Netflixable? “Òlòtūré” investigates Nigeria’s sex/human trafficking trades

One of the best Nigerian films in recent years is a nerve-wracking thriller about human trafficking.

“Òlòtūré” takes its titular heroine (Sharon Ooja) from the grim brothels of Lagos to the terrifying deal many of the young women there make to realize “my dream, to go to Europe.”

But the street walkers and pimps don’t know Òlòtūré by that name. Donning a blonde wig and hooker-wear, she is Ehi, a “new girl” whom we meet as she irritates the veteran sex workers when customers choose her out of the line-up at the brothel.

When she slips out the bathroom window of the hotel/bar/brothel where a Jabba-sized client has chosen her, we wonder about her commitment. Her asking questions of the other women raises an eyebrow. Is she “too naive for this job (in Edo, Idoma or pidgin, with English subtitles)? Or is she a cop, as others suspect?

She’s particularly interested in the earnest, veteran prostitute Linda (Omowunmi Dada).

Òlòtūré, whose name means “endurance,” is a reporter — undercover for The Scoop. And her fretful editor (Blossom Chukwujekwu) figures she has “more bravery than sense,” sticking with this dangerous and degrading assignment, exposing the official corruption and the deadly bargain too many woman are making in a sprawling, populous country whose law enforcement is either overwhelmed or content to turn a blind eye.

Director Kenneth Gyang, working from a Craig Freimond/Yinka Ogun script, doesn’t spare us much here. This sordid trade, carried out in the open, is undergoing a change in the business model, as Ehi discovers. The fading pimp Chuks (Ikechukwu Onunaku) is not taking this shift to the Internet without taking out his frustrations on the women he is losing control of.

The threat of violence from pimps is being replaced by the unsavory brutes of the human trafficking trade, with the sneering, secretive Alero (Omoni Oboli) calling the shots.

The real violence ranging from beatings delivered to the sex workers, rape and murder. And as rough and scary as the prostitution is, when Òlòtūré enters the shady, higher-stakes people-smuggling pipeline, things take a turn toward horrific.

The acting can be uneven, but Ooja makes a compelling heroine and Onunaku a harrowing villain.

Gyang (“The Lost Cafe”) maintains suspense, even as the picture tends to slow down just as the stakes reach their highest.

Hand-held camera chases, emotionally fraught close-ups, arresting compositions and a script that gives a familiar story a distinctly African flavor make “Òlòtūré” a thriller you not only endure — it’s pretty rough — but marvel over and embrace.

MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sexual situations, nudity, profanity

Cast: Sharon Ooja, Ikechukwu Onunaku, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Omowunmi Dada and Omoni Oboli

Credits: Directed by Kenneth Gyang, script by Craig Freimond and Yinka Ogun. An Ebony Life/Netflix release.

Running time: 1:46

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