The Film Blog: We have to absolutely disagree with this review – and any other negative review of Ojukokoro

Rhimes’s show is made under the opposite circumstances from Fincher’s: nearly twice as many episodes, ratings pressure, constant threat of cancellation, a ravenous tweeting audience. These forces wreck other network dramas, and Rhimes’s previous shows have flown off the rails, but “Scandal” has only got stronger. It’s become more opera than soap opera, as the critic Ryan McGee observed online. Like much genre fiction, “Scandal” uses its freedom to indulge in crazy what-ifs: What if everyone but the President knew that the election was fixed? What if the President tried to divorce his pregnant wife? What if—well, I don’t want to spoil everything, but you might consider jumping in at the beginning of Season 2. It’s a different kind of binge watch. – The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, in a 2013 review of Scandal and House of Cards.

The crux of the entire review above is 2 things.

Soap operas are too often misunderstood, judged solely, on lowest common denominator elements that they may or may not possess, instead of being regarded as a legitimate storytelling form of their own.

Scandal is not the soap opera it is often dismissed as. What the show shares with soaps is largely in the sense of how misunderstood they both are.

Scandal is pure opera, operating on its own terms, going big when it wants to, giving itself room to explore bigger emotions than would typically be accessible on network serialized narratives.

Those who would deride Scandal as being unrealistic do a deliberate dance of not getting it. Scandal isn’t concerned with the question, ‘would this happen?.’ Scandal seeks to ask – ‘if this happened in our world… what would come of it?.’ Less ‘would a White President really divorce his wife and move his Black mistress into the White House’ and more, ‘If a White President really divorced his wife and moved his black mistress into the White House, what would happen?.’ What are the political, cultural, racial or emotional occurrences that would stem from those actions? What would it mean for the world? And what could we possibly learn from those things, and apply to the world in which we exist today?

The writer and director of Ojukokoro would probably bristle at a Shonda Rhimes comparison, but somewhere in the heart of the above paragraph is the reason this writer reacted so negatively to the film.

Ojukokoro isn’t asking the questions many want it to ask. It smugly asks its own questions. But, just as Shonda Rhimes’ mark on tvland is considered indelible, so will Dare Olaitan’s mark on Nollywood. Eventually. For, make no mistake, Ojukokoro is truly a watershed moment for the industry, and for all the right reasons too.

This is, less a review of the film, which, to be frank,is absolutely one of the best movies ever made in Nigeria. No caveats. Zero buts. More a rejoinder to the already expressed review, and, by extended default, thoughts expressed therein which many other people might perhaps share.

The problem with storytelling this confident is that its gumption is easily mistaken as smugness (which, in this case would be more than justified as the movie really is just fucking fantastic.) With smugness comes the desire to rat people out and catch them in deception. In film and in real life, the desire to catch people in deception comes with a temptation of ignoring the possibility that maybe people weren’t looking to deceive to begin with.

Pulp Fiction, possibly Tarantino’s opus, is largely a pastiche of Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. The title of the movie itself comes from a style of novels from which Tarantino’s storytelling borrows liberally from – gritty narratives, punchy dialogue and all of the things we’ve come to know Tarantino for.

Tarantino wears his references on his eyelids and lies in a coffin in public for you to read with ease because he finds it fun. And he chooses to use phrases like that instead of simply saying “sleeves” because he thinks it sounds better.

So, when a character in Ojukokoro is called Mad Dog Max, it isn’t because the writer is trying to pull one over the audience. It is a deliberate signal to viewers, an inside joke.

Likewise the attendants Monday and Sunday, whom call to mind Mr. White and Mr. Pink (and the other colours of the rainbow) from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. May not be everyone’s thing, but it is certainly not a bad thing. In this, lies the central truth about Ojukokoro. It is a movie about movies. Not literally, of course, but in the way that the movies of Wes Anderson, Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola are. Pure, unabashed love letters to storytelling.

The question then, isn’t whether or not Ojukokoro is derivative of other films (it isn’t, unless you think all a film is, is its structure, in which case every multi-protagonist movie ever made would be the same,) but whether or not this should count as a minus for the film. Or whether or not it matters at all. Small expo: it doesn’t. The same applies to comparisons to Burn After Reading and No Country For Old Men (of all things.)

Ojukokoro does bear familiarity to the work of another filmmaker though, the 1999 Paul Thomas Anderson ensemble, Magnolia. The similarities lie in the operatic nature, feverish pace, boldness, strength with which both films grasp onto their own narratives and the stubbornness with which they insist on not letting go.

Ojukokoro, like Magnolia, is opera. Theme becomes plot. Subtext becomes text. A dancing masquerade becomes an elaborate visual metaphor and not a slapstick gag (one is forced to recall the rain of frogs towards the end of Magnolia).

More than anything, Ojukokoro is like Magnolia with the former’s insistence upon firing on all cylinders. Not content with delivering a screenplay that would put most “award winning” Nigerian screenwriters to shame, it assumes a visual stance that only serves to elevate the already solid material.

And then of course, the actors. Whatever worries I had about Seun Ajayi and Tope Tedela being able to sustain present career momentum vanished as the film unspooled. Unless the entire industry is mad (which it is,) these guys should have projects lined up for years based on the strength of their work here.

Same goes for everyone else (oh! Except Ali Nuhu who is weak in everything.) The other howler might have been Zainab Balogun and even that was due mainly to the evident lack of fluidity in her Yoruba.

A script so solid requires actors to show up in every scene, but it is also designed to survive without them. It would have been okay if the actors phoned it in on occasion. But for some crazy reason, they all came correct every single time. One would be hard pressed to recall another Nigerian movie where actors were so consistently present.

If there’s another film Ojukokoro can be compared with, it is Zack Snyder’s 2016 epic Batman v Superman, another largely misunderstood film which dared to attempt,- and succeeded wildly, being gritty and grounded, and larger than life all at the same time.

Batman v Superman isn’t interested in sticking to conventions of either “fun” or “serious” comic book movies. Shunning both the 8-bit computer game styles of the asinine Avengers movies and the overt seriousness of the Dark Knight films, Snyder charted a course all his own.

Unfortunately the semblance of something serves as catnip for viewers who, in the face of this much confidence, look to exercise their own intelligence, not by engaging with the material in front of them, but some version that they think should exist. Thus the darkness of Christopher Nolan is assumed, – erroneously, to be Snyder’s aim, ignoring the sheer deliberate dementia that Snyder’s work has always engaged in.

Both films (Ojukokoro, BvS) also make quite clear that they are flying in the face of the norm. A film that shows a dancing masquerade intermittently isn’t trying to present itself as some authentic depiction of the Nigerian streets. A rendering, maybe, but one cranked up to the degree of conscious abandonment of what conventional wisdom says a Nigerian film can, or should aspire to.

Olaitan’s grit is not that of Izu Ojukwu who made 76. Which is just as well, as ‘’Nigerianness’’ should not singularly be the measure of good storytelling. Jack and Jill went up the hill not because the hill was set in any particular country but because we were interested in the kids fetching a pail of water and seeing what would come after.

Like a soap opera, an opera, or a pure whatever-the-fuck-it-wants-to-be, Ojukokoro is allowed to fetch as many buckets of water as it wants to, as long as it doesn’t come rolling down the hill.

It doesn’t.

Ojukokoro stands high atop the hill, bucket full, and proceeds to empty the contents over the heads of its willing audience.

Or, to put it another way; Ojukokoro is the fucking truth, the light and the way.

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