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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRAPADA (for a review from NEXT click here)

THE FIGURINE

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

Interview by Carmen McCain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many films have you directed?

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

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

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

What was your biggest challenge in shooting?

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

What was the most rewarding thing for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there any particular films that are your favourites?

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

What about Nigerian films?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 02 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Photos of the Event:

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

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


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

Kannywood star Lawal Ahmad. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood star Rahama Hassan. (c) Carmen McCain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response to Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s “In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse” an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani (c) Sunmi Smart-Cole via African-Writing Online

When I first began to read Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s op-ed piece “In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse,” published in on 12 December 2010 in the New York Times, I thought I would enjoy the piece. [If you have trouble finding the full text of the article without signing into the New York Times site, you can find it copied over onto the USA/Africa Dialogues blog and now also on the NEXT website.] She argues that it may be a blessing that Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o did not win a Nobel Prize this year, reasoning that such a prize would encourage young African writers to aim to be the “next Ngugi.” New African writers should pursue their own style, Nwaubani contends, rather than slavishly imitating the elders of African literature.  Although it does not necessarily follow that honouring a writer for a lifetime of work must necessarily create slavish imitations, I am sympathetic to arguments about pursuing new styles and themes, especially coming from a new Nigerian author who in I Do Not Come to You by Chance has given us one of the freshest and funniest novels I’ve read in years. Nwaubani has been the Nigerian author you are most likely to hear me recommending as a good read this year.

However, my first eyebrow began to rise when I read her statement. “Ngugi, Achebe and Soyinka are certainly masters, but of an earnest and sober style.” This is a fair generalization. A Grain of Wheat, Arrow of God, and The Interpreters do make for studies in high seriousness. But has Nwaubani read the complete works of each of these authors? Sure, Ngugi’s English language work does tend to be quite sober and earnest, as do Achebe’s early novels. But Ngugi’s satirical fable Devil on the Cross(translated from Gikuyu) is one of the most simultaneously hilarious and ideological works of African literature I’ve read–and much of its richness, I think, comes from it’s original composition in Gikuyu. Soyinka’s fiction is, granted, famously obtuse, but performances of the Brother Jero plays are some of the funniest and most thought-provoking things my family has seen on stage. Achebe has similar humorous moments in Anthills of the Savannah.

Even if I were inclined to agree with her in general about the serious nature of the “old masters,” I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this statement:

“Many fans have extolled his brave decision to write in his mother tongue, Kikuyu, instead of English. If he truly desires a Nobel, I can’t help but wish him one. But I shudder to imagine how many African writers would be inspired by the prize to copy him. Instead of acclaimed Nigerian writers, we would have acclaimed Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa writers. We suffer enough from tribal differences already. This is not the kind of variety we need.”

I don’t greatly care if Ngugi wa Thiong’o wins the Nobel or not. I think it would be good prestige for African literature around the globe, and I think he certainly deserves it. Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross almost always makes my “favourite books” list, and I would be delighted if he received the Nobel in the future. But were I trying to make a point about the blessings of Ngugi not receiving the prize this year, as Nwaubani does, my argument would be that the value of Ngugi’s work and of other African literature does not depend on the judgment of some prize committee in Scandanavia, which has made quite conservative selections in the past, but rather on the importance it holds first in the eyes of its “home” audience in Africa.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 15 October 2006 (c) CM

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 15 October 2006 (c) CM

I was, to put it bluntly, horrified by the assumptions with which Nwaubani draws her over-easy conclusions in this short piece. Whether or not Ngugi ever wins the prize, I wish there would be many more African writers who would copy, not him, or his style, but his commitment to writing in the language he grew up speaking. Why is great literature in Igbo, Yoruba, or Hausa (or Tiv, Itsikeri, or Nupe) a shudder-worthy accomplishment? Nwaubani seems to be implying that the mere fact that people speak and laugh and love and dare even to write in different languages is furthering “tribal differences”  She says “This is not the variety we need.” On the contrary, I would argue this is exactly the variety we need.

