by Hauwa Gambo
So I’ve been thinking lately of the reason this much-hyped film is still not interesting a lot of people (apart from those who stand to benefit from the hype) – ever since this Dr. Bello film arrived on our sensibilities. I mean, there was more excitement over Uche Jombo’s ‘Damage’ (I shall let her enjoy marital bliss and so say nothing about that misadventure). And certainly, much more people are looking towards the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s ‘Half of A Yellow Sun’.
Over the weekend, I finally cracked the code.
People always think that once you put a Nigerian movie on proper film format, get a “big name” (even though in this case, this particular big name comes with quite a few inverted commas) and talk of a big budget, we’ll all get excited. Epic fail. They’ve been so many of those – ‘Amazing Grace’, anyone? – and now we are wiser.
As far as I’m concerned, the only good news in this film is that it sounds like a talent-vehicle for the phenomenal Genevieve Nnaji. Apart from that? Nada. Let me tell you nine reasons why.
1. It sounds like a crappy story:
Brilliant cancer specialist Dr. Michael Durant is emotionally troubled, wrestling with the traumatic loss of his 10 year old daughter from cancer. Immersing himself in his work from the hospital, away from his wife who blames him for their child’s death, he forms an unlikely bond with a sick, loving, but rambunctious seven year old boy Sam, the son of a rich Jewish couple who are major contributors to the hospital’s cancer research fund.
Unfortunately, Sam’s health deteriorates drastically, and soon, he slips into a coma, with only a few days to live. Dr. Durant becomes desperate, willing to risk anything to save the child’s life. A surreptitious Nigerian Nurse convinces him to seek the help of Dr. Bello, an uncertified Nigerian Doctor, known in Brooklyn-African underground as a miracle worker.
Dr. Bello, an introvert with a controversial past, secretly visits the child at night and administers a strange African potion, replete with incantations and by the next morning, miraculously, the child begins to recover, the cancer speeding into remission.
The hospital medical board immediately orders an investigation and soon the secret is revealed and Dr. Durant is suspended. Dr. Bello is arrested and charged with medical malpractices. Dr. Durant soon falls into depression after his wife leaves him. Meanwhile, Dr. Bello has fallen critically ill in jail and can only be saved by the ingestion of that same potion that can only be found in the mysterious “garden of life” nestled on the peak of Nigeria”s sky mountains.
Let’s forget the fact that no professional script treatment would ever appear in any real international movie project including amateur language like ‘malpractices’ (instead of just ‘malpractice’), convoluted phrases like the use of “meanwhile”, and grammatical errors like Nigeria Doctor spelled with capital ‘D’ et cetera et cetera; doesn’t this story sound as convoluted as your average Nollywood fare?
2. Isaiah Washington. Seriously?
They want to impress me, and they bring Isaiah Washington? No offense, this man was one of the better talents on Grey’s Anatomy (which is a big deal, because there is a lot of great talent on Grey’s), still he is now persona non grata in America. No one will touch him, because – rightly or wrongly – he is seen as a bigot (he called a gay colleague a f**got and you see, in advanced civilisations, that kind of thing can end your career). He is no longer a big get. Big gets are people that everyone else wants to get. Don’t bring the big reject and then expect me to be excited.
3. It’s a study of the worst ‘Africa’ clichés :
How many times will the many elegant people of the African continent be reduced to primordial tribesmen living in the exotic ‘country of Africa’? Till we have our own powerful story-telling media, I agree. We cannot force Hollywood to tell our own stories the way we would. Perfectly fine. I understand. What I don’t understand is this: why is my government financing someone with plenty money to go and do a film that stereotypes me and you as primordial tribesmen? Why is the protagonist Dr. Bello yet another man from the “Brooklyn-African underground” who visits children at night, practicing illegally as a doctor, administering a “strange African potion”, and chanting incantations?
4. Government money is funding the film:
As Akintunde Oyebode pointed out, money for this film is coming from the generous guys at the Nigerian Intervention Fund for the Arts. Why does our government think that intervention in the arts means giving people money to do a press conference at Radission Blu and then produce a crappy film? That’s how Diezani-Madueke went and threw money down the drain with that jewellery-seller called Chris Aire. What’s wrong with these guys in government?
5. Government money is funding the film:
So, of course they can afford the hype. So of course they can fly anyone in. And then … they went and invited the wrong actor named Washington? All that money couldn’t get a better story; a better script treatment, a better idea? Or at the least of it, dear dear Denzel? This is a waste.
6. Government money is funding the film.
7. OUR GOVERNMENT MONEY IS FUNDING THIS FILM.
8. It’s not any kind of international anything:
I have already told you the story of Mr. Washington, so let’s leave sleeping dogs alone. Then, the next “international star” is Jimmy Jean-Louis. I mean, seriously. Then I’m terribly sorry ma’am, but I’ve seen Vivica A. Fox referred to as has-been.The first thing is that no serious film festival (apart from all that New York AFRICAN Film Festival “ish”) will take this kind of half-baked story on. The second thing is that Stephanie Okereke (who has been on stage with Meryl Streep) is more international than the gorgeously sculpted Jean-Louis. Finally, this film is more likely to inch towards a Best of Nollywood Awards than it would ever get to smell a Foreign-Film category at the Oscars. Take that that to the (NEXIM) bank.
9. Read the blurb:
“The Cure for Cancer has been found in the Sky Mountains of Africa and an American oncologist will risk everything to get it.” The Sky Mountains of Africa. The Sky Mountains of Africa?!! The Sky Mountains of Africa????!!!!! Like you mean, the continent called Africa which is so wide it goes from Egypt to Somalia? You couldn’t take your time to find out WHAT PART of Africa these amazing Sky Mountains are? And of course an AMERICAN oncologist rides to the rescue???
We are doomed.