Monthly Archives: April 2011

Threat of hate, hope of Love: Thoughts on the post-election crisis April 2011 (Also looking for stories of Christians and Muslims protecting each other)

Broken glass along Zoo Road on 19 April 2011 following the post-election violence in Kano, 18 April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

I had a really hard time writing my column last week. I felt mute. The post-election crisis was something I felt that poetry could address better than any sort of attempt to make sense of it in prose, which is why I have gone a week on this blog without posting anything about the violence that followed the presidential elections, other than Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” which expresses about how I felt last week, and a quickly composed poem that I wrote to go along with the painting. But because I have a weekly column to write, I pushed this out, with many misgivings, to my editor later than I’ve ever turned anything in. Bless his good heart, he did a great job of editing what I sent him. I’ve made 2 small last minute changes in the text I copy below.

In the column I mentioned one story of a pastor who was protected by a Muslim brother at a car park here in Kano. This morning, I read this very touching article in NEXT, about a Muslim man in Minna who risked his life to save several Christian families. He told Next reporters that he took inspiration from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (who had also in a charter of privileges given to St. Catherine’s monestary in Egypt said: “Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.”):

“I kept thinking of the prophet,” he said. “One day some men came to kill him and failed. As they fled, the prophet noticed that they were going in the direction of his more militant supporters, Saidi na Ali and such. So, he told them not to go that way, to avoid the route because they might get themselves killed. He helped them make good their escape. That is my example. That should be our example as Muslims.”

I would like to focus on these stories (less heard but very common) of Muslims protecting Christians and Christians protecting Muslims in time of crisis (especially the most recent crisis) in my column for this week. If anyone has such a personal story or knows someone who does, could you please email me by Tuesday night at carmenmccain @ yahoo.com with the story and phone numbers for verification purposes.

Here is this week’s column. To read the original as published, click on the link here to read it on the Weekly Trust website or on the photo below to read a hard copy. Otherwise, read on below the photo.

Threat of hate, hope of love

Saturday, 23 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

Monday morning, 18 April, I heard the roar of a mob and gunshots on the street outside of the compound where I stay in Kano. I stayed at home, checking Facebook and Google news, making calls to friends to make sure they were OK.

As the rioting on the streets quieted to an uneasy calm, the fighting continued in Kaduna and elsewhere. Violence in the streets unleashed violent words on social networks in cyber space. Regional, political, and religious biases began to crack through the net, with friends and strangers calling each other barbarians and beasts, fools and hypocrites, questioning the commitment of the other to live in the state of Nigeria.

Burnt house of a leader in Kano, taken 19 April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

Although I’ve lived through crises in Jos and I’ve read of previous crises in Kano, this was the first time I’ve experienced serious rioting in the North’s largest city. The current violence seems to have started out as political outrage against Northern leadership seen as betraying the interests of the people. Whether or not they had anything to do with the current elections, current and former leaders were targeted.  In Kano alone, the house of former speaker Ghali Umar Na’abba; the house of former ANPP presidential candidate Alhaji Bashir Tofa; the residence of the Galadima of Kano, and others were set afire. Even the emir of Kano was not exempt from the rage, as his Dorayi palace was attacked and burnt. Government offices were also burned, including, ironically, the Kano Pension Board office where records are kept. If it had remained at that, we could perhaps describe it, somewhat simplistically, as a revolution of the northern proletariat against a resented elite, but there was something uglier here than class rage. As sympathetic as I am for the leaders who lost property to the mobs, what I find the most alarming is how politically-motivated mayhem spilled over into violence against non-elite communities stereotyped as the “other” and assumed to be “at blame” for this disenfranchisement.

Broken glass in the window above Karami CD Palace, photo taken 18 April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

On Tuesday, I stopped by Gidan Dan Asabe on Zoo Road, which hosts a complex of studios, to check on friends. Kannywood actor Mustapha Musty and musician DJ Yaks described how a mob of young men had come searching for a well-known actor who had campaigned for PDP. Although he was not there, the mob threw stones at glass and ripped down signboards. This ‘scape-goating’, as Hausa filmmaker and Kannywood elder Aliyu Shehu Yakasai, explained to me is often less a question of ideology among the unemployed youth in the streets as an excuse to loot and steal. Political fervor was mixed with opportunism. The glass front of Karami CD Palace was knocked out and hundreds of thousands of naira worth of property looted, from VCDs to the ceiling fan to money stored in a cabinet. The internet café next door was not spared, as its glass was also smashed and some printers and computer accessories looted.

Baba Karami standing in front of Karami CD Palace with all the glass broken out of the shop front following the post-election violence in Kano 2011, photo taken 19 April 2011. Compare to photos taken in 2009, and note how all the goods have been stripped from front of shop, but business continues on. (c)Carmen McCain

Karami CD Palace 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

“Everybody has a right to vote for

Baba Karami in Karami CD Palace, 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

anyone they want,” Mustapha Musty told me. Although he thought it was best for actors not to campaign for politicians so as not to alienate fans, he told me his brother had recently been voted into the House of Assembly under the CPC. “But they didn’t care, yesterday, whether you were actually CPC or PDP,” he said. They just destroyed everything. Musician DJ Yaks described reasoning with one mob and hiding from another in a small generator room while trying to lock up an office. He told me that actors and musicians were easy targets because “people know our faces,” and that they were all assumed to behave and think the same way, when in fact many of them had the same political loyalties as their attackers.

ECWA Church Badawa burnt during the 2011 post-election crisis, Kano. Sent to me by Rev. Murtala Mati. Please do not repost without permission.

The CPC presidential candidate, Mummadu Buhari has recently pointed out a far more serious issue, “it is wrong for you to allow miscreants to infiltrate your ranks[....] the mindless destruction of worship places [...] is worse than rigging elections.” On 21 April, I spoke with Reverend Murtala Mati, a Kano indigene who has a weekly radio program “Ban Gaskiya Kirista” on Pyramid Radio. He had researched and put together a list of twenty-two churches burned in Kano during the rioting, seventeen in Nassarawa Local Government and six in Kumbotso Local Government. There were seventeen confirmed deaths of Christians, and fifty bodies yet to be identified. “What does this political problem have to do with Christians?” Reverend Mati asked me in an earlier meeting on 19 April. He speculated that Christians were scapegoated because of an assumption that “those who do not vote for CPC are Christians. They think PDP is a Christian party because the presidential aspirant was a Christian.”  Yet the assumption that Christians are a monolithic group voting along religious lines is not correct, he argued. “Many of our members voted CPC,” he told me, saying that Christians had the same concerns about living conditions and corruption as their Muslim neighbors. The spilling over of politics into religious identity has meant even more severe consequences for Kaduna, where Civil Rights Congress reports over two hundred from both faiths’ communities dead, and churches and mosques alike left smouldering.

