In his first role on screen in eight years, John Sibi-Okumu wants to get away with murder, in a performance that stands out as one of the best things to look out for in Crime and Justice, Kenya’s first Showmax Original.
Known sometimes only by his initials JSO, Sibi-Okumu isn’t just an actor. He’s an artist, revered for his craft and for his achievements both on stage and on screen. But in his own words, he is no celebrity. He doesn’t want to be one either.
With over 50 years in the theatre and film industry in Kenya, he’s taken up roles that most Kenyan actors can only dream of. Earlier on in his career, he landed his first major role in the Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Born Free. Later, he would rub shoulders with Academy winner Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) and Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) in the critically-acclaimed drama, The Constant Gardener, where he played a corrupt minister.
In 2007, he played UN special envoy Booh-Booh in the war drama Shake Hands with the Devil about the events leading to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. And in 2010, he appeared in The First Grader, the biographical film about Kenya’s Kimani Maruge, the world’s oldest pupil, alongside Oscar nominee Naomi Harris (Moonlight).
For a man who gained international recognition and fame so early in his career, it’s understandable to see why he would want to be defined only by his talent. And especially at this moment when he’s making a major comeback with his role as Barasa in Crime and Justice.
Crime and Justice follows detectives Makena (Sarah Hassan, Plan B) and Silas (Alfred Munyua, Poacher) as they investigate crimes around Nairobi.
In the premiere episode, a pregnant mistress has been murdered and her body dumped in a forest. The main suspect is Barasa, a high-profile lawyer on a campaign trail to become a member of parliament.
Sibi-Okumu gives himself over completely to this role – cold, remorseful, calm, and with equal parts of arrogance and confidence. He carries it all with such control, even charisma, that can only be wielded by a man who is powerful enough to get away with anything, even murder.
And even though you should be rooting for the other side (a girl is dead after all and justice must prevail), you find yourself drawn to Barasa because of the sheer magnetism of the man who embodies him. It’s a masterclass performance – and if the reactions on social media is anything to go by, then fellow actors are taking note.
His Crime and Justice co-star Sarah Hassan (who plays Detective Makena) has called him “absolutely amazing.” Muhugu Theuri who plays Abuya, the victim in episode 1, has said “he’s such a force to reckon with.” Singer and actress Patricia Kihoro (Disconnect, Rafiki) has described his performance as “mindblowing” even though she admits she hates the character he’s playing. More praise has come from Nick Ndeda (18 Hours, Shuga), Auudi Rowa (This Is Life), Mwajuma Belle (Poacher) and several fans who can’t get enough of his performance.
For such a performance, it’s unfortunate that we’ve seen the last of Sibi-Okumu as Barasa, but if the film/TV industry is watching, then we can only hope for more great roles in future for this man, who wants to be nothing else but an artist.
Crime and Justice is a Showmax Original series and a co-production with Canal+ International. New episodes arrive on the platform every Monday.