Tag Archives: Nigerian film

Anchor Baby and the dark underbelly of the American Dream

I’m behind at posting my old columns, but I was reminded of this article that I wrote a month and a half ago, while briefly sitting beside Omoni Oboli at the dinner after the AMAA award ceremony. Omoni Oboli was nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of the pregnant Joyce in Lonzo Nzekwe’s film Anchor Baby. She didn’t win the award, but she certainly deserved it. Her admirable acting in The Figurine and Anchor Baby puts her on my favourite Nigerian actress list. To read the article, which was published on 12 February, on the Weekly Trust site, click here. To read the hard copy of the article, click on the photo below, which will take you to a readable version of the article on flickr. To read it on this site, just scroll down past the photo.

Anchor Baby and the dark underbelly of the American Dream

Saturday, 12 February 2011 00:00 -

When anyone asks me what my favourite Nigerian movie is, I tell them it’s The Figurine, which was directed, produced, and acted in by Kunle Afolayan.

The film has a tight and continuously gripping storyline that polishes and refines Nollywood genres of spiritual thriller and family drama. But if I’m asked to recommend films, I’ll closely follow my recommendation of The Figurine with the film I went to see last week in Abuja’s Silverbird cinema: Anchor Baby, written, directed, and produced by the debut filmmaker Lonzo Nzekwe, who claims he taught himself filmmaking by reading books and watching “making of” documentaries. In Anchor Baby, which won Best film at the Harlem International Film festival among other awards, Figurine actress Omoni Oboli is compelling in her role as a pregnant Nigerian woman on the run from the American Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Anchor Baby, the title referring to the derogatory American term for babies born as citizens in the U.S. to non-citizens, is a cautionary tale about the dark side of the American dream. The disillusion of emigrants from Nigeria is a theme that has been dealt with in short stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, EC Osondu, Helon Habila, and others, and is becoming a genre of Nigerian films produced in America as well. The yet to be released film Unwanted Guest directed by Daniel Ademinokan and set in New York, for example, explores the domestic complications an already married Nigerian man faces when he marries an American woman for a green card. The 2008 Hausa film Kano to Saudiyya directed and acted by the late Ziklifu Mohammed deals with similar immigration themes of disillusion with life in Saudi Arabia.

The United States doesn’t come across in a very flattering light in Anchor Baby, but it is an America I recognize, even though it was shot entirely in Ontario, Canada. I walked into the cinema five minutes late just as we see the character, Paul Unonga (Sam Sarpong), run across a parking lot and down the grassy incline of an industrial park, chased by American Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The film is shot on the film-quality digital RED camera, but the lush colours the RED is capable of capturing are toned down here into dreary grays and browns. It is winter, and the grass is dead. Paul runs past rows of dirty semi-trucks. This is the ugly side of America, not often seen in glamorous Hollywood films. ICE officials eventually catch him at home in the bleak white hallway of his low-income housing flat. Paul’s pregnant wife Joyce (Omoni Oboli) luckily misses the immigration sweep because she has gone out for an early morning walk. The rest of the film follows the trials of Joyce, as she tries to fulfill the couple’s dream of staying in the U.S. until her baby is born, so that the baby, the “anchor” of the title, will be granted U.S. citizenship.

The celebrated comforts of American life, the film points out, are available only when one is linked into an organized system of legal identity. Once her husband is deported, Joyce finds herself in an almost impossible situation. To escape the immigration officials, she is forced to leave their apartment. The isolation of American life means she knows no one well enough to ask for assistance. She can’t get a job because she has no work papers. Staying at cheap motels becomes too expensive for the small savings she has left, but she is unable to rent a new apartment without government issued id. Similarly, she is unable to receive pre-natal checkups at the clinic, because she has neither health insurance, government id, or the large sum of cash needed to see to the doctor. Eventually, Joyce becomes dependent on the kindness of strangers, the sympathetic free lance writer Susan, brilliantly acted by Terri Oliver, and her interior designer husband, Tim (Colin Paradise). But while she appreciates their kindness, Joyce becomes increasingly uncomfortable by her benefactors’ marriage problems. Her loneliness is portrayed best as she stands on the verandah of a cheap hotel, staring out over the dead winter landscape, an American flag flapping on the railing beneath her.

Although the focus of the film is on Joyce’s experiences, there is also a brief portrayal of the coping mechanism other illegal immigrants face, in the pathos of a Mexican family who make a living out of forging government documents. The film ultimately shows the price of the anchor baby, and the ironies lurking behind the American dream.

I would show this film anywhere, to Nigerians wanting to move to the often idealized U.S., and to Americans who don’t understand the challenges immigrants face. However, there are certain moments that, to my American eye, seem off. When Joyce stays in a basement apartment, the windows should be high, submerged in the ground at eye-level, yet there are points at which we see low sitting window sills and a light source that seem more appropriate for a first floor room. When Paul calls Joyce from the immigration detention centre and tells her to move out of their apartment, it seems strange that this phone call, placed from prison, is not tapped by the police and that Joyce is not picked up by immigration officials before she moves out of the apartment.

My own encounters with American immigration and customs have been few compared to what immigrants face. When I attended university in the U.S., I volunteered with Amnesty International to interview illegal immigrants being held in a prison for deportation to see if there was any way we could assist them with legal help. On a recent trip to the U.S. I wore an abaya and veil to see if I would be profiled by immigration officials at the airport. I was. The only person dressed like a Muslim in the line at a security checkpoint waiting to exit passport control into America, I was also the only one chosen for a pat-down body search. In both instances, the immigration officers I observed displayed more of a bored and unthoughtful officiousness, an institutionalized bias, than deliberate brutality, more like what is seen in the film where Joyce Unanga is denied an apartment and health care because she doesn’t have insurance card or government id. The kind but condescending and bureaucratic immigration officer in the airport, who calls up his boss and says he has an “illegal” for him, is likely more usual in America than the trigger-happy immigration officer Mark Castello (Michael Scratch), who drops racial slurs and blows cigarette smoke into Paul Unonga’s face. But the over-the-top villain works well for dramatic effect, and there are certainly many documented cases of police brutality from the assault against Haitian Abner Louima in a New York jail and the shooting of Guinean Amadou Diallo in the Bronx, New York, in the 1990s, to more recent acts of discrimination, torture, and secret extradition following Patriot Act laws of the 2000s. This is the dark underbelly of the American dream.

In terms of world cinema, Anchor Baby reminds me of the Indian film, My Name is Khan, released last year. In the film, an autistic Indian immigrant living in California is discriminated against by his neighborhood and by airport officials because of his Muslim name. Seemingly made for a non-American audience, My Name is Khan sometimes fudges geographical detail and stereotypes non-Indian characters (I think particularly of the way African American characters are portrayed) but tells a compelling story of how differences strengthen, rather than weaken, American culture. And, to be fair, the exaggeration of detail that you find in My Name is Khan or Anchor Baby are nothing so extreme as the stereotyping of other cultures and countries found in Hollywood films. There is something quite satisfying about these non-American interventions into representations of America, which like the Al Jazeera coverage of the U.S., as opposed to the glossy portrayals of Hollywood and CNN, focus on the poor and downtrodden of “God’s own country.” In a time in which the film industries of an established Bollywood and a rising Nollywood have relegated America’s celebrated industry to number three, and where an economically depressed America seems to be struggling increasingly with xenophobia against non-citizens, we can expect more of the same. I eagerly await Lonzo Nzekwe’s next film.

