A truck observed. Sorry about the finger in the photo… still learning camera phones and trying to take the picture quickly before the owner of the vehicle saw me and started getting ideas.-CM
Since my last post, I moved, started a new job and have had very little time to blog. Tonight I have not had time either, but I, apparently, did have time to spend 6 hours or so on an email to one of my relatives, who sent me the following video of Mike Pence, meant for broadcasting in “The Church of the Mall” (???!!!–what a poetically appropriate name), appealing to Christian voters and reflecting on his own church background.
[So apparently privacy settings are blocking the video from being screened from my site, but you can click through to vimeo]
I will resist an analysis of this video, the look, the sound, the words, as I would like this to be a page for those, like me, who voted for or plan to vote for Hillary Clinton in this election. Those like me who, despite some misgivings (indeed who have some major problems with her), find Hillary the most competent, and indeed the only possible, candidate this year. Yet we have relatives, friends, and loved ones passionately opposed to her and willing to vote for even a candidate as horrifying as Trump in order to keep her out of the Oval Office. (I hope I haven’t just alienated a bunch of people by “replying all”to my aunt’s email with this. We shall see tomorrow).
It is 1:30-ish am California time, and I have just squandered an entire evening of writing and grading (I’m putting it down to my civic duty before the election), so please forgive all of the little inconsistencies in the way I list these articles. In some I list the author, in some I list the publication. In others, I just put the name of the article and the link. I did not take the time to correctly punctuate and italicize everything. Because I didn’t want to use up my 10 free New York Times articles, I sometimes provided indirect links to New York Times research.
To those who wish to comment on this blog post, I would ask for you to keep your remarks civil or I will delete you. No trolls. If you think you disagree with me, please read the articles I have posted before responding. If things get too nasty, I will close the comments section. I’m a “Nasty Woman” like that.
Dear Aunt (Sweet Aunt),
First, I love you all, and I know that you are approaching this election season, as am I, with your faith and your love for Jesus at the forefront. I know, too, that our love for eachother as a family transcends political boundaries.
I have watched the Mike Pence video, and I am sending this email not to get into a political argument–indeed, I have already voted and I imagine many of you have too.
Although I had been sent a pre-paid envelope by the election office, I sent that baby certified mail with a tracking number.
Instead, I am responding to you in order to share, in kind, some of the articles that help to explain my own take, as a Christian, on this election season, and why I am not supporting Donald Trump. Even though Mike Pence quotes scripture and talks about his churchgoing, in an appeal to Christians to follow him, we have to closely examine the candidate he has tied his own character too. Remember that Paul described the Bereans as “noble” because instead of just accepting his word for it, they searched the scriptures to be certain of the truth of what he was telling them. My approach to this is to respond also with scripture, with the words of Jesus, who himself rejected political power when it was offered to him by the Devil:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 15:20, NIV)
If someone is appealing to me to follow him on the basis of our shared faith, then, I look for this good fruit. And when I read Paul’s list of the fruits of the spirit, I do not recognize Trump, who after all is the one who is running to be president, not Pence. Indeed, I see in him examples of what the “flesh desires”: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, … enmities, strife, jealousy, anger”
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Although some evangelical leaders believe that Trump is a “baby Christian“, Trump has, since that initial meeting with his evangelical advisory council, demonstrated that he does not seem interested in following the teachings of Christ, continuing to insult women and other groups and engaging in violent, self-glorifying rhetoric. When Christians continue to follow such a leader, it sends alarming signals to those who might have otherwise been attracted to Christianity and to Christians. If Christians loudly back Trump as the best candidate, what does association with and loud support of such a man say about who we are to those who know Christianity only by what we show to them? Christian writer Jonathan Hollingsworth pulls no punches in describing what we look like from the outside. I ask, are we willing to gain power at any cost? Are we willing to gain power if that means we can impose our “own values” and “our agenda” on America but turn away millions, who will associate Christians with hatred and anger and division and selfishness and support of sexual violence? As Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot” (Matthew 5:13). In Luke, he repeats, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Luke 14:34).
Please note note that the majority of these articles I share below are by Christians, by conservatives, or by internationally respected newspapers/magazines, known for fact-checking their materials. If you would like to engage with me on this, I would simply ask that you read the articles I’ve posted below before doing so. I have roughly organized them by theme, but some of them could fall into several of the same categories. I have been obsessively reading for a year on this election, and I have a pinterest account with dozens, if not, hundreds of articles, if anyone is interested in reading further than the articles I have sampled below.
