WhatsApp Orders First Entertainment Project, A Movie Starring Nigerian NBA Star

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WhatsApp, the popular messaging app owned by tech giant Meta, is dropping its first original entertainment project later this month – a short film starring NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo, born in Greece to Nigerian parents, was named the 2021 NBA All-Star MVP and led the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA Finals title that year. In the 12-minute film, titled ‘Naija Odyssey’, the professional basketball player “tells his multi-cultural origin story as he reconciles his roots, birthplace and sense of belonging between cross-cultural worlds”. according to whatsapp description. The athlete signed an endorsement deal with WhatsApp in February this year.

Narrated by Antetokounmpo and his mother, Veronica, “Naija Odyssey” is loosely based on the classic Greek epic poem “The Odyssey,” depicting different moments in his life. “In Greece, my teachers told stories of travelers struggling against the sea, fighting to get home – to find themselves,” says Antetokounmpo in the voiceover of the film’s trailer (look below). “I was on the same trip.”

“Naija Odyssey” is directed by filmmakers Nono Ayuso and Rodrigo Inada and edited by Mikkel EG Nielsen, who won the 2021 Oscar for Film Editing for Amazon Studios’ “Sound of Metal.” WhatsApp will stream the film on September 21 on its social media channels, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.

Why did WhatsApp order the film? The project is very much a piece of branded content seeking to capitalize on Antetokounmpo’s global fame and communicate the message that WhatsApp can bring people together. “‘Naija Odyssey’ is a story that reinforces how WhatsApp helps us embrace our multi-faceted lives,” said Vivian Odior, Global Head of Marketing, WhatsApp. “In navigating relationships, identity and even adversity, WhatsApp is there – allowing you to embrace all sides of you by connecting with those who matter most.”

The uplifting message of ‘Naija Odyssey’ appears in part designed to counter the narrative that WhatsApp has helped fuel the spread of misinformation and deepen societal divisions – which in some cases has led to violence around the world real.

Meta (formerly Facebook) acquired mobile messaging app WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion. WhatsApp now has over 2 billion monthly users. The WhatsApp deal is cited in the FTC’s ongoing antitrust lawsuit against its parent company, with the agency alleging the acquisition was part of Facebook’s anti-competitive activity. modus operandi to buy out potential competitors. Meta said the FTC’s claims are “an effort to rewrite antitrust laws and upend established expectations for merger review.”

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