UPDATE: 25 March 2012.  You can rent, buy, or watch a preview of Anchor Baby, in the embedded video here (Anchor Baby).

 

Champions of Our Time, The Figurine, and Nigeria’s Rebranding Project at FESPACO

The past two weeks in my column “My Thoughts Exactly” in the Weekly Trust, I have briefly analyzed and compared the two Nigerian films, The Figurine and Champions of Our Time, that were in competition in the FESPACO Video Feature category. (The week before that I had talked about the politics of what FESPACO considers a film, in “FESPACO: Politics of Video and Afolayan’s The Figurine”). Champions of Our Time, directed by Mak Kusare, won the jury prize (second prize) in the category, as well as a special ECOWAS jury prize. I will copy the articles below (and will add the hard copy of this week’s article when I am able to find one. To read the hard copy, just click on the photo and it should take you to a version big enough to read.) To read on the Weekly Trust site, click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.

Champions of Our Time, The Figurine and Nigeria’s rebranding project at FESPACO

Saturday, 12 March 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

As Africa’s longest running and most famous “pan-African” film festival, FESPACO, kicked off last week, the absence of Nigeria’s sprawling film industry, cited as the second largest in the world by UNESCO, was glaring.

Out of the one hundred and eighty-seven films listed in the official festival catalogue index, only five films from Nigeria were scheduled. Restless City, made by expatriate Nigerian filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu Waheed, was the only Nigerian film in the main feature-length film competition but was withdrawn before it could be screened. Didi Cheeka’s gut-wrenching Bloodstones and Julius Morno’s whimsical The Camera (and apparently Mak Kusare’s Duty [Please note this is a correction from my earlier mistake of identifying the film as Ninety Degrees, a feature length film directed in 2006 by Mak Kusare-CM 9/4/11], though it was not listed in the catalogue) were shown as part of a short film special screening but were not in competition. Only two feature Nigerian films Champions of Our Time directed by Mak Kusare and The Figurine directed by Kunle Afolayan even made it into the condescending TV/Video Fiction Category, reserved for feature films submitted on digital formats rather than 35 millimeter film.

Considering the noticeable omission of Nigeria from the festival, I imagine that by the time the jury for the “Best work in TV/Video” category met, they were feeling a certain amount of political pressure to award a Nigerian film with a prize. They awarded South African film Hopeville directed by Trengoue John with the best video prize, and chose Nigeria’s Champions of Our Time directed by Mak Kusare, which was also awarded an ECOWAS special prize, for the special jury (second) prize.

Since I often argue that Nollywood films should be taken seriously, I should be ecstatic that the film Champions of Our Time, a heartwarming, nicely shot tale of a child in a wheelchair and her struggle to participate in a secondary school television quiz competition, did Nigeria proud by winning two prizes at FESPACO. Unfortunately, although I am happy that a Nigerian film received such recognition, I find the selection of Champions of Our Time for the video prize problematic, perhaps because it seemed such an obvious snub of the only other feature-length Nigerian film in the competition, The Figurine, a film I have mentioned in this column as being “the best Nigerian film I have ever seen.”

I had expected The Figurine to win the category. It pushes genre elements developed by Nollywood in a new direction with beautiful cinematography, a moving soundtrack placed at all the right moments, excellent acting and set design, and sophisticated story rooted in certain cultural obsessions as developed in both in Nigerian “high” literature and more popular art forms. I did not see Hopeville so have no point of comparison, but I saw Champions of Our Time, or at least enough of it, to conclude that, at least to me, The Figurine, is by far the superior film, in terms of literary and artistic merit, if not in terms of promotion of a certain social agenda.

Champions of Our Time deals with an important topic I’ve never seen featured in any other Nigerian film, Mak Kusare is a clearly talented director, and the film has a very real emotional power, featuring several touching performances between Segun Arinze and Treasure Obasi, and an electrifying one by Ejike Asiegbu, whose character observes on national television that people throw small change at him, assuming him to be a beggar simply because he is in a wheelchair. However, compared to The Figurine, Champions is formulaic and sentimental, the sort of “disadvantaged character comes out triumphant and teaches everyone else a lesson” that has been done hundreds of times in Hollywood and Bollywood. A formula is fine if it is done in an exciting way. After all, oral tradition is built of formulas, individual performances judged better or worse by the skill with which they are executed. But when it comes to a written screenplay, there’s only so much so much even the best director and actors can do with a stiff and didactic script that quickly reveals its government funding in long memorized textbook passages on Nigerian history parroted by the contestants in the quiz show.

I admit my viewing experience of both Nigerian films was not balanced and my comparison is perhaps not quite fair. First, Champions of Our Time and The Figurine are wildly different in genre, and ideally we should appreciate each on its own merits, the social motivation/advocacy film for what it is, the spiritual thriller for what it is. I would not normally discuss the two films in the same essay. In a different context, I would probably be more positive about the intentions of Champions of Our Time, which is geared towards children—the sort of film we need more of in Nigeria—and the laudable highlighting of difficulties faced by physically challenged people in Nigeria. Second, my viewing experience of the two films was not at all equal. I’ve seen The Figurine twice, once with a stunned audience at Zuma Film Festival in Abuja, and second at FESPACO. On the other hand, I have only seen a preview copy, not even the final cut, of Champions of Our Time at FESPACO after the official copy did not work in the projector. Not only did the picture have “preview” floating over it for a third of the screening, but I did not see the end of the film because the DVD stopped at the emotional climax of the film when Sophia, a young girl in the wheelchair, decides to speak out at the quiz show award ceremony.

In obsessing over what could have made both FESPACO and ECOWAS judges choose Champions of Our Time for their prizes, I have begun to think that the decision was rooted in privileging a simplistic interpretation of “third cinema” (even if funded by problematic sources) over the crowd-pleasing “popular art” of Nollywood. Perhaps Champions won because of its good intentions and because it dealt with a topic that has not been dealt with before in Nollywood—not because it was a particularly exceptional film

At first glance, Champions of Our Time is the film that more self-consciously deals with social issues in Nigerian society. It tells the story of a competition between a privileged girl, Sharon (Feyisola Owuyemi), who wants to win the St. Flair’s NGO sponsored secondary school quiz competition so her father will give her permission to stay in Lagos, and a physically challenged girl, Sophia (Treasure Obasi), who wants to win so that she will have the money to have surgery abroad. Over the course of the competition, Sophia becomes “the voice” of those living with physical challenges in Nigeria. One scene in the film provides insight into the politics of award-giving. As the two girls reveal their equally competitive skills at memorization for the quiz, Sharon’s wealthy mother (Ayo Adesanya) tries to undermine Sophia’s credibility to an already wildly prejudiced committee member (Joke Silva). The mother argues that the committee should think about the international reputation of Nigeria, especially with the new rebranding exercise: if Sophia went on to represent Nigeria in France, people outside would say that the best Nigeria could offer is a “crippled girl.” This statement reveals the character’s prejudice and serves as a critique, on the part of the filmmakers, of such shallow ideas of “rebranding.” Of course, the film implies, the “more enlightened” St. Flair’s organization of France, which was so wildly misinterpreted by its Nigerian committee members, would see nothing amiss or embarrassing about a contestant in a wheelchair.

Ostensibly speaking out in defense of those with physical differences, the film appeals to film festival judges with its political correct ideology. We are the opposite of the prejudiced mother, the film, and its government backers, seems to say. We dare to present a film to represent our nation that features a girl in a wheelchair as the main character and reveals the prejudice of our citizens. This is Nigeria rebranded as UN-charter compliant.

