A matter of language
A couple of days ago, I was watching Guy Ritchie’s sophomore movie Snatch (2000), the brilliant follow up to his fantastic directorial debut Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). Being one of my favourite films, it wasn’t the first time of watching.
Aside the great dialogue, insane sequences and incredibly memorable characters with bizarre names such as Bullet Tooth Tony and Boris the Bullet dodger, I observed something for the first time.
In the scene where Mullet is being interrogated by Tony, I noticed the authenticity in the way he spoke. His twang, slang and idiomatic bang were distinct to him and the area of London he was from.
Although, not everyone that watched it may have been able to comprehend what he said, but those that did appreciated it, as it gave the movie flavour and a lot of humour. Different characters with varying accents.
Then I thought of some television shows, and movies, where characters speak like they are professional newscasters for the BBC.
A few years ago, I liked that kind of thing. In my mind I thought, “let them see that we are educated and don’t need subtitles”.
However, it affected my writing, as I often got feedback that my dialogue sounded “western”.
That made me aware, and as I noticed it in other TV shows and movies, it sounded false and inauthentic.
Where writers are ordered, not to write in vernacular and actors have to speak in an acquired accent. Sadly ironic that what is meant to make it global, does quite the opposite.
We aren’t American or British and though accents and speech patterns vary, From the Igbo to Wafi to Fulani to Lekki Yoruba, Mushin Yoruba, which all have idiosyncrasies and unique blend of humour at the end of the day, we are what we are, Nigerians.
This happened in Naija Hip Hop where a lot of rappers with American styled rap came on the scene and despite great beats and lyrical stamina, they never quite made it. But when DaGrin came on the scene as well as 2 Shotz, they showed that rapping in a local language was cool, paving the way for the likes of Olamide and Phyno, years later.
Our theatrical movies need to reflect that (several do) there are certain conversations that sound a lot sweeter in pidgin, with a tribal accent or even in one’s local language. Flowing in between mother tongue, English and pidgin.
South Africans have it nailed in their films and their soaps; they flow between English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other local dialects. Countries where English is the language of the colonizers, speakers tend to mix a cocktail of it and their mother tongue in conversation.
Most Nigerians, with exception of some outliers, are bilingual, some even polyglots.
So it’s natural for this to reflect in our films. Inauthentic ways of speaking disrupts the illusion and jerks the viewer’s attention from the drama you are portraying, because they’re raising a WTH eyebrow and probably laughing.
While the intention may be to make the TV show or film, as internationally accessible and communicable as possible, we should not get distracted, that we start to sound less and less like ourselves. Authenticity still goes a very long way.
In 2018, Knock out Blessing, Kasla, Lion Heart, King of Boys mixed english, pidgin and a local language and there was an authenticity to it, making it pleasant to the ears.
Especially ‘Kasala’ which showed the life a young boys from the Ghetto, in a way we don’t often see since theatrical Nollywood commenced.
Naturally, this all depends on the type of story being told, the characters and the demographic it’s made for.
Sylvia (2018) and God Calling (2018) were both in English and they worked for those stories. So, it’s not a one size fits all, it just has to be true to the particular story.
As the current stage of Nollywood’s evolution finds its cinematic voice, it would be interesting to see the films which come to define it.
The films which leave an indelible mark, transcend the Nigerian and African audience and go on to influence another generation.
December 2018 was a Royal Rumble for Nollywood cinema, as Knock out Blessing, God Calling, Up North, Chief Daddy, Lion Heart, Power of One were all released within days of each other and King of Boys still in theatres since it’s October release.
Along with other Nollywood films, these big 6 vied for the Naira of cinema patrons. By far the most diverse and competitive December of theatrical Nollywood
In 2019, we anticipate, Akin Omotoso’s first Nigerian feature The Ghost and the House of Truth.
The sophomore features of Jade Osiberu and Abba Makama, Nigerian Trade and The Lost Okoroshi respectively; these are already a few releases we have to look forward to.