Forget her pretty face and ageless looks, there’s something about Nollywood actress Genevieve Nnaji. Right from age eight when she starred in the popular television soap opera Ripples, to the point she featured in some TV commercials, including that of Pronto beverage and Omo detergent, Genny as she’s fondly called, has always been a goal getter.A beloved screen diva with a shinning career, the native of Umuebi-Amuzu in Aboh-Mbaise Local Council of Imo State has had it good as an entertainer since she joined the industry a little near two decades ago. She is amongst the very few talents who are under 40 and who have been so lucky as to hit the top spot so effortlessly. Certainly, she is in the front row of top actresses in Nigeria today.
In fact, Genny has been lucky to be overwhelmingly accepted, especially by a movie crowd that rarely celebrates an act for a long time. At under 40, Genevieve is already a megastar. Indeed, her stars have continued to be on the rise and it seems that she is on the road to even greater heights.
For sure, her hard work has not gone unnoticed. She has been recognised and celebrated not only in Nigeria but also elsewhere. In fact, media personality and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey termed her the Julia Roberts of Africa. And owing to her sheer grit and determination to make a difference in the industry, Genevieve has a history of always being the first.
The year 2018 market Nnaji’s 20 years in the entertainment industry. In what seems like a perfect way to celebrate the feat, the Nollywood diva stunned the movie world with her directional debut, LionHeart, featuring the likes of Phyno, Nkem Owoh, Peter Okoye (Psquare), Pete Edochie, Onyeka Onwenu and others. With just that movie, the lovable actress has become Nollywood’s first billionaire as Netflix bought LionHeart for N1,385,100,000 ($3.8 million).
The acquisition made the film, the first Nollywood film to achieve such a feat and everyone could not wait to watch the film that had gained such international buzz and acclaim as it even went on to premiere at the 2018 TIFF festival in Toronto. The festival is one of the biggest and most attended film festivals in the world and it is held annually for 10 days every September. The 2018 edition, which held between September 6 and 16, gave Genny an opportunity to host Nigeria’s flag at the well-attended film feast.
Set in Southeast Nigeria, LionHeart tells the story of a young woman, Adaeze Obiagu (played by Genevieve), who becomes saddled with the responsibility of running her sick father’s business under the suffocating supervision of an intensely crude and eccentric uncle. Her competing business instincts and family obligations become a catalyst for drastic change not everyone is ready to embrace.
Producer of the movie, Chinny Onwugbenu, described LionHeart as a story about hard-nosed rivalry and often contrarian efforts to rescue an ailing business. Onwugbenu also said, “It is equally part of a family drama, female empowerment and a humorous charmer told by a cast of Nigeria’s most respected and revered screen icons, including Pete Edochie, Nkem Owoh, Onyeka Onwenu, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Chika Okpala, Kalu Ikeagwu, Sanni Mu’azu and Ngozi Ezeonu.“It serves to make the film truly representative of a Nigeria not often seen on screen today.”
On her transition from being in front of the camera to now calling the shots, Genny said she was excited and happy to have had the opportunity to share what she loves doing most with her fans, who have followed her over the years.“Filmmaking is what I love to do and I am grateful to have had the chance to share my love with millions over the years.
“LionHeart is the beginning of a journey to explore and express my creative interpretation of story-telling, particularly African stories. Africa is a possessor of the most compelling stories as yet untold, and we are determined to tell our stories, our way, through our voices, to the world.”Described as a recent international movie event as ‘Nigeria’s Genevieve’ and our answer to the Hollywood star, Halle Berry, the actress is undoubtedly one of the most popular acting figures in Nollywood and one huge screen favourite and actress that has drawn admiration from within and outside the continent and indeed in several parts of the world.
She is equally among the very few Nigerian home movie stars that enjoy red carpet reception wherever she goes and whose earning per movie appearances is in the region of six digits. Said to be principled, humble and reserved, Genny is roundly admired for her unique interpretation of roles and the ease with which she bumps into such roles. The old girl of Methodist Girls High School, Yaba in Lagos, and a single mother of one had to jettison university education to fully concentrate on her rising acting career.
Though she grew up with a healthy appetite for movies and movie stars and exhibited a flair for acting and singing as a child, Genny only fell in love with the idea of being an actress soon after her secondary school. Faced with the challenge of how to break into the world of showbiz and how to convince the Nnajis that there was no ‘sin’ in being an actor, Genny hit the street mid-1999 in search of acting jobs, prepared to brave all odds to make headway in acting.
She secured one, as an extra or what industry players call ‘waka pass,’ in Ralph Nwadike’s Most Wanted, directed by Tunji Bamishigbin. It was after Most Wanted that she was convinced it would only take hard work and perseverance on her part and ‘just a little more time’ for her to samba in the movie and cut a swath among the industry’s recognisable faces. That conviction got her sailing.
As days passed, the desire to get started nagged incessantly inside of her, forcing her to take more steps- to attend auditions- with the hope that she would get a lead role someday. And that is exactly how it turned out for the recipient of so many industry awards, as well the national honour of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). She hit the street again after Most Wanted and the roles came pouring in. And as they did, from Above Death to Agony, Camouflage, Agbako, starring Sam Dede, and Late Marriage, Genny’s popularity soared. She naturally found a place in the A-list of actors featuring in nearly all the major films. Since then, Genny has not looked back.
An actress with a passion for humanitarian activities, Genevieve has graced the posters and cover jackets of over 300 Nigerian home videos, such as Not Man Enough, Last Weekend, Love, Love Affairs, Games Women Play, Formidable Force, Death Warrant, Critical Decision, Could this be love, Church Business, Confidence, Battle Line, Goodbye New York, Break Up, Jealous Lover, Honey, Ije, Road To Yesterday and Into Temptation. An actress with a huge fan base, Genny lives by a simple rule – ‘do unto others as you want others to do unto you.’ Her close friends say the time-tested principle may have accounted for her meteoric rise in the movie, a sector where it takes extraordinary talent to reach the peak.
But what seemed to have worked in her favour, as most people say, is her craving for excellence, which they say has endeared her to many home video producers and equally helped her performance, which has undoubtedly caught on so quickly, surpassing that of so many of her colleagues who joined the movie at the same time she did. For this actress, who loves singing, writing, reading, meeting friends and dancing, and who revealed that she abhors people with negative perception and disposition, this is not the first time Genny has moved on to something outside her first calling.
She transited, a few years back, into the world of singing, with an album, a mix of pop and rhythm and blues in the market, titled No more. It was first released in Ghana, and Genny had explained then that she didn’t just put her voice on an album because she merely wanted to sing. She asserted that she had always wanted to sing, saying that was one of her childhood passions. Born in Imo State on May 7, 1979, to Theophilus Nnaji, a retired engineer, and a mother, who was a teacher, acting has no doubt been rewarding for the Lagos-bred Genny. She explained that it has opened so many windows of opportunities for her and provided the means for her to pick up her bills and also contribute to the development of society.
Indeed, what can be more rewarding like a job that pays her bills and leaves her with enough to make films? What can be more rewarding like a job that has lifted Genny from obscurity to fame? This may explain why she said she is locked on to showbiz and would be around as long as she breathes. In fact, given another shot at life, Genny said she would return a showbiz personality. In her New Year post, the actress wrote: “As 2018 comes to an end, I mark 20 years in the art of filmmaking. I’m grateful for my life, journey, and growth thus far. I’m happy I could celebrate with you through a product that embodied all of me, mentally and spiritually; for all of your pleasure. May 2019 be our best year yet.”