The problem is that it is all too obvious. The film glosses over the complexity of actual experience. The committee member villains are just a bit too flat and stupid and willfully hateful, and the physically challenged people are portrayed as helpless victims until bright young Sophia “becomes their voice.” Even the man with the most powerful voice in the film (Ejike Asiegbu), a PhD holder in agricultural engineering who crawls up three flights of stairs to interrupt the quiz show in defense of Sophia, sighs that he has not been able to get a job. Of course, there are terrible prejudices in Nigeria, as well as a lack of public policy to address the needs of the physically challenged. An exposé of such discrimination in film is a necessary corrective, but it would have been even more empowering and ultimately more respectful to those many professionals with physical challenges living in Nigeria to at least allow the PhD in the wheelchair a job.

(To be concluded)

Part 2 (click on link to go to Weekly Trust site version)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Last week, I questioned the motivations behind FESPACO and ECOWAS juries awarding Champions of Our Time, a film dramatizing a quiz competition between two secondary school students, the wealthy Sharon (Feyisola Owuyemi) and the underprivileged and physically-challenged Sophia (Treasure Obasi). I argue that the more deserving Nigerian film in the FESPACO “video feature” competition was the The Figurine, which depicts the changed lives of several Youth Corpers after they find a figurine of the goddess Araromire.

The politics of prize-giving in Champions of Our Time, and the competition between the privileged Sharon and the marginalized Sophia, becomes a prescient introduction to the politics of prize-giving at FESPACO and other award ceremonies. On the face of it, it seems that Sophia has symbolically triumphed. A film highlighting a social problem in Nigeria, featuring a young girl living with a disability, was up against an unapologetically commercial film that had won five AMAA awards and had played to sold out theatres in London. In competition, it might seem that Champions of Our Time was a David against the Goliath of The Figurine. But is this really a fair comparison? Not to me.

While Kunle Afolayan worked independent of established funding structures, funding his film with product placement and a bank loan (which he paid off after screenings at sold out theatres, apparently accomplished by innovative word-of-mouth marketing on facebook), Champions of Our Time was apparently funded by the Lagos State government. Although, The Figurine won 5 AMAA awards, official structures in Nigeria seem to favour their own Champions of Our Time, which rebrands Nigeria as actually being concerned about social issues rather than just embarrassing “ritual films,” a theme The Figurine uses and questions rather than avoiding. At the Zuma Film festival in Abuja, I was shocked when The Figurine, which blew away the audience, received only an honorable mention. Champions of Our Time (which I had not yet seen) won best film category.

If, as I suggested last week, award juries are rewarding Champions for its compliance with the ideals of Third Cinema—outlined by theorist Teshome Gabriel as a “public service institution” which presents the “lives and struggles of Third World peoples” and works as “an ideological tool,” by performers “speaking indigenous language”—how well does the film measure up? On the surface, the exposé of how people living with disabilities are ostracized, seems to well fit the goals of such a political cinema. When one digs deeper, less so.

First, the dialogue was scripted in an over-formal English nobody, other than perhaps the Queen, actually speaks, and which the best of Nollywood has moved past. Second, the entire story revolves around a rather boring quiz show contest, to which the secret of winning seems to be how well one can memorize information in a study manual. If the producers were going after Slumdog Millionaires style success by dramatizing a quiz show, their intentions fell flat.

Even more problematic, while Champions of Our Time follows self-consciously in a “third cinema” tradition of national development, it also reveals a dependency on the affirmation of a Western audience, just as FESPACO and Nigeria’s rebranding program do. Despite all its Nigerian government sponsorship and reciting of Nigerian history, the characters in Champions of Our Time seem to look outward for help. St. Flairs, the organization that sponsors the competition, is based in France, and when the doctor (Segun Arinze) challenges the prejudiced interpretations of the Nigerian St. Flair’s members, he appeals to the more enlightened sensibilities of the European main branch. He goes into such a long description of St. Flairs that I had to google it afterwards to see if the protracted speech was part of a product placement. (It was not, though such valorization of a French NGO could be seen as a plug for French film funding.) The French founders are obviously more enlightened about “physically challenged” people than the Nigerian members. So is the UN, which, the doctor repeatedly claims, has “expunged” the term “disabled” from its language, though such a vocabulary distinction would only matter to an English-speaking audience, and I could find no evidence for this claim on the UN website for the “Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities.” The superiority of NGO work in Nigeria or the appeal to the outside as the arbiter of “more enlightened” views and source of aid is not questioned.

As a teacher, I was particularly disturbed by the kinds of vague questions, expected to be answered in a few minutes, asked in the quiz show (one being “Explain Islam and its Origins”). At one point when Sophia gets stuck on a question, even though she is portrayed as an intelligent girl who reads Time Magazine and is interested in international politics, she doesn’t venture any response from her own general knowledge but rather complains that the answer was missing from the manual she was given to memorize. Instruction which encourages memorization of government textbooks rather than critical thinking is exactly the sort of neocolonial education that Burkinabé filmmaker Dani Kouyaté critiqued in his film Keita: the heritage of the Griot. But, this pedagogy, apparently endorsed by St. Flair’s of France, is not questioned here. Finally, while certainly understandable, the intention of Sophia to use prize money to travel abroad for surgery further reinforces a dependency on outside structures. Ultimately, though the film nobly attempts to “give voice” to the those living with disabilities in Nigeria, thus self-consciously following in a political “third cinema” tradition, Champions seems more an appeal to an elite to be more politically correct in their language than an actual challenge to the deep power structures of society. That said, if the film motivates the elite to use their power to to lobby for more inclusive policy changes, it will have done its job.

The only political claim Kunle Afolayan makes for The Figurine, on the other hand, is that it is an “all-Nigerian” production made by Nigerians in Nigeria. I would venture to argue that its success as a “national Nigerian film” comes from its independence of international, NGO, or government funding, as well as its story rooted in structures of Yoruba storytelling. The Figurine has much more in common with the concerns developed in Nigerian theatre and literature than Champions, asking deeper questions about the psyche of people who often shrug away from personal responsibility with spiritual explanations. It resonates with popular Yoruba plays from the traveling theatre, and intellectual plays by Wole Soyinka and Femi Osofisan; with Nollywood films, and novels by writers like Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa, and Helon Habila, which question how one navigates the complex interaction between one’s destiny as foretold by the gods and personal responsibility. The film makes self-conscious, though subtle references, to such influences as can be seen in the tributes to Soyinka scattered through the text and the casting of artist Chief Muraina Oyelami, one of the founding members of the Duro Lapido Theatre Company, as the Professor who explains the myth of Araromire (as well as using Oyelami’s gallery as a location and paintings as props).

In The Figurine the dialogue effortlessly transitions between Yoruba, English, and pidgin in the way Lagosians actually talk and adds to social characterization in the same way that codeswitching between French and Wolof does in Ousmane Sembene’s celebrated films. The pidgen banter between youth corpers and their trainer provides a crowd-pleasing humour I imagine got lost in translation to the FESPACO jury.

Of course The Figurine has its share of imperfections. When I first watched the film at Zuma Film Festival, I was looking for them. I wasn’t sure I believed all the characters were as young as they were supposed to be at the beginning. Tosin Sido, who plays Femi’s (Ramsey Noah) sister, sometimes has that Nollywood whine. I was initially annoyed by the dramatic excesses of Femi’s girlfriend played by Fulola Awofiyebi-Raimi, who is desperate to land a man in her life. I thought she embodied an unfair stereotype of the aging single woman, but, by the end of the film, she won me over as her character deepens and we see her giddiness harden into steel. On a technical level, there are a few moments where it looks like the camera operator was having trouble pulling focus, and the lighting in the storm scene seemed off.

