Nollywood is a name used to refer to Nigeria’s often maligned movie industry. It is a very divisive name, evoking strong reactions - just like the industry it represents. The industry where I make my living, such as it is and what there is of it. So when people talk about how unrealistic, stereotypical, prejudicial (and any of the other adjectives they bandy about) Nollywood is, I either turn my dragon on and come flaming in defense or pull on my invincibility cloak and pretend I can’t see or hear. It generally works, but that is not why the tortoise is the most cunny creature on Ani’s earth.
Since the beginning of this month, I’ve been on location at Akinola Iroko Street, Abebi, Ogun State. It’s a new experience for me. Although the University I attended for four years is just a 10-minute bike ride away, I’ve never actually had any reason to come to these parts. It’s been an experience. Unfortunately, due to the usual location madness I haven’t been able to do my usual amebo in these parts. Fortunately for me, make-up artist extraordinaire and talented friend of mine Jade is familiar with these parts – she should be, she lived here for six years a life time ago – and when I asked her for gist about the neighborhood, it felt like the storyline for several Nollywood movies, some of which I have watched and some which I may write in the future.
Like the case of the secondary school teacher who used items seized from his students to show off to all his neighbours. This particular man managed to build something of a reputation for himself as the guy who had the newest toys and the latest gadgets. A direct consequence of this was that his popularity in the neighborhood skyrocketed and this made his pursuit of women in the area more successful. So successful in fact, that our Lothario soon became the highest paying of all the neighborhood men. And the children of the neighborhood, for whom ‘tips’ from ‘uncles’ who needed advance warning about which ‘aunties’ (and vice versa of course) was looking for them was a major source of income, were extremely happy about the development. The bubble burst one day when a rich married man with whose wife the Lothario had been dallying, had him arrested for consorting with his wife. Is adultery a crime, you may ask, to which I reply, the Nigerian Police Force has a twitter account. Ask them.
Another of such was the story of house number 21. The house is divided into two separate apartments housing two families. Both families got on well and seemed to be the most peaceful of all the houses in the street. The wives got along great and the husbands supported the same London based club. Hint, the club’s name is the same as a very popular dry gin, hint over – those when know, know. All that peace ended one day when one wife discovered the other was having an affair with her husband. What followed was an epic drama that led to other revelations such as that the discoverer was in an affair with the discoveree’s husband and that the children of both homes actually had different fathers. The mess that ensued is one Akinola Iroko street will never forget, one I don't think they've actually gotten around to solving till this day but that might just be me.
Or the case of the Igbo man down the road (why it always has to be Igbo people is something I'm still waiting for the gods to tell me) who lost his wife and suddenly got wealthy. He refurbished his house and bought the latest range rovers but refused to move out of Akinola Iroko to the Island or somewhere befitting his new status. He also never had a child and his domestic staff reported that there was a secret room to which only he had access. Rumours of 'blood money' and 'money rituals' quickly spread especially after some nosy person entered the room and discovered an empty room with red curtains. The man died from a strange illness by the way, and everyone I've spoken to is convinced that he was dabbling in things he shouldn't have and that is what killed him.
Then there was the rich man's daughter, who's name I will not mention because if anyone sues me my lawyer/sister will sharply disown me, who was apparently spending her father's money on a street boy, spending her school fees and skipping school. And the boy who in turn was using that money to beef up his reputation among the ladies of the neighborhood. The boy who got three females pregnant and no one has seen his shadow from the corner of their eye since the. I could go on, but today I told someone off for belaboring the point and one cannot be caught doing what one was just criticizing, we're not Nigerian politicians you know.
Art imitates life or so the story goes. Sometimes the reverse is the case. Nollywood movies are not created in isolation, it is not some magical thing that some people sit around dark corners and create. Whether you like it or not, it is the living, breathing vibrant audio-visual representation of contemporary Nigerian society and culture. The writers, good or bad, draw their stories from the world around them. The directors who interpret these stories, also come from this very same Nigeria as do the actors who play these roles. This is our world, just because you see it one way doesn't mean that that's the only way. So just because you can’t relate to these stories do not somehow make them less Nigerian, less imaginative or just less. Your story is just one in 170 million (est.), there are 169,999,999 (est.) more stories.
Reflect your reality, that's art. The end.
Or is it? In classic Nollywood style, watch out for Part Two!
I'm kidding, this really is the end. Thank you for reading.