whether or not the blame is on outsiders, it is common knowledge how cultural celebrations turn violent before the intervention of the government to hold some of those events in closed arenas.


Expressing people’s cultural heritage is one of the responsibilities that the entertainment industry, especially the movie industry, should take seriously. Therefore, it is important to give accurate accounts and show the positive parts of those cultures. We should also not forget the didactic and satirical responsibility of movies.

Despite a few irregularities, the Gang of Lagos is a movie worthy of celebration. A little clarification is required and everyone can live together happily after. Also, people who would like to experience the celebration of the Eyo festival shouldn’t feel discouraged as it is largely an entertaining and great experience.

Taoheed Olayiwola

Hi, I'm Taoheed Olayiwola. Like Hilda Baci, I 'cook' for a living. Unlike the record breaker, the aroma of my meals can be seen -not perceived- in my captivating and educative content. Keep a close tab on my writing space to enjoy some immersive reading experience.