Zainab Balogun (29)
Zainab Balogun first started her stint on Nigerian television as one-third of the beloved television trio behind the critically successful daytime show The Spot. The show introduced her to Nigerian audiences and her intelligence, wit and humour endeared her to millions of fans. Not one to be pigeonholed in into any single role, Balogun nursed dreams of returning to the big and small screen as she had on the BBC One’s Material Girl, the Bollywood Film Cocktail and The Charlatans by Ashley Water. She got her big film break in a supporting role on the Christmas box office smash, The Wedding Party.
Parlaying the success of the Wedding Party, Balogun began to audition for leading roles, finally landing the coveted lead in the Ebony Life Vehicle, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel alongside Kenneth Okonkwo. A crowd-pleasing romantic comedy at heart, Balogun longed for more challenging fare and found it when she was cast in the Trino Studios psychological thriller, Sylvia. Playing a metaphysical femme fatale, Balogun thrilled audiences with her range and her willingness to go to dark places to bring to life her tortured character. She has shown she has the grit to take on any role, and the talent to deliver.
Bisola Aiyeola (32)
When Bisola Aiyeola was announced for the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards Trailblazer Awards, there was nary a dry eye in the room. Ms. Aiyeola couldn’t believe it herself, she had just endured a terrible personal tragedy and worked through it to cement her status as one of the country’s most talented performers.
There was no one more deserving that night of that honour than Aiyeola, who has risen from a supporting role as the belligerent but eternally loyal Didi in the cult Ndani TV romantic comedy Skinny Girl In Transit to become a bonafide star in her own right. After a stint in the 2017 Big Brother Nigeria reality tv competition allowed the actress show the full range of her talent and endear millions of fans to herself along the way, she emerged from the house with the continent behind her and hungry for roles. She followed this with roles on Life of a Nigerian Couple, Two Grannies and a Baby and Gold Statue. Her turn as a lead actress on the ROK Studios 2017 drama Picture Perfect and 2018’s Pay Day cemented her status as a bankable actress with the chops to deliver on any role, no matter how complex.
Maryam Booth (25)
Few people realise that Kannywood, Nigeria’s Hausa dedicated film industry is no mere fledgeling and has existed long enough to nurture the career of emerging powerhouse Maryam Booth, who got her first role as a child actress aged 8. Booth who has grown up in Kannywood exemplifies the diverse range of talent in the country and how niche acting markets are viable breeding grounds for global talent.
A second generation actress, Booth mother is the renowned Kannywood actress Zainab Booth, Maryam worked her way up to her star turn in the film ‘Dijangala’. Booth has challenged the restrictive stereotyping that has forbidden other young Muslim women from pursuing careers in film to tell the stories of women of her generation, portraying their struggles with dignity, empathy and dexterity.
She was introduced to mainstream audiences through her role in the crossover Kannywood film Rariya and the EbonyLife TV Northern soap Sons of the Caliphate.
Adesua Etomi (32)
Many people Adesua Etomi’s turn in the revered Ndani TV drama Gidi Up as stilted and stereotyped to maximise her good looks and aristocratic air. Many thought her a flash in the pan, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. Through a series of carefully curated roles, Etomi has cast herself as the darling of Nollywood, even garnering attention for events in her personal life.
But her true calling has always been the screen and she shines best in it, winning a Best Actress win at the 2016 Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards for her stellar work in ‘Falling’. She followed it with the crowd-pleasing Wedding Party and Wedding Party 2, flexed her comedy chops in the AY driven 10 Days in Sun City and showed her aptitude for emotion-driven drama during her stint in the beloved MTV serial Shuga, where she played Sheila.
Adesua reaffirmed her role as the country’s most hardworking actress when she debuted in Kemi Adetiba’s ‘King Of Boys’, holding her own as the calculating daughter of a criminal kingpin besides the charismatic Sola Sobowale. Is there nothing Adesua can’t do?
Alex Ekubo (32)
Alex Ekubo has come a long way from his early beginnings as a fitness model making his first forays into Nollywood. In a move that evokes the McCoughnaissance, Ekubo reinvented himself as a bonafide actor, partnering with the newly created Rok Studios to immerse himself in serious film projects. He worked tirelessly for the rest of 2017 and 2018, chewing up roles and throwing himself headfirst into filmmaking from all aspects. The result of that collaboration was a cache of drama heavy films like Heart of Flames and Girl Next Door that has amassed him a loyal following among the Nollywood faithful.
Ekubo has not limited himself to just film, he has also made stints on television, interpreting roles on MNET’s Tinsel and the AY Makun self-titled television series, AY’s Crib. As Ekubo continues her reinvention and domination of Nollywood, he isn’t afraid to take risks for the right role and the right character.