The KKK and the American Nazi party have publicly made their support known, there have been an increasing number of hate crimes recently, including murders and attacks against Muslims, the torching of a black church in Mississippi, which was also defaced with pro-Trump graffiti; the appearance at a football game of my own alma mater UW-Madison of people in costume as Obama with a noose around his neck etc. Although Trump’s campaign rightly disassociates themselves from these hate crimes, Trump’s own words encourage these kinds of interpretations. He has called Mexicans rapists. He has endorsed torture. He has called for banning Muslims from entering the U.S. He has insulted Muslim Gold star parents over their religion. He has claimed an American federal judge is biased “because he is Mexican.” He has said that the families of terrorists should be killed. He has called women who have spoken out against him disgusting, nasty, and “fat pigs.” He has bragged about grabbing women by the “p#@%y” [and as a woman who has been groped several times before I have an especially visceral reaction to that]. He has implied that “2nd Amendment” people can do something about her once she is in office. He has a a record of discrimination against black people in his housing units etc).
This Daily Beast article points out that at least one of the three men called himself a “big” Trump fan. The article also points out the discrimination other “Middle Eastern” looking Christians are facing.
Again, I don’t think I have even told my parents about the times I have been groped, but as a woman who has experienced that, it horrifies me that good Christian people are willing to vote for a man who has himself bragged about kissing and grabbing women without their consent.
Still catching up on posts I am behind on. This feature piece “The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood” was published over a month ago now in the Weekend Magazine of Weekly Trust on 21 May 2011, but gives a good summary of the challenges faced by the Kano film industry during the tenure of former ANPP Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, and the “director general” of the Kano State Censorship Board he appointed, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. I also interviewed film practitioners about their hopes as PDP’s Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who had been governor of Kano State from 1999-2003, returns to take up another four year term, aided in his political campaign by the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria and Kannywood stars like Sani Danja and D’an Ibro. As usual, to read the hard copy of the article, click on the photos below, or scroll down to read the text I’ve copied here.
Wednesday evening, April 27, 2011, Zoo Road in Kano, the street lined with Kannywood studios, exploded into celebration. Young men pulled dramatic stunts with motorbikes and shouted their congratulations to Hausa filmmakers. “Welcome back home, brothers. Welcome back from Kaduna,” directors Falalu Dorayi and Ahmad Biffa recall them saying. “We embrace you ‘Yan fim.’ We are together with you. We are happy that he has returned.”The win of PDP
Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, incoming governor of Kano State, and also governor from 1999 to 2003 (Photo Credit: Nigerian Best Forum)
candidate Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as governor of Kano, his second tenure after a four-year term from 1999-2003, had just been announced. INEC figures listed PDP as winning 46% of the vote with 1,108,345 votes, closely followed by Alhaji Salihu Sagir of ANPP with 43.5% of the vote with 1,048,317 votes. To anyone familiar with the Hausa film industry, which according to recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board figures makes up over 30% of the Nigerian film industry, this association of a political win with film was no surprise. Some of the most visible Hausa filmmakers have become increasingly politically active following a crackdown by the Kano State Censor’s Board, during which many practitioners and marketers of Hausa films had been fined, imprisoned, and harassed. While many of those associated with the film industry supported CPC and Buhari for president, the feeling among many filmmakers in Kano was that for governor any of the candidates would be better than ANPP. The two term ANPP governor and presidential candidate Ibrahim Shekarau, who had initially been passionately supported by
Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, governor of Kano State fro 2003-2011, and ANPP presidential candidate in 2011. (I took this photo during his trip to Madison, Wisconsin in 2007) (Photo credit: talatu-carmen)
Comedian Klint de Drunk, with Kannywood stars Sani Danja and Baban Chinedu at an Abuja press conference for NAISOD, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain
producer, director, and musician Sani Danja, who founded Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (NAISOD), and comedians Rabilu Musa dan Ibro and Baban Chinedu were among those who lent their star power to the new governor’s campaign. This public support for PDP among some of the most visible film practitioners had put Kano based filmmakers in danger the week before. Angry about the announcement of PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the presidential election, area boys hunted for Sani Danja, threatened other recognizable actors and vandalized studios and shops owned by Kannywood stakeholders. (For this reason, while some filmmakers have come out publicly in support of candidates, there are others who are reluctant to speak openly about politics. The Dandalin Finafinan Hausa on Facebook has banned discussion of politics on its wall, requesting members to focus on discussions of film.) By the next week, however, as Falalu Dorayi relates, the same area boys who had been hunting Sani Danja were now celebrating him.