But those moments are less important to me than the brilliance of the overall effect: the story, the soundtrack, the cinematography, the acting. It may be that The Figurine’s defiant independence, unapologetic Naija-ness, and unrepentant commercial appeal is what turned off the FESPACO judges. Yet, it is these same aspects that have made Nollywood Africa’s largest cinema and the second largest film industry in the world. And it is the snobbery against popular audience appeal and an uncritical promotion of tired interpretations of “third cinema” that make FESPACO increasingly more irrelevant.

Concluded.


UPDATE 9 April 2011

Here are the trailers for both films [NOTE that these trailers are embedded in this blog under Fair Use laws, for review purposes]:

Champions of Our Time

The Figurine


As I noted in my review, it was probably not fair of me to be so hard on the multiple award-winning Champions of Our Time without seeing the entire film, while comparing it to The Figurine, which I have now seen twice and am judging on overall effect. The reason I did so was because I didn’t know how I could see the entire film, which is not yet released on video, before the relevance of my article on FESPACO passed and I felt what I had seen was enough to make the specific critiques I made. As I also noted, the two films really shouldn’t be compared, as they are doing two very different things–my problem was in the politics of the award-giving. To read more positive articles about the film, see these links:

“Creatively packaged films that empower the Voiceless submitted to Nairobi’s 5th Lola Kenya Screen Film Festival” in Art Matters, 12 May 2010

“Nollywood Goes Abuzz as ‘Champions of Our Time’ Premiers in Lagos” in Modern Ghana News, 26 November 2010.

‘Champions of Our Time’: Another Big Nollywood Movie Already Winning Awards” in Leadership, 5 December 2010.

Champions of Our Time is a Must See Nollywood Movie” in 24/7 Nigeria, 10 December 2010.

Champions of Our Time Wins Multiple Awards” in Supple Magazine, 10 December 2010.

“Mak Kusare: Nollywood’s Finest” in NEXT,” 11 January 2011

“Nigerian Film Wins Award at FESPACO 2011″ in The Compass, 19 March 2011

Allah Ya Jikan Jarumar Kannywood, Hajiya Amina Garba

Inna Lillahi Wa’inna Ilaihir Raji’un.

Hajiya Amina Garba

I signed onto Facebook tonight to the upsetting news of the passing away yesterday (21 November 201o, Sunday) of Hajiya Amina Garba, one of the most recognizable faces in Kannywood. Hajiya Amina has played hundreds of roles over the years, most often as a mother. She died three weeks after her wedding, after a short illness. Allah ya jikanta. Allah ya sa ta huta. Allah ya ba mu hakuri.

I do not have any of the details yet, but will post them as they become available. Kannywood Online has also posted a brief line on her death.

A photo uploaded to Facebook by Ibrahim Alfa Ahmad of VOA

[UPDATE 9:06pm. For more background on Hajiya Amina's life and career, see a recent interview published by People's Daily Online on November 6, 2010, an interview on page 22 of the October 2004 Cross-Border Diaries, and also a 2007 interview in French with Afriquechos Magazine. Hajiya Amina, also known as Mama Dumba, first became involved in acting, as a young widow, in the early 1980s in the CTV television drama "Farin Wata." She also worked as a nurse.]

[Update 23 November 2010, Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz of Leadership has more details in his piece: "Ace Hausa Actress, Amina Garba, Dies at 52"]

If any of those of you who worked with her or knew her would like to share memories or stories about her for inclusion in my column this week, please share in the comments section or send me an email at carmenmccain [at] yahoo.com.

UPDATE 24 December 2010

Copied below is the article I published in honour of Hajiya Amina Garba on 27 November 2010, the week following her death. As I was out of the country at the time, I had to rely on email and facebook to gather tributes and memories. Unfortunately, that ended up meaning I had a pretty serious gender imbalance in what was published, but I still thought the memories shared by these directors, producers, actors, and musicians were quite poignant. Beneath the article, I have copied the full original messages in Hausa that were sent to me by Kannywood stakeholders in response to my call for written memories about Hajiya Amina.  I have also included a couple of tributes from people who responded after my submission deadline and I wasn’t able to include in the publication. To read the article, just click on this link to the soft version on the Weekly Trust site or on the photo, and it will redirect you to a large readable version hosted on my flickr site.

Abba El Mustapha, Producer, Actor: salam, innalillahi wa inna ilaihirrajiun. haj. amina has passed away but her memories will never fade. a woman of honest, integrity, charismatic n always down 2 all. a mother to all that we shall always cherish her kind gesture n modesty. may her gentle soul rest in perfect peace.

Ali Nuhu, Director, Producer, Actor: Zan fara da cewa Allah ya jikanta ya gafarce ta. Ta kasance Uwa ga dukkanmu don kullum tana cikin bada shawara ta gari garemu. Allah ya bamu hakuri da danganar rashin ta.

Auwal Muhammed Danlarabawa, Producer/Director: Amina garba dai ni a sani na da ita gaskiya tana da kirki matuka don nayi aikin fina finai na da ita kamar su LIKAI, DA BARIMA DA TSUMIN DAGE KAFFARA da sauransu, Sannan a mu’amalar mu da ita a harkar film gaskiya naji dadi don bata karya alkawari a duk aikin da muka yi da ita, Sannan kuma Amina Garba tana da kokari wajen cewar anyi abin da ya kawo ta wajen aikin film, Sannan bata son tashin hankali, Sannan tana da son mutane sosai a duk lokacin da aka hadu ada ita don masoya ko masu kallaon fina finanta, Sannan abin da bazan manta dashi ba shine lokacin da matata taje wajen awon ciki a asibitin da take aiki ta amshe ta hannu biyu biyu cikin nishadi,na biyu kuma ranar bithday din yar gidan mansura isah da akayi nan ma ta rike matata har aka tashi suna ta hira da ita har sukayi hotuna ,wannan kadan daga cikin abinda nasani kenan akan rayuwar Amina Garba Allah yaji kanta ameen

Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, Writer, Producer: Allah ya jikan ta kuma ya gafarta mata amin. Hajiya Amina mutuniyar kirki ce, kuma mai so jama’a, kuma mai son yara ce, kuma tana da alheri. Allah ya jikan ta. Wannan shine abin da zan iya gaya miki akan wannan mata

Lawal Kaura, Director, Producer, Actor:  Abin da na sani a halayen ta ni a kashin kaina sune, mama dumba mace ce mai hakuri da kamun kai da kuma kawaici, dan zai wahala ka ji wasu munanan kalmomi sun futo daga bakin ta, bugu da kari kuma ta dauki kanta tamkar uwar kowa a industry idan taga mutun yana aikata ba daidai ba ita sai ta kira shi tai masa fada. Haka yasa wallahi idan location da ita za kaga ya zama mai tsabta, dan han na taba ji wani shakiyi yana cewa shi yana kunyar idon mama dumba dan haka ko maganar banza baya iyawa. Allah ya gafarta mata ya jikan ta ya kuma kyautata tamu in tazo.

