By Morenike Taire
In December of 2016, the Nigerian cinema-going crowd was treated to two phenomenal movies that changed our cinema history forever.
76, a historical movie directed by the critically acclaimed Izu Ojukwu, was the game changer that raised the bar in modern cinematography and reopened fresh and profound perspectives into the Dimka coup, in which head of state Murtala Mohammed was sacrificed.
In a work of pure genius, the story of violence and betrayal was softened by music, partying, sex, motherhood and high romance.
But even this had to take the back stage. The Wedding Party, a post modern construct produced by media entrepreneur Mo Abudu, took the cinema scene by the storm in an unprecedented way. It was the romantic comedy about a young couple whose wedding aspirations were in great jeopardy, thanks to their friends, enemies and frenemies alike. In the end, as in any romantic comedy, love won in the end. The movie grossed 400 million naira, and was by every measure a commercial success.
Many reasons have been proffered for the success of the Wedding Party, whose sequel, the Wedding Party 2 debuted last December to an anticlimactic reception. The most preferred is the fact that it was released around the holiday period, affording viewers the opportunity to actually go to the cinema to see it. The media build up and the word of mouth accounts did the rest.
Looking more closely however, the cultural significance of the Wedding Party is more likely to be responsible for the success of the film: the side chic who refused to back off; the father of the bride who would not admit to being broke; the guests who wanted to gate crash; the amala and gbegiri, the white girl who was infatuated by Nigerian culture and of course the great bridal dance by which the two families showed up one another. Everyone who saw the movie saw themselves, their father or mother; their neighbor and their boyfriends in all the characters. Many people saw the movie more than once, as they could not believe how uncannily real it was, and they could not wait for the sequel in 2017.
The two movies was the reason that cinema culture saw a boost in 2017. More importantly, it became cultural for Nigerians to go to see Nigerian movies on the big screen. Funke Akindele, herself a producer of note with critical and financial success, joined the ranks of owners of television channels. Her online channel has broken records, with many Nigerians now able and willing to pay for film content.
It is the beginning of a revolution, both of quality materials and material success in our world famous film industry known as Nollywood. If we keep this up, Nollywood has the potential to surpass Bollywood in size and reach, or even Hollywood.
And the best way to destroy the impetus is to introduce the kind of craze that has been introduced over recently debuted Hollywood movie, Black Panther.
Produced by David J. Grant and Kevin Feige, the 200 million dollar film is expected to surpass the 600 million dollar mark by this weekend in box office sales globally, including Africa. The appeal of this movie to black people is apparently the fact that it has an all black cast. In addition, it casts a native African turned American, Lupita N’yongo, who looks the way strangers to Africa think beautiful Africans ought to look.
In the first instance, the idea of a cartoon film is alien to Nigerian culture. We love fiction, but we love fiction that is real, like the babalawo scenes. The fact that Nigerians are queuing up to see Black Panther and treating it as an ahaa moment suggests the kind of backwardness that will not do our cinema culture any good.
Thousands of people around the world went out to buy African clothes to wear to go and see Black Panther. Most of the fabrics were manufactured not in Africa but in Holland and China. The very vibrant Nigerian fashion industry was not even touched by such unprecedented demand.
Standing alone, Black Panther is a good film. Even children in 2018 have common access to software on their handheld devices by which they can create their own cartoon films. The role of film, especially high budget ones, must necessarily go beyond entertainment and the tickling of the imagination. There is therefore nothing profound in a movie in this era which does not stir something within our collective cultural psyche.