As the news of violence in the North spread across the country, I saw the similar assumptions of monolithic identity applied to the entire north or to all Muslims by those who posted virulent, hate-filled rants on the internet. And while words do not literally kill, burn, or break, they fan a flame of hatred and misunderstanding that threatens to engulf Nigeria. The problem with the assumptions made by both the irrational mobs that destroy in the north and in rants of those who stereotype the entire north in conversation and media, is they make assumptions about entire communities, they group “those to blame” for their struggles as members of one whole career, one whole religion, one whole class, or one whole ethnicity, overlooking the complexity that lies within.

Hope lies in fragments, in the stories of human love and goodness that emerge out of ruins. Pastor Habila Sunday, who pastors a church in Kwanan Dangora village, Kano State, and had worn a church T-shirt to travel in on Monday, told me how at Unguwa Uku Motor Park he was threatened by a man with a knife. A Muslim man held back the man wielding the weapon, and told him “This man is one of us. He has nothing to do with politics. Before you kill him, you’ll have to kill me.” He then hid the pastor in a nearby shop and sat outside for four hours guarding the door. When a policeman they had called refused to enter the neighborhood, the man escorted the pastor on a winding path to the main road. The actions of this Good Samaritan, who risked his own life to protect a fellow Nigerian, are representative of many Muslims and Christians who protected both neighbors and strangers. These stories are less heard, but they provide hope that Nigerians are knit together more closely than the rhetoric and the terror committed by the most extreme of the society admit.

As I left DJ Yaks’ studio on Tuesday, he turned on a yet-to-be released song by Ibrahim Danko that floated out into the blackened streets and expresses wistfully what I think most of us long for at this time :

“I say, why, why, why, we dey hate each other? /I say, why, why, why, we dey fight each other? / I say, why, why, why, we dey kill each other […] One love, people together/ Nigeria…”

(c) Carmen McCain

ash

whathavewedone
toourselvestoourearthtoour
humanity?

The Scream (1893), Edvard Munch (Courtesy publicdomainclip-art.blogspot.com)

 

we killed
love we killed
hope

dark is heavy
empty-toned

does  light wait
beyond the blade
of time or

have we finally crushed
our source

into this dead earth?

Nigeria Votes for President Today: NN24, twitter, and the role played by new technologies

Kannywood actor Jameel Ibrahim shows off his 9 April 2011 National Assembly vote, while on location for the Aisha Halilu movie, Armala, Sunday 10 April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

(I wrote this post between 11:30am and 1:00pm on Saturday, 16 April 2011. My internet went out shortly before I planned to post illustrating the difficulties in celebrating too unreservedly the ability of ‘new technologies’ to bring about revolutionary change–fortunately it came back in about an hour….)

As, not being a Nigerian ‘citizen’, I am not allowed to vote today, I am hunkered down in my house, doing housework and planning to do some reading and writing later in the day. But for now, NN24, Nigeria’s challenge to CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera hosted on DSTV and one of my new favourite channels, is constantly on in the background, with analysis of the accreditation process so far and i-reports from people from around the country who are texting and sending photos and videos from their polling stations.  I love NN24. I love their energy and their youth focus, and their attention to the role new technology can play in encouraging the political process to be more transparent. For example, as with CNN, they have an application on their homepage, where ‘ordinary’ citizens (albeit those who can afford an internet-navigable phone or a laptop with a modem) can upload an i-report. They were the ones who organized the first debate between the presidential candidates, which I discussed in an earlier post. The only problem with NN24, as blogger Saratu Abiola noted in a powerfully written article posted to Nigerians Talk  ‘On Debating Nigeria’, regarding the NN24 hosted presidential debates,  is that it provides excellent content that is nevertheless limited to the viewership of those who can afford at least N2800 a month for the DSTV family subscription. Despite its idealistic goals, it limits itself, through its subscription status, to a wealthy elite. Yesterday, for example, there were three short ‘development’ films, ‘Vote Wisely’, an uplifting film where villagers drive away a corrupt politician trying to bribe them with rice for their votes, another ‘Too Young’ warning of the dangers of ‘unsafe pregnancies’ by showing a young girl attempting an abortion on herself, and another with a ‘northern couple’ (speaking English), where the husband refuses to let his wife, who has been in labour for two days be seen by a male doctor. The Ford-foundation sponsored Communicating for Change films shown as part of NN24′s ‘commitment to social responsibility’ were all targeted to ‘the masses’ (other than perhaps the one about the girl with the unwanted pregnancy),  yet who among the masses are going to be watching NN24? How effective will English be in the North? Will someone who can pay at least N2800 a month to access NN24 and DSTV really be tempted to sell their vote for a mudu of rice or refuse to bring their wife into the hospital until she has already been in labour for two days? These ‘public service announcements’ are interspersed with ads for exclusive hotels in Lagos and Abuja and tourist ads for ‘Incredible India’ (featuring white tourists), revealing the wealthy, upper class audience who will actually be seeing these development films. (Convicting myself as I write this, I switch over to the publicly accessible NTA for a few minutes, where they are interviewing women about the lack of female politicians and cases of double voting. The tone here is much less exuberant and encouraging than NN24. I become so irritated by the stereotypical way the men on a discussion panel are discussing women politicians that I switch back to NN24 after about 5 minutes). Much more potentially powerful, I argue, are Nollywood/Kannywood films, especially those done in local languages, which incorporate political content into popular storylines. And perhaps even more powerful than those, radio content and music…

The conflict I have about NN24 is similar to the conflict I feel about celebrating how new technologies are making politics more transparent. It is commonly repeated in the media that tweeting and facebook played a large role in the Egyptian revolution and the social media also seem to be a large part of a ‘youth consciousness’ here in Nigeria. Yet, facebook and twitter and blogs are still very much limited to an upwardly mobile urban population who have the means to buy internet-accessible phones or at least browse at an internet cafe. And, passion and commitment to transparency, still cannot completely stop those who are determined to cause havoc, as we see in the increasingly worrisome trend of political terrorism throughout the country. (Two bombs have gone off in Maiduguri, one at an INEC office, and another at a police station, the latest in a series of bombs to go off around the country, including one in Suleja and Kaduna last week.)

That said, I’m an optimistic person, and I do love to see how passionate those I know are about the elections. I love how last week as I visited the set of the Aisha Halilu movie Armala, Kannywood actors engaged in good natured political debates, and how actor Jameel Ibrahim showed me the photos he had taken with his phone of his vote. ‘This is my record,’ he told me. ‘This is my vote. I want everyone to know how I voted.’ I love how friends on twitter re-tweet instructions from INEC about the rules for accreditation and voting, and how others campaign for their chosen candidates on facebook. I love to see the i-reports sent to NN24 by young people from their phones and the democratizing role these new technologies seem to be playing in these elections–the tweet, for example, sent in by a voter just reported by NN24 on how voters pounced on thugs sent by a politician and sent them running (a seeming replay of the ‘Vote Wisely’ skit aired on NN24) .