Producer and makeup artist Tahir S. Tahir with Director Falalu Dorayi celebrating Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain
While Governor-elect Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was seen as the champion of the filmmakers during the 2011 election cycle, it was under Kwankwaso, who first served as governor of Kano from 1999-2003, that the first ban on Hausa films was announced and that the Kano State Censor’s Board was created. Abdulkareem Mohammad, the pioneering president of MOPPAN from 2000 to 2007, narrated how in December 2000, the Kano State Government pronounced a prohibition on the sale, production and exhibition of films in Kano state because of the introduction of sharia. MOPPAN organized and “assembled industry operators in associations like the Kano State Filmmakers association, Kano state artist’s guilds, the musicians and the cinema theatre owners, cassette sellers association” to petition the government to either allow them to continue making films or provide them with new livelihoods. It was the filmmakers themselves under MOPPAN who suggested a local state censorship board, which would ensure that film practitioners were able to continue their careers, while also allowing oversight to ensure that their films did not violate shari’a law. The censorship board was ultimately meant as a protection for the filmmakers to allow them to continue their work.
Outgoing President of MOPPAN, Sani Muazu points out that MOPPAN’s support of Kwankwaso was because he had promised re-establish the original intent for the censorship board, with a Kannywood stakeholder in the position as head of the Kano State Censorship Board, rather than an outsider who did not know the industry. Most Hausa filmmakers speak of the censorship board as a compromise between the film industry, the community and the government. Director Salisu T. Balarabe believes then Governor Kwankwaso was trying to follow the demands of those who voted for him, “If the government wants to have a good relationship with people it has to do what the people want.” Kannywood/Nollywood star Ali Nuhu said, “I won’t forget how in those three or four months [during the ban], they sat with our leaders at the time of Tijjani Ibrahim, Abdulkareem Muhammad, Hajiya Balaraba and the others. They reached a consensus, they understood the problems that they wanted us to fix and the plan they wanted us to follow.”
Nollywood/Kannywood star Ali Nuhu on set of Armala with Executive Producer Aisha Halilu. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain
Although the censors board had banned several films, such as Aminu Bala’s 2004 cinema verite style film Bakar Ashana, which explored the moral complexities of the world of prostitution, and enforced rules on censorship
Aminu Bala’s film Bakar Ashana that was banned by the Kano State Censor’s Board in 2004.
before marketing, filmmakers for the most part did not seem to have major problems with censorship until August 2007, when a sex scandal broke out in Kannywood. A privately made phone video of sexual activity between the actress known as Maryam “Hiyana” and a non-film industry lover Usman Bobo was leaked and became one of the most popular downloads in Kano. Alarmed by what some were calling the “first Hausa blue film,” although the clip was a private affair and had nothing to do with other Hausa filmmakers, critics called for serious measures to be taken. A new executive secretary Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim (his position soon
Maryam Hiyana, who was seen as a victim in the scandel, became an unlikely folk hero with stickers of her likeness on public transport all over Northern Nigeria. (c) Carmen McCain, 2008
inflated to the title of director general) was appointed by Governor Shekarau to head the Kano State Censor’s Board. He required each film practitioner to register individually with the board, an action he defended as being provided for in the original censorship law. Not long after Rabo was appointed, actor and musician Adam Zango was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for releasing his music video album Bahaushiya without passing it through the Kano State Censor’s Board. He was the first in a series of Hausa filmmakers to spend time in prison. Former Kano state gubernatorial candidate and Kannywood director Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama was arrested in May 2008 on his return to Kano from Abuja’s Zuma Film Festival where his film Tsintsiya, an inter-ethnic/religious romance made to promote peace, had won best social issue film. He was accused of releasing the film in Kano without censorship board approval. Although Iyan-Tama served three months in prison, all charges were recently dropped against the filmmaker and his record cleared. Popular comedians dan Ibro and Lawal Kaura [both of whom are now late, see my memories of both Rabilu Musa and Lawal Kaura] also spent two months in prison after a hasty trial without a lawyer. Lawal Kaura claims that although they had insisted on their innocence, court workers advised them to plead guilty of having a production company not registered with the
FIM Magazine feature on Ibro’s time in prison, November 2008.
censorship board so that the judge “would have mercy” on them. These were only the most popular names. Others who made their livelihoods from the film industry, from editors to singers to marketers, spent the night in jail, paid large fines, and/or had their equipment seized by enforcers attached to the censorship board.
