Category Archives: theatre

Abba Makama’s new film The Lost Okoroshi (screenplay by Africa Ukoh) to premiere at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival

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Creative duo director Abba Makama and screenwriter Africa Ukoh strike again. For the second time a film collaboration between the two will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Update 5 September 2019: The film has also been selected to screen at the BFI London Film Festival in October 3 and 5. You can see information about where to see it on the BFI site here. Mike Omonua’s debut film The Man Who Cut Tattoos, which Makama produced, will premiere at BFI this year.)

The Lost Okoroshi, Makama’s second feature film, (though he also has a stable of hilarious short films and a really great documentary on Nollywood, which I teach) imagines a bored security guard whose life takes a turn when his dreams of masquerades invade the world of the living. Courtney Small writing for Cinema Axis calls it a “vibrant and wildly surreal ride.”

IndieWire describes Makama as

 one of the leading voices for Nigerian cinema today. He previously directed “Green White Green,” another TIFF selection that is now streaming on Netflix, as well as “Nollywood,” the Al Jazeera documentary about Nigeria’s film industry. He should be a presence at major festivals for years to come.

More recently, Native Magazine has interviewed him about some of the thinking behind his work.

Watch the trailer here

Green White Green, Makama’s first feature, which he also co-wrote with Africa Ukoh, has been one of my favourites since I first saw it on an Air France flight back in 2017 and have since watched it over and over again on Netflix.  Film critic Noah Tsika calls it “a hopeful, downright energizing love letter to Nigeria’s enterprising youth — to a new generation plainly capable of greatness.” As I’ve written in another blog post,

The film is a youthful takedown of the prejudices that tear Nigeria apart. It mocks Nollywood, with the good-natured ribbing of a son who follows in his father’s footsteps but laughs at his outdated affectations. It is a satire, but it is also  filled with a restless joy and a tenderness that draws me in to watch it over and over again on homesick nights.

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The Lost Okoroshi promises to be stylistically similar (the energetic jump-cuts, actors posed and staring into the camera as if for a family portrait) while pushing the conceit imagined by the young filmmakers in Green White Green a little further. In Green White Green, the young secondary school graduates shoot a metaphoric film about Nigeria, taking great delight in masquerades,  as both protective spirits and (in a fire breathing incarnation) as the “Beast of Corruption,” riffing on Fela’s “beasts of no nation.” In The Lost Okoroshi, the masquerade/s unfold into full-fledged characters, which seems to represent (as much as one can interpret a trailer) a reclamation of the ancestral masquerade not as an “evil beast” as often represented in Nollywood movies but as a way of bringing tradition into the future. And, as with Green White Green, there continues to be a sly Nollywood self-referentiality: “Forget all this Pete Edochie proverbs,” the subtitled Igbo reads, “This is not a Nollywood home video.”  Thus while building on an older tradition (incorporating, for example, the Nollywood comedian Chiwetalu Agu), Makama and Ukoh push their narratives out to the cutting edge of Nigerian cinema. This is not a Nollywood home video, no. But, it draws affectionately on Nollywood to create something exciting and new.

In its imagination of the masquerade in a 21st century city context, the film reminds me of contemporary Nigerian writers Nnedi Okorafor and Chikodili Emelumadu and the inadequacy of the sort of literary labels placed on these texts. Is this Afrofuturism? Nnedi Okorafor resists that label, preferring africanfuturism. Is this magical realism? Or what Ben Okri’s critics have called “spiritual realism“? Abba Makama recently quoted Newton Aduaka (the Nigerian filmmaker who won the FESPACO film festival’s highest prize, the Golden Stallion of Yennenga for his 2007 film Ezra):

Labels are useful but ultimately they reduce the subject. Yet, I like the idea of the hyper-real, a realism that captures not only the surface but the spirit behind it–this idea captures Nigerian life well, and the way filmmakers capture that life.

