This is a reminder of how far we have come – from 2006 when this piece was published in the Guardian.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE BLOCKBUSTERS GONE?
(OR, THE LAMENTATIONS OF A FORMER NOLLYWOOD FAN)
There was a time when I was a Nigerian movie addict, I remember that. I would defend our movies with so much zest and passion even with all the glaring faults. At least I could fall back on the acting, the connection with these characters and the lives that they lived through the shaky scripts. There was something to hold to.
These days it’s so, so sad that all of that is lost. Sometimes you are so taken away by life that you don’t realise how far you have gone – that’s the story with me and Nigerian movies. For months I haven’t gone to borrow a movie from the video club; unconsciously I had just blocked Nollywood out – I had slowly become hooked on the cinemas and the late night foreign movies that our lazy TV stations serve us with. That is sad. And if our movie ‘professionals’ don’t realise this already, then we are doomed.
There was a time when they would do movies that would literally shake the entire nation. Movies that became rave of the moment and everybody wanted to at least see. Have you noticed that there hasn’t been ONE rave movie for the past couple of months?
The only one movie that has gotten anyone moving was The Widow, and that was simply because Kingsley Ogoro did a damn good job of marketing and Stella Damascus acting the true life role of a widow was too good to let pass for those who have followed her post-widowhood story with something close to fanaticism (I plead guilty your honour; but it was only for one month!)
Not that The Widow wasn’t a good movie, but it became such a hit because of the hype; but that’s not what we are used to. Movies like The Prostiture, Domitilla, Conspiracy, Evil Men, Samadora, Raging Storm, The Price, Battle of Musanga, Missing Angel, Daybreak, Sakobi, Time Bomb and all the others that grabbed our attention didn’t need that; they won us over only because of their internal strengths; the stories, the acting, the mood. Yes, it wasn’t that perfect; God knows the quality wasn’t anything worth making too much noise about, but at least they were worth watching.
With Nigerian movies, you could leave with a full feeling, with a feeling that someone had told your story uniquely – these days all our stories have lost their magic. Even those producers – P. Collins, November and the rest – who used to churn out unusual and deep storylines seem to have taken a back seat. No more the depth from Don Pedro Obaseki, no more the ambitious projects of Teco Benson and what happened to the quiet confidence of Zik Zulu Okafor? Where has Tade Ogidan gone with his thoroughness? Has Helen Ukpabio suddenly lost interest? And is Uncle Tunde Kelani finally tired of setting standards that no one else bothered to reach?
These days all we are left with are puerile comedies featuring the Aki na Pawpaw dwarf duo, who though their story of achievement and success is inspiring, they leave so much to be desired in their unconvincing acting: physical comedy can only go so far and so long. And they have overstayed their welcome, thank you very much.
Hard as it is to admit, I think a huge part of the problem is that all the real Nollywood talent is off our screens, and of course you have the famous ban by the Idumota marketers to blame for that. Note, I have nothing against their decision nor do I begrudge them the right to make financially sound decisions no matter how crude or unpopular, it’s just that they never gave us good replacements.
No matter how bad a script was, Omotola gave it some verve that lifted it high up. Genevieve had the verve that just made our movies as appealing as Halle Berry or Angelina Jolie would do to a drab Hollywood movie. RMD just shined no matter how horrible and infantile the storyline was, and Jim Iyke? I hate him-but-I-love-him!
It seems that with their ‘ban’, they took away the soul of our movies, didn’t they? They must have! Ini Edo falls ever so short as a star actress; she neither has the screen presence nor the mystical girl-next-door quality that makes movie stars into huge idols; Oge Okoye tries, but not hard enough, Carol Ekanem still needs to decide if she has talent or not, Tuvi James does nothing for me, I’m sorry – he brings no life on set. The list really does go and on and on.
These days people like Olu Jacobs and Pete Edochie who were not ‘banned’ try hard, but only iron can sharpen Iron, honestly. The industry has lost so much of its vibrancy, so much of its energy. The Nollywood buzz is SO gone: there’s no excitement, no colour … nothing.
While the Actors Guild fights itself to death over who is stealing what, who is the current President and who is not, they haven’t noticed that the industry is so stagnated it has lost its shine. No one’s talking about Nollywood anymore; all the BBC and CNN reporters have gone; where are the much talked about international collaborators? What happened to the dreams of Big Budget? How many of our stars have cross-pollinated internationally in a while? Where’s the growth? Pray where is the expansion?
Years ago, someone warned that Nollywood would soon go to Nothingwood, and all hell broke loose, but in retrospect she was right. It does seem that Nollywood has imploded; the imagery for me is that of a breast implant that grew so big it finally burst into slimy liquid.
It makes me so ashamed, but the truth is there was really no substance in the beginning. With lack of originality; half-baked (some not baked at all) scriptwriters, directors and producers that could not stand their own save for a few, actors that grew so big in their own self importance that they forgot to reinvest themselves and to try sharpen up their talents, ‘professional’ who forgot to improve, who didn’t understand what was at stake; it was only a matter of time before it all fell like a pack of cards.
Movie marketers will tell you that sales have so dropped and dropped and dropped that someone like Kingsley Ogoro has sworn not to release his movies to be sold in the market because there is just no point – no one’s buying! And this kills creativity; we have a passionate man like Ogoro who likes to do the big movies with back breaking stunts and the likes, but because the industry is closing in on them, there is almost little save for genius, and he is not the only one.
On the international scene, Amazing Grace is the only one Nigerian movie struggling to keep head above water and fly our flag in the international space. 30 Days comes with a lot of noise, but asides from knowing that Ego Boyo only does the best, it hasn’t really had that much impact. And Amake Igwe’s Apostle Kasali, even as it has snatches of her brilliance really falls shot of her standard which we are used to.
I have seen a couple of recent Nigerian movies; I am talking of 2006 movies – One Chance, Cat & Rat, Jadon, Desperate Billionaires etc – and all of them are not worth the amount of advert space they take. The whole menace of stretching the life out of a movie by dividing it into three parts ruined the marvellous acting that Onyeka struggled to offer in Rising Moon, for instance. It’s such a sad, sad, sad report that more than a decade down the line, Nollywood is regressing.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will tell that truth to one the other. This is not the time for proper essays and arrogant critique. This is the voice of a Nollywood fan, very concerned that our baby who was born with so much hope still cannot walk after a decade of love and care. We haven’t moved forward; we haven’t grown, we haven’t spread our wings, we’re already panting for breath and it’s not out of running a good race.
Well, there is some light at least: now that the Omotolas and the RMDs have been ‘un-banned’, just maybe our movies will become watchable again, and former Nollywood fan that I am will be able to go back to my original love. I SINCERELY hope so; even though then I know in my heart of hearts that it will take more than that to keep this dream alive or there will just be another implosion, and maybe even worse than this.
A word really is enough for the smart. All the ‘stakeholders’ in Nollywood: actors, producers, scriptwriters, and YES marketers had better wake up and smell the coffee. Nothing’s happening here, and the rest of the world, the rest of Africa even (and not just South Africa as the quality of films from Burkina Faso etc that AMAA Awards presented have shown) is leaving us behind. So far behind. And fast too.