And beyond the technology available to those of means, I love how the young man I saw interviewed on Al Jazeera last week, said he was staying around for the rest of the day to make sure his vote was counted. I love that the elections (so far) seem to be one of the ‘free-est and fairest’ Nigeria has ever had, the determination of those I know to get out and vote, the civic-mindedness of those standing outside in the sun all day to make sure their voices are heard.  Last week a young Kano-based musician Osama bin Music told me how in the last vote, he and his friends went to be accredited and then helped organize the crowds, trying to push through the small door of the school where the elections were taking place, into lines for men and women.

Osama bin Music (c) Carmen McCain

There may be young thugs hired by politicians, a trope that has become a stereotypical part of the Nigerian political landscape, but there are far more youth who want the voting process to work. They are there queuing in the sun. They want to make a difference. They want their votes to count. And it is in these youth that the hope for Nigeria lies.

The question, of course, is will the politicians who will be voted into power respect the faith the youth are placing in their votes? Or will they, despite the ‘free and fair’ vote, continue on with business as usual? And if that case, will new technologies make any difference in encouraging the youth to challenge the political culture in Nigeria in a more radical way or will it just comfort an elite that ‘their voices are being heard’?

Allah ya jikan Hausa film actress Maryam Umar Aliyu

FIM Magazine Cover featuring Maryam Umar Aliyu

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihirraji’un.

I’m always reluctant to post news like this. It’s bad news, and I don’t like to bear it. The Hausa film star, Maryam Umar Aliyu, who retired from acting  after she married actor and musician Misbahu M. Ahmed in December 2009, died yesterday in Kano. This is one in a long string of Kannywood deaths in the last few years, including actress Hauwa Ali Dodo (Biba Problem) in January 2010,  Safiya Ahmed and director/actor Zilkiflu Mohammed in February 2010, actress Amina Garba (Mama Dumba) in November 2010, and just last month Baballe Costume, a film costumier.

I did not know Maryam well, but I had met her on enough occasions to be completely shocked when I first found out on facebook yesterday of her death. I first met her in 2006, and the film I first remember her in is Dan Zaki. The most recent film of hers that sticks out in my mind is Sai Na Dawo. The image of her that stays with me was sometime in 2008, she came into Golden Goose Studio studio wearing long dangly earrings and a beautiful outfit–a mixture of glamour and good natured sweetness. She sat on the floor with the rest of us, laughing and talking.

According to the Leadership article I will post below, she died yesterday from lingering complications of childbirth three months ago. She was still very young. Allah ya jikanta, ya rahama mata kuma allah ya sa Aljanna makoma ita. Allah ya ba mu hakuri.

If any readers would like to leave comments about memories they have of her or of their favourite films that Maryam featured in, I will consider including comments left by tonight (my deadline) in my column published on Saturday in the Weekly Trust.I will update this post as other news comes along, but to begin with I’ll post the short Leadership article by Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz that came out today. To read on the Leadership website, click here:

Ex-Hausa Film Star, Maryam ‘Kumurci’, Dies

WEDNESDAY, 13 APRIL 2011 11:14 ABDULAZIZ ABDULAZIZ, KANO

A prominent ex-Hausa film actress, Maryam Umar Aliyu (aka Maryam Kumurci), has died. The actress died yesterday afternoon in Kano after a protected illness.Until her death, She was the wife of renown playback singer, Musbahu M Ahmed.

LEADERSHIP also gathered that she died at a private hospital in Kano where she had been battling with complications arising from childbirth. She was said to have delivered of a stillborn baby three months ago.

Burial rites for the deceased was conducted at her family’s residence located at Gwammaja quarters. Just as she was later  buried according to Islamic rites at Kofar Mazugal cemetery.

The late Maryam began her filmmaking career in early 2000s and rose to stardom by 2005. She featured in several Hausa home videos including Khudsiyya and Jani.

She later got married to an actor, Sha’aibu Lawal (alias Kumurci), following the death of his bride, Balaraba Mohammed. Maryam’s relationship with the actor earned her the same sobriquet  as him; kumurci.

UPDATE 16 April 2011

Here is my column for the week, in tribute to Maryam Umar Aliyu. It can be read on the Weekly Trust site, here or in its original format as published in the Weekly Trust by clicking on the photo below:

Honouring Kannywood: In Memory of Maryam Umar Aliyu

Saturday, 16 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain.

Kannywood received yet another blow this week when former actress Maryam Umar Aliyu died, Tuesday, April 12, after a lingering illness following a still-birth. The stylish, light-skinned actress, who was of Nigerien origin but grew up in Katsina, began acting in the early 2000s, appearing in dozens of films including Labarin ZuciyaGiwar Mata, Dan Zaki, Makauniyar Yarinya, Khudsiyya, Jani, and Sai na Dawo, among many others. She also produced one film Majiya. When a brief marriage to actor Shu’aibu Kumurci ended, she returned to acting, but retired again in December 2009 to marry actor and singer Misbahu M. Ahmad. Maryam’s death comes after a long string of losses to the Hausa film industry over the past year and a half: actresses Hauwa Ali Dodo, Safiya Ahmed, and Amina Garba, Director and actor Zilkiflu Mohammad, and producer Hamza Muhammad Danzaki all died in 2010. Last month, a costumier called Baballe Costume also died.

A fan, Khadijah Sulaiman, wrote on Facebook, that she “had never seen a film” of Maryam’s that “wasn’t good.” She most remembered her for the 2006 film Dan Zaki. Likewise, my first memory of seeing Maryam Umar Aliyu was in the Sani Danja film, Dan Zaki, with its echoes of oral literature, where she plays the role of a woman so jealous that she has a sorcerer transform the man she loves into a bird and make his wife go mad. The film had just come out when I arrived in Kano to begin my research. Maryam came to the house where I was staying to visit my hostess, and I remember thinking her quite the opposite of the character she had played in the film. She was sweet and kind and laughed a lot. I remember how, later, after my return to Kano in 2008, she came into Golden Goose Studio one day, a mixture of glamour and cheerfulness, with her dangly earrings, fashionable dress and unforgettable smile. She sat on the floor of the studio, ate kosai and fried potatoes, and chatted with everyone there.

Her laughter, patience, and kindness are what other people in the industry I spoke to remember of her as well. Aminu Sheriff (Momoh) wrote on my blog that “She was very kind and jovial person[…] May her soul rest in peace, amin.” Over the phone (any mistakes in translation from Hausa to English are mine) actress Fati Bararoji told me that Maryam was a very patient and kind person, who loved the people around her. She didn’t fight with anyone, Fati said. She’d put up with a lot. When she accepted a role in a film, she wouldn’t haggle over money but would just take what she was given. Fati remembered, in particular, Maryam’s patience and cheerfulness over a seven-day shoot in Abuja which she had been on with her, shortly before Maryam’s marriage in 2009.

