Monday, 21 April 2014

OPINION | Chiwetel Ejiofor proposes 'Internationalizing Nollywood'.

Living in Bondage, Festival of Fire, State of Emergency, Glamour Girls - these aren't just mere phrases. They are titles of some Nigerian movies that made waves on the Big Screen back in the 90s. At the time, one electronic device in my house named 'SONY Videocassette Player' always kept me company and entertained. That explains how I got to know all the aforementioned movie titles. By the way, Igodo is one of my favourite epic Nigerian movies of all time. It has an interesting story line that I find somewhat original. Although the movie's adventurous theme can be likened to an African version of Hobbit or Lord of The Rings.

Some of you reading this piece may recall that I released a song in 2008 titled 'Nollywood' which featured Terry Tha Rapman, whom is also an actor and has starred in a movie directed by Charles Novia. And guess what? I am presently honing my acting skills because I will be starring in a TV series later this year if things go accordingly to plan. Apart from music, I am also passionate about movies and film making.

Digressing a bit, well I'd say Pete Edochie was Nigeria's Morgan Freeman at the time. The veteran actor is well known for his numerous thought-provoking proverbs such as 'a chicken that is in a haste to go America will return as corn beef,' just joking. He only sneaks in a smile after accomplishing an evil deed whenever he is playing out his stereotypical 'I-am-a-chief-who-doesn't-give-a-damn' villian role. The Things Fall Apart legend enjoys wearing a stern look on his face every time he is on set. Same can be said of his colleagues Olu Jacobs and Alex Osifo, fondly known as Chief Odiete. You'll catch my drift if you followed one of the popular TV series he starred in back in the day. Also, at some point, I believe Liz Benson and Regina Askia would have made your top 5 list of most gifted Nollywood actresses during that golden era.

Fast forward to 2014 - Nollywood has come a long way. The movie industry in Nigeria has really evolved. A bountiful and talented crop of actors have been harvested over the years. Producers, script writers, and directors are now bringing their A game. No one wants to lag behind. Although, the industry's distribution framework can be better. Plus there are a lot of stories that are yet to be told.

However, I must give kudos to some Nigerian film directors raising the bar. Kunle Afolayan is a notable mention in that regard. I have met him a couple of times before, and he strikes me as a workaholic and goal getter. The Figurine and Phone Swap are some of his famous works. Another promising new age director doing something unorthodox and unique in the film-making business is Biyi Bandele. I reckon that his adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie's novel Half of a Yellow Sun is a breathe of fresh air. An important part of Nigeria's history was highlighted in that movie - the Civil War, that is. I hope to see more quality movies with a similar direction being produced from time to time.

I mean, won't it be awesome to see a movie based on true life stories of various national characters such as Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe, M.K.O Abiola, Muritala Mohammed, Odumegbu Ojukwu, Sanni Abacha, and even African musical legend and activist, Fela Kuti? After all, we have the Last King of Scotlands, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedoms et al. Compelling stories interpreted via movies that reflect the Nigerian culture can be exoterical and be made more popular abroad if properly internationalize, thereby assuring Nollywood's leading spot on the global scene as Africa's biggest showbiz industry.
British born actor, Oscar nominee and BAFTA winner, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who hails from Enugu, was in Nigeria some days ago. I listened to a radio interview he granted on The Beat 99.9fm, Lagos. He discussed extensively with the OAPs as touching the production phase for Half of a Yellow Sun. He mentioned the cast suffered from Malaria and Typhoid during their stay in Calabar. I guess the foreign crew might have experienced acclimatization when they came into town. I never knew the movie was shot in TINAPA. Cross Rivers state has always been a director's favourite as regards choice of location for shooting movies characterized by African stories rooted in the colonial era.
The 12 Years a Slave lead actor made an important point during his interview which I found reasonable and absolutely insightful. Chiwetel proposed that it's about time the Nigerian movie industry becomes internationalized. Well, I couldn't agree more. This can be achieved by having an international cast interpreting an indigenous story or script. And Half of a Yellow Sun, not only did justice to that but also managed in blazing a trail.
Apparently, the likes of Zack Orji, O.C Ukeje, Genevieve Nnaji, Onyeka Onwenu and other homegrown actors that co-starred with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton in the movie now have the chance of taking their careers to the next level. To further illustrate my stance on this topic, Lupita Nyong'O is someone that perfectly describes where I am driving at. The talented Kenyan actress recently won an Oscar after costarring alongside Chiwetel and Brad Pit in 12 Years a Slave. She don port from Shuga to Hollywood! Indeed, no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid. Genevieve Nnaji may also attain that level of success some day. It is possible so long as there is an international platform geared towards showcasing talents from Africa to the entire world.
Chiwetel Ejiofor shouldn't be the only international Nigerian actor saddled with this responsibility. What about Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje? In case his name doesn't ring a bell to you, he is well known for his roles in movies such as G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra, The Mummy Returns and Congo. I believe he is another A-list Nigerian Hollywood actor that is capable of impacting the movie industry back here in the motherland positively.

Imagine seeing a movie trailer starring Denzel Washington, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Omotola Jalade, Lupita Nyong'O, Idris Elba, Jackie Appiah, Genevieve Nnaji and Johny Depp. Star-studded, right? That's the future of the African movie industry I envision. We can make it happen, but first the gap between Nollywood and Hollywood must be bridged through the assistance of movers and shakers in Hollywood that are of African descent. They gotta have their home on their back like turtles. Unity is key.

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