Masaud Kanoriders, hiphop artist: GASKIYA AMINA GARBA MACE CE MAI KAMAR MAZA,MUTUNCI,ALKHAIRI,SANIN DARAJAR MUTANE,SANIN YA KAMATA DA SANIN DARAJAR MUTANE A RAYUWATA AMINA GARBA TAYI MIN ABUBAWA NA MUTUNCI WANDA BAZAN IYA NA BAYYANA SU BA SAI DAI KAWAI NA FADI KADAI KAFI RASUWAR TA AKWAI LOKACIN DA MUNJE LOCATION NA FIM DIN PRODUCER NA MAI SUNA KARO DA KARO AKA KAWO ABINCI SAI YA KARE NI BAN SAMU WALLAHI NATA TA DAUKA TA BANI KUMA BAZAN MANTA BA MUNYI WANI FIM NA MUTANEN TOGO DA MUKA SAKATA TAYI MANA WASU SCENE ANAN MA AMINA GARBA BATA ANSHI KUDIN MU SABODA TAGA CEWA A LOKACIN MUNA CIKIN MATSALAN KUDI HAR MA TA KAIMU GIDAN MUKA KARASA WASU SCENE A CAN SAKAMAKON RASHIN LOKACIN ABU NA KARSHE DA ZAN CE SHI ALLAH UBANGIJI YA GAFARTA MATA MUKUMA IDAN TAMU TAZO ALLAH YASA MU CIKI DA KYAU DA IMANI (AMEEN ) DAGA MASUD KANORAIDERS

Muhammad B Sango II, director: Talatu,Amina Garba ta fara harkar fim tun daga gidan Talabijin inda ta ke yin wasan kwaikwayo kuma a nan ne aka fara saninta.Ta bayar da gudummawa sosai wajen cin nasarar wasan kwaikwayo a talabijin domin a lokacin sune ‘yammata. A lokacin da aka fara Fina-finan Hausa a kaset kuwa,su ne iyaye mata kuma a nan mata yi fice sosai musamman a wajen fitowa a matsayin matar Attajiri ko ita kanta Attajira. Ta kan fito kuma a matsayin talaka, amma duk rawar (role) da ta taka yana dacewa da ita sosai saboda kwarewarta. Babban abin kirkin da ta kan yiwa masu shirya fim(Furodusa) shi ne ta kan bayar da gidanta na Kofar Kabuga domin lokeshin (location) domin saukaka musu kuma ta bayar da kayan sawarta (costumes) a yi amfani da su. Kuma ya na cikin tarihi (on record) cewar tana daya daga cikin mata manya wadanda su ke ajiye ‘yam mata ‘yan fim a gidajensu su na kula da su kuma ta hannunta ta aurar da fitacciyar jarumar fim din (Ki yarda da ni) Fati wacce  har yanzu ta na gidan mijinta, Alhamdu lillahi. Amina ta na da son jama’a da barkwanci a gida ko a lokeshan shi ya sa ta ke da tagomashi a tsakanin jama’a a waje da cikin industry. Kadan kenan daga abin da zan iya fada miki Talatu. Na gode.

Nasiru Bappah Muhammad, Director: Nagode da sakon ta’aziya, kuma kin kyau da za ki yi tribute to Amina Garba. Ni mun yi aiki da ita sosai amma abin da zan iya fada miki shine tana da wasa da dariya da jama’a, kuma tana da kyauta. Komai ta saya on location, she shared with other people. She had so much self respect, and didn’t like indiscipline, that’s why she commanded so much respect within and even without the industry.

Shaban Ty, Producer, Actor: Nasanta tare da mahaifiyata tun kafin na shigo hausa fim industry,tanada farin jini wurin yanwasa,hakuri da sanin yakamata.bazan manta shooting dina na fimdin matar manya ba, inda tazo location ta biya kudin drop na mota mukayi shooting muka gama tace shaba ka rike kudinka kai karamin producer ne.ALLAH YAJI KANTA DA RAHAMASA.

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,

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

Actress Maryam Umar Aliyu, who died on 12 April 2011,

Director Muhammadu Balarabe Sango, who died on 1 December 2012

“Questioning Love” –my second installment in my column

Here is the second week of my column, published on page 29 of Weekly Trust. The title I submitted was “Questioning Love,” which I prefer a bit more than “Questioning Love of the Hausa kind” because part of my point was that love stories universally often pose questions to the larger society. I briefly discuss Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet in its Baz Luhrman incarnation, and then move on to a discussion of Hausa love films, focusing on the film Balaraba, directed by Aminu Saira, screenplay by Nasir Gwangwazo, and starring Sadiya Gyale, Adam Zango, and Baballe Hayatu. To read the article on the Weekly Trust site, click on this link. To read the article in it’s original version, click on the photo. Your cursor should show the sign of a magnifying glass. Click on the photo again and it will expand to a large readable version. Let me know if you have any problems reading. To watch the trailer for Balaraba, scroll down below the photo, or click here.

Update 26 Jun 2012: Here is a trailer for Balaraba:

Press Release from the Motion Pictures Practitioner Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) calling for investigations into the “allegation of sex scandal against Abubakar Rabo”

(This press release is currently being circulated by MOPPAN. I have copied and pasted it below exactly as it was sent to me. Please see the preceding post for background of the alleged sex scandal in which the director general of the Kano State Censors Board is accused of parking in a secluded location at 10pm with a young girl he claimed was his niece (girl’s underwear were allegedly later found in the back seat of the car); fleeing the police, when approached; hitting a motorcyclist in his flight from the siren-blaring police; apparently being beaten by commercial motorcyclist when caught and then let go when the police recognized who he was; and boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia the next day.)

MOTION PICTURE PRACTITIONERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA

(MOPPAN)

PRESS RELEASE

31st August, 2010

CALLING ON GOV. SHEKARAU TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGATION OF SEX SCANDAL AGAINST ABUBAKAR RABO

We are aghast, as well as dismayed, by the frantic attempts of the Director-General, Kano State Censorship Board, Mallam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem, and some collaborators in the Kano State Government and elsewhere to trivialise the serious sex scandal that broke around him last week. We have no iota of doubt that these attempts are meant to discourage any further open discussion on the matter, portray it as an unimportant distraction in the issues of governance in the state, and then sweep it under the carpet.

But Rabo’s self-imposed position as a vanguard of morality not only in the Hausa movie industry but also in the Kano society in general makes it imperative to launch a full inquiry into what really transpired on that night of Sunday, 22nd August, 2010. Rabo and the government he represents should not imagine that covering up this matter would be in their best interest because 1) a huge chunk of the good people of Kano State and indeed the whole North have now tended to believe the stories around the incident as they presently circulate, and 2) doing so would cast a big shadow of doubt about the Shekarau government’s purported entrenchment of Shariah law in the state. Investigating the scandal, however, would bring out the truth of what actually happened. It could clear Rabo of all charges/suspicions or expose him as a hypocrite, someone who engages in secret philandering with girls old enough to be his daughters and therefore ill-fit to hold the sensitive position of DG, KNSCB.

The story going round in the public domain, as published by the Sunday Trust of 29th August and Leadership of August 30th, 2010, is that Rabo was discovered by patrolling policemen in the Sharada quarters of Kano City, in his parked car behind a building, off the road in the dark. It was around 10 p.m. When the police approached, he switched on his car and drove off in a devil-may-care speed. The patrol car pursued him. In his blind haste, he knocked down a pedestrian, seriously injuring him. The pedestrian was later discovered to be a staff member of the Kano State History and Culture Bureau. He is still on admission at the Nassarawa Hospital. Rabo was eventually apprehended by commercial motorcyclists, who had chased him hotly when he refused to stop after knocking down the pedestrian. A teenage girl, who was thoroughly frightened, was found in the car; her underwear was said to have been found in the back seat of the car.

