Nigeria’s EbonyLife Studios and US-based Will Packer Productions have won the rights to a Bloomberg article about a Nigerian internet scammer and are developing it into a movie with Universal Pictures.
Evan Ratliff’s article The Fall of the Billionaire Gucci Master is an exposé of Nigerian Instagram influencer Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, aka Ray Hushpuppi. He is alleged to have perfected a simple internet scam that allowed him to launder millions of dollars, which eventually led to a criminal case being filed against him in a California federal court.
EbonyLife Studios CEO Mo Abudu announced the news on Instagram, revealing that the project has been set up at Hollywood-based Universal Pictures.
“When the Hushpuppi story made headlines last year, I pitched the story idea to Will Packer and [production partner] James Lopez. They bought the idea and together we won the rights to the Bloomberg article,” she said.
“The rights were won after a highly contested derby by several producers. It’s a dream come true to be working with Will Packer Productions and Universal Pictures on this project.”
The film has been described as a hybrid of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 pseudo-biographical crime film Catch Me If You Can and Bryan Singer’s 1995 neo-noir mystery thriller film The Usual Suspects.
Outlining why she believe stories like this need to be told, Abudu said: “Firstly, there are many lessons to be learnt from good and bad stories. Secondly, if we do not tell this story, someone else will, and to ensure that this story is told with authenticity, a Nigerian storyteller with our pedigree needs to be involved.
“Too often, these types of characters are one-dimensional and feed into the worst stereotypes. Hushpuppi’s story is based on a real person whose story is already partly known to the world, but the film gives us a real chance to tell a cautionary tale about a character formed by his environment and life choices.”
“The films of Martin Scorsese are a great example of a filmmaker telling richly layered stories of criminal characters from his heritage that we’ve all grown to love, without ever creating the impression that all Italian Americans are members of the mafia. Needless to say, not all Nigerians are 419 scam artists.”