Sakna Gadaz Abdullahi repeated much of what Fati had told me. “Her death is a big loss to the industry and to her family.  The day I heard of her death, I couldn’t do anything else. I was so shocked. Maryam had become like my sister. Everyone who knew her in the industry knew that she was a good and loyal friend. She wasn’t materialistic.”

Sadiyya Mohammad (Gyale) wrote me that Maryam was very nice, patient and quiet. “I really loved Maryam.” Zainab Idris simply said that she had always gotten along well with Maryam. “Her death has really affected us. But we know that God loves her even more than us, and we too are on the road to the Hereafter whether today or any other time.”

Maryam’s death comes at a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between the Hausa film industry, the wider Nollywood industry, and the role of film in Africa as a whole. In 1998, the Malian filmmaker Abdurrahmane Sissako made a film, La Vie Sur Terre/Life on Earth, which portrays a village where the news of the world comes in through international radio broadcasts, but where no information can escape. The villagers know about the world, yet the world does not know about them. The village post office can receive telephone calls but cannot call out.

Although the Hausa-speaking world is certainly no village and has access to phones, internet, radio, and other media (including a gigantic film industry which could be its gateway to the world), there is a metaphoric parallel here. Kannywood knows about Hollywood, Bollywood, and the larger Nigerian film industry of Nollywood, but they know very little about Kannywood.  Despite Maryam Umar Aliyu’s prolific acting career, when I went online to try to find photos of her to put on my blog, I didn’t find more than three or four. It always surprises me how little you find online about Kannywood stars, whose faces, blazoned on stickers, are plastered on thousands of buses, motorcycles, and taxis all over Northern Nigeria, Niger, and surrounding countries.

Hausa is spoken by over fifty million people in Africa. The Hausa film industry is, according to the most recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board statistics, creeping to nearly thirty percent of the Nigerian film industry. Beyond death, the figures and faces of these actors and actresses will keep running and clapping, speaking and laughing, singing and dancing through our lives for as long as the plastic of the VCDs last and the television channels continue to broadcast them into our homes. They are known by millions yet strangely unknown beyond a barrier of language and class, loved by those who buy stickers and films and yet often disrespected by those with the power to write about them on an international stage.

The imbalances in what the world knows about Hausa film and society have their roots in colonialism, yes, but also tend to be continued by the attitudes of an elite who keep their television stations tuned to CNN and BBC. Despite the hundreds of singing and dancing sequences uploaded to YouTube (rarely labeled with names of composer or performer), the occasional Facebook fan page, the old FIM Magazine pages or the commendable Kannywood online fan community, the lack of information about the Hausa film industry online is a sign that it is not yet appreciated by a northern elite who have the most access to the internet. And a lack of financial and moral support from an elite means it is much more difficult for the industry to break into the international film arena, as Yoruba films are beginning to do. I often hear educated members of a Northern Nigerian elite talking about how embarrassed they are by Hausa films, and yet it was these very Hausa films (and also the novels) that attracted me to learn Hausa. I am an American here in Kano because of film. I am here because I saw Ahmed S. Nuhu and Hauwa Ali Dodo and Zilkiflu Mohammed and Maryam Umar Aliyu in stories that captivated me and made me want to let the world know about them.

I am sad that I wrote of Maryam only after she died. I should have written about her while she was alive. Every time I write a tribute to an entertainer or artist gone before their time, I feel this way. Why didn’t I write more? Why don’t we all write more, in Hausa first and then English, about the young talents who surround us, filling our radios with songs, our television screens with dramas, and our bookshelves with novels, not imported but homegrown? Let’s honour Maryam by honouring, respecting and supporting her colleagues, those hard working, cheerful, and kind members of the Hausa film industry who, insha Allah, will live and work and grow as artists for years to come. Only when we respect our entertainers, will they be able to build an industry that will make us proud.

UPDATE 25 April 2011:

Other memories of Maryam Umar Aliyu sent to me:

From Auwal Danlarabawa

ina mai mika ta’aziyya ta ga rasuwar maryam umar Allah ya gafarta mata ameen, akwai wani jarumta da tayi a lokacin da muke aikin film din kanfani a lokacin da doki ya gudu da ita amma bata ji tsoro ba ta zauna daram har diokin ya kare gudunsa ya tsaya wanda ba kowacce jaruma ce zatayi hakan ba, shine babban abinda na ke tunawa a mu’amalarmu da maryam Allah ya gafarta mata mu kuma in tamau tazo Allah yasa mu cika da imani

To read other tributes I’ve written for Hausa actors and filmmakers gone before their time, see my posts on

Actress Hauwa Ali Dodo, who died 1 January 2010,

Director Zilkiflu Muhammed (Zik), who died 18 February 2010,

Actress Safiya Ahmed, who died on 26 February 2010,

Actress Amina Garba, who died on 21 November 2010,

Comedian and director Lawal Kaura, who died on 13 December 2011,

Director Muhammadu Balarabe Sango, who died on 1 December 2012

I left banking job to direct movies – Kunle Afolayan (Weekly Trust Feature Interview)

Kunle Afolayan at FESPACO filmmaker hangout, Independance Hotel, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 2 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

I usually post the edited versions of my articles that are published in Weekly Trust. This week, however, I’m going to post the original version of my interview with Kunle Afolayan as submitted before publication in the Weekend Magazine feature of the Weekly Trust last Saturday.

While I agree with some of the editorial cuts made for tightening purposes and take a few of them here, some of the questions I was personally the most interested in got cut in publication. I was also a little dismayed that the published version mentioned that The Figurine got ten African Movie Academy Award nominations but not that it actually won five of those. If you would like to read the published version (with the edits made), here is the link to the interview on  the Weekly Trust site. You can also click on the photos below to be taken to a large copy of each page on my flickr site. Here are the other posts I’ve written on Kunle Afolayan’s film The Figurine:

FESPACO: Politics of video and Afolayan’s The Figurine, posted on 13 March 2011

Champions of Our Time, The Figurine, and Nigeria’s Rebranding Project at FESPACO, posted on 19 March 2011