Of course, we also need translation. Translation, as I have heard Professor Ngugi say on multiple occasions, is the only equal relationship between languages. Why should we not translate works of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo into English or even into each other, in the same way that Norwegian or Japanese (smaller languages than many African languages) works are translated into other languages? Why is “the Nigerian reader,” by default, defined as an English speaker. This sort of thinking merely furthers the distinction between the elite and the masses in Nigeria. To my mind, it is not African language literature that furthers divisions between Nigerian peoples, but rather this sort of thinking that sees African languages the enemy rather than a source of creativity and celebration–promoting monolingualism in English rather than the multilingualism that has long been a strength of the continent.

Why is there a dearth of reading culture of African literature in Nigeria? Much of it probably is that there is not enough of the funny, light-reading novels like Nwaubani’s available. But much of it may also have to do  with how “reading culture” in the Nigerian context is almost always defined as reading culture in English. Does Nwaubani know that there is a flourishing market of Hausa language literature in Northern Nigeria that crosses borders into Niger, Cameroon, Ghana, and even further flung places like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia where there are Hausa speakers? Does she know that one of the richest sources of women’s writing and women’s voices in Nigeria is being written in Hausa, where hundreds of well-known and beloved female authors write about love, marriage and their everyday experiences, or that Hausa novelists have long dealt with the national experience of being Nigerian? The bestselling Hausa novel, thus far, In da So da Kauna self-published in two parts in 1991 and 1992 by Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino sold over 100,000 copies (200,000 if you count both parts), which although hardly a New York Times bestseller is a good selling book even for Western publishers like Penguin or Random House. Is that literature (and what I hear is also a rather flourishing Yoruba literary scene) doomed to be trampled and denounced by Nigerian intellectuals and English-language writers because it is not written in the “language of unity,” which because of the history of colonialism happens to be English? Is it doomed to be trampled and denounced because, since no one has translated it, it has not been read by those large corporate publishers in America and the UK, who have made the careers of so many recent Nigerian authors writing in English?

I intend no disrespect for African literature in English here. It has its beauties and its advantages, such as a more immediate global and, yes, national audience. But we NEED literature in African languages because embedded within their etymology is history and a rich cultural heritage that we will lose if they die. These languages should be given the chance to develop same way that English language literature has developed, through literature. And this English language literature would never have developed had not rebels like Chaucer or Shakespeare insisted in writing in the vernacular rather than the more elite Latin that was the universal language of the educated elite in Europe at that time. We need such literature in the same way that we need literature in Danish, Mandarin, or Tamil. We need such literature because it is often in that literature you can capture exactly the kind of light-hearted banter, the vast reading audience, and the stories of ordinary working class Nigerians that Nwaubani is seeking. Perhaps, more people across the country would read if more Nigerian language literature were translated. Rather than calling for the death of African language literature, I would rather call for the investment in scholarship in and publication of this literature and the commitment of writers willing to translate it. Maybe then, Nwaubani will recognize her fellow “literary groundbreakers,” not in the old sober masters of the English language, but in those of her contemporaries who capture millions of readers in the language they speak every day.

UPDATE 19 December 2010. Since my response to Nwaubani’s article shortly after I read it last Sunday, a number of brilliant responses from African writers and intellectuals have popped up around the internet. Here are some of them:

“In Africa, The Laureate’s Curse” by Chielozona Eze on Africa Literature News and Reviews, December 12

“Not so, Adaobi” by Chuma Nwokolo on AfricanWriting.com, on December 12

“The Laureates Curse? I think not” on Kinna Reads, December 14

“The Nobel and Ngugi’s Cause–a short response to Tricia Adaobi’s article, In Africa the Laureate’s Curse” by Nana Fredua-Agyeman on ImageNations, December 14

“Why Nwaubani was Wrong” on Nigerians Talk, on December 15

“Nwaubani, Ngugi, and the Nobel” on Molara Wood’s Wordsbody, December 18

And for a piece arguing the opposite of what Nwaubani wrote, see Zoe Norridge’s piece in the Guardian, “Why Ngugi wa Thiong’o should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

[UPDATE 13 February 2011. I am currently uploading photos and links to some my column in the Weekly Trust. I used this essay, slightly edited, as one of my columns on 18 December 2011: “Regarding Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s ‘In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse.’” To read the piece in the original version, click on the photo below which will take you to a photo large enough to read.

“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:

My new column in Weekly Trust. First installment.

