African Spirituality winning over every other belief is the main appeal of ‘My Village People’

For most entertainment consumers – we know only of our Nigerian reality understandably, waking up to the news of a movie coming to the cinema, making the decision to walk into a cinema and purchase a ticket to watch it, remains a gamble.

One can only trust a few variables – their favourite actors and their roles in it, and maybe the creator.

A Sola Sobowale, Genevieve Nnaji, or Ayoola Ayolola. A Kemi Adetiba or Kunle Afolayan. These you can bank on. The rest – like the substance of a story or quality of production are things you may be up for great disappointment if you bank on. Better to experience them and come out greatly satisfied in the outcome or unbothered by their failure to appeal but satisfied regardless because your favourite actors delivered as expected.

Often even when one gets lucky, banks on those historically unreliable variables and leaves the movies satisfied, it is rarely fully. They are left desperately avoiding the knowledge that the plot holes in a story are big enough to swallow the cinema if not a whole galaxy.

That was the exact feeling I left the cinema with, after watching My Village People.

Deep satisfaction because here is a story about African spirituality that is told not in the old and tired way where Jesus prevails and a dash of holy water and a barrage of incomprehensible gibberish burns the mami water ‘spirit’ and it is happily ever after. The End.

A calming happiness with the performance of my favourite actors – the late Rachel Oniga who will remain relevant in death as in life, perhaps more so, Nkem Owoh (the highly revered Osuofia, and beloved Francis Sule even if he only played a minor role.

Yet, avoiding – down to spirit level – the glaring plot holes and plentiful easily explained story aspects that for some reason are presented with no explanation. Like how a village girl who is a powerful witch in her own right knows how to speak impeccable English and easily thrives in a megacity like Lagos, switching fancy wigs like picking twigs on a stroll to the farm.

Or the juxtaposition of Western tropes about witches – in the admittedly enjoyable roles of the three village witches the source of whose powers was never explained despite being presented as unique away from that of the marine and earth kingdoms’.

I held on to the happy fact that the pastor is presented in exactly the way we all know a number of Nigerian pastors to be – swindling people out of their monies in the guise of ‘giving unto the Lord that ye may receive.’ And that in the end, a marine spirit whooped him and made him run like a little rat, even if I was unhappy she didn’t force him to pay back that money.

You ignore all these because even in these disappointments lay seeds of potential for enjoyment. And overall, the premise tickles.

The exploration – with nuance – of African spirituality, which despite being considered absurd by an overbearingly arrogant Islamic and Christian majority, does a tremendously better job of attempting to explain human origins and destinies. Even the world we live in is better served with a spiritual explanation of the world that grounds us on the very earth we occupy in life.

I left the cinema wondering – not for the first time – what the state of the poisoned oceans, rivers, and skies of the earth will be if the vast majority of humanity believes that they have ties to these natural bodies even beyond their mortal lives.

Would we poison the waters if we all believe as the main character – played by comedian Bovi – discovered that we are born with a tie to the marine kingdom and may at any time be called back to the waters by the spirits, Gods, and Goddesses in it?

It makes for a beautiful contrast to the fantastical origins of heaven we can’t place anywhere on earth or in the skies but believe nevertheless to be where we came from and where we are returning to. The heaven and paradise of Christianity and Islam.

Whatever its fault – and like the hundreds of movies Nollywood churns out yearly it has many – My Village People surprises and delights in almost equal measure. Yet what it does best – at least for this moviegoer – is it opens up a new way to handle African Spirituality in movies made by Africans telling their own stories.

It could still do better by ditching the trope of 3 witches – because Africa’s magic unlike that of the west was never given to too much gender segregation – which belongs in Disney.

It could do better yet without the Western reimagined imagery of the marine Kingdom as bland whiteness. Yemaya wouldn’t oversee such a tasteless space.

Hopefully, we see this very soon in more movies like this.

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