This is an exciting moment not only for Abba Makama, but also for his collaborator Africa Ukoh, whom I have featured on this blog before and interviewed for Brittle Paper. Today (I published this post a little bit too late!) Ukoh’s play 54 Silhouettes, which I reviewed back in 2013 and was published in 2018, was featured as a part of the Global Black Voices event at the Roundhouse in London. Ukoh also revised 54 Silhouettes into a remarkable one-man play, which Charles Etubiebi has been performing from Rio de Janeiro to Lagos to (forthcoming) New York. Etubiebi’s next scheduled performance of the play is at the November United Solo theatre festival in New York. You can see an interview with Etubiebi below:

 

If you’re in Toronto or Lagos or London or New York, go see the film, go see the play. And for those in Nigeria who are not in Lagos, I hope that they will both also come to a theatre near you.

P.S. One more note on Nigerian cinema. I just realized yesterday that Steve Gukas’s moving film 93 Days, also at the 2016 TIFF, which tells the story of the courageous doctors and public health officials who contained the ebola virus in Lagos, is out on Amazon Prime. Although ebola is a topic often sensationalized in Western media, Gukas handles the story sensitively, telling it from the perspective of Dr. Ada Igonoh, who survived the disease. It is a great example of Nigerians telling their own stories without making “poverty porn.” And in a direct link to the rest of the content of this post, actor Charles Etubiebi plays a significant role in the film as Bankole Cardoso.

My review of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s collection of short stories What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky in the American Book Review

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Image courtesy of Kenya’s The Standard

As with almost all of my posts these days, this one is a year overdue, but with Lesley Nneka Arimah’s recent Caine Prize win for her fantastic short story “Skinned” first published in McSweeney’s, I was reminded that I had not yet posted about my review for American Book Review of her collection of short stories What It Means When a Man Falls from the SkySince it was published over a year ago in the May-June 2018 issue, it is quite late, but better late than never.

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Screenshot of the beginning of my review. To read the whole thing, access the pdf via this link

I was asked to submit the review as part of a special issue on “Harassment” edited by Amiee Armande Wilson, so my review focused a little more on that topic than I might have otherwise. Although American Book Review is behind a paywall, Amiee Armande Wilson worked to make sure that the “harassment” focus was open access. You can access a pdf of the insert here. It includes

Caitlin Newcomer’s review of Khadijah Queen’s  collection of poems, I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On (pp. 4-5);

Gabrielle Bellot’s review of Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of short stories Her Body and Other Parties on pp. 5-6  (a review I found so compelling that I immediately got the audiobook out of the library and finished it in a couple of days);

Carmen McCain’s (yours truly) review of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s collection of short stories What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (pp. 7-8);

Sarah Deer’s review of Allison Hargreaves’ monograph Violence Against Indigenous Women: Literature, Activism, Resistance (pp. 8-9);

Victoria Reynolds Farmer’s review of Laura Kipnis’s feminist critique  Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (pp. 10-11);

Mat Wenzel’s review of Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility and the Duty of Repair (pp. 11-12);

Sarah Whitcomb Laiola’s review of Angela Nagle’s  Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumbler to Trump and the Alt-Right (pp. 13-14)

Christopher Higg’s review of a collection of writing about sexual assault edited by Joanna C. Valente, A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivor’s of Sexual Assault (pp. 15).

If you haven’t yet read What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, I highly recommend it. But read “Skinned” first. It draws attention to existing social treatment of single women by pushing things just a little bit further. What if women were only allowed to cover themselves if they were living in their father’s or husband’s houses?

(And for a follow-up on my last post–an interview with playwright, actor, and screenwriter and Africa Ukoh–there are several new performances of his play on the calendar. Charles Etubiebi who has taken a one-man performance of the play to festivals in Rio de Janeiro and Lagos  will also be bringing the one-man performance of 54 Silhouettes to the United Solo theatre festival in New York City on November 20, 2019. An excerpt of the play will also be performed in London as part of the Global Black Voices event at The Roundhouse Theatre on 10 August 2019. For those in London and New York, go see it!)