Rabo was eventually taken by the patrolling policemen to the Sharada Divisional Police Station where he was questioned. However, he was allowed to leave with his badly damaged car and the girl that same night by the Divisional Police Officer in strange circumstances.

Both Rabo and the police authorities in Kano have confirmed this incident in their press interviews. What is being contested is what Rabo and the girl were doing at that forlorn place and in that unholy hour. The big story being spread is that Rabo was having a carnal knowledge of the girl as many unscrupulous men tend to do under similar circumstances. Rabo has, however, denied any wrongdoing, saying that the girl was the daughter of his late elder brother and that she had accompanied him to escort some relatives who had broken their fast at his house.

The government of His Excellency Governor Ibrahim Shekarau must investigate the incident in order to reassure the people of Kano about its sincerity on the implementation of its Shariah programme, about which there are millions of sceptics. And while doing so, Rabo should be ordered to go on suspension pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Motion Picture Practitioners’ Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) hereby proposes that a powerful, independent Committee of Inquiry be set up by the Kano State Government to investigate the various claims in this saga. Some of the questions the Committee should investigate include, but not limited to, the following:

1)      Who exactly was the girl in Rabo’s car on that fateful night? Was it really his niece as he claimed in his press interviews or a different person altogether? How old was she? The girl should be interviewed by the Committee;

2)      Did Rabo really host his relatives to a Ramadan-breaking meal (Iftar)? Who were they? They should be made to appear before the Committee;

3)      Why didn’t Rabo go with male member(s) of his family when escorting the said in-laws instead of going with the said teenager if at all she exists and was the one that went with him;

4)      If indeed the girl in question was his niece, is it true that he and she were having a secret affair as is being rumoured?

5)      What exactly was Rabo doing with the girl at around 10p.m. in a secluded place off the main road?

6)      Why did Rabo drive away even though the police siren was said to have been blaring, urging him to stop? And why did he run away even after knocking down the unfortunate pedestrian?

7)      Who were the policemen that arrested him and took him to the police station in Hotoro?

8)      Exactly what did Rabo say in his first written statement to the police?

9)      Why did the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Hotoro, release Rabo and the girl, together with the damaged car, when investigations were just commencing and Rabo’s hit-and-run victim had just been taken to the hospital in a critical condition? Was that a normal police procedure?

10)  Why did Rabo virtually flee to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to perform the lesser Hajj (Umrah) a day or two after almost killing a citizen and while having a sex scandal on his hands? Why didn’t he wait to clear himself of all charges and ensure that the victim of his hit-and-run accident was in a better condition of health?

11)  Did Rabo contribute any money to the family of his hit-and-run victim for his medication, which must have been costing a lot?

12)  Why did some Kano State government officials try to cover up the incident by misinforming the general public that there was no girl in Rabo’s car during the incident? Obviously, they had no idea that Rabo had already confirmed that there was indeed a girl in the car. They were also said to have been urging journalists in the state and elsewhere not to break the story and or allow further discussion on it;

13)  Rabo had claimed that he was aware of certain meetings held for two weeks by some film industry stakeholders or PDP stalwarts with the aim of eliminating him. This serious allegation should be investigated not only by the investigative committee but also by the security agencies; Rabo must tell them where and when those meetings took place, as well as the names of those in attendance;

14)  Rabo had told the press that officials of the opposition PDP in Kano were responsible for his present ordeal. He must tell the Committee how this was possible and the names of those involved.

Finally, we wish to note that Rabo has since become a liability to the government of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau. He has attracted more negative perception to the government than any goodwill. A more dynamic and people-oriented regime would have relieved him of his post, more so as he has failed woefully in discharging his responsibilities. The good people of Kano State and the nation at large and wonder just why Governor Shekarau has been keeping him in that office even though he has contributed nothing in the direction of sanitising the industry. He has only succeeded in causing more unemployment of the youths that he prevents from earning their legitimate livelihood, encouraged the production of movies that are not censored yet are in full circulation all over Kano, and helped heat up the society.

This Rabo sex scandal is a litmus test for His Excellency Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau’s candidature for the presidency of Nigeria. Shekarau, who has announced his bid to run for president under his party the ANPP, should begin to show that he would be a responsive and responsible national leader when elected by not helping some elements in his present government to cover up this scandal. Doing so would question his motivation and commitment to the enthronement of a decent society in Nigeria.

MALLAM SANI MU’AZU

National President

MOPPAN

MALLAM AHMAD SALIHU ALKANAWY

Administrative Secretary

“Nollywood: A National Cinema” Call for papers for an international workshop in Illorin, 7-10 July, and updated bibliography on Hausa film scholarship

An international workshop on the theme, “Nollywood: A National Cinema” will be held at the Kwara Hotel/Kwara State University, Malete, Ilorin, Nigeria, from 7-10 July, 2010. The deadline for registration is 15 June 2010.

Contributors are required to send e-copies of their abstracts to the guest-convener at onookome.okome@kwasu.edu.ng or ookome@ualberta.ca. Selected and refereed papers will be published in two books to be co-edited by Abiola Irele, Awam Amkpa, Onookome Okome and Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah. Confirmed guest speakers include Prof. John McCall, University of Illinois; Professor Jon Haynes, Long Island University, New York; Mr. Afolabi Adesanyan (NFC), Mr. Emeka Mba (NFVCB); Barclays Oyakoroma(NICO);Prof. Manthia Diawara, NYU, New York, and Professor Jane Bryce, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados.

For more details on the theme, submission of abstracts, and registration see the call for papers, posted on the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre blog.

In other academic news, I recently spent a week at Ahmadu Bello University looking through PhD and MA Theses in several departments looking for work being done on Hausa film, and I have updated the working bibliography on Hausa film scholarship also at the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre blog. If there are readers of this blog who have done academic work and would like to be listed in the bibliography or know of works that I haven’t yet listed (it is very much a work in progress and quite incomplete), please send me the details. One thing that struck me as I was looking through a lot of hand-written lists of theses in various departmental libraries (and even the main library in the Africana PhD and Ma Thesis section) was that there is some incredibly interesting work being done that is very difficult for people in other locations (whether in Nigeria or outside) to access because the bibliographic lists have not yet been digitized for online access or even typed. I hope this bibliography I’ve compiled will help make researchers aware of other work that has been done on Hausa films. So, far I have added lists from Bayero University and Ahmadu Bello University and hope to travel to other northern Nigerian universities in the near future. If anyone at other universities would like to help me compile records at their universities for posting on the website of the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre, I’d be very grateful!

Thanks.

Allah ya jikan Kannywood actress Safiya Ahmed and director/producer Zulkiflu Muhammed

Safiya Ahmed (courtesy of Ibrahim Sheme at Bahaushe mai ban Haushi)

Inna lillahi wa Innah Ilahim Raji’un.

I received an email yesterday telling of the death of the young Kannywood actress Safiya Ahmed after an illness. She passed away in Kano on 26 February 2010. Safiya’s final words in a recent Fim magazine interview, when she was asked if she had anything to say or advice to give to her colleagues in the film industry,  were:

Kira na ba ya wuce in ce mu ci gaba da yin addu’a. Kuma ina kira da mu ji tsoron Allah, mu so junan mu.

I don’t have more to say except that we should keep praying. Also, I’m calling on us to fear God and love each other.

