by Onyeka Nwelue
Last night, I got the news of the death of one of Nollywood’s finest ladies, Geraldine Ekeocha. I felt terrible for so many reasons. There are a lot of deaths in the industry already, and they are all happening at the same time. Loss is something that thwarts the mind; just like the Igbos would say, ‘When a neighbour’s corpse is being carried past, it looks like a log of wood.’
Geradline Ekeocha’s death doesn’t look like one. She contributed immensely to the development of Nollywood. She brought to screen a different personality, a life that could be questioned. She played her roles effortlessly and it seemed so real. She could scream at the top of her voice when necessary and, she could play that role that would whittle her to a certain depressed mother and also she could make-up to look demented and scattered like a woman who had just lost her husband. Not because she is dead, but, Geraldine Ekeocha captured the imagination of a lot of Nollywood audiences, who thought she was trying so hard to outdo Patience Ozokwor, apparently.
Just in the middle of the night, I started calling people I felt were close to Geraldine, that is, some of the Nollywood practitioners based in Enugu, to find out if that was true that Geraldine had died. My first contact was Chinwe Owoh. I had called her around 12.19am. The background was very noisy; I couldn’t even hear what she was saying. She asked me to send an sms, which I did. Her response came later at around 3.11am and it read: “My dear, I’m in Benin, ‘cos of Uncle Sam’s burial arrangement. I got this ugly news here. I still don’t believe it happened.” That came from a member of Geraldine’s League. These are women who have transformed Nollywood into what it is today. And they are celebrated in different ways.
Then, I called Enugu-based filmmaker, Ikenna Aniekwe at around 12.33 am. First, he sounded a bit tired and gave me details of what he heard. All of a sudden, there was a bolt; he realized he was talking to the press and Mr. Aniekwe flamed up: “Now she is dead, you people have started writing your stupid stuff!”
I paused, then I hung up the phone.
He called me back. Of course, he knew I was angry. Oh yes, Geraldine was dead and it is news! What to do? She has been celebrated by her fans, I’m sure. People know her. They can connect to what she did onscreen. What else? Mr. Aniekwe thinks the media celebrates Nollywood stars when they are dead?
Strange enough, I am yet to see a Nigerian film made on the life of a living Nollywood star or even dead ones. Or any film awards organized in the honour of any. This goes to show his angst towards a certain establishment that he must fight with his art, but how far he’s gone with that, is very questionable. If Mr. Aniekwe has anything against the media, I strongly believe he can find his way around sorting it with them. However, it is also annoying when there is a focus on a particular star and cynics call them paparazzi, almost feeling exasperated that the star is being followed around and not allowed to breathe. In what sense can we celebrate these stars without talking about their private lives to sell copies of our tabloids and newspapers? How can we separate the celebration of celebrity lifestyle from the celebration of the arts itself? Can this be done wittingly without anyone getting the feeling that he’s been stalked and manipulated? Would the press have been allowed to follow up Geraldine Ekeocha when she was battling with cancer? How many times did filmmakers like Ikenna Aniekwe focus on the promotion of a particular film for over a year to create that sensation the cast and crew need to be known and celebrated?
If the fight is against a certain establishment, which is the media, to pin them down in ‘celebrating’ people, then Mr. Aniekwe needs to fight somewhere else.
Nevertheless, Geraldine Ekeocha will always be remembered for her unforgettable roles in our films and her unique voice when it came to delivery of roles.
May her soul rest in peace!
Onyeka Nwelue is the editor of FilmAfrique.com