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Cultural revival through the screen: Imasuen’s filmic statements on marble – Part 2

By Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma
04 July 2021   |   2:57 am
Every film reflects the social, political, economic, cultural, philosophical, technological and artistic developments of the country from where it is produced.

Lancelot Oduwa

Every film reflects the social, political, economic, cultural, philosophical, technological and artistic developments of the country from where it is produced.

Thus, the children of the popular culture imbibe in any society, ranging from music, dances, dressing, hairstyles, foods, drinks, and so on, are mostly through their contact with various channels of entertainment, which are mostly foreign media.

Little wonder then that the Apartheid government of the old South Africa did not allow television broadcasting in its enclave until the repressive regime was dismantled (Ayakoroma, 1990). It also explains why Facebook and many other social media platforms are not allowed in China. Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the recent ban of Twitter by the present administration, an action that has been condemned globally and may have a ripple effect on the country’s socio-economic wellbeing.

Films have universal appeal and impact, and a film can rise above language limitations and cultural barriers because, to Opubor and Nwuneli (1995), through “the powers of its visual images, its use of music and sound effects,” a film will succeed in “conveying much the same message to audiences of heterogeneous background.”

This explains why in his analysis, Rotha (1975) observes that good films are dangerous “because of their instantaneous impact on the minds and emotions of the world’s citizenry.” For instance, in the typical Hollywood convention, the American dream is projected in such a way that America is seen as the ideal country regardless of the sovereignty or integrity of other countries. Most Hollywood war/action films portray America as a dedicated country, ready to sacrifice everything to save just one of its own citizens (Ayakoroma, 2011b).

A film is not produced in a vacuum; it often tells a story of a personality, society or environment. Whether fictional or non-fictional, such stories aim at correcting negative cultural practices, promoting cultural values for their appreciation and emulation, or are purely for leisure and entertainment. Consequently, the audience satisfaction derived from a film, especially a feature film, is not limited to the narrative alone; it is also viewed within the context of its being a textual and socio-cultural expression. Therefore, a film is a medium through which culture and cultural values are protected and promoted for the general good of society. Nollywood films are no exception, as reflected in the works of LOI. His works are deeply rooted, culturally and socially, in that they not only project the ways of life of Nigerians but also tell stories of Nigeria’s past and present. Moreover, they are cultural products aimed at engendering Nigeria’s socio-cultural and economic development.

The Nollywood Experience
From its humble beginning, ushered by the production of Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage (Obi-Rapu, 1992), There is no contesting the fact that Nollywood emerged as an experimental business venture by Igbo traders – spare part dealers and home video sellers. Thus, the Igbo traders have had a stranglehold on the emergent industry, since there is no appreciable government funding, except, perhaps, during the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration when Project ACT Nollywood was put in place. Now, Nollywood has grown to become a gold mine, waiting to be exploited. It has been adjudged by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), as the second-biggest film industry in the world, after the Indian film industry, Bollywood, in terms of production quantity. However, over the years, the industry has established its own star system; but such stars are called selling faces by the executive producers (EPs); their inclusion in movies translates to increased sales of such films. This explains why the EPs decide which selling faces use and which new faces to introduce in their films; and they always have their way because, as the saying goes, “he who pays the piper dictates the tune.”

It is worth noting here that the eventual taking over of the production process in the industry by the EPs had some implications on Nollywood, as follows:
a) Executive producers wielding unlimited powers.
b) The EPs maximisation of profits from productions.
c) Serious limitations in the concepts and approaches to marketing due to the background of the marketers.
d) Emergence of the era of back-to-back productions.
e) Creation of Igbo star actors and actresses, many of them without professional theatre training.
f) Rise of artist fees in tandem with the economic forces of demand and supply.
g) EPs determining the release dates/windows in the industry.
h) Creating the enabling atmosphere for the rise of professional support artists like artistic directors, location managers, costumiers, makeup artists, and so on.
i) Evolution of a very strong cartel that could ban or un-ban star artists and place a ceiling on artist fees as occurred in October 2004 (see Ayakoroma, 2014).

However, right in the midst of the murky waters as critical stakeholders, the likes of Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen (LOI) took up the gauntlet to give the industry a human face. It is on record that LOI is among the first set of directors that initiated cross-border productions, an approach that has, to a great extent, significantly “enlarged the coast” of Nollywood.

Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen’s Filmic Statements on Marble
Here, I will briefly examine five selected works of LOI to amplify the assertion that he has made vital filmic statements that have been invaluable contributions to the growth and development of Nollywood. The selected films are Issakaba (Imasuen, 2001), Masterstroke (Imasuen, 2003), Private Sin (Imasuen, 2003), Home in Exile (Imasuen, 2008) and Invasion 1897: The Deposition of the Last African King (Imasuen, 2014).
Issakaba (Imasuen, 2001)

The Issakaba series (Imasuen, 2001) parodies the then dreaded Bakassi Boys that terrorised traders and the entire citizenry in the South-East geopolitical zone, especially Ariaria Market in Aba and the Upper Iweka Market in Onitsha. It is pertinent to note that the Bakassi boys had been a law unto themselves, wantonly deciding at will the fate of citizens in the South-East. The failure of the Nigerian policing system has been portrayed in different dimensions in Nigerian video films. Examples include Sergeant Okoro (Williams, 1997), Executive Crime (Benson, 2000), State of Emergency Pt. 1 (Benson, 2000), Broad Daylight (Benson, 2001), Police Officer (Collins, 2002), and State of Emergency Pt. 2 (Thompson, 2005), just to mention a few.

Starring Sam Dede (as Ebube) and Mike Ogundu (as Nwoke), Issakaba depicts the failure of the policing system and the rise of vigilantism in Nigeria. Coming at a time militancy in the Niger Delta region was on the increase, the series became a reference point in traditional self-help security operations. The series paraded an array of Nollywood stars, namely, Amaechi Muonagor (Igwe), Columbus Irisoanga (Priest of Igbudu), Zulu Adigwe (Ikuku), Chiwetalu Agu (Chief Odiwe), Ejike Asiegbu (Chief Edwin), Tom Njemanze (DPO Idoko), Andy Chukwu (Danga), John Okafor (Amazuru), and Chudi Kashimawo (Ikenka), among others.

It is pertinent to relate some vital disclosure from an interview I conducted with Sam Dede, regarding his assessment of the Issakaba series:

I would say it’s (Issakaba) my most popular movie. Although Igodo was there, and Ijele was there, Issakaba has, to me, been the most popular … even up till tomorrow, people are still fascinated by that first part of Issakaba.