Till date, one of the biggest and unmatched box office success stories is that of The Wedding Party, the Kemi Adetiba-directed rom-com which now feels like a nostalgic cultural symbol. The ripple effect of that singular phenomenon burnished Nollywood’s image; the film is still listed as content on popular streaming service Netflix, and there was the collective feeling that Nollywood was doing something right. While ever-present challenges like piracy still pose a threat to the industry, the monthly slate of Nollywood films showing at cinemas is mixing up the pool that used to be Hollywood-centric. Now, the developing appetite for indigenous works seems almost faddish and cool, and we have been numbed into feeling uncritical about what we view and consume.
The first Nollywood film I saw this year was the star-driven, Yoruba comedy Alakada Reloaded, the third instalment in the Alakada series helmed by Toyin Abraham. For the record, Alakada Reloaded is a chortling, chaotic mess that reportedly raked in 25 million naira in its first three days at the box office. As a critic, I was invited to the private screening, and because my job entails sitting through the entire duration of a film whether it’s good or bad, I didn’t leave the hall until I saw the closing credits. Though Nollywood has culturally shaped up its identity with films done in English, Yoruba films are also proving to be a favourite viewing choice. To be fair, Alakada Reloaded had funny bits, the kind of accessible, skittering, lowbrow humour moulded in Yoruba and made even more effectual by the film’s uncompromising duty to its genre. Still, though, Alakada Reloaded is just another potboiler, as described in my review back in May, a film so bad it’s almost good.
Wilfred Okiche’s review of The Accidental Spy is summed up as “nearly unwatchable” and indeed should have gone straight to D-list video.” That brutally frank review of The Accidental Spy, the action comedy by comedian and filmmaker AY Makun and starring lead actor Ramsey Nouah as the said spy, reminded me so much of June Twelve ‘93, the worst Nollywood film I have ever seen in my life. June Twelve ‘93 is frustratingly, atrociously, unforgivably bad and it made me weep. Nothing about that indie film was done right, from extremely poor acting to editing, and the fact it found its way into a twenty-first-century cinema is a huge disrespect to the institution of filmmaking. As guests exited the hall at the end of the premiere, they smiled and said comments like “well done” and “nice movie” to the inglorious director who, in return, smiled and thanked them for their compliments. The entire evening was a horror show, and yet these people were not honest with their comments, and this points to a larger, ingrained problem in the way we have normalised mediocrity in films.
Nollywood as a massive, still-growing and revenue-generating industry has evolved through the years, along with new crop of actors replacing old ones. Omotola Ekeinde, though, has risen to supreme god-tier status, with a vast catalogue of films spanning years and bagging numerous awards in her industrious career. Her 2017 film Alter Ego, the supposedly insightful social commentary on sexual abuse and humanising its victims, was supposed to be her comeback to the screen after a long hiatus. But this was not meant to be as the film, rich with storytelling potential, is gracelessly botched by a cast who you could tell were not giving the story their best. The sex scenes are prodigiously alarming and poorly done, and I have never seen Omotola so lifeless and dull. Beyond her lacklustre performance in Alter Ego, Omotola’s acting, to an extent, is still fossilised in an old-era Nollywood and the inflexibilities of that time.
After Alter Ego, I turned down many invitations to premieres, comfortable in reading only the reviews of those films instead. I had seen and written about the trailer for My Wife & I to decide that it was the sort of film I didn’t want to watch, especially since it incorporates a body swap device that looked clumsily portrayed. A large chunk of films produced this year hewed closely to comedy, a tried-and-true formula that props humour as the new gold rush, considering how AY Makun keeps making box office-impacting, travel comedy films. By this, we become forgiving of these films and their lapses. Atrocious acting only increases the comedic value. But where is the place of unbiased film criticism? Why do Nigerian film reviewers often try to salvage bad films with a few good lines even when it’s totally unneeded? Why do some media outlets only publish “positive” reviews that panders to a popular actor or financial benefactor?
In his short, opening paragraph, Shea Serrano reviewing the 2017 disaster movie Geostorm used the word “bad” three times. While writing this article, I had hoped to minimise the use of the adjective, but producers and filmmakers are still making really bad films with impunity, putting in decently good actors and making them look bad. It’s been persistent. It’s a crisis. And only Nollywood can rescue itself.
The writer tweets from @Bernarddayo