In the mid-90s, the Nigerian prince scam eased its way into American culture. The ubiquitous advance-fee scams originating in Nigeria and sent to unsuspecting U.S. citizens via email have been the subject of books, documentaries and television shows.
Now the 419 scams as they are known in Nigeria are getting time on the big screen in a new feature film that debuts in theaters nationwide Oct. 19 including AMC Camp Creek 14 in Atlanta.
“Nigerian Prince” is the first feature film written and directed by Faraday Okoro. Filmed in Lagos, Nigeria, the loosely semi-autobiographical film tells the plight of a Nigerian-American teenager sent to visit relatives in Nigeria. He later decides to team up with his cousin, an internet scammer, in a desperate attempt to get back home to the U.S.
Okoro, a graduate of Howard University and NYU Film School, is a native of Washington, D.C. and is of Nigerian descent. “Nigerian Prince” is the first feature film to be made and released as part of a partnership between the Tribeca Film Festival and AT&T. The Untold Stories initiative is designed to bring diverse stories to theaters and televisions nationwide. Filmmakers compete for a grant which provides $1 million to make their films. Distribution is guaranteed through AT&T’s DIRECTV and U-Verse VOD platforms. Executive produced by Spike Lee, Okoro’s film premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Okoro shot the film entirely on location in Nigeria with Antonio Bell, an American actor who has appeared in episodes of Atlanta-filmed “Greenleaf”, starring as Eze, a first generation Nigerian American teenager who proves to be a fish out of water when he arrives in Nigeria to stay with relatives. Eze hooks up with his cousin, Pius (Chinaza Uche), a veteran scammer who is facing his own challenges. Things take an interesting turn when they join forces in an attempt to overcome their desperate circumstances.
The topic of 419 scamming, a practice which scam expert Finn Brunton said in an interview with NPR, dates back to the French Revolution, has been widely explored in Nigerian films. The scams began making their way to the US in the 1990s as internet use became more widespread in Nigeria.
But in the early 2000s, the scam operations largely shifted from an adult occupation to an obsession of Nigerian youth. By some recent estimates there were 5 million Yahoo Boys as they are also known, living in Lagos. Some are undergraduate students others are college drop-outs but they have all become role models to peers who want to emulate their lifestyle.
“Nigerian Prince” is screening locally at AMC Camp Creek 14, 3760 Princeton Lakes Parkway, Atlanta.