Safiya’s death comes only a week after the death of Kannywood director and producer Zilkiflu Muhammed (Zik) on the 18th of February, 2010. His obituary can be found in last week’ Aminiya. Ibrahim Sheme also has a tribute to Hauwa Ali Dodo, Zulkiflu Muhammad, and Safiya Ahmed on his blog Bahaushe Mai Ban Haushi.

The late Zulkiflu Muhammad (courtesy of Ibrahim Sheme on Bahaushe mai ban Haushi)

Allah ya jikansu. Allah ya sa su huta.

Amin

(UPDATE 27 December 2013. Unfortunately, the Fim Magazine site, which had a photo I had previously linked to now seems to be defunct.)

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,

Actress Amina Garba, who died on 21 November 2010,

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

Actress Maryam Umar Aliyu, who died on 12 April 2011,

Director Muhammadu Balarabe Sango, who died on 1 December 2012

Interview with me in last week’s Aminiya

Here is an interview Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi of the Hausa language weekly Aminiya did with me in December while at the Indigenous Language Literature conference in Damagaram, Niger, December 2009. It was published in last week’s Aminiya, 5-11 February, on pages 20-21. Despite the awful pictures of me, I was quite pleased with how the interview turned out (and pleased with how he edited and corrected my Hausa!). To read the interview, you will probably have to download the photos and open them at 100%. (If the photos are showing up too big to read, try clicking on my home page link. It should allow you to access beyond the margins. UPDATE: 13 February 2010: Actually probably the best way to read the article(as pointed out by Desertgills) is to click on the photos–that should take you to my flickr page. After that click on the All sizes icon at the top of the photo and pick “original size”–that should make it big enough to read… UPDATE 7 April 2010, I actually just found an online version of the interview, so no need to go to all the trouble clicking on photos.)

There were several funny things I thought I should note. First of all, the headline on the front page of Aminiya is “Ta Karya Hannun Mijinta kan Kud’in Cefane”/”She broke her husband’s arm over cooking money.” Aminiya typically features sensational tabloid-style headlines to human interest stories like this. I laughed when I saw it though, because of all the photos on the front of the paper, mine is the only one of a woman. So, naturally, the reader might think that there is this crazy baturiya who broke her husband’s arm….

from Aminiya 5-11 February 2010, pages 20-21

The second cringe moment comes on the second page (page 21) when I am talking about 19th century writers who were writing about “love” in addition to other social issues. I was making a point about the dangers of judging novels as “merely” romance novels because they include elements of romance, and also pointing out that Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and other literary icons of the early 19th century were writing in a reading culture that was filled with the popular “Gothic romances,”  often called “trash” in their day. Jane Austen mocked these novels in her satirical Northanger Abbey, while Charlotte and Emily Bronte took the tropes of the Gothic Romance to the next level in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. My point was that these writers were reacting to and building on this popular literature and a reading culture that is necessary for the emergence of any literature. I remember in the interview, talking about “Jane Austen” and the “Charlotte Bronte.” Unfortunately, that somehow got transcribed as “Jeane Austin” and “Sheldon.” Please note, that while Sidney Sheldon is a popular writer, he was not writing in the 1800s, and he was not whom I was referring to…

Here is a summary of the interview in English.

Malam Bashir asks me how I started to become interested in Hausa.

I tell him that I grew up in Jos, where my father is a professor at the University of Jos, and I started learning Hausa there. But when I started my MA degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I was required to learn an African language and decided to continue with Hausa. I went to Sokoto, where my teacher Dr. Malami Buba brought me Hausa novels and films.  I had been planning to base my research on English language Nigerian literature, but when I started watching Hausa films and reading Hausa novels, I realized that there were a lot of people outside of Hausa speaking areas who had no idea it existed, even to the point where people often complain about the lack of reading culture in Nigeria. But I saw it was not the case in the North where people were reading Hausa.

He asked me what I could say about Hausa writers and filmmakers.

I said that they really impressed me. I said I had always been interested in writer’s movements and the history of literature [such as the Romantic poets etc]. When I came to Hausaland, I realized that the sort of literary/art movement I had always been interested in was happening here in Hausa. I said that I was impressed by how writers and filmmakers and singers often worked together. I mentioned Ibrahim Sheme’s novel ‘Yar Tsana as particularly impressive and said I also loved the novels of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Nazir Adam Salih, etc.

He asked me about which films most impressed me. This was the most embarrassing part of the interview because there were films I wanted to talk about but I couldn’t remember their names. I mentioned Sani Mu’azu’s film Hafsat and the film Zazzab’i.

He asked me about the importance of the Hausa language in the world.

I said it was one of the most important languages in Africa, that some statistics show it has more speakers than Swahili, which means it is the largest language spoken in Africa after perhaps Arabic. I also thought that the proliferation of Hausa films and novels was helping the development of Hausa. I gave the example of those who were not of Hausa ethnicity but who enjoyed the films. I mentioned also that when visiting the office of VOA-Hausa earlier that year, one of the reporters showed me some Ghanaian Hausa films made in Accra.  I further mentioned the writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o who is always talking about the importance of writing in African languages. Also if we look at the history of literature in English, if writers like Shakespeare [Chaucer] etc had not chosen to write in their own languages, although English was not yet the language of power at the time, English would be a much poorer language and we would not have these great literary works with us.

He asked me if I was thinking about writing a book in Hausa.

I said that there were certainly writers who wrote in languages of their adopted countries, like the Polish-British writer Joseph Conrad and the Russian-American writer [Vladimir Nabokov]. However, I said that my Hausa was not strong enough to write a book yet, but maybe if I lived in Northern Nigeria for the next fifty years, my Hausa would be good enough to write creatively in it. Right now I write in English.

I’ll skip the next question and move on to the first question on page 21, where he asked me what I think about what happened between filmmakers, writers, and the Kano State Censorship Board.

I said that I had much to say about this but I would focus my comments on my own area of expertise. Since I know about literature and the history of literature in English, I would talk about the parallels between what I saw here and what happened then. I said that Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters [which somehow got transcribed as "Jean Austin and Sheldon"] were writing in England during the 1800s, and they were writing about love. They were writing during a time when there were lots of books floating around [Gothic romances etc] that people said were not great literature, that these novels were spoiling the upbringing of young girls etc (the same things that are being said now about Hausa literature). But I said that though the novels of Austin and the Brontes talked about love, they also talked about other social issues of the time, poverty, and class and injustice.  I said that we could draw a parallel between this English literature and contemporary Hausa literature. Although there are films and novels that focus on love, there are also a lot of other social issues that are caught up in these stories. During the conference in Niger, Malam Rabo (the head of the Kano State Censorship board) proclaimed that he would not read any more love stories for a year [he said that writers should focus on more "important" social problems like declaiming drug use, etc]. But I would ask him, if he says he will ban love stories, what will that do to Hausa literature and films? There is danger if there is someone sitting in the government saying that writers and filmmakers must write or make films about certain prescribed issues and not about others. There should be some amount of distance between creative artists and the government, because the writers and filmmakers are the voice of the ordinary people. They have the power to present problems that ordinary people suffer, so they shouldn’t be prevented from bringing these things out. Also, if Malam Rabo says that for a year he will refuse to read love stories at the censorship board, this is a way of suppressing the voice of women, because many of the stories classified as “littattafan soyayya”/love stories are those novels written by women. Also, these books might deal with romantic love but they are also about problems of the household and the relationships between husbands and wives. If you say that writers must write about the problems of drugs etc., it seems that you are saying that the problems on the street are more important than the problems of the household or the family. I believe it is very dangerous to say you are going to ban an entire theme in literature and only allow the themes you are interested in. Each writer should be allowed to write on those things that he or she wants to write about. If you want to send a message to the readers, then you can write your own book. If the readers like it, then they can read your book and leave behind the love stories, but one mustn’t prevent writers from writing about their lives. There are a lot of complaints about writers writing on adult themes that spoil the upbringing of children, but there are other avenues to address this beside issuing bans. For example, there could be a law passed [like that of the National Film and Video Censors Board] that books with adult themes cannot be sold to children–there can be a differentiation between books written for children and those written for adults.

Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi asks me about what I think about Malam Rabo’s statement at the writer’s conference about how the foreigners and Europeans who said they were interested in Hausa language and culture were not really interested  in it–that they were just tricking and deceiving people for ulterior motives.

I say that I can only talk about myself–that there is no way that I can know about the motivations of every other European or foreigner who comes here. But I said that I truly do love Hausa language, literature, and culture. I came here to this country to do research and I would love to stay and live here and continue to raise the interest of those outside in Hausa language and culture. I am certainly not lying about this. I truly love Hausa and Hausa people.

He finally asks me about my marital status and whether I could marry a Hausa man and live here.

I said that marriage is according to God’s will, and that I will follow whatever God has prepared for me.

Allah ya jikan Hauwa Ali Dodo…

 

The late Hausa Actress Hauwa Ali Dodo “Biba Problem,” courtesy of Ibrahim Sheme at Bahaushe Mai Ban Haushi

Forgive me for not posting this story earlier. I have not been well, and to be honest, I found this story so depressing, I couldn’t bear to post it earlier–also part of the reason I didn’t post last April about the death of Jamila Haruna, who I had seen and asked for an interview only weeks earlier.

Last week on New Years Day, I was with my friend Hausa novelist and poet Sa’adatu Baba as she was preparing for her wedding party. Ibrahim Sheme, editor of Leadership newspaper and publisher of Fim Magazine, called to congratulate her, but when she passed the phone to me so that I could greet him, he told me some more sobering news. Hausa film star Hauwa Ali Dodo, also known as Biba Problem after the character she played in one of her earliest films Ki Yarda da Ni (a film adaptation of the popular novel of the same name by Bilkisu Funtua) had been killed in a road accident a few hours before on the road from Jos to Kaduna, one of the latest in a series of Hausa film industry deaths on Nigerian roads.

Hauwa Ali Dodo was an actress with one of the longest acting careers in Kannywood. In a 14 March 2008 Nigerianfilms.com article, “Top 10 Northern Actresses,” posted on ModernGhana.com (likely lifted from another location that I could not find with a google search. Modern Ghana News and Nigerianfilms.com regularly lift articles from other sites without citation, as I have been told by other disgruntled journalists and discovered personally when they lifted my interview with Sani Muazu from this blog–in my case they eventually DID cite me when I sent the administrators enough complaints!), she is described as one of the top ten actresses in Kannywood and as:

the longest surviving actress in the hausa movie industry after becoming popular with the villain role she played in KI YARDA DA NI. She is gifted with spontanous acting skills and has to her credit three hits out of the highest selling movies in the hausa movie scene. These hits include KIYARDA DA NI, SANGAYA and DASKIN DA RIDI.

Ruqayyah Yusuf Aliyu gives a more extensive biography, in her personal remembrance of the actress: “Biba Problem: Sunset for Kannywood’s Star” in Sunday Trust 3 January 2009.

Born some 35 years ago, the late Hauwa was the longest serving actress in the industry. Since her debut in the film, Ki Yarda Dani, she never looked back. She was gifted with spontaneous acting skills, and had to her credit a number of hits in top selling Hausa films. These hits include Kiyarda Da Ni, Sangaya, Daskin Da Ridi, Buri, Gaskya Dokin Karfe and Na Gari to mention a few. Her spectacular and extra ordinary acting skills won her a number of awards while she was a nominee for both local and international awards on several occasions.

Among her awards were best actress in the Yahoo, Majalisar Finanfinai awards in 2002 and 2005, Yahoo Group Movie Award in 2007, Stars in the Movie Award (SIMA) for Best Actress in 2008, among others.

Here are links to a few other articles about the loss of Hauwa Ali Dodo.

Kannywood news online article posted on January 1. Kannywood News Online also has an interview with Kannywood superstar Ali Nuhu

An anecdotal Weekend Triumph article “Biba Problem is Dead” published on 2 January.

A short article from Vanguard “Hausa Film Star Dies in Road Accident” published on 2 January

An article from the Saturday Tribune on 2 January that combines the story of her death and another unrelated accident related death in “New Year Tragedy: Hausa Movie Star, Teenager die in Car Accidents.”

A People’s Daily Online piece, “Kannywood/Nollywood actors, friends, family mourn Hauwa Ali Dodo,” with short statements about Hauwa from family and friends.

The death of the Hausa film actress is the latest in series of high profile Kannywood deaths on the road. As work in Hausa films involves much travel (as well as publicity-related and personal travel–Hauwa Ali Dodo was coming back from attending a polo match in Jos. Veteran actress Jamila Haruna, one of the most recognizeable “mother” actors in Hausa films, was killed in April 2009 on the Abuja-Kaduna road, coming back from the PDP national convention), the  “hungry road” Wole Soyinka has so often written about has claimed some of the most talented and well-known members of Kannywood. The death of Hauwa Ali Dodo on New Years Day in particular brings back sad memories of the death of Kannywood leading man Ahmad S. Nuhu on the Kano-Azare road three years ago on New Years Day 2007. In June of last year,  Newspage Weekly published a feature,  “How Top Stars Perish on Nigerian Roads” listing at least 19 Kannywood road fatalities.

 

 

1. Balaraba Mohammed
2. Ahmed S. Nuhu
3. Hajiya Jamila Haruna
4. Hussaina Gombe (Tsigai)
5. Shuaibu Dan Wanzam
6. Malam Kasim
7. Nura Mohammed
8. Ali Bala
9. Maijidda Mohammed
10. Hamza Jos
11. Tijjani Ibrahim
12. Umar Katakore
13. Shuaibu Kulu
14. Baffa Yautai
15. Hajiya Hassana
16. Aisha Kaduna (Shamsiyya)
17. Rabiu Maji Magani
18. Hajiya Karima
19. Kabiru Kabuya

The facebook status of a one of my friends, a Kannywood actor, shortly after the news of Hauwa’s death broke read “Allah ya jikanmu.” “May God forgive us.” It is the phrase, more commonly “Allah ya jikansa” or “Allah ya jikanta” (May God forgive him/May God forgive her) used when someone dies.  For those in Kannywood and all of us travelling so often on these hungry roads, death lurks close by.

“Allah ya jikanmu duka”

UPDATE

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

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,

Actress Maryam Umar Aliyu, who died on 12 April 2011,

Director Muhammadu Balarabe Sango, who died on 1 December 2012

Happy Islamic New Year 1431!

Happy New Year to all of my Muslim friends in commemorating the 1431st year since the Prophet’s Hijra. Allah ya ba da zaman lafiya.

And in other topics, here is my song obsession for the day. Nazifi Asananic’s “Dawo Dawo” (“Come back, Come back”) as featured in the Hausa film Garinmu da Zafi. (Forgive me for not italicizing. My laptop mouse is broken and I have a hard time highlighting things anymore…)