A few months ago, the editor of Weekly Trust, offered me a column in the paper, and my first piece came out this past Saturday on page 31. In my column-writing rookieness, I had misunderstood the word count he had quoted me, so, once I saw it published, I was awe-inspired by my editor’s skill in cutting down a piece that had been twice the length, while still keeping most of the flow. However, I decided that since I do have this blog, I would post the longer version of the piece here, which allows for more details and context, and where I can post a few more photos to illustrate the content. I’ve gone ahead and taken a few of the suggested cuts, so this is a hybrid between what I submitted and what was published. The photos and the column title “My Thoughts Exactly” that appeared in the Weekly Trust were also the editors choice….  I copy a photo of the column as printed here (if you click on the photo, it will take you to a link with a larger version that you can read), and the original non-cut piece below. [UPDATE: 21 October 2010: The soft copy is also available on the Trust website now]

I’d love your feedback on the column and suggestions for future subjects.

Enjoy

 

"Why the beginning is the best place to start" Weekly Trust, page 31. Carmen McCain's first column

 

I begin this column with a slight sense of trepidation. I am an American, venturing to write a weekly column about my interaction with contemporary popular arts in Nigeria, focusing on Hausa film, music, and literature. “What does an American have to say about Nigerian, and particularly Hausa, art that is worth reading?” you may ask.  So in this first piece, let me give you a background on myself and why I am so passionate about the arts in Northern Nigeria. I hope that you will come back next week for more.

 

Gidan Dabino Publishers, August 2005 (c) Carmen McCain

 

My first trip to Kano as an adult was in 2005. I had just spent nearly three months in Sokoto learning Hausa, as a part of a requirement for my U.S. based PhD programme in African Languages and Literature. A large part of that study had been reading Hausa novels and watching Hausa films, and I was newly starstruck by my meeting with Hausa novelists and filmmakers. My formal education, thus far, had been in literature, a BA in English and postgraduate work in African literature. Ever since my undergraduate days studying the Romantic movement of 19th century England, the Beat movement of 20th century America, and others, I had been fascinated by these intense creative historical movements, where writers and artists and philosophers and political activists work together and influence each other.  That August, when I first heard filmmakers in intense debate at the Centre for Hausa Cultural Studies on Zoo Road or sat with Hausa writers at the office of Gidan Dabino Publishing Company and listened to them discuss the massive numbers of novels they were selling, I felt a sense of déjà vu . This was one of those rich historical arts moments I had always wanted to be a part of—and it was here in Hausa in Northern Nigeria, a place I had often heard disparaged as being full of illiterates and extremists.  I knew then I had to come back. I wanted to study this movement so that other people outside the Hausa speaking world would know of it; I wanted to combat stereotypes about the Hausa speaking north; but mostly I just wanted to come back and be a part of the creative energy.

I had first come to Nigeria as a child in 1988 accompanying my parents.  My father was a dreamer, and one of his dreams was to take his children to live in a place where they would be able to see beyond the privilege, materialism, and self-centredness of American life. When we first went to Port Harcourt on the invitation of a university, my parents told us we would be in Nigeria for four years. Four years turned into twenty-two and counting. After three years in Port Harcourt, our family moved to Jos in 1991, where my father became a professor in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Jos. My parents have lived in Jos ever since.

Our parents encouraged us to venture into Nigerian life beyond our international school bubble. My brother Dan, as young as he was, co-hosted a Rock and Roll show on 95.5 FM, Jos, with DBMC, the Rocking MC, foreshadowing his work in entertainment as a filmmaker. My sister Laura, once she was in high school, volunteered at Evangel Hospital, anticipating her career as a medical doctor. I was shyer, preferring to spend all my time reading fantasy and science fiction novels, daydreaming, or writing in my journal.

During one school break, my father signed up all of us children to take a two month Hausa course, where we learned the basic Hausa of greetings and market language. But, as a teenager immersed in my own world, I wasn’t interested. I was convinced, from my struggles with Spanish at school,  that I couldn’t learn another language, and I didn’t see the need. We didn’t need Hausa at school. We wouldn’t need it in America, where I was going. It was interesting but not worth pouring my life into.

