Monday, 28 January 2019

'Lionheart', Genevieve Nnaji's diplomatic debut

Watching 'Lionheart', directed by Genevieve Nnaji, has convinced me, once more, that the Nigerian film industry has come of age. I watched it on Netflix, which released it on January 4.

 Nnaji starred in the lead role as Adaeze, a foreign educated only daughter of an Enugu-based bus passenger tycoon.  

Adaeze's father, played by Pete Edochie, is in the doldrums of a failing health and a company operating in a slippery business environment, threatened with bankruptcy as it clashes with an aggressive competitor. While her only brother has his sights on a career in music, it becomes Adaeze's lot to do all she can to save the company. To succeed, she teams up with a mirthful uncle (Nkem Owoh) whose ideas she at first rejects but has to embrace when all her chosen options are locked up.

There is an interesting north-meets-east portion in the movie where Adaeze's family teams up with the Alhaji Maikano family from Kano (played brilliantly by Sani Mu'azu and Yakubu Muhammad).
Poster of the movie 'Lionheart'

The film is superb. Tension, joy, family values, sensuality, humour, among other emotions, are well-conveyed. There is scarcely any misstep in the acting, setting and the cinematography generally. The mush-mash of English, Igbo and Hausa not only reflects our diversity but also projects a delicious art form. Kudos to Nnaji, the cast and crew, and The Entertainment Network (T.E.N.) which funded the 2018 production.

With 'Lionheart', the delectable Nnaji has re-established herself as an A-list African actress with the promise of a global prowess. And to think that this  is her directorial debut! No wonder it is the first Nigerian movie to be obtained by and featured in Netflix and it has received favourable responses at the international film festivals held in Toronto and Marrakesh. It has a rating of 5.5/10 on IMDb - a remarkable feat for a non-Hollywood production.

It is sad, however, that the cinema distribution cabal in Nigeria refused to show this film when it should because of some odious self-interest, hiding under the excuse of late booking. 'Lionheart' is the kind of movie that everyone should support. I'll call it a "diplomatic product" because it represents Nigeria culturally in the global marketplace. It is not just another Nollywood movie, but a universal flick that reflects our individual and collective dreams. You should go and see it.

Friday, 4 January 2019

After 'Up North' (the movie), give us 'Down South'

After 'Up North' (the movie), give us 'Down South'

By Ibrahim Sheme

Yesterday, Saturday, I watched the Nollywood movie, 'Up North', which was released two weeks ago on September 28. It is a movie in which the North and the South (read: Kannywood and Nollywood) meet in a marriage of convenience ending in tantalising results. As comedies go, 'Up North' comes with twists and turns that make it too serious to be regarded as one. Bassey Etuokong (Bankey W) is the foreign-trained son of a construction magnate who wishes to carve out his own life away from the one designed for him by his father. An opportunity for him to break away and make his life meaningful comes in the mandatory NYSC posting to the northern state of Bauchi, where, after an egregious one-month stint at an orientation camp, he is posted to a girls' secondary school in rural Kafin Madaki.

He and his boon-companion Sadiq (Ibrahim Suleiman) are drafted to teach the students the P.E. class. They also meet Maryam (Rahama Sadau), a widow teaching in the school. After a redoubtable brush with each other, Maryam and Bassey soon hit it off as they prepare the girls for a state-wide racing competition.

As they train the girls, an amorous relationship seems to develop between them. Largely undefined, the relationship serves as the fire which goads them on. But Bassey has since discovered his humanness and works hard to achieve. To accomplish his desire, he must surmount the difficulties presented by culture shock, his sentimental attachment to an overseas girlfriend, and the interruptions of his censorious father. There is also the problem of persuading Malam Usman, the overprotective father of one of the students, the asthmatic Aisha (Amal Umar), who has the magical speed needed to win the contest.

All's well that ends well as the school wins the competition, Aisha triumps over her illness to pursue her dream, Sadiq weds his ever-smiling, shy heartthrob Zainab (Adesua Etomi Wellington) and Bassey returns to Lagos where he and his father strike a deal that appears to work well for them. Maryam is, however, left in the lurch without any visible alternative that will give her hope.
Poster of the movie 'Up North'

I enjoyed the movie. It reflects so much about life in the North even if overdramatised. The panoramic views taken by the drone camera, the many laughters, etc., are appealing. Some of the best scenes are also the biggest - the Sallah durbar, the holiday at the Yankari game reserve and the SheRunsBauchi sports finals where, interestingly, the actual Governor of Bauchi state, Mohammed Abubakar, makes an appearance as himself.

However, there is the usual stereotyping of the North by a southern filmmaker, writer or journalist. The scene showing Bassey traveling together with a man holding a goat in an overloaded taxi is the worst in this regard. So also the clear attempt to portray the region as backward and gutter-poor. This is in contrast to the Southerners who are portrayed as rich and capable of speaking polished English (even university-educated Northerners like Sadiq have to combine their English with Hausa words in order to prove their "northernness" in the movie; in contrast, there was no single Igbo, Efik or Yoruba word uttered in the film).

Nevertheless, the actors have put in their best. I doff my hat to Banky, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Rahama Sadau, Ibrahim Suleiman and Amal Umar.

The story-telling is superb, though it fails to meet up in several places. For example, no one (not even Sani Mu'azu who plays the role of a Muslim jurist) bothered to indicate that the idea of a marriage between Maryam and Bassey is an anathema considering the fact that Islam forbids such a union between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. Also, Rahama appearing in many places with her head uncovered and resting her body on Banky's would be unacceptable in a Muslim town like Kafin Madaki. The cinematography is also great. 

I will give the director, Tope Oshin Ogun, and her crew more than a pass mark. 'Up