You may not be able to imagine the frustration we feel sometimes at being bandied about as the third biggest or largest movie industry in the world and yet have a plethora of movies that will hardly justify this tag. I am not one very full of praises for this fledgling industry and neither have I experienced that rush occasioned by the international ovation and recognition that we are said to exude.
There are two persons today who have triggered my interest in the Nigerian movie industry. One of them is my elder brother, Sam Kargbo whose movie Blood Diamonds generated sustained international interest in the West African sub-region especially from the topical issues it addressed-the war of gore that Charles Taylor plunged Sierra Leone was because of the diamond deposits in that country. There were other international mercenaries who were also interested in exercising a measure of control on that country’s diamond mines, and the ensuing war left Sierra Leone a troubadored and traversed and plundered land. Apart from the fact that the war left a semi-permanent scar on the psyche of the international community, we were left absolutely distraught and irritated at the decision to grant asylum to the purveyor of that war. It left Nigeria in a most awkward position, what with the sundry allegations that were leveled that we were a haven for terrorists and for the Al-Qaeda, and that we provided that diplomatic escape route for Taylor. What the movie achieved was expose Taylor and ilk as criminals whose inordinate and avaricious need ultimately dragged that aspiring nation many, many years behind the rest of civilization. I have a fair idea of what went into the production of Blood Diamonds-the man spared no expense in hiring only the best faces and the best brains and brawn in the articulation of the evils of that war. At the end of the day however, even though my elder brother hardly recouped his entire investment, that movie will go down in the annals of movie-making in Nigeria as one that had focus and a properly executed theme. Even though there were minor structural flaws at the end of the movie, certainly that did not devalue its vision and perspective.
The second chap whose interest in Nigeria’s home video industry caught my attention is my friend, Tony, a mechanical engineer. Tony. This is somebody whose upbringing was mostly in a world of plot. What I mean by that is that even though he had a bias for the sciences, you would still find him able to analyse plot from the angles of intelligence, suspense, mystery and get to the end of a story before any of us got there. In those days, we fell over ourselves over whodunits as Agatha Christie’s One-two-buckle-my-shoe, Death in the Nile, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas; Hadley Chase’s Well now my pretty, The world in my pocket, Goldfish have no hiding place, The flesh of the Orchid, Obi Egbuna’s Black Candle for Christmas, Destroy this Temple etcetera. It was almost impossible to captivate this chap in either a book or play or movie that held no suspense, no density and no originality or bite. Even when I began to delve into Medieval, Renaissance and Elizabethan literature, you would find him waiting just by to pounce on your books even before you were through. He has read Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Shakespeare’s Othello and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales amongst a host of others. What this made of him is an astute literary connoisseur of sorts who could blend the practical nature of his vocation with the analytical attitude of a man of letters. It came as a rude shock, as I have mentioned somewhere above, to find this chap seemingly captivated by the semi-puerile plots, some very dislocated and disjointed Acts and Scenes and worse of all, feel almost completely at home with the serialization of movies that hardly could be recorded in a single CD. According to him, it was his wife that got him enamoured of those movies: for instance, if there was a new movie in town, it became a must-see in his home whether it made sense to him or not. Therefore, just as families pray together and stay together, my summation to that effect was that the home-video watching couple really must have discovered that the home-video was a veritable wire that kept the current of romance alive.
Well then, not to be left out and mostly because I needed to be at the table when the home video menu gets served, I had to discard those at the British Council’s Knowledge and Learning Centre awhile. I got one of them that was serialized to parts three. It was not a pleasant experience I must say. Nearly half the time for the first CD went into the preview and promotion of such other movies as the one at hand and a lot of the time practically burnt on the inane. In all six CDs! But that was the case with the other movie. It had a carefully wrought plot, and in the articulation of subject matter and theme, and in the resolution of conflict, the characters obviously were developed to the extent that they showed some character and some motivation. I managed to get another one like it because (I must confess), I found the second movie hugely entertaining. Alas, the third movie had the same carefully wrought plot, the same finesse in the articulation of subject matter and theme, the same development of character to the extent that showed some motivation and a resolution of conflict. The fourth and the fifth were not too different to the previous ones and this is why I do not think it is completely wrong to say that the movies are mostly an adaptation of American movies or that they are bad case of literary autism.
Because there is this belief in the literary world that ideas can be comparable to the effect a Wuthering has on an Aeolian Harp, it becomes a little diffic
ult to draw a clear line between what has been plagiarized and that that has been adapted. But we can fall back on the credence that an idea can be borrowed and credit ascribed to the originality and creativity of the author. This was what pundits like Shakespeare did. Almost all of his great works were adapted. He studied Plutarch’s Lives, which was a compendium of the lives of prominent Romans and Greeks, with didactic essays and dialogues that deal with issues relating to ethics and religion. Thereafter he wrote most of the tragedies, like Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, for which he is famous. A long time ago as an undergraduate, I gave expression to my surprise that even Shakespeare adapted other people’s works in a write-up titled, ‘Dubbing, dubbers and dubbmasters’ with The Observer. It was the same thing with Professor Ola Rotimi. After he was through with a study of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, he came forth with an adapted version (The Gods Are Not To Blame) which was a better way of bringing it right down to our doorstep, the subjective guilt of a man who committed incest vis-à-vis his relationship with the gods who determined his destiny. Now, the point we are about to put forward is that there really has been nothing wrong in borrowing another’s ideas as long as we own up and identify the source such ideas emanated. Because certain Nigerian movies are replete with ideas stolen, one is tempted to say that they are a bad cases of drama performed autistically.
What I have seen so far with Nigerian movies is a dichotomy between two camps of form and content. Those of the Sam Kargbo, RMD divide lead the content camp. By that I mean that this group has been able to translate ideas into concrete reality using the instrumentality of art. The other group however, the form group, are the mercantile or pure water group-they have seen the huge dividends accruable to determined creativity and are in the fray, determined to eke a living from churning out lots of third rate documentaries that cannot survive the scrutiny of excellence.
There should be nothing wrong in adapting a big American film to suit our local needs. But once Nigerian movie producers fail to acknowledge the source from which their movies are adapted, they lose face and lose the empathy that we otherwise would have extended to a blossoming industry.