‘A Storyteller to His Bones’ Nigerian Filmmaker and Writer, Biyi Bandele, Has Died

Biyi Bandele who died at 54 on Sunday, left a rich, cross-continental, creative legacy. As young as 14, Bandele showed literary and creative promise. His 40-year career yielded over ten books and five films.

On Sunday, 07 August 2022, Nigerian author and filmmaker, Biyi Bandele, died in Lagos at the age of 54. His death was confirmed by his daughter, Temi Bandele, who issued a statement on behalf of his family. Bandele’s cause of death is unknown but his daughter explained that it was a sudden and unexpected passing.

The statement read: ‘Biyi was a prodigiously talented writer and film-maker, as well as a loyal friend and beloved father. He was a storyteller to his bones, with an unblinking perspective, singular voice and wisdom which spoke boldly through all of his art, in poetry, novels, plays and on screen. He told stories which made a profound impact and inspired many all over the world. His legacy will live on through his work.’

Bandele was widely regarded as a prominent Nigerian director. His work includes: the forthcoming 2022 Netflix film based on a Wole Soyinka play, Elesin Oba, The Kings Horseman; and Blood Sisters (2022), another Netflix original; Fela Kuti: Father of Afrobeat (2018); Nigerian Prince (2018); Fifty (2015); Half of a Yellow Sun (2013), based on the eponymous novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and his first feature film.

Born Biyi Bandele-Thomas, on 13 October 1967, to Yoruba parents in Kaduna, Bandele was an author of more than 10 books including the 2007 Burma Boy. Based on Bandele’s father, Burma Boy details the life of a young West African sent to fight for the British Army in Burma during World War II.  

Bandele showed literary and creative promise from his early childhood. At the age of 14, his first short story was published in The Sunday Standard, a newspaper publication in Jos. In 1987, he began studying at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Two years later, in 1989, he won the International Student Playscript competition for his unpublished play, Rain, and in 1990 he moved to the United Kingdom after winning the 1990 British Council Lagos Award for a collection of poems. 

Bandele had an expansive career as a writer in the UK. His play, Two Horsemen (1994), was selected as Best New Play at the 1994 London New Plays Festival. He also worked with the Royal Court Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and wrote radio drama and screenplays. In 1997, Bandele dramatized Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.I knew I wanted to be a writer at a very young age,’ he said earlier this year in an interview with The Film Conversation. ‘I knew I could become a writer because there were mentors,’ he added, There was Wole Soyinka, there was Chinua Achebe, and all writers in the African Writers Series whose works I read.’  

Responding to news of his death, film director, Blessing Uzzi, said: ‘Biyi was good to me, genuinely good to me. He loved and believed in me. This news broke me. Biyi was a great man and shared so much with me. Mo Abudu, the CEO of EbonyLife Films (the production company behind Elesin Oba, Blood Sisters and Fifty), also described Bandele as someone who ‘had an eye for a story, was always passionate about his work, and had a great love for Yoruba culture

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