by Onyeka Nwelue
Editor’s Note: This is a rejoinder to Cheta Nwanze’s piece, ‘Ije Doesn’t Impress’, in the current issue of Y! Magazine. Get the magazine to know the origins of this!
Dear Cheta Nwanze:
Many years ago, when I was young like you, I used to watch movies without thinking of how they were made. I accepted everything Amitabh Bachchan did. I loved Jackie Chan. I admired Denzel Washington (partly because he’s tall) and was scared of Pete Edochie, because of his husky voice and the fact that he looked scary too.
The idea of ‘when I was young like you’ is not to insult you or to say I’m older than you. I don’t know you. I didn’t bother to Google you too. I’m sorry. I will do that, right after writing this. It will help me more to tell you what I think about your piece in the 2nd edition of Y! Magazine, titled, ‘Ije Doesn’t Impress.’ That was a good title. Applause from the right and left.
I feel horrified that you take yourself seriously as a film critic because of that ‘one’ ‘movie making experience… with a British filmmaker.’ Clap for yourself again, please. So, after even saying that it didn’t give you the ‘experience to raise your shoulders above other people, but it CERTAINLY gave you a fair idea of what professional filmmakers look for when making movies’, you went about goofing on the ‘criteria’ for judging ‘a truly great movie’. Well, if Ije is not ‘a truly great movie,’ it is ‘a great movie.’ I will keep the ‘truly’ aside for now.
I know Kunle Afolayan, director of The Figurine. I’m working on a film project with him. I don’t know the director of Ije. I’m even trying to remember how to spell that Igbo name. But your comparison is a very lazy one and adds nothing to filmmaking in Nigeria. It is bland and baseless, and I will tell you why.
The American Film Institute’s criteria are widely accepted? Fantastic. Now, I assume anyone who employed you as a film critic or reviewer just wasted some bucks. I admire the fact that your employers give you enough money to go the cinemas, buy popcorn and a can of Coke to see a movie, but they should realize their film critic doesn’t pay attention to details. If Ije let you down, as a film critic, which movie will lift you up? Maybe you come from Venus? I’m from Mars then. We think differently. We see things from different angles.
When it comes to length, based on your American Film Institute’s criteria, sir, Ije is more than a ‘truly great movie.’ The language of Ije is sharp, crispy and original. What else? Or you wanted subtitles to understand the Igbo used by some of the characters? I had thought it was an Ije versus The Figurine article, but then you randomly jumped to ‘a certain Stephanie Okereke production.’ You seem to be very talkative and distracted. If Ije didn’t receive a ‘positive critical reception’ it is because of people like you who don’t understand what movie-making is all about. If Ije didn’t make a ‘decent effort at keeping’ you guessing until the end, it did for me. I wanted to know why a woman has to kill her husband. You didn’t guess to find out too?
If Ije was ‘truly’ shot on 35mm, then I feel you should know how difficult it is to handle that kind of film? And you are blabbering about the lighting, when there is nothing wrong with the cinematography? And if judging on the popularity overtime, Ije has strong grounds too, but I’m not here to argue with you, but to tell you to abstain from deceiving movie-goers. Opinions like yours should be bottled up.
Maybe, if Angelina Jolie had played Chioma in Ije and Genevieve Nnaji played Salt in Salt, it wouldn’t have been tagged Nollywoodic of that scene where Chioma visits Anya’s house or if her visa would have been revoked? Maybe, I have serious issues with your understanding of a storyline, because I’m a student of Salman Rushdie, whose stories are strewn in magical realism. I mean, if you are really a ‘truly great movie’ lover, you should go into filmmaking and come out with something that will ‘impress’ you. If the rape theme wasn’t well-done, you could as well do a movie with the title, ‘The Truly Great Rape Movie,’ and trust me, I will be the first in the queue to see the movie.
If the pogrom angle was annoying, you could do a comedy on Jos, where those killed will resurrect and kill their killers. That would make ‘A Truly Great Movie of Pogrom.’ If you loved movies like Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters and you don’t love Ije, then I assume you don’t love your job as ‘a film reviewer.’ I found your argument about ‘length’ baseless when you wanted to know what ‘filled the gap between their move back from northern Nigeria to Anya leaving the country and Chioma getting a bank job?’ Maybe, you are looking for series? You seriously want a Nollywood film with 3 parts then? That ‘British filmmaker’ (because we are always obsessed with foreign things that we don’t bother to know how genuine they are) didn’t tell you that movies have ‘time durations’ too? He didn’t tell you that a documentary is different from a feature film? Or short film? Or those novels are not films? I feel elated he didn’t tell you all that. Or because he doesn’t know too?
Where are you from? Nwanze is an Igbo name and I’m sure Ije means ‘journey’ in Igbo. When Anya says, ‘in Nigeria, there are no queens, only kings,’ she means something we say in Igbo, ‘Igbo amaghi Eze,’ or ‘Ndigbo enweghi Eze,’ which could be translated this way: ‘The Igbos have no kings.’ Oh, you just ‘pandered to Western sensibilities’ by judging films based on what some film body in the States produced as criteria. Isn’t that tempting enough? How come you think Ije ‘pandered’ to Western sensibilities? Would you try think now? I will help you to think. Have you tried separating the ideologies you have chalked up in your head from Ije?
Isn’t Ije fictional? Isn’t the writer free to tell his/her story their own way? When was the last time you read a book? Which was that? Fiction? Non-fiction? Are they not separate? I wonder what your criticism of George Orwell’s Animal Farm film will read like? There was no gaffe in whatever Anya says in court. I’m assuming she is saying most of those things to create tension, pity and fear too, as a character in the film. Maybe, she is lying, but which woman dey marry man for Naija na?
Of course, I agree that ‘The Figurine did a much better job at crediting the audience with some intelligence,’ whatever that means, though. Truth is this; both movies are different from every point of view. They do not share same ideologies and they had different writers. Same way anyone would come up and say, ‘Onyeka, you are a retard. Ije and The Figurine are not even ‘truly great movies’, because Stephanie Okereke’s Through the Glass is better.’
Your piece is full of contradictions. You went ahead to say that Ije is very Nollywoodic and then turns back to say, ‘Nollywood has never really lacked for great stories,’ which made me burst into hysterical laughter. And because you think you are a ‘truly great teacher,’ you ended your comic rant by saying: “Great cameras and fine editing are not enough. It is a great storyline that keeps one coming back for more.” What defines ‘greatness’ in storytelling, sir? Maybe, if every story has to be shot in the countryside and has to be about river goddesses? For once, next time you go to the movies, try not to look at your BlackBerry and please, don’t buy popcorn, because they are too sugary, you tend to focus on them most of the time.