I conducted this interview the day after I met Afolayan at his first screening of The Figurine at FESPACO. Having since had more conversations with him, seen both of his feature-length films and read a lot more about the production of both, I now have deeper questions on language-use and philosophy, but this is a start. I saw Afolayan’s first feature film Irapada last night. It wasn’t as technically polished or tight as The Figurine, and I missed some of what was going on because the subtitles were too small and fast, but it was just as thought-provoking and rooted in Yoruba theatre/literature as The Figurine, if not more so. Although I disliked the synthesizer piano track, I loved the rest of the sound track which fit the mood of the film and included songs in Yoruba and Hausa, which (at least the one in Hausa) contributed ironic commentary on the story. While it may not necessarily work for a popular audience who don’t like reading subtitles, I’m a big fan of what Afolayan does with language in his films. He unapologetically switches between multiple Nigerian languages, subtitling each in English. The Figurine included Yoruba, pidgen, and standard Nigerian English. Irapada was even more ambitious in this regard with conversation in Yoruba, standard Nigerian English, Hausa, pidgen, and a short segment in Igbo. Some of this may be an influence of Afolayan’s mentor, filmmaker Tunde Kelani, whose films also make brilliant use of codeswitching. In Magun (Thunderbolt), for example, the Igbo father of Ngozi, the woman struck with the curse of magun curse, converses in Igbo with her in front of the Yoruba babalawo. (If I’m remembering correctly), Her landlady also hides her own conversation with her nephew from Ngozi by using Yoruba. There’s a dramatic irony that comes with the revelation to the audience via subtitles what is hidden through language from other characters. In Afolayan’s films, language flows in the way Nigerians actually use it. In The Figurine, Sola and Femi switch to Yoruba for intimate conversations; youth corpers use pidgen in informal situations at their NYSC camp; Sola and Mona use English at home in their mixed-ethnic marriage but make a point of teaching their son greetings in both languages. In Irapada, comic relief comes when the Yoruba-speaking mother of the main character Dewunmi attempts to communicate with a Hausa-speaking porter at a train station; or when the Igbo-speaking Amaka, Dewunmi’s wife’s best friend, overhears some mechanics planning to cheat her Hausa-speaking friend, Shehu. (See the trailer below for a clip of each). In addition to the use of language, you can also see Kelani’s  influence in other aspects of Afolayan’s of films (although some of this could be the influence of Yoruba theatre and film in general) in the questions about destiny vs independent human choices and the nods to the many cultures that make up Nigeria.

Before I paste the interview, here are trailers for Irapada and The Figurine. Enjoy.

IRAPADA (for a review from NEXT click here)

THE FIGURINE

‘Think of Nigeria First’: Kunle Afolayan on The Figurine, filmmaking, and Nollywood

Interview by Carmen McCain

Actor, producer, and director Kunle Afolayan grew up in the richly creative environment surrounding the Yoruba travelling theatre and early Nigerian cinema, of which his father, Ade Love, was one of the pioneers; however, it wasn’t until later in life, while working as a banker, that he became interested in making films himself. Mentored by one of Nigeria’s foremost filmmakers Tunde Kelani as he moved into an acting career and with training from the New York Film Academy, in 2010, Kunle Afolayan released his second film The Figurine, which earned him ten 2010 Africa Movie Academy Award nominations and five awards, including AMAA Best Picture Award, Heart of Africa Award for best film in Nigeria, Award for best actor in a leading role for Ramsey Nouah, Best Cinematography, and Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Carmen McCain spoke with him for the Weekly Trust on 2 March at FESPACO film festival.

How and when did you become interested in film-making?

I developed interest in filmmaking right from before I was an actor. All I wanted to do then was write my own story. I just felt there was a need for change in the Nigerian film industry, and I’m talking as far back as 1995. But there was no way I could achieve it because I was not a writer, I was not in any aspect of filmmaking. So, I went to Tunde Kelani, because I used to see him around when my father used to shoot film. I went to him to let my feelings be known. He said to me, “Instead of you wanting to start filming, why not start by being an actor? That might really work better.” So I said, ok, and I told him that I would like to be invited for audition, whenever they have any film. I got invited when they were going to shoot Saworoide in 1998, and I got selected to play the role. Saworoide was a blockbuster, and even up today is relevant in the Nigerian film circle. That was how I started acting.

Kunle Afolayan examines a toy camera at Independance Hotel, FESPACO. (c) Carmen McCain

Could you tell me a little bit about your father’s films? Were you ever involved in those?

I was never involved in the production. My father started as a theatre person, travelling theatre all around Nigeria and West Africa. His full name was Adeyemi Afolayan, also known as Ade Love. They started travelling theatre. He got invited to be part of a film project by Dr. Ola Balogun, who started commercial filmmaking in Nigeria in 1976. They shot a film titled Ajani Ogun, which featured my father. And thereafter, my father decided to go into filmmaking fully. So he shot his own first film, right after Ajani Ogun in 1978 or thereabout. That was how he started. He had eight celluloid films to his credit, and most of these films travelled to film festivals all over the world, especially Ajani Ogun, Ija Ominira, Kadara, and the rest of them.

Do you remember being at home and having other filmmakers around?

Well that was the memory. Cause, I grew up—sometimes I found myself on their sets. Myself and some of my sisters and brothers. We’d just go there to make noise and see how they do their things, and after some time, they’d be like ok, go home, you guys are disturbing us. I was familiar with some of the cast and crew, at that time, but I didn’t learn nothing. It was just children messing about at their father’s workplace. That was just it. So I didn’t start aspiring until the man was late.

So you started acting in 1998. How many films were you in?

They are not up to 15. Saworoide by Tunde Kelani and Agogo Eewo, which is a sequel to Saworoide, Dark Days, which is English, and some other films, but it’s not such a large number like some of my colleagues who have featured in about 1000 films. I resigned my appointment from the bank in 2005, and went to film school at New York Film Academy, studied digital filmmaking, came back, and set up Golden Effects, which is a production house.

How many films have you directed?

I’ve done two short films and two feature films. The first short film was a project in film school, and the second one was a collaboration with an American producer by the name of Catherine Sullivan. We shot with an all white cast and crew project, and I directed it. I co-directed Irapada, which is my first feature film, and soley directed The Figurine, which is the second.

Could you tell me a little bit about The Figurine, how you came up with the idea for it, and the process of producing, directing, and acting?

Ok, well, the idea came about in 2005, right after film school. For me, I think most Africans, most Nigerians, an average African is superstitious. So, I was looking around doing something that would not totally demystify the power of the gods but at the same time reveal human participation in our predicament and what happens in our lives. So that was what brought about the idea. I narrated my idea to a guy called Jovie Babs, who came up with the first draft, which we titled The Shrine, you know for like two years. We got the script ready, then Kemi Adesoye wrote this version of The Figurine. We had a script conference and did a lot of work and then we came and did the treatment and final script.

What was your biggest challenge in shooting?

One of my biggest challenges was getting the funding for the film, which took a while, but eventually we were able to. Then another major challenge was the location. Because of the time difference in the film, we had to do seven years, the first seven years, then the next seven years. There had to be a lot of make up differences, location differences. All those kind of things delayed, so we couldn’t move on to the next phase until we finished with the first seven years. So if any time we paint any scene, any shoot, it just keeps piling up, and that really slows it down. I had a bit of sound issue, because our 50K generator fell into the sea when we were trying to move to the location. So the shoot had to stop. A whole lot of things got messed up. When we eventually got smaller generators to power our stuff, the thing got burnt. I don’t know what happened. There was a spark and everything plugged to it got burnt. That set us back again. The lights, the laptop, the camera charger. The camera was pretty new, so we had to wait to order another charger.

