C. J. Obasi’s “Mami Wata” is the supernatural thriller that could shake up Nollywood

Mami Wata

Some months back, I stumbled on Siren, a new television series on American cable Freeform. First reading positive reviews and watching a clip on social media, Siren looked like the real deal but I consumed two episodes to be sure. Before I knew it, I was keenly following the show and soaking up its mysticism and embedded lore.

As superheroes dominate pop culture, I saw Siren as the final barrel-scraping vestige of supernatural young adult properties, following the decades-old meteoric rise of vampire fiction, zombie fiction, witch fiction, whatever-Shadowhunters-is-fiction and other monstrous-beasts-who-also-happen-to-be-sexy-misunderstood-teen fiction. But Siren dives into new supernatural territory: mermaids. No, scratch that: murderous mermaids.

In a juxtaposition with Nollywood, things aren’t exactly bleak because filmmakers like C.J. Obasi have torqued away from the great Nollywood churn of schlocky popcorn comedies and anodyne romance movies. It’s just a breath of fresh air when admiring his work, and the sources that inspired their creation.

With his indie studio Fiery Film Company, Obasi has made movies like 2014’s award-winning zombie thriller Ojuju, and 2015’s stylishly gritty O-Town, which Obasi calls a “crime-gangster thriller.” His Afrofuturistic short film Hello, Rain births from Nnedi Okorafor’s short story Hello, Moto, a female-centric adaptation that is gaining popularity within the film festival circuit.

From the trailer, I think “Don’t ever mix juju with technology” chirps perfectly as a logline. Having its world premiere at the International Short Film Festival, (Kurzfilmtage) Oberhausen, Germany, and to a hall full of receptive energy, Obasi tells me via e-mail that Hello Rain will also be having a UK screening on July 20 at the Southbank Centre, London, which is the largest art center in Europe. “There’s also a lot of excitement around all that.” he says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, I’m more excited about his latent project Mami Wata, which, according to the movie’s Instagram profile: a kiss-ass, female-driven black-and-white West-African supernatural thriller. The components of this description are indeed interesting. As a longstanding mythology, Mami Wata is a water deity that I have heard about since my childhood. Mostly presented as female with a mermaid-like anatomy, she’s painted as a lustful, sexualised being in Nigerian popular stories.

Clearly, Obasi wants to craft this folklore into cinema. “I feel like my journey as a filmmaker only makes sense if I can grow from one project to the next. And not just in the technical prowess, but in my storytelling as well.” Plot details aren’t officially out – the movie is still being crowdfunded via Indiegogo and production will commence when funds are complete. Taken together, Mami Wata mines the rich vein of stories we have in Africa, and Obasi has fashioned himself as a correspondent in the film landscape. All we have to do is give our attention.

 

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