Interview with playwright and screenwriter Africa Ukoh, whose play is currently on at the Lagos Theatre Festival

It’s been over a year since I’ve posted on this blog (to the extent that wordpress refused to let me log in for a few days), so I have much to catch up on. Most recently an interview I did last July with playwright and screenwriter Africa Ukoh has been published by Brittle Paper. His play 54 Silhouettes is currently being performed as a one-man show at the Lagos Theatre Festival.

(Update 17 July 2019: Charles Etubiebi will also be bringing the one-man performance of 54 Silhouettes to the United Solo theatre festival in New York City on November 20, 2019, and an excerpt of the play will be performed in London as part of the Global Black Voices event at The Roundhouse Theatre on 10 August 2019.)

(Update 9 August 2019: Abba Makama’s film The Lost Okoroshi, for which Africa Ukoh wrote the screenplay, will be premiering at the Toronto Film Festival this September)

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I first came across Africa’s work when I attended the November 2013 premiere of his play 54 Silhouettes in Jos, because the blurb of his play that I saw advertised at the Alliance Francaise looked interesting. The play follows a Nigerian actor who pursues his dream of acting in Hollywood but is troubled by the increasingly more disturbing “African” roles he is asked to play. It is a smart, thoughtful, passionate play. I loved it.

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Premiere performance of 54 Silhouettes in Jos, November 2013 (c) Carmen McCain

 

In my column in Daily Trust,reviewed 54 Silhouettes, which in its earlier incarnation had won the 30 Nigeria House prize and had been performed as a radio play after it won the the first runner up of the 2011 BBC African performance competition.  Last year, in 2018, Africa finally published the play with Parresia Press’s Origami imprint.

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It can be purchased at bookshops in Lagos, Abuja, and Jos, and online at sites like konga.com. Since its publication, he has adapted it into a one-man performance for actor Charles Etubiebi, who has performed it in Lagos and Brazil. In March, Taiwo Afolabi directed a staged reading of the play at the Puente Theatre in Victoria, Canada, at the Spark Festival. Currently, Charles Etubiebi is performing the play on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 12, 13, and 14 as part of the Lagos Film Festival at Esther’s Revenge, Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos Island. You can purchase tickets for N3000 online at ariiyatickets.com. (Update 9 August 2019: This Saturday, 10 August, the play will also be featured as part of the African Voices event at the Roundhouse in London.)

Aside from 54 Silhouettes, Africa’s unpublished play Token Dead White Guy was shortlisted for the 2018 BBC International Playwriting Competition.

Africa also works as a screenwriter. He co-wrote, with the director Abba Makama, the film Green White Green that premiered at Toronto Film Festival in 2016 and is currently available on Netflix. Noah Tsika calls it “a hopeful, downright energizing love letter to Nigeria’s enterprising youth — to a new generation plainly capable of greatness.”

The film is a youthful takedown of the prejudices that tear Nigeria apart. It mocks Nollywood, with the good-natured ribbing of a son who follows in his father’s footsteps but laughs at his outdated affectations. It is a satire, but it is also  filled with a restless joy and a tenderness that draws me in to watch it over and over again on homesick nights. I can’t wait to see future collaborations between Makama and Ukoh. (Update 9 August 2019: And one of those collaborations is premiering at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival: The Lost Okoroshi directed by Makama and written by Ukoh. Check it out. The trailer is on fire.)

To hear more of Africa’s thoughts on 54 Silhouettes, Token Dead White Guy, Green White Green, and the current state of theatre in Nigeria, check out our conversation on Brittle Paper,  follow him on Twitter or Instagram, or, even better, go see the play this weekend.  If you can’t get to Lagos for the performance, you can buy a copy of it online and stay tuned for future performances.

More blog posts  to come.