F or two years, ageless beauty and veteran actress, Clarion Chukwurah took a break from acting to tour three countries following her position as a special UN peace envoy. She’s back in the country and upon her return, she bagged a prestigious award in recognition of her contribution towards the development of the Nigerian film industry.But in spite of all these, Chukwurah still feels disappointed with a lot of things happening in the industry. She bares her mind on the issues.
By SAM ANOKAM
You recently won ‘Legends of Nollywood’award. How do you feel being recognised as a legend in the industry?
I was on location in Enugu when the award was held and as you can see, ‘Best Female Act, Mirror in the Sun, Clarion Chukwurah’. The award was received on my behalf by my publicist, Cornell Udofia. This award is yearly organised by Paul Obazele’s company, Royal Pictures. Frank Rajah, I think was part of it as well as Zack Orji and many others. I appreciate the award having been given this recognition for the role I played in the now rested ‘Mirror in the Sun.’ But I think that the name of the award and the work for which it was given is rather misplaced.
That is because the award is called, ‘Legends of Nollywood’. Nollywood is today’s euphemism for the Nigerian film industry. ‘Mirror in the Sun’ was the second national network soap opera. It was a television drama. I understand that before the award was held, AMP president,Mr. Zik Zulu Okafor and other stakeholders celebrated Nollywood at 20, which witnessed an award ceremony called Legends of Nollywood Awards.
They honoured those whom they considered as foremost actors and cinematographers in the industry.
However, when Paul Obazele set out to hold his own Legends of Nollywood award, he gave people the impression that he was going to correct the anomalies. I was expecting Zik Zulu’s ‘Legends of Nollywood’awards to honour actors, producers, directors, cinematographers who have made their marks dating back to late 1950s, till the advent of the new Nollywood. That was my expectations.
They actually wanted to give me an award for ‘Koko Close’, a TV drama I did in Ibadan while I was an undergraduate in the University of Ife. I was surprised, you are talking about ‘Legends of Nollywood’ and you are giving me an award for a role I played in a TV drama. Are you not confused here? I expected to see the likes of Chief Hubert Ogunde being given a posthumous award, MKO Abiola who was the first Nigerian business mogul to sponsor a multi million Naira technicolour Nigerian film titled ‘Bisi Daughter of the River’.
I was expecting to see Kunle Afolayan received a posthumous award on behalf of his father, Sunday Omobolanle’s (Aluwe) first wife stepping out to an award on behalf of her father, Moses Olaiya, Jeta Amata mounting the stage to pick an award on behalf of his grand father.
That was what I expected to see at the ‘Legend of Nollywood’ awards. But whilst Zik Zulu and his partners deliberately refused to recognise that there was a film industry before the production of teh movie, ‘Living in Bondage’, Obazele’s faction proved themselves more ignorant by lumping TV and everything together.
They are two different things. I think it’s high time, the Nollywood practitioners should stop feigning ignorance and face the truth that before Jesus Christ, there was Abraham. Before Nollywood, there was a Nigerian film industry and that is the main reason Nollywood is stagnant today. That is why Nollywood is not growing. If a child doesn’t recognise his mother, how can he grow? If you don’t know where you are coming from, how would you know here you are going to?
No doubt, you are a legend in the Nigerian motion picture industry. What’s the difference between Nollywood of yesteryears and today’s Nollywood?
It hasn’t improved at all. It is now a proverbial ‘ state’ that makes one to weep. Everything has fallen to a disgraceful state. No standards are left. I was on a location in Enugu last month and the production manager was insulting the director of photography. I was shocked.
The producer and the director were shouting at each other. I could not imagine it. The artistic director would just walk away and actors are not directed on what to do. Any greenhorn could hit the set and believe that she could sleep her way to the top. She is pretty and sleeps with the Executive Producer. It’s just sickening. And they say to you, this movie is meant for the market and the cinema. It is not for film festival, just do it anyhow because this is for inside the market. That goes to show there are no standards. It is pathetic.
We didn’t see much of you last year in the movies?
I was out of the country for two years. I came back in May last year and I shot my very first movie in the same month. I shot about six movies from May through December 15th when I returned to my home. Those movies were, Last Family Reunion, That Fateful Night, Hustlers, The God of the Ghetto and Apaye, Land of Canaan.
Why did you travel abroad for two years?
I was appointed a United Nations international special peace envoy on international peace day at the ECOWAS building in Abuja. I had two years to travel to three countries in the course of my NGO because I was given that appointment in recognition of my NGO, Clarion Chukwurah Initiative International.
We have been dealing with women and children. More over, I worked in Kenya, Tanzania and Los Angeles. In those two years, I was travelling from Kenya to Tanzania and LA.
It was wonderful.
For me, I have achieved something that gives me a deep sense of satisfaction, a feeling that I have an edge above all this issue of fame. I have risen above all that. In Kenya, my initiative was supporting this community school in a slum called Soweto Kayole in Nairobi. When I started working in that community, I encountered school children who are fatherless and whose mothers are HIV/AIDS patients. I had about 50 of them, but before the end of October 2012, the number increased to 350 children. They increased when they heard I had a daily feeding programme for the children.
They also had no clothes. I put uniform on the back of every kid and sandals on their feet. We had environmental sanitation, health aids and collaborating with the UN Habitat and the Rotary. I am a member of the rotary club of Nairobi. The bulk of the members are non Africans- Italians, Americans, British and others.
They were bringing support to help teach these children and of course, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, East Africa, a section of which I am a member. Even when Daddy Adeboye came for the East Africa convention, he saw my work and commended it. Mummy G.O. also prayed for me.
For their mothers, we taught them about basic personal and environmental hygiene. We built toilets, cleared gutters and taught them how to protect themselves against sex related diseases. We also put them on drugs for HIV AIDS. Because the UN headquarters is there, there are a lot of bodies to collaborate with for an NGO like mine which is recognised. We started skill acquisition.
In Los Angeles, I got support from the Church of Science in Hollywood to produce some episodes on women empowerment and women related issues in terms of what is happening in the Caribbean were men are killing their wives and girlfriends. It happens in Kenya. The idea is to bring these issues to the fore what African heritage men are doing to their women so that we can look at these issues and find a way to re-orient the women on how to handle them.
We also reached out to the men to learn to handle things differently and this we sent to the TV. The initiative representative in Canada, Nicola Rodney came to the state for this programme so that she could take it back for informative training to impact on the lives of women in the Caribbean especially in Guyana.
This is an era where actors and actresses are producing their own movies; do you have plans to go into movie production?
I do have plans for that but I don’t want to look at it as producing my movies. I intend also to do a lot of collaborations. I talked about how things are.
I intend to work in and outside the mainstream Nollywood world and to collectively move Nollywood forward.
What is the way forward?
The mainstream Nollywood world is the one that caters for the populace, not necessarily the cinema movies. And with the new distribution channel that is coming, the important thing is for the professionals to come into it and not say we can’t relate with this people. In order to make things right, you have to go back in there with a determination to make things right.
You are still looking beautiful after putting in several years in the movie industry. What’s the secret of your ageless looks?
The secret is discipline. You have to be as my son Brian would say wellness freak. You have to know when to exercise. You have to know the importance of water, eating the right things. It is about healthy living, healthy eating.
Aside movie making and your NGO, what else do you do?
I have a clothing line. I still have the C3. We have a partner outlet in Toronto, Kenya and the UK. We are doing well by God’s grace.
Are you not thinking of marriage?
Give me a break. Please don’t ask. Don’t go there. Please spare me.