Viewpoint

April 11, 2024

Risking it all: Unsafe practices in Nollywood and cost of putting on shows at any cost

Junior Pope

By Kingsley Oyong Akam

The mantra “the show must go on” echoes loudly in the entertainment world, yet there are moments when its application becomes insensitive and downright perilous.

The tragic incident on October 22, 2021, on the set of the film RUST, where cinematographer Halyna Hutchins lost her life due to a mishandled prop gun, serves as a stark reminder. Such tragedies underline the fact that the show cannot and should not proceed at any cost.

Today, Nollywood and its global audience mourn the loss of Junior Pope and several other unidentified cast and crew members due to a boat mishap. To suggest that filming could continue seamlessly after such a devastating loss is both callous and absurd.

While it is true that life carries inherent risks, some are entirely avoidable. As my late lecturer at the University of Calabar, Mr Orok used to say, “Life is a risk; even attending this lecture poses one.” 

However, there are risks that prudent measures can mitigate. Are we, as producers in Nollywood, sacrificing safety for the sake of financial gain? Who bears responsibility for the safety lapses on the ill-fated production? In Junior Pope’s last video, he appeared without a life jacket, and the lackadaisical attitude of the boat driver further exacerbated the situation. Critical safety measures, such as having professional divers on standby, were evidently neglected.

I recall an incident during my own filming in Calabar, where a crew member fell ill. Despite pressure to continue, I halted production until he received proper care. Some criticised my decision, but I firmly believe that no production is worth endangering lives. Junior Pope’s tragic demise is a grim testament to our industry’s disregard for safety. 

The waters hold unseen dangers, and precautions should never be taken lightly. Did the producers seek guidance from local experts or make necessary offerings before venturing into these perilous waters?

Perhaps with proper safety protocols in place, this tragedy could have been averted. Perhaps Junior Pope would still be with us if those responsible had prioritised his well-being over content creation.

In my own productions, I have learned the hard way the importance of thorough risk assessment.

Sometimes, financial constraints force us to pause projects, but a lost life can never be replaced. Let Junior Pope’s passing serve as a wake-up call for Nollywood. The decision to pursue a career in this industry is significant, and safety must be at the forefront of every production.
Rest in peace, J.P.

Kingsley Oyong Akam is of Film Studies, at Lancaster University, United Kingdom.