Although Governor Shekarau in a presidential debate organized by DSTV station NN24 had claimed that “the hisbah has nothing to do with censorship,” Director of Photography Felix Ebony of King Zuby International recounted how hisbah had come to a location he was working on and impounded four speakers and one camera, telling them they had not sought permission to shoot. Other filmmakers complained that there was confusion about under what jurisdiction arrests were being made. Although in a February 2009 interview with me, Rabo
Felix Ebony, director of photography with King Zuby International. (c) Carmen Mccain
11 Songs banned by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed. (c) Alex Johnson
The effect of these actions was to relocate the centre of the Hausa film industry away from the flourishing Kano market, to Kaduna. Many filmmakers began to claim their rights as national Nigerian filmmakers, taking their films only to the National Film and Video Censor’s Board, bypassing the Kano State Censorship Board altogether. Such films were often marked “not for sale in Kano” and if found in Kano state were known as “cocaine,” a dangerous product that could, as Iyan-Tama discovered, mean imprisonment for a filmmaker, even if filmmaker had advertised, as Iyan-Tama had, that the film was not for sale in Kano State. Another side effect of these actions was the loss of jobs among Kano youth. Ahmad Bifa pointed out that “the Hausa film industry helped reorient youth from being drug-users and area boys to finding jobs in the film profession. Sometimes if we needed production assistants we would take them and give them money. I can count many that the Hausa film industry helped become relevant people to society. But Abubakar Rabo made us go to Kaduna to do our shooting. So the young people of Kano lost the benefit of film in Kano, […] That’s why there are a lot of kids on Zoo Road who went back to being thugs because of lack of job opportunity.”
Ahmad Bifa, on set of the Aisha Halilu movie Armala, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain
Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, DG of the Kano State Censor’s Board 2007-2011, proclaimed that he would not accept romantic novels for a year. International Conference on Authors and Researchers in Indigenous Languages, Damagaram, Niger, December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain
Those who protest the actions of the board do not have a problem with censorship so much as how censorship has been carried out. The original MOPPAN president Abdulkareem Mohammad argued that the intention of creating the censorship board had been one that would allow filmmakers to continue doing their work, “We really were doing things in good faith to ensure that things do work and eventually it is for the betterment of the majority.” He acknowledged wryly that there were flaws in the law that allowed for it to be abused, “I think that on insight, I would have done it differently.” Current president Sani Muazu continued in this vein saying that although the board had been meant to protect artists it had “become a weapon against artists.” Director Salisu T. Balarabe says, “There was nothing wrong with making the censorship board but those put in charge of directing the board, sometimes put a personal interest into it.” Novelist and scriptwriter Nazir Adam Salih acknowledged “We have our faults. This is true. But the censor’s board was much harsher than it
Novelist and script writer Nazir Adam Salih passionately responds to Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, at the conference in Damagaram, Niger. December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain
needed to be. They put someone in power who didn’t know anything about the film industry, Malam Abubakar Rabo, who slandered and disrespected us.” It was this disrespect and the accompanying arrests that most seemed to upset film practitioners. Danjuma Salisu, who is involved in acting, lighting, and assisting production argued that Rabo’s actions were insulting to those whose careers in film “feed our children and parents and families.” Makeup artist Husseini Tupac argued passionately, “Film is a profession. It is a career. In the same way a normal person will go to the office everyday, we will go the office, we do our work and get paid. When the honourable Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was governor nobody ever came out on the radio and said that actresses were prostitutes, that we were making blue films, that we were rogues. No one came and arrested us.” Producer and director Salisu Umar Santa shared a similar sentiment, saying that he and other
Director Salisu Umar Santa with Dawwayya Productions, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain
professionals he worked with, like Rukkaya Dawayya and Sadiyya Gyale, had registered and done everything the board required for working in Kano State and yet Abubakar Rabo continued to say that filmmakers were not decent members of society. Producer and Director of Photography Umar Gotip said that he felt like a refugee having to leave Kano. “You are practicing your profession, to the extent that some people even have a degree in it, but they say you are just rogues and rascals. We had no human rights.” Director Falalu Dorayi, claiming that the Kano State Censorship board regularly demanded bribes, asked “How can the one who collects a bribe say he will reform culture.” Cameraman, editor, and director Ahmad Gulu put it this way: “You should fix the leaky roof before you try to repair the floor.”