What was the most rewarding thing for you?

The most rewarding thing for me so far is the acceptance. The film has really set a new standard, not only in Nigeria, but among the other filmmakers from other regions. Don’t forget that the film got ten nominations at the most prestigious African Movie Academy Awards and won five. And the dream of an average filmmaker is to win Best Picture category in any awards. I’m glad that the film has really travelled around to so many film festivals. And as a matter of fact, it was in competition, official selection and competition in some of them like FESPACO, Pan African Film festival, etc. Any time a festival is doing a retrospective on Nollywood, they are always inviting the film to be able to differentiate between the normal Nollywood style, and the New Nollywood, that is what I call it.

Kunle Afolayan at the 'Reading and Producing Nollywood' conference held at University of Lagos, 24 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

What kind of feedback have you gotten at other film festivals?

I realized after the screening, a lot of people want to wait for question and answer, to find out how we were able to do the film. Most of them seem surprised that such a high quality film could come out of Nigeria. An example is [Kenyan author] Ngugi [wa Thiong’o] when we were in Pan-African film festival. He came with his wife, and they stayed and watched the whole film and they stayed for the question and answer. And he stood up to commend the film by saying that he feels so proud to be an African, and he wrote me a letter, recommending the film to another film festival, saying he has not seen such in a long time, even as a writer, he feels so impressed. And that is like the review from every festival we’ve been. Amakula, Rotterdam,  the talent contest at Berlin, New York Africa Film Festival, Tarifa in Spain and the other ones. The same thing at FESPACO, a lot of people stayed and wanted to find out, so it has been good.

So, right now, we are actually at FESPACO, and you were put in the video category rather than the main competition. Would you like to talk about that?

Well, that’s like strange, because all the festivals we’ve been to, the film has always in the same category with every film, even films from Hollywood. Even big budget films worth 50 million dollars fall into the same category with this film. So it’s going to be the first time that there will be a segment for video and for 35 mm.  I mean, in this age and time, a lot of people would rather shoot on cheaper format but still achieve the same high quality. A good film is a good film regardless on what format it is being shot. If it looks good, it looks good. If it sounds good, it sounds good. There are no two ways to it. So I don’t think that is fair, and I don’t think that should continue. A lot of people were bitter about this, not just me. I met with other filmmakers, and a lot of them seemed to have a bit of issue with such decision.

You had also earlier talked about distribution of the film. Are you planning to release it anytime soon on video.

Yeah, we are now working on dvd release. We are discussing with the distribution company. Already we are in the middle of signing the agreement, and hopefully it should be out by April. Every copy will be encrypted, and it’s going to be well circulated. We have regional distributors, national distributors in the north, south, east, west part of Nigeria. It’s going to be all over Africa, UK, and it’s going to be online as well. So, I mean, we can rest assured that an average Nigerian will have access to the film.

To you, what are the major challenges of Nollywood, what does Nollywood need to do to go to the next level?

I think there is a lot of training [needed] within the industry, because a lot of people would rather say, we need infrastructure, we need sets and studios, and stuff like that. But what is the essence of building all those things if we don’t have people who will run them? Aside from training, there is need for a lot of support on government side. And that is why I’m glad that the president just channeled some money, two hundred million dollars toward the entertainment industry because that will help people who’ve really gotten trained and a good business plan to really benefit from such a gesture. I believe strongly that will take the industry to the next level. Especially if the money is given to the right people who can utilize it. Like, let’s say distribution, for example. There are quite a number of people who are trying to set up a proper distribution framework, from cinema to dvd and pay-tv, and all of it. So, if all those people can benefit, then content-providers as well, if they can benefit from this, I think it can change the industry. Distribution, I believe, is our major, major challenge. If we have all these benefits in place, I believe it will help change the industry.

So you suggest government set up structures that would allow people to make use of that?

The government doesn’t necessarily have to set up structures. But I mentioned the two hundred and fifty million dollars which the president has put in entertainment for people to apply for a loan. It’s not a grant, it’s a loan, but it’s only going to be subject to single-figure interest rates. So, instead of going to a bank where you have to pay 20-30 percent, this one will really help the industry.

Is there any major thing that you would like to tell other Nollywood filmmakers or young filmmakers starting out if they want to get to the place you are now.

Well, I think they should first consider starting at home. Because their primary audience are Nigerians. They should start by thinking of stories that will appeal to the average Nigerian before they start thinking of the outside audience, the international audience. When you think of Nigeria, then you think of Africa, because we reason alike, and the distribution channel that the likes of Silverbird is trying to put in place, will definitely cut across Africa. So you have platforms to distribute your films, all within Africa. And also there is need for them to really study whatever area of filmmaking that they may want to specialize. Be it scripting, be it lighting, hands-on-camera, sound, makeup, and you know the other departments, set design and all that. It’s better to get trained, so that, even if you’re getting people to do stuff for you, you’ll have a basic understanding of how things run. And also they should try to attend film festivals, even if they don’t have films there, at least, to see how things are run, to see what are the parameters for getting your film into festivals. You have opportunities like AMAA awards in Nigeria. You can explore such options. So majorly, story and production value. Those are the two major things that make them have a film that will be successful commercially and will be international.

Kunle Afolayan and Ghanaian actor Majid Michel on the red carpet at the 2011 AMAA awards. (c) Carmen McCain

So, when you say “get training,” do you mean on set or going to school for it?

I mean going to school for it. If you can do both, it will be nice because experience really counts. But if you go on set in Nigeria, you’ll only know—the capacity of the people you are working with is where your knowledge will end. But if you get others, even like short courses, workshops outside Nigeria in whatever area you want to specialize, it will broaden your thinking, broaden your mind.

You said that Tunde Kelani suggested that you act first before you made films. Do you feel like the acting experience helps you as a director?

Yes, and the fact that I watch a lot of films, even before going to film school. And I’m always conscious of the area that I want to specialize. I picked a few directors, I look out for films that are in that genre, and I watch them, do a case study on them, so that has really helped me.

Are there any particular films that are your favourites?

Apocalypto is one of my favourite films and Forest Gump. I love Forest Gump. The last Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds. Films like that.

What about Nigerian films?

Hostages by Tade Ogidan, most of Tunde Kelani’s films, Owo Blow by Tade Ogidan, as well, and some of the films that were shot in the 70s and 80s and Ogunde’s films, Ade Love films.

Along with that are there particular directors? You mentioned Tunde Kelani, what about Hollywood directors?

