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A Nigerian internet scammer is becoming an action-movie villain

An image of Chiwetel Ejiofor, the Nigerian-British actor, looking up to someone speaking at an event.
Nigerian British-born actor Chiwetel Ejiofor listens to a speaker during a news conference at the premiere for the film “Half of a Yellow Sun”, an adaptation of novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, in Lagos, Nigeria in 2014.
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Over the past year, the story of Ramon Abbas, known in Nigeria as Hushpuppi, has raised attention to the prevalence of business email compromise (BEC) scams around the world.

He made millions of dollars by impersonating businesses, flaunting his wealth on Gucci-laden Instagram posts and Snaps, filled with motivational captions. Now that he has pleaded guilty to charges in a US court, people who make-believe for a legitimate living will play his life on the big screen.

A Bloomberg feature written by Evan Ratliff, which painted a picture of a boy frustrated by hardship in Nigeria who then built an empire on fraud, will be made into a movie by Will Packer productions and Nigerian entertainment company EbonyLife Media. The project does not yet have a title but it is expected to blend Catch Me If You Can with The Usual Suspects, according to Deadline.

It will be produced in partnership with Universal Pictures, with the potential to place a Nigerian story—albeit an unfortunate one—on global billboards.

A bet on a recovering movie market 

Nigerian cinemas were affected by lockdowns last year. From a 2019 all-time high of 6.4 billion naira ($17.7 million at the time), total box office revenue slumped to N2.18 billion in 2020, worse than the N2.5 billion recorded in 2015.

EbonyLife owned by Mo Abudu—named by The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 as one of the “25 Most Powerful Women in Global Television”—is counting on the end of lockdowns in the country for a resurgence in cinema interest.

One argument for this is that Omo Ghetto, the current all-time top grossing Nollywood movie, premiered in the second half of 2020, after lockdowns were eased in Nigeria. Another indicator of growth in Nigerian cinema is that while revenues were down, 11 new cinemas opened in 2020 increasing the number of locations to 77 and seats to more than 28,000.

Splashy Nigerian dramas work for viewers

Abudu’s interest in the project is also likely buoyed by the impressive historical performance of splashy dramas like the very popular Wedding Party movies—number two and three on Nigeria’s all-time list.

Among her other projects, Abudu secured a deal with Netflix in 2020 to develop two original series based on two literary works, including a play by the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.

Working with Will Packer and Universal could make for another treat in Nigerian cinema’s collection of internationally-appealing filmsNigerian Prince, a 2018 movie which became the first movie to win the AT&T/Tribeca “Untold Stories” initiative, could provide some guidance for the producers.

If well made, the movie will show how the 38-year-old’s social media posts led the FBI to him. The theme could resonate with young Nigerians and Africans broadly who have taken to TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat as platforms where self-expression can be monetized. The film should also make for great escapist drama. What better way is there to get one’s mind off the trying pandemic days than to watch the lifestyles of the scandalously rich, famous, and in this case, criminal?

But among other things, Hushpuppi, The Movie (if they call it that) could be a cautionary tale for people who base their inspiration for influence and financial independence on social media influencers.

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