My name is Ekene and I am a filmmaker. Whenever I introduce myself like that, it elicits different reactions from people. But amongst Nigerians, you can see it on their faces when they smile and say “oh! You are amongst those people that make those juju films” or they call them ‘substandard’ or ‘terrible quality’ or ‘poor story telling’ movies. I can understand what they are trying to say and I forgive them. That was me a few years ago until I got more information. They are comparing our movies with the Hollywood movies, which is what they watch at the cinemas. About 90% of the movies screened at Nigerian cinemas are Hollywood movies. So I hear some of them ask me “when will you guys start making movies like the guys in Hollywood do?” Or they ask me when we would be like Hollywood.
It’s worthy to note that I am not saying there’s nothing to improve in our industry. We still have to look for more effective ways to generate our content and build a structure that would make distribution functional. One thing people talk about a lot of time when referring to Nigerian movies is quality. But you must agree that looking at our movies a few years ago and now, there are remarkable improvements. We have to realize that quality in itself is relative. Like I learnt from Charles Igwe recently, there are two element of quality in filmmaking. Picture quality and sound quality. Once we can take care of these two, we would be just fine to tell our own stories. If you played Mr. Bean side by side with Mr. Ibu in Sweden, the Swedish people might prefer to watch Mr. Bean and you would say it’s because of its quality and universal appeal but lets take the same scenario to Malawi or the Caribbean and see which they would prefer. We have to understand that how you choose to tell your story does not make yours inferior to the other person. Just like we are beginning to learn in Nigeria that English is a language and medium of expression not a measure of intelligence. So the fact that I can communicate effectively in English and the guy beside me can’t but can do it better in Ibo doesn’t mean I am more intelligent than he is. We can see this in our everyday life as we see Ibo traders who hardly went beyond primary 6 in school build businesses and understand that business better than some who went to business schools. So when a few of them come from abroad and tell us that they want to teach us filmmaking, we often tell them to first go and make a film with $10,000, finish it within the time we do and if it’s a better product, you can then teach us filmmaking.
Nollywood was started by a group of people who just wanted to tell their story and one that their people could identify with. Unlike our other African brothers (especially the Francophone countries) who would not be able to make a film until they got grants from Europe or America who will then dictate how the film will look. These people were able to build the industry with the little money they had to where it is today without support from any government and NOT even the Nigerian government. It’s sad that the government has failed to realize the potentials and influence that the film industry has. The number one branding tool of the United States today and has been for about a hundred years is Hollywood. What most people know of America comes from what they see in the movies. It’s the reason we believe when aliens come to invade earth, the FBI or US military will always come to our rescue and save the earth (on a lighter note, haven’t you ever wondered why it is that the only country aliens visit when they come to earth is the US). They have put their ideology of world domination in their movies that we have bought it hook, line, sinker, boat and sea. Same goes for Nigeria, as I travel different countries, I meet people who have never been to Nigeria tell me things about us and even use words we commonly use that there learnt from our movies. Someone once told me of how at the airport in America, a white immigrations officer looked at his passport and asked him for his surname. He replied that it’s stated there in the passport, Igwe. The officer then said he thought that was a title as it’s how chiefs or kings are called in our movies. I have heard of people who say they don’t want to visit Nigeria because they don’t want to be killed by juju. As hilarious as it may sound, it’s true.
I know some people would ask why I decided to go to film school in Hollywood after all. Well, I first learnt filmmaking in Nigeria from the legendary filmmaker, Amaka Igwe who gave me fundamental knowledge. I just wanted to know what it was like over there and get the exposure. Just like there are some PhD thesis in America on Nollywood. As a matter of fact, I met someone last December who was paid a lot of money by Columbia in the US to come study Nollywood and its system. So it’s just a way of getting knowledge. This write-up is not about getting the middle and upper class to start watching Nigerian movies, No! We just want your money (Lol). But it’s for Nigerians to know that there’s an untapped goldmine and we have something that the whole world has embraced that we have to be proud of. We love to copy the Americans, their accent and lifestyle. Lets also copy how they are always proud of their own and believe in it. And as we talk about ‘Buying Nigeria to grow the naira’, we should also give more publicity and slots to Nigerian films in our cinemas and not just carry it as a mantra. Lets invest more in this industry as it has proven to be a worthy investment.