Like I said, Tarantino, Mel Gibson, Spielberg. I like Spike Lee as well because he’s very experimental. I watch a lot of Indian films, as well.

There’s a lot of criticism of Nigerian films. People say they are all about rituals, they’re corrupting the youth, they’re bad quality etc, even the idea of relegating your film to a video category, how do you respond to people who look down on Nigerian films?

Well every industry has got their style, and if that is the style Nollywood has adopted right now, and it is working for them, then so be it. They’ve been able to create a market for their films, and if there is anyone who wants to do otherwise, like something not in that direction, then of course the industry is very, very big. But I just think that we all can’t continue to do the same thing. Most of those people who are criticizing. In Burkina Faso, I know that they used to do about ten films before, but now I’m sure they don’t do more than two films a year. Is that a growing industry or a deteriorating one?

The Nigerian industry is a phenomenon, because we are moving from one phase to another. There was a time that it was strictly celluloid, then people moved to video because it was cheaper to shoot, and now people are moving back to higher formats, higher definition. Mahmood Ali-Balogun just shot on 35 mm, and the film was actually submitted to FESPACO, but it wasn’t selected.  So, if it was all about format, then what are we talking about? Then, when you say story—an average Indian film portrays their police as being corrupt. So would you say that is affecting their economy or the Indian film industry? No. So, they should look inward and look at the best way to have a pan-African film industry, instead of condemning a growing industry from Nigeria.

If people say Nigerian film are giving Nigeria a bad image, how do you respond?

I don’t think it is giving Nigeria a bad image. If it was giving Nigeria a bad image, all those actors would not be celebrated all over Africa. Wherever it is they go… people are stuck on those films. That is where the Caribbeans, that is the only way they see that we actually have big houses and big cars. Those films might not be doing well in the world film circle, but commercially they are doing great. I’m not into such films but I think they are playing their own mark in the world film circle.

In conclusion, is there anything you would tell an audience, anything you think they should know about Nollywood or their films.

Keep supporting Nollywood, and you can get details of The Figurine from figurinemovie.com. Keep supporting Nigerian films.

Kunle Afolayan presents an award at the 2011 AMAA awards. (c) Carmen McCain

Africa Movie Academy Awards: Celebrating Africa’s film industries, building pan-African cinema

I realized with dismay, when I emerged from my house yesterday afternoon to go find a copy of the Weekly Trust, that I had done several near-all-nighters this week working on articles for a paper that would probably be one of the least read this year. Because of the election (that was not), there were very few people on the streets and I had to ride for about 15 minutes on an acaba to find a vender selling a newspaper. Here is this week’s column that I wrote on my experience at the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in Yenagoa, Bayelsa. I’ve included a few extra photos below. To read at the Trust site, click here. To read in the original version, click on the photo below, which will take you to a large readable copy. To read on my site, scroll down below the photo. I will upload the interview I did with The Figurine director, producer, and actor Kunle Afolayan later in the day. For another excellent post on AMAA, written by my travel buddy Fulbright scholar Bic Leu, check out her blog.

Celebrating Africa’s film industries, building of pan- African cinema

Saturday, 02 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

As my readers may have noticed from recent columns, this month for me has been a mad dash from one film event to another, from the FESPACO Pan-African film festival in Ouagadougou from February 26 to March 5, to a presentation at the “Reading and Producing Nollywood” symposium hosted at University of Lagos from March 23 to 25, to, finally, a rather unexpected but delightful invitation to attend the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa, on 27 March.

Nollywood scholars Onookome Okome, Jonathan Haynes and Carmela Garritano trade laughs at the “Reading and Producing Nollywood” conference held at the University of Lagos, 23-25 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

AMAA was a bizarre mix of the humble and glamorous that seems inherent to Nollywood. The flight from Lagos to Port Harcourt was filled with filmmakers, many of them from the diaspora, and we continued on to Yenagoa by bus. I sat at the back of a 12-seater between Ghanaian-British filmmaker Julius Amedume, who won best Diaspora short for his film Precipice, and British filmmaker Wayne Saunders, who received a double nomination for Best Diaspora Feature for two feature films, Nothing Less and The Village. The next seat up, Nigerian Hollywood actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Hotel Rwanda, Wolverine), who most recently starred in Jeta Amata’s musical Inale [which later won the AMAA for best soundtrack] and the yet to be released Black Gold, was jammed in between Nollywood star Olu Jacobs and Aspire Magazine publisher Celine Loader. The cramped bus made it felt rather like a university outing, only with movie stars and filmmakers rather than students, and the three hour trip, through Port Harcourt traffic and over pot-holed roads, was long but jolly, with much loud debating about Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr, global inequalities, black consciousness, and quiet sharing of plans for future films. We ended up at the Bayelsa State Tourism Development & Publicity Bureau, where hundreds of filmmakers milled about, eating food from buffet lines and trying to find places to sit before finally being transported to their hotels. The bureau became the defacto meeting and eating spot. The next day, I ran into Kannywood stars Ali Nuhu, Lawal Ahmad, and Rahama Hassan there.

RFI journalist, Kannywood actress Rahama Hassan, Radio France International journalist Salisu Hamisou, and actors Ali Nuhu and Lawal Ahmad at the AMAA press conference. (c) Carmen McCain

At a press conference on the afternoon of 27 March, AMAA jury members pointed out the purpose of the awards to unite Africa. AMAA CEO Peace Anyiam-Osigwe said, “AMAA is about everybody that is a filmmaker in Africa…It’s about you. We are Africans. We have no borders.” In this pan-African vision, the body seems to be following in the footsteps of earlier African cinema movements such as FEPACI (Federation of African filmmakers) and FESPACO Film festival. However, unlike these earlier, mostly Francophone, African initiatives, AMAA does not merely promote art films made by African filmmakers and often funded by Europe, but emphasizes the importance of actual film industries.

AMAA CEO Peace Anyiam-Osigwe speaks about the pan-African vision of the AMAA awards at a press conference, 27 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Beirut-based Zimbabwean juror Keith Shiri pointed out, “I think people who are familiar with FESPACO are also familiar with other infrastructures, which are really suffering because of the negative attitude which we have about ourselves.” Shiri said it was important to recognize AMAA as “the only platform in the whole continent, which is, in my view, celebrating African cinema, and trying to build an infrastructure which enables us to begin to evaluate and consider the importance of this industry.”

Film curator and AMAA juror Keith Shiri speaks at the AMAA press conference, 27 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

The atmosphere of university outing transitioned to full-fledged Nollywood glamour by the time we arrived on the red carpet, Sunday night, where TV presenters hung out looking for interviews and camera flashes were constant. Outside, fans pressed their faces to the gaps in the wall. You could tell whenever a big star arrived by the volume of the roar outside.

