One of the most anticipated movies of 2021 is Kemi Adetiba‘s King of Boys – the return of the king; everyone was eager to see the action Laburu would bring. After she went on exile, we knew that her return would birth fresh power tussles, bring on more drama, and we were all patiently waiting for the revenge Laburu would serve cold to all her enemies.
Laburu’s character, in King of Boys, is one that leaves the viewers with sundry emotions: anger at Laburu at first as she was the leader who killed without mercy; indignation at how she was being constantly cheated by Aare; pity when she lost her children; thirst for vengeance when she was sent to prison; hope that she would triumph over the enemies and joy when she eventually brought an end to Odudubariba’s reign. It is iconic how Kemi Adetiba had us rooting for a villain.
Perhaps one of the most crucial components of history are stories. Without stories, there is no past and the present can be easily erased into nothingness. Storytelling is not just for entertainment, it’s a fundamental part of being human. It is the way we perceive and communicate things. It is also who we are. We are all stories, told and yet untold.
Over the years, words and stories have been used to change historical narratives and mould our present. Stories will continue to shape our future and dictate the actions we take in coming years. Movies like King of Boys are proof of how stories can very easily make villains heroes, especially when they are portrayed as the lesser evil, and how human judgements are easily blanketed by emotions.
It is also a glimpse into how human emotions cloud life-changing decisions in the political arena. We have a knack for voting into power people we think are like us, even above those who seem to have better intentions. Grass-to-grass, slum-to-riches tales sell faster, and Eniola leveraged this by telling her slum story well. Admittedly, one could say that the people who voted her into power may have been unaware of her incognito position as the king of boys, but the signs were there: newspaper reports, her affiliation with the president – someone came back from the ‘dead’ and the people suddenly saw her as the messiah who’d rescue them from the bondage of terrible governors.
King of Boys 2 is, to a large extent, a mirror into our reality. The reaction of viewers to Eniola’s re-emergence, our eagerness to see her bring to justice those who have wronged her, our quick and easy acceptance of her is further proof that when you dangle a few scenes to show the humanness of villains, you’ll have people rooting for their ‘oppressors.’
King of Boys is not the first series to portray villains as victims. Money Heist also has people rooting for thieves and murderers, people who have done nothing but spread chaos and panic. It is quite simple, show the humane and emotional side of the villain – their tears and joys, their pain and victories, their fears and internal battles, and the evil part of them becomes almost inconsequential in the scheme of things. From Tokyo to Nairobi, Helsinki, Monica, and the others, many of them are at the lower rung of the society and we, in a way, saw ourselves in them. We understood their plight and empathised with what led them into becoming the “men and women in red,” and it was easy to root for them.
This is what Kemi Adetiba did: she made Eniola look like the victim by bringing in bigger villains and making her the subject of attacks, made it look like she’s changing for the better but her past won’t let her be, made her cry for her dead children and whip herself, and made the viewers forget Eniola used to tear hearts off their rib cage with her bare hands, forgive her past sins, and hope she’d become governor.
Stories can be effective political tools. They are so powerful that they can make you vote in a president because he placed a sachet of Milo in his saucer, or cried that he had no money to buy the party’s ticket.
Every political decision we make is directly or indirectly influenced by a story – the man who had no shoes, the one who was in prison, the one who helps the woman selling corn by the roadside roast her corn, the one who pushes wheel barrows. The trick is not to whitewash political candidates – that would be too obvious. The trick is to portray them as fellow victims (people like you and I who have also been affected by poor leadership, poverty and trampled upon by past leaders), portray them as lesser evils (people who were forced into doing terrible things because they had no choice) and then draw out enough sympathy that can make people place their thumbs on voting papers.
As we enjoy King of Boys, we must also create time to think about how certain stories are influencing our political decisions in our communities and in our country. Before we vote in another catastrophe, let’s remember that a sachet of Milo does not mean a leader will be empathetic. See these leaders roasting corn by the roadside? No, they are not one of us nor do they share in our plight. They are selling you a story, and it is important not to buy it.