I have always been at pain to restrain myself from writing any further critique about our budding film (sorry) home video industry. The last time I did in my comment published in the Arts Page of The Guardian of Thursday January 4th 2007 titled Nollywood… To God Be the Glory, I was bombarded on all fronts by phone calls and through different forums on the internet by all those who claim to be friends of Nollywood. I was reminded that no matter what an arm chair critic like me thought, Nollywood was beyond reproach. But why do we always shy away when our faults are pointed out to us either as individuals or institutions? The natural reaction is for us to be defensive? No institution can thrive without a form of constructive criticism? If anything at all, Nollywood should thrive on deep introspection and critical self-evaluation. Isn’t that what creativity is about?
Try as much as I did to avoid writing about this industry, a visit by a friend on a wet afternoon in July influenced my decision. My wife, whose constant interest is staying glued to the AfricaMagic Channel much to my annoyance (my preference being the news Channels) was as usual busy watching one of the numerous Nigeria home videos which has for long been the major hallmark of the South African based station. For want of nothing to do, we quickly joined her to see the home video. In the movie, one of Nigerian acclaimed actor, Pete Edoche whose acting heroics was applauded in the role he played as Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart, the series adapted for television was at his best playing a major role as the Igwe of an imaginary village.
This revered actor, sounding fearful in his guttural voice asked a villain to be put to death for desecrating the hallowed office of a certain chief priest. My friend, who was at once taking in by his tube craft, remarked that no Nollywood actor can play this actor’s role like him. His argument was that even when he was cast for a role and per chance he becomes indisposed, the whole production has to wait till he recovers. The bottom line of my friend argument was that Nollywood actors and actresses are by nature cut for a particular role and no actor can take the place of another! I thought this line of argument strange and ridiculous then, and I find it even more ridiculous now.
I quickly disagreed with him, reminding him that no creative industry can grow when the cast are stereotyped for specific roles. Continuing further, I punctured his argument that the bane of Nollywood today is the ‘stereotyping’ of actors and actresses for a particular role. In our home video industry today, it is not unusual to see an actor or actress play a particular role and be known for it. One could be known as a terrific lover boy, a chief priest or dibia, a doting father, a wicked step-mother, a political thug to mention just a few. Most Nollywood watchers will agree with me that if a particular actor or actress is cast for a particular role other than which he is known for, the home video may suffer patronage. Nollywood addicts would definitely be disappointed and surprised to see a Patience Ozokwo cast as a loving wife or mother. They would rather like to see a manipulative, wicked step- mother or mother-in-law.
The question is, is this ‘stereotyping’ an acceptable trend, what does it portend for the quest to groom talents for the industry? Is it a positive development for the industry? My research of the movie industry in other climes revealed the opposite. The legendary status of the James Bond series which thrived through the decades was not revolved around a ‘cult’ actor. The beauty of the casting of the James Bond series aka 007 was the producers’ ability and versatility to cast an actor for the role as soon as the previous actor’s role is done. This may be due to age or other factors. We all remember the heroics of Roger Moore, Sean Connery etc who made the movie into the legendary status which it assumed. It is the same story in
But how did Nollywood come to this? My investigation further revealed that it is the case of who plays the piper dictates the tune. It has been said that the Almighty Marketers play major roles in the happening in the industry. Words have it that some actors are known for specific roles they have played in the past. Having excelled in such roles in the public glare, they are thus popular among home video watchers who buy the movies. It thus makes economic sense to use this particular set of actors and actresses for subsequent productions. The marketer who in most cases pays for the production and artist fees now holds the aces. He dictates whom he wants for a particular production. He wants return on investment. This explains why we continue to see the same actors and actresses for the same role even when they have lost steam.
Nollywood is at a crossroads. It is important for practitioners to design novel ways of grooming talents for the industry. How many auditions take place in the industry? How are actors and actresses trained? There is too much mediocrity in Nollywood as regards the quality of acting and this is because artists emerge not through structured auditioning process or training but through a backdoor arrangement. Veteran Nollywood actors and actresses have themselves continue to lament the dearth of new talents and talented acts. There have been allegations of sex-for-role and harassment by Directors and Producers.
This brings me to the waning importance of the Jos Film Institute now affiliated with the
It against this backdrop of the dearth of talents that the private sector has led in the quest to discover new talents for Nollywood. The Amstel Malta Box Office talent hunts, Haer Thermocool Next Movie Star are the several of the corporate sector’s efforts to add to the existing talents. But how many of the winners of these talents hunts have been able to break in to the mainstream Nollywood? None so far.
All hope is not lost yet. I have personally seen some flashes of fresh breath from the likes of Mike Ezereonye and Nonso Diobu.
The different guilds in Nollywood have roles to play. Now we have The Guild of Actors, The Directors Guild etc. What roles are they currently playing in ensuring that only the best get cast for roles? There is too much recycling going in the system. They must insist that new talents are trained. Training allows you to keep abreast with new development and sharpens your skill. Auditions must be held for fresh talents if there is any major production. Come to think of it. If the current star acts were not given any chance to breakthrough during their debut who would recognize the talent in them today? There are countless of budding would be actors and actresses waiting to be discovered. It is important Nollywood authorities devise a structured means of absorbing them into the system. The current awkward system will not augur well for the industry.
There have been talks of professionalizing the industry and recently the practitioners have been romancing Corporate Nigeria and The Stock Exchange. I was also elated with the claim that the industry is the third biggest in the world after Bollywood in
What happened to the Nigeria First Movie Initiative championed by the Nigeria Television Authority sometime in March this year? This initiative attended by yours truly at the Eko Hotel Lagos was meant to inject some two hundred and fifty million naira into Nollywood. The idea was to bring back the glorious years by producing quality movies through a Nollywood-NTA partnership. The initiative would have seen to the birth of new talents, new scripts, and producers and put our film industry on the world map. Several months after the pomp that saw its launching with huge government presence, nothing has been heard of the project. Another failed Nollywood Dream.
I also think that if Nollywood authorities want to attract the needed synergy, it must put its house in order. I am looking forward to the days when