American Fulbright Scholar Bic Leu, Best short film nominee Kenyan filmmaker Zipporah Nyaruri, Nigerian Hollywood actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim, American winner of the Best Diaspora feature LaQuita Cleare, and Nigerian-American Best short Diaspora film nominee Temi Ojo on the red carpet at the AMAA awards. (c) Carmen McCain

Best short film nominee Kenyan filmmaker Zipporah Nyaruri being interviewed on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

Ghanaian star Majid Michel being interviewed on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

The awards ceremony was hosted by Jim Iyke and Nse Ikpe-Etim, with other appearances by Rita Dominic, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Kunle Afolayan, Ali Nuhu, Olu Jacobs, and performances by Dr Sid, Wande Coal, Tee Mac, Ebisan, South African group Malaika, among others. It went from around 8:30pm to 2:30am, and was followed by a middle-of-the-night dinner at the Yenagoa government house. Compared to FESPACO, which was arty, elitist, and seemed irrelevant to the tastes of a popular African audience, the glamour of the AMAA awards was generated by beloved Nollywood stars, who arrived in fancy dress, gave interviews on the red carpet, presented awards, and took photos with their fans. As Keith Shiri had pointed out at the press conference, this was an event that celebrated and promoted film industry infrastructure, not just film. Peace Anyiam-Osigwe reinforced this point at the ceremony, “We should celebrate ourselves year in and year out… but I’d also like to see our filmmakers make money from what we are doing. So wherever you are in the next few years, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, I’m sure all over Africa, you’re going to have the chance to say I need you to realize the input I am making to my industry and to my country.”

Nollywood stars Jim Iyke and Nse Ikpe-Etim host the AMAA awards 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

AMAA awards adorn the table at the late night dinner, while the winners relax. (c) Carmen McCain

Perhaps because of this focus on commercially-viable films, the films nominated also seemed quite different from those on offer at FESPACO. Out of the over 56 films I counted from the AMAA nomination list and the 187 films in the FESPACO catalogue index, I could only find seven films that overlapped and only one overlap in prizes: South African film Hopeville won best film in the TV/Video category at FESPACO; At AMAA the film received nine nominations and one award for Themba Ndaba’s performance as Best Actor in a Leading Role. AMAA was much more Anglophone-focused than FESPACO, with fewer submissions from North and Francophone Africa.

Yet, it was a film from a Francophone country, Congo-Kinshasa, the edgy Viva Riva! that ended up sweeping the Awards, surpassing the five AMAAs won by Nigeria’s The Figurine by Kunle Afolayan last year, with six AMAAs for Best Film, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hoji Fortuna), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Marlene Longage), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and Best Director (Djo Tunda Wa Munga). According to producer Boris Vanglis as he jubilantly accepted the “Best Film” award, Viva Riva, which had been absent from FESPACO, is “the first film in Congo-Kinshasa in 20 years in Lingala.”

Although Nollywood glamour dominated the evening and though there was a much larger presence of Nigerian and Ghanaian films nominated for the awards, only three Nigerian films won awards:  Niji Akanni’s Aramotu won Best Costume Design and Best Nigerian film. Jeta Amata’s Inale won Best Soundtrack, and Obi Emelonye’s Mirror Boy won Best Young Actor for the performance by Ugandan actor Edward Kagutuzi. Ghana was represented by three awards for Sinking Sands, directed by Leila Djansi, which won awards for Best Screenplay, Best Make-Up, and Best Actress in Leading role for actress Ama K. Abebrese.

Unfortunately, the nature of the event, as an awards ceremony rather than a festival, meant that I had seen none of the films that were awarded, and it seemed somewhat problematic that despite the appeal to a popular audience in the glamour of Nollywood and celebration of industry, the films awarded, much like those at FESPACO, seemed inaccessible to an African audience beyond their own regions. AMAA selection committee chairman Shaibu Husseini noted this predicament, pointing out the difficulties of an award based on popularity since films released in one part of the continent are not always seen in others. “By the time you put it to popularity test, the text messages will come from the countries where these films have been produced. And by the time, you award the films, it will not be representational.”

AMAA Selection committee Chairman Shuaibu Husseini speaks at the press conference, 27 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Yet, despite the difficulties of such structures, I came away from the AMAA awards with a more positive feeling than I had from FESPACO. FESPACO felt like a tired old legend moving into its last days. AMAA, even with its moments of disorganization, felt vibrant and full of promise, like its Nollywood base. Even though the films awarded are still unavailable to most of their African audiences, perhaps the popular focus of the African Movie Academy Awards, will work towards building a canon of African films made by African film industries, not just by cineastes. And hopefully some wise distributer with pan-African connections will seize the opportunity and make these films available all over the continent, giving accessibility and a public face to a truly popular African cinema.

More Photos of the Event:

To see my whole Flickr album of AMAA, click here.

Best short film nominee Zipporah Nyaruri with Best Diaspora short film nominee Temi Ojo. (c) Carmen McCain


Rahama Hassan laughs as Ali Nuhu makes a point. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood star Lawal Ahmad. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood star Rahama Hassan. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora feature double nominee, Wayne Saunders being interviewed. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Young Actor winner Edward Kagutuzi and ‘Inale’ actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim. (c) Carmen McCain

Hakeem Kae-Kazim photographs Zipporah Nyaruri pre-award ceremony. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora feature film winner LaQuita Cleare and Best Short film nominee Zipporah Nyaruri pre-AMAA ceremony. (c) Carmen McCain

Me, Bic Leu, Zipporah Nyaruri, Temi Ojo, and LaQuita Cleare.

Hollywood Nigerian actor Razaaq Adoti on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora short film nominee, Sowande Tichawonna, on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

Fulbright scholar Bic Leu, Best Diaspora short film nominee Temi Ojo, and Best short film nominee Zipporah Nyaruri. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora short film nominee Temi Ojo on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora Short film nominee Sowande Tichawonna, Actor Razaaq Adoti, and Best Short Film nominee Zipporah Nyaruri. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora feature winner LaQuita Cleare is interviewed on the red carpet pre-ceremony (before she knew she won). (c)Carmen McCain

Best Short Film nominee Kenyan filmmaker Zipporah Nyaruri with Freedom Express reporter. (c) Carmen McCain

Bayelsa State Cultural group performs at the beginning of the Award Ceremony (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood crossover actor Ali Nuhu helps present the best award for Best African language film. (c)Carmen McCain

Nollywood star Olu Jacobs was mobbed by fans wanting a photograph with him, and he patiently put up with them for about 30 minutes. He poses here with L.A. based Best Diaspora Feature award winner LaQuita Cleare. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood/Nollywood star Ali Nuhu at the late night AMAA dinner. (c) Carmen McCain

A late night dinner at the Bayelsa State government house after the AMAA awards (c) Carmen McCain

L.A. based actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim with Fulbright scholar Bic Leu at the late night. (c) Carmen McCain