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Worldly snares

Nigerian film about religious corruption has significant shortcomings

Bolanle Austen Peters Productions / Netflix

Worldly snares
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Netflix is streaming a new international production that departs from conventional faith-film norms. While the well-acted Man of God, set and shot in Nigeria, bills itself as a modern-day parable of the prodigal son, don’t expect a faithful stand-in for Jesus’ Luke 15 lesson. Theological laxity and excessive bad language undercut the film’s otherwise timely message. Still, viewers won’t miss director Bolanle Austen-Peters’ critique of the opulent pageantries that have taken over some of her country’s churches and of the dapper pastors running the shows.

Man of God opens in a church, where Samuel watches his “prophet” father carry on exuberantly from the pulpit.

“Let every evil pregnancy conceived against me be aborted by fire,” Samuel’s father rants. Samuel walks out, an act for which his father later beats him. Is it Samuel’s insolence or his father’s harshness that drives him away from his family and faith?

Either way, several years later Samuel (Akah Nnani) is living a prodigal lifestyle while he attends the University of Lagos. He fronts a band and is shacking up with his girlfriend Rekya (Dorcas Shola Fapson), who, throughout the story, reels Samuel into various “hustles.” (The film is rated TV-MA for 20 strong expletives, sensuality, and smoking.) Rekya observes that one hustle surpasses politics, drugs, and prostitution in profitability.

“Church is where the money is,” she prods Samuel.

While dating Rekya, Samuel chases after Teju (Osas Ighodaro) and Joy (Atlanta Bridget Johnson). These young women, initially strong believers, get swept away by Samuel’s charms. It’s no spoiler to reveal that Samuel marries one of them and starts his own church. His rise as a popular pastor doesn’t move him to honor the sanctity of the office but instead swells his appetite for women and wealth.

Austen-Peters, who appears as herself in a brief cameo, confronts the worldly lures that snare many church leaders, as well as the tendency of pew folk to idolize charismatic personalities. The film takes a puzzling tone, though: The sappy soundtrack and tenderly framed scenes seem to lament love stories gone wrong. But perhaps Austen-­Peters is crazy like a fox, scorning ecclesiastical wolves in sheepskin loafers by draping Man of God in its own warm-and-fuzzy wool suit. The film does itself no favors with choppy storytelling that compresses significant spans of time without adequate indication.

A more significant shortcoming is the film’s almost singular focus on broken human relationships rather than on sins against a holy God. One example is the film’s hurried ending, where Samuel kneels before his father. This act of contrition overlooks Samuel’s need of God’s forgiveness, and also serves to validate his father’s abysmal homiletics and abusive child-rearing practices.

Nevertheless, Christians on both sides of the pulpit will do well to heed the film’s closing admonition: “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.



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