A full review of 93 Days (The Ebola Movie) starring Danny Glover, Bimbo Akintola, Tim Reid, Somkele Iyamah Idhalama, Alastair Mackenzie, Keppy Ekpeyong Bassey, Bimbo Manuel, Charles Okafor, Gideon Okeke, and a host of others.
In July 2014, a Liberian national, Patrick Sawyer entered the country, showing symptoms of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease ravaging his country at the time. He was transported to First Consultant Hospital, Obalende where he was, based on a high index of suspicion, screened for EVD.
Sawyer died eventually but so did some members of the clinical team that managed him. Initial response was sluggish but miraculously, things got swinging and within 93 days, Nigeria had averted a potential public health crisis.
93 Days, directed by Steve Gukas and produced by culture mama, Bolanle Austen-Peters amongst others, is a big screen chronicle of those tension-soaked days when the nation was on edge and a very clear and present danger was knocking at the door. The swift and timely intervention by the Lagos state government and team of public health professionals ensured that the threat was defeated and for once, the world looked to Nigeria with respect.
Of course it wasn’t an independent effort. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Medecins San Frontiers (MSF) and World Health Organization (WHO) were among the first responders who stepped in to take charge when things were still dicey.
Collaboration was the name of the game and as art always imitates life, 93Days the movie is also a product of solid collaboration between Nigeria and the West. Written by Paul S. Rowlston, a South African based filmmaker and starring actors from Nollywood and Hollywood, 93 Days with its reported pricey 400 million Naira budget makes a case for successful cross-culture pollination.
The film traces the heroics of the health workers who put their lives on the line to stop Ebola in its track, most famous of whom would be Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, the endocrinologist who made the call and escalated the machinery for the incredible, hard tasking work that followed, but succumbed to the disease in the end.
93 Days is not Adadevoh’s movie, as it is equally interested in the stories of her boss, Benjamin Ohiaeri (played by a world weary Danny Glover), as well as subordinates like Ada Igonoh (Somkele Idhalama), and Justina Ejelonu (Zara Udofia-Ejoh) amongst others.
As the managing physician to Mr Sawyer, Adadevoh is the glue that links all these characters but amidst public disagreements between the film producers and her family, desperate to control her legacy and public image, the portrayal by veteran Bimbo Akintola is almost saintly.
Too much care is taken not to offend and Akintola’s Adadevoh becomes the kind of angelic presence; a loving wife and mother who worries sick over her colleagues, even at her own expense and prays for her patients over dinner. The only allowance the film makes for a bit of a balance in this portrayal is to depict Adadevoh sliding deep into denial even when she begins to manifest symptoms. As a result, she is practically railroaded by the men in her life into committing to the isolation process.
Director Steve Gukas is a perfect fit for this project. He has had experience navigating NGO and development sector interest in powering authentic Nigerian stories,- see the good intentioned but shabby A Place in the Stars-, but it all comes together for him on this project where he enjoys the perfect confluence of funding, talent, skill and passion.
Thus 93 Days becomes for him, his masterpiece and one which all his future projects will be judged by. He balances his cast and crew like a true professional and churns out a movie that though not without its falls, gives a very convincing, competent rendition of a slice of contemporary Nigerian history.
Technically, it is hard to fault 93 Days. The picture is perfect, production design is superb, sound is fine, costuming is spot on and the music is mostly appropriate. The House on the Rock church choir backing Danny Glover’s final speech may be a bit of overkill but their presence is hardly out of place.
Producers were able to secure the actual venues like the First Consultant Hospital and the state government run Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Yaba and the improvement, especially in IDH is clear to see. No matter how shabby the isolation ward looks on film, the real deal was much worse.
It is the rare Nollywood film that places medical folks as the real heroes and stars of their own narrative. Dr David Brett-Majors of the CDC deserves a national award in particular for his heroic commitment to the clinical care of Ebola patients at a time paranoia was the name of the game among Nigerian health workers and the portrayal by Scottish actor Alastair Mackenzie is pitch perfect.
Adadevoh’s role is already well documented but the film makes allowances for other important players like Dr Yewande Adesina, (Tina Mba making the most of a small role), then Special Adviser on Public Health to Governor Babatunde Fashola, First Consultant’s harried medical director, Benjamin Ohiaeri, Nigerian CDC’s Professor Nasidi and victims turned survivors, Ada Igonoh and Maurice Ibeawuchi.
The screenplay makes thrilling drama out of real life events but lapses occasionally into melodrama, such as when the IDH ambulance drivers are motivated with a cheesy speech to go back to work. The film sags once the plot shifts to the isolation centre as precious reel time is spent watching the characters attempt to survive.
Everything is all competently done but it does not mask the fact that 93 Days as written by Rowlston, is all very surface level. There is hardly any fresh revelation as much of what is depicted is already in the public space. Because of the cooperation from the parties involved, (important for a project like this,) and limited scope of the story (heroism is the primary interest,) little is mentioned of the behind the scenes political wrangling between Adesina’s state government and health workers in its employ, the initial resistance of medical staff to participate in the care of patients, the unpreparedness of the Chukwu led health ministry, the victim who fled to Port Harcourt, and the doctor that assisted him.
The flag waving is kept to a minimum but few films will make you as proud of being Nigerian as this one does. Excellence of the production amplifies everything and the cast, a credible mix of Nollywood’s old (Akintola, Charles Okafor, Franca Brown) and new (Idhalamah, Gideon Okeke, Seun Ajayi,) is inspired to put in solid wok[sic].
Some dodgy acting still comes through but once the waterworks begin, don’t even bother resisting. Just surrender to the power and elegance of this inspiring Nigerian story.