Editor of Fim Magazine, Aliyu Gora II, and Filmmaker Iyan-Tama, both former inmates of Goron Dutse Prison, after a hearing in Iyan-Tama’s lawsuit against the Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, 22 July 2010. (c) Carmen McCain
Filmmakers on location in Northern Nigeria on Sunday, 29 August 2009, read the breaking news Sunday Trust article: “Rabo arrested for alleged sex related offence” (c) Carmen McCain
case [as requested by MOPPAN], but Rabo continued as director general of the censor’s board and filmmakers heard nothing more of the inquiry.
The treatment of filmmakers had the perhaps unintentional effect of politicizing the artists and those close to them. Sani Danja told me he had never been interested in politics until he saw the need to challenge what was going on in Kano State. A musician told me his mother never voted in elections but that she had gone out to stand in line for Kwankwaso as a protest at how her children were being treated. Filmmakers used fulsome praises to describe their delight at Kwankwaso’s
Kannywood star Sani Danja prepares for his the first press conference of his organization: Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (c) Carmen McCain
return. Director Falalu Dorayi said “It is as if your mother or father went on a journey and has returned with a gift for you.” Producer and director of photography Umar Gotip said Kwankwaso’s coming was “like that of an angel, bringing blessing for all those who love film.” Even those who are not fans of PDP told me they wished Kwankwaso well, were optimistic about change, and expected him to fulfill his promises in several areas: First, most of them expected that he would relieve Rabo of his post and replace him an actual filmmaker, who as Falalu Dorayi put it “knows what film is.” Secondly, several of them anticipated actual investments into the film industry “like Fashola has done for Lagos filmmakers,” as director and producer Salisu Umar Santa put it, possibly in the form of a film village. And most Kano-based filmmakers I spoke to mentioned their hopes that others who had gone into exile would come back home to Kano. Producer Zainab Ahmed Gusau, who is currently based in Abuja wrote that, “My thought is to go back to Kano, knowing there will be justice for all.We thank God for bringing Kwankwaso back to lead us.”
Hausa film producer Zainab Ahmad Gusai at the Savannah International Movie Awards, Abuja, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain
Other filmmakers saw it as a time for reflection on how they can improve the field. Director Salisu T. Balarabe mused “If you keep obsessing over what happened, the time will come and pass and you won’t have accomplished
Hausa film Director Salisu T. Balarabe on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain
anything. We should put aside what happened before and look for a way to move forward.” Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, the politician and filmmaker who was imprisoned for three months, focused on the positive, calling on filmmakers to continue making films that would have meaning and would build up the community.
Many also looked beyond the own interests of film to the entire community.
Ahmad Gulu, Kannywood cameraman, editor, and director, on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain
Ahmad Gulu, cameraman, editor, and director said “The change has not come to film practitioners alone. It has come to the whole state of Kano. Back then people would accept politicians who would put something in their pockets but now things have been exposed.” Star actor, director, and producer Ali Nuhu similarly pointed out that progress was not receiving money from politicians, saying that one of the most important changes Kwankwaso could bring would be a focus on electricity, drinking water, and children’s education. Writer Nazir Adam Salih said that if Kwankwaso could simply fulfill the promises politicians and leaders had been making for the past thirty years to provide electricity and water, he will have done his job. And finally two directors of photography Umar Gotip and Felix Ebony pointed to the need for peace and unity in the state. “He should try to bring people together,” said Umar Gotip. “This kind of fighting that has arisen between Muslims and Christians is not right. We should live together as one.”
Producer Bello A. Baffancy shows off his Kwankwaso support, Zoo Road, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain
‘Yan Fim on Zoo Road following Kwankwaso’s win, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain
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:
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 Irapadalast 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.
‘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 Saworoidein 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?
Hostagesby 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
Ok, so my title is a bit tabloidish…. but I was so struck by this powerful personal account published by an anonymous woman in Khadija Abdu Iya’s column in this Sunday’s Leadership, that I wanted to post it here on this blog. The Leadership website is currently down, so I decided to post a photograph of the article. If the print is too small, try clicking on the photo and you should be able to zoom into an image. [UPDATE 26 October 2010. Seeing a renewed interest in all the clicks on this post, I re-uploaded a photo that is more readable. Clicking on the image here will take you to a large photo of the article that is easily readable on screen.)
An educated “career” woman with four children describes her early romance and marriage, and how she felt betrayed when, after her husband married two other wives, he began to deny her sex saying he felt she was like “his sister.” She is now considering divorcing him. The pain in this woman’s voice is piercing and powerful.
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