When I returned to the U.S. for university, I studied English literature and creative writing. I hung out with groups of writers and poets and became co-editor of my college literary magazine. I wanted to be a part of one of those significant historical moments I was studying. I wanted to write something people would read after I died. I planned to stay in the U.S. then. I imagined myself in the forests of New Hampshire or the craggy coasts of Maine, sitting in a bay window watching the snow fall and penning my poetry. But when following my graduation, I moved to New York City with my best friend from Nigeria and worked as an editor at a small children’s book publisher, my longing began to turn back towards Nigeria. Hosting old school friends, whenever they came through New York, I realized how much of Nigeria I had missed as a child, living as I had in the world of fiction and the protected atmosphere of an international school. As much as I loved New York and loved the masses of people from all over the world who co-exist in the city, I craved for Nigeria. I wanted to find out if I could belong there—me this white American girl, who had many homes but not a single one I felt I could commit to.

So in September 2001 just as the towers came down in New York and the fires raged across Jos, I returned on a Fulbright scholarship to Jos. I spent the next two years doing a little research, a little writing, a little teaching, a little editing. I sang in the community choir, took French classes at the Alliance Francaise and studied Hausa with a series of tutors. I discovered on a one month trip to Lomé, Togo, to improve my French, that I wasn’t bad at learning languages; I just needed to live in a place to be able to speak. I became involved with the small but thriving Jos branch of Association of Nigerian Authors and determined to go back to school and do a PhD on contemporary Nigerian writing.

When I began the MA to PhD programme in the Department of African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I discovered that proficiency in an African language was a  requirement of the program. And

 

The film club in Sokoto I frequented and where I first became interested in Hausa films (c) Carmen McCain

 

that’s how I found myself in Sokoto in 2005 on language study, in Kano in 2006 for pre-dissertation research on Hausa novels and films, and finally back in Kano in 2008 for dissertation research on Hausa popular arts. I have been here ever since.

When I returned to Kano in 2008, the Kannywood I had caught a glimpse of in 2005 and 2006 was gone. In 2007, a private cell phone video of a Hausa actress with a non-film industry lover had been leaked and had become the hottest viral video in Kano. Although it was a private video of an indiscrete act between individuals, the entire Hausa film industry took the heat.  A new head of the Kano State Censorship Board, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, was appointed; the film industry was suspended for nearly a year; and actor and musician Adam A. Zango was imprisoned for releasing his music video album without passing it through the board. I arrived back in Kano eager to re-enter the world of film, but everything had changed.   Gone were the cheerful song and dance sequences shot guerilla style on the side of the road in Farm Centre. Gone was the jolly confusion of four films at a time on location at Fine Time Park and Restaurant.

 

On the set of Albashi 3 in the Fine Time Park and Restaurant, July 2006. There were about four other films being shot there that day. (c)Carmen McCain

 

Gone were the gala shows in open air theatres near Marhaba cinema. Gone was the anticipation that you might see filmmakers at any time, shooting on the side of the road. The industry seemed more spread out and scattered than I remembered. Films seemed to have become darker and more interior.

Although I had been on quite a few locations in 2006, on my return to Kano in 2008, I spent nearly a year without visiting a single set. Filmmakers were leaving the state now, to Jigawa, to Kaduna, to Katsina, to Zaria. I was being hosted by the Department of Mass Communications at Bayero University and teaching a class. I didn’t have as much freedom to go out of state to film locations, so instead I began to hang out in the studios, where editors cut together movies and singers taped jingles, recorded their albums, and sang the songs that punctuate

 

Golden Goose Studio: Ibrahim Chairman, Aisha Golden Goose, and Osama bin Music (c)Carmen McCain

 

the films.  My main hang out was at Golden Goose Studio on Zoo Road, managed by the Hausa rapper Ziriums, with assistance of his brother Osama bin Music. There I grew to know the Hausa novelist and screenwriter Nazir Adam Salih, editors Sulaiman Abubakar, Yakubu, and Mohammad Abdullahi , musicians DJ Yaks, Alfazazi, Pastor Dan, Suhaima YK and Aisha; the writer, producer and director Baba Ali Yakasai, and young Ya’u, the orphan who had begged on the streets before becoming a studio hand and being sponsored to go back to school by the studio.

 

Filmmaker Baba Ali Yakasai and Writer Nazir Adam Salih at Golden Goose Studio (c)Carmen McCain

 

Large numbers of artists trooped through the studio on a weekly basis, overseeing films as they were edited, or voicing radio programmes and songs in the studio.

It was at Golden Goose that I began to think and dream in Hausa, and it was there that I began to learn much of what I know about the Hausa film industry. It was at Golden Goose that I fasted for Ramadan for the first time and broke fast with young filmmakers and musicians who would contribute chopped pineapple and watermelon, bags of kosai,  bowls of koko, and newspaper wraps full of suya. When the iftar call to prayer came at sunset, and they had prayed, we would descend on the food. It would be gone within minutes. We would sit for hours laughing, planning film

 

Me with singer Suhaima YK

 

scripts, having long conversations on religion and politics and film and culture.  It was here I finally felt I had found the home in Nigeria I had been seeking for so long.

That year, as my research became personal, my first infatuation for Hausa popular culture turned into a fierce love for the young people who work through the night editing and writing and singing, making a living for themselves through

 

Musician Ziriums, Writer Nazir Adam Salih, and Director Falalu Dorayi making music in Golden Goose Studio, (c)Carmen McCain

 

their creativity. And as I read newspapers and email listserves and heard discussions on the radio about films, I was disturbed by the disparities between the public discourse I heard about filmmakers, in which they were often characterized as immoral layabouts just in it for the fast money, spoiling society with shoddy films and music, and what I was seeing and hearing from the filmmakers themselves. They spoke passionately and with nuance about the films they were eager to make, the research they had done on new equipment. I would hear hours of conversation on the aesthetic and narrative features of the Lost and Prison Break series or Indian films, fervant discussions on social inequalities, the hypocrisies of the elite, and a desire to expose and correct ills in society.  They frequently attempted to convert me from Christianity to Islam.

In October 2008, a few months after I began to hang out at Golden Goose, the popular comedian Ibro and his colleague Lawal Kaura were arrested and imprisoned for two months after a quick trial at a mobile court attached to the Kano Censor’s Board with no lawyer present. They were accused of having not registered a company they claimed did not exist.  At the end of December 2009, pioneering Hausa filmmaker Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama was imprisoned for three months on accusations that he had not censored his award-winning film Tsintsiya with the Kano Censor’s Board even though he had stated on the radio that the film  was not for sale in Kano. But these were only the big names. Hundreds of other film industry workers were also being regularly detained and fined for obscure offenses.

 

Sulaiman Mpeg behind bars at KSCB mobile court

 

In February 2009, my friend Sulaiman, the editor I had gotten to know at Golden Goose, was arrested on accusations that the studio he was now working in was not registered with the censor’s board.  Sulaiman’s employer came to the police station bringing the papers showing the studio was registered, although it had recently moved locations, but the police insisted that Sulaiman would spend the night in jail before being taken before a judge. The conflicts have continued into 2010, most recently in a series of legal altercations between the Kaduna filmmaker’s association and the director general of the Kano Censors board, which have included Kano police travelling to Kaduna to arrest the editor of Fim Magazine, Aliyu Gora.

 

Editor of Fim Magazine Aliyu Gora II and filmmaker Iyan Tama at court in Kaduna. Both were imprisoned in Goron Dutse Prison in Kano on accusations of the Kano State Censor's Board (c)Carmen McCain

 

Because there seemed to be so little widely available news coverage of these events, I began a blog to document alleged abuses as well as to provide a forum where I could post photos, interviews and reports of interactions I had with artists and writers.  I hope this column can extend the work I first began on my blog, and plan to focus mainly on Hausa popular culture and my experience of it, though I may occasionally branch into other Naija related subjects.

Although my first encounter with Nigeria began  twenty-two years ago and although I feel that I have found my family and kindred spirits here, I remain conscious of the fact that I am a foreigner. There will be places in Nigeria where I will always remain an outsider, and people to whom my opinions will always be tinged with the ignorance of the stranger. That said, I hope that my readers will take my contributions in the spirit in which they are given: the love of a foster child for her adopted country. I hope I may contribute in freshness of perspective what I lack in full understanding, and that as I write, I will transfer some of the excitement and love I have for these creative entrepreneurs  to my readers. I welcome your feedback.