Of Ene Oloja, Hollywood And Jungle Justice

“There are many ways to die…but you must now find a way to live” – Ene Oloja in the movie, ‘The Brave One’, 2007 by director Neil Jordan.

Yes! The cream of Nigerian drama and arts has finally arrived on the big stage! Hollywood gets a taste of our very own Ene Oloja. Remember her? In the 80’s and 90’s she was the buxom beauty who starred as Zamaye in Cock Crow at Dawn and later played the sister to the late MacArthur Fom (of the Nosa fame) in Behind the Clouds, both rested but timeless Nigeria Television Authority drama serials of repute.

Having decided to see a random movie this past weekend, I did not deliberately go in search of this doyen of Nigerian acting. Her name was not even listed in the opening credits as we generally settled in at the cinema to what proved to be an edge-of-the-seat story. Then she appeared. As she delivered her lines, at first in a strange Americanized African accent, I laughed knowingly, saying to my friend, “This lady must be Nigerian”. As the movie progressed, she eventually came into her own and demonstrated the experience and confidence which made many families sit tight before their television sets every week NTA aired those nostalgic shows. While she looked oddly familiar, I still could not recall where I had seen those piercing eyes and arched eyebrows before. As the closing credits rolled past, the name Ene Oloja suddenly hit me. Struck with awe, I unconsciously found myself clapping aloud, celebrating a uniquely wonderful Nigerian actress.

This 2007 action thriller, The Brave One, cast’s Ene Oloja alongside Jodie Foster (the Oscar Award winning actress in Silence of the Lambs). Her character, Udo Josai, is Erica Bain’s (Jodie Foster) African immigrant neighbor who first becomes a friend and eventually a confidant to Erica, a troubled radio show host. This deeply riveting drama tells the story of a young couple who have their dreams shattered by a brutal and mindless attack. The tragic turn of events see Erica losing her self esteem, identity and will to survive. In the resulting numbness, she turns to law enforcement for help and reassurance but is let down by the lethargic approach of ‘New York’s finest’. In a desperate bid to cling to life, her fear leads her to cross that point when ordinarily harmless people become cold savages. This transition redefines her persona and launches her character on a path of gruesome vigilante activities which transcend her personal loss and attempt to correct the perceived evils of society. Enter Ene Oloja, who in her characteristic authoritative style, through her character, Udo, boldly but lovingly confronts this wrecking-ball of a woman, reminding her of the thin line between right and wrong; between light and the dark side.

In the ensuing scenes, Udo (portrayed as a survivor of genocide) provides an anchor to a wounded soul who has become like a rudderless ship lost at sea. Reminiscent of her NTA days, Ene comfortingly delivers one of the most powerful lines in the movie, “There are many ways to die…but you must now find a way to live”. When Erica confides to Udo that she has killed a man, Ene’s acting shines through here. She doesn’t appear shocked. Identifying with Erica’s pain, she draws from her own tragic past, referring to the evil of child soldiers in her war-torn country somewhere in Africa (not Nigeria), where “guns are placed in the hands of kids to kill their mothers.” The dark themes explored in this movie throw up serious moral questions which make society search its very soul. In the movie, Ene underlines the message that evil can neither be combated with evil nor hatred with similar hatred. While this movie nearly falls into the trap of portraying violence as a legitimate response to injustice, the viewer is reminded however subtly that jungle justice is not a worthy solution and only makes the avenger as bad as the criminal.

Relating this to the violence and corruption which are rife in Nigeria and many parts of the world, the typical reaction is to either become numb and unfeeling and do nothing or rise up in anger and take matters into our own hands in the quest for justice. Nigerians can identify with Erica’s seemingly frustrating position. Looters appear to get away with their ill-gotten wealth while screaming the new mantra, ‘Rule of Law’, and brandishing get-out-of-jail cards from a compromised and confused law enforcement system. We throw our hands up in exasperation when those tasked with making laws for the benefit of our nation, have their hands soiled in filthy lucre and yet when confronted shout, ‘This is a party affair!”. In such circumstances, one is almost tempted to secretly salute the dark and unthinkable heroics of the character, Erica Bain, as she tackles the shady establishment of the underworld. Our leaders should be reminded that power and wealth is transient.

Ene Oloja migrated to the United States in 1991 and her career has been largely quiet since 1993 when with other professionals, she staged a theatre production titled, ‘Echoes from the Diaspora’, telling a powerful story of the experiences of immigrants of color in the West. She reminds us in this movie that she is not a spent force exiled in the land of artistic obscurity. What stands out for me (and I could be wrong) is that to the best of my knowledge, she is the first made-and-branded-in-Nigeria actress to be cast alongside an Oscar Award winner. I will not fail to recognize the many other hard working professionals of Nigerian origin like Chiwetel Ejiofor (‘Inside Man’, 2006, alongside Denzel Washington), Sophie Okonedo (‘Hotel Rwanda’, 2004, alongside Don Cheadle) and others like them who ply their trade in Hollywood. These people make us proud as a nation and are beacons for the local Nigerian film industry (Nollywood) which has taken the West by storm. The likes of Ene Oloja who were forerunners of the booming Nigerian film industry, could play a bridge-building role by drawing the attention of Hollywood to the abounding talent of Nigerian theatre practitioners and film professionals.

