Richard Johns, founder and CEO of recently launched Argo Films today confirms Biafra, a six-hour event limited series, as its first major television drama.
The project is currently in development with the BBC, with Fremantle attached as its strategic partner, and Golden Globe, BAFTA and Emmy-nominated actor David Oyelowo (Selma, Les Misérables, Spooks) and his Yoruba Saxon Productions executive producing.
Biafra is set in the UK and Nigeria, with the story unfolding across two main timelines; the present day, and the 1967-70 Biafra War – which remains a largely forgotten dark secret in the shared histories of both countries. The series, seen through the eyes of a young Black British woman, will be a character-led personal story, and a historical, political drama, with themes of family, identity and belonging at its heart.
Laurence Olivier Award-winning writer, Bola Agbaje (Gone Too Far) is writing the script, and acclaimed director Ngozi Onwurah (Shoot the Messenger, Mama Africa) is co- developing and attached to direct. Additional executive producers, alongside Johns and Oyelowo, include Turnover Films’ Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo (Rye Lane, Top Boy, Guerrilla) and Fremantle’s Christian Vesper (Top of the Lake, No Man’s Land).
David Oyelowo comments: “My Nigerian heritage and desire to see African stories told at the highest level has led to Biafra being one of my most treasured projects. My parents married across the tabooed tribal lines of the Biafran conflict, and it shaped my life, much as it has done to millions of Nigerians. To be able to bring the amazing talents of director Ngozi Onwurah, who I first worked with on Shoot the Messenger, and writer, Bola Agbaje, who I’ve been seeking to work with for quite some time, makes this the definition of a passion project for me.”
Richard Johns says: “Britain and Nigeria have a hugely important, multi-layered, and historic relationship, one that is very much alive today. With this series, we are setting ourselves the mission of telling an incredibly powerful story about discovering and reclaiming a lost identity and a forgotten history – all with a truly authentic West African voice. We are so lucky to be working with Bola, Ngozi, Yvonne and David to bring this story to the screen.
“Ultimately, this is a universal story about who we are and making sense of ourselves by knowing more about our ancestors and the world they lived and fought in. Biafra will be smart, thought-provoking, grounded in fact and gripping – while always accessible and entertaining: it promises to be a true landmark in limited-series storytelling. As Argo Films was established to cross boundaries and tell truly exceptional and authentic stories, I could not have wished for a better first scripted project.”
Christian Vesper, president of global drama at Fremantle adds: “Fremantle is delighted to be a strategic partner with Argo Films alongside Yoruba Saxon on this series and we are excited to begin conversations with potential co-production and pre-sale partners around the world. Richard, David and the team are creating a unique drama that beautifully marries truth and fiction, family history with national history – working across different locations and timelines. These elements, combined with its universal themes about identity, family and belonging, will ensure Biafra becomes a hot property for international drama partners in 2023.”