‘Nigerian Prince’ Wins $1M AT&T Grant At Tribeca Film Festival
Faraday Okoro, a Nigerian-American filmmaker, won a $1 million grant prize to make his film, “Nigerian Prince,” as part of an inaugural competition designed to bring new opportunities to underrepresented filmmakers.
The competition and prize are the result of a partnership between AT&T — a mobile service provider-turning-entertainment company — the Tribeca Film Festival, and the Tribeca Film Institute. Together, they launched “AT&T Presents: Untold Stories.”
The new partnership is designed to fill a gap in the marketplace by not only financing a project but also providing it with an audience, IndieWire reported.
Diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, both in front of the camera and behind it, have been growing topics of debate around the country, according to DiversityInc.
Film and TV content that is more diverse tends to be better for the bottom line, according to the recent UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report (University of California, Los Angeles). Yet black people are still underrepresented in fields such as writing and film directing.
AT&T is increasingly becoming an entertainment company, including its planned merger with Time Warner. The company’s partnership with Tribeca Film Festival creates an avenue to celebrate inclusivity in storytelling.
Okoro is a graduate of Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., and NYU (New York University) Graduate Film School. In addition to a $1 million grant to make “Nigerian Prince,” Okoro will have his film distributed on DirecTV (AT&T acquired DIRECTV a year ago); DirecTV Now (AT&T’s streaming service) and U-verse. It will premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, DiversityInc. reported.
The movie is about Nigerian email scammers. Okoro wrote the script and will direct the film. It will be produced by Biyi Bandele and Oscar Hernandez-Topete.
“Nigerian Prince” was one of five movie scripts chosen from hundreds that made it to the pitching session in the final round of “AT&T Presents: Untold Stories.”
The setup was very “Shark Tank,” New York Times reported. Each filmmaker had 10 minutes to pitch to the jury.
Finalists inlcuded Andres Perez-Duarte, Lissette Feliciano, Ani Simon-Kennedy and A. Sayeeda Moreno. They pitched their projects during a Facebook Live event Tuesday.
“There’s no other grant like this in the country, if not the world, that gives a cool mil to a film,” said Simon-Kennedy, 29, who was pitching ‘The Short History of the Long Road, about a teenager living nomadically in a van. “There’s so much on the line, and the jurors are mere feet away. You could sit on their laps.”
The committee that evaluated the scripts and pitches included AT&T Chief Brand Officer Fiona Carter; Lee Daniels, a film director, writer and producer; Jeffrey Wright, a producer and actor; Anthony Mackie, an actor; Josh Deutsch, chairman and CEO of Downtown Records; Len Amato, president of HBO Films; and Frida Torresblanco, Braven Films CEO.
The competition was the answer to a question: how to get more women and minorities making films. The four runners-up will each get $10,000.
“It’s a huge decision,” Carter said about choosing a winner. “A million dollars is a life-changer in this business. Seeing young filmmakers on the brink of being able to kick their careers off — it was high stakes.”
“Nigerian Prince” is the story of a stubborn Nigerian-American teenager forced to go to Nigeria against his will. He joins forces with his cousin, an internet scammer, in order to return to the U.S.
“This film rose to the top because it’s simply a unique story that literally nobody has seen before,” AT&T’s Carter said.
“It just has a voice and an energy that is truly new, and truly fresh,” she said. “We couldn’t think of another film that had told that story. And we felt it really deserved the prize for that real, true uniqueness.”
Okoro began his pitch presentation by describing his project as a “coming-of-age heist-thriller” about the author of Nigerian scam emails, IndieWire reported.
The filmmaker said that, like his protagonist, he was sent to Nigeria for school, “but I did not have any nefarious cousins to help me with an escape attempt. I was forced to stay put.” But he used his experience “to make this story more accessible to an international audience.” He noted that internet scam artists convince their targets to give up their money, rather than forcing them to give it up. “This psychological ploy is at the heart of all con artist films, and I’m excited to explore it in my own film,” he said. He added that he hoped to shoot the film on location in Nigeria with “a minimalist, cinema-verite style.” He also listed actors he hoped to cast in the project, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, to whom he pitched the project last month.
The filmmaker then fielded questions from the panelists. Wright asked Okoro about his research process. “We went to Nigeria, we did interview scammers,” he said. “I told my uncle, ‘I’m coming to Nigeria. If you know any scammers, let me know. I can’t do the script without it. The moment I landed, there one was.”
“If we’re going to truly reflect our customers and their experiences and their stories and their lives, we have to help those stories get told,” Carter said.