Interestingly, I searched popular internet sites for film reviews for ‘The Brave One’ but none even so much as mentioned Ene Oloja in the cast. Well…if no one chooses to celebrate this brilliant Nigerian actress, I will! Great work Ene! We hope to see you deliver even greater and more central performances on your chosen stage.

Written by
Omoruyi Osagiede
Join the discussion

  • Can never forget this multi-talented Beauty casted in the ’80s cock crow at dawn series. Keep soaring Ene. Kudos!

  • I knew who she was immediately! I told my mother but she wouldn’t believe me! After the movie, she did! Nice article!

  • I just watched the movie. when I first heard her speak, I thought she’s from Congo or Cote d’Ivoire because she sounds french and because she looks like an actress from cote d.ivoire. All the best Ene. Much love from a cameroonian in south africa…

  • Your know,Omo,what actually happened to you happened to me.I knew from the beginning that the lady was African.I actually felt i knew her from somewhere.I even told the friend i was watching with that she must be an African.I was eager to see Cast name after and alas Ene Oloja.I quickly remembered Behind the Cloud.I actually felt proud of my Nigerian roots,proud of Ene.

  • i just saw the movie …immediately i heard the accent i knew she was nigerian and i immediately checked for the cast of the movie on the NET unfortunately her name is barely mentioned with the movie….its interesting to know that she started acting in nigeria its very inspiring. but it is important to recognise other nigerian actors like gbenga akinagbe and wale agbaje

  • Thank you very much for this wonderful piece! It warms one`s heart to learn that Nigerians like Ene Oloja are still flying the green white green very high. Like you alluded in your piece, i think that there are a lot of lessons that we Nigerians can learn this movie. I do hope that Ene`s wonderful performance will open door to other aspiring nigerian actors and actresses.

  • Thanks for paying tribute as this was definitely due Ene. I was watching the movie and got to the scene where Ene grabbed Jodie Foster’s hand and though I heard the voice, what made me realize we were dealing with Ene was her eyes. I couldn’t remember her name, but her face…..that face from Cock Crow At Dawn and Behind the Clouds…..it’s not a face you just forget like that. I immediately went to imdb and found her name immediately. Someone needs to please upload a picture and do a write-up on her on imdb. Omoruyi….since you already did this one….why not take it a step further lol!?!

    Yes, that woman is indeed a great actress. I hope this marks the beginning of many more Hollywood movies for her. I’m also happy the true actors, the real ones are the ones that have made it to Hollywood before all those amateurs in modern day Nollywood who think they have what it takes. People like Ene need to take ALL of them back to acting school!

  • Imediately I heard Ene’s voice, I paused the movie and told my South African friends that She must be a Nigerian. Although I was small when she used to star on Cock crow at dawn, her name sure rang a bell to me. The movie is a good one and I really appreciate Ene as a Nigerian.

  • ‘Ruyi, this article was ‘memory packed’ My sister in the diaspora just told me about Ene Oloja and I decided to google. I remember when as children we would pass by Aunty Ene’s house on Utonkon Street, Jos just to get a glimpse of her and to receive her warm smiles. Im glad to know she has moved on fantastically. We do miss her but I cant wait for her Oscar!! Thanks Ruyi for keeping our memories alive Ijay U

  • Dear Ene, I do not know how to contact you but I hope you will find this e-mail on the internet as I found this on the website at google.

    I am currently settled in europe and I was watching your film shot with jodie foster with my husband a few days ago. I recognised you by the second frame.

    You are hard to forget. you cannot immagine my pride to tell my new family that I knew you once in Jos, many years ago. Destiny is such a strange thing. I was very worried for you when I heard you had left to the USA and in what circumstances at the time.

    Ene, I think I speak for a lot of our old friends when I say to you..I wish you the best life has to offer and may the wind always be at your back.

    Please give us new films to go and watch.

    May God bless and continue to enrich your life.

    Best regards Ene and Gods guidance,

    Susie ( I was a medical student at the university of Jos at the time and Molade’s friend.

  • i watched the movie, the brave one just yesterday…and it hit immediately when i saw Ene, that she’s nigerian…am so proud of her. am studyin Information Technology now but i want to follow Ene’s footsteps and go into the movie world as well. Omoruyi, do you know hou i can contact her please?

  • Omoruyi,

    Thank you very much for informing us about this talented but forgotten Nigeria actress Ene Oloja!!

    I remember watching her on T.V in the good old days in Nigeria. She is one of the originals that truly possess good acting skills compared to some of the fake so called home movies actresses.

    However, I am not surprised that she wasn't given any name recognition in an industry (Hollywood) that doesn't regard african american actors not to talk of african actors.

    After reading your article I have decided to search for this movie and watch it in its entirety. I will also inform others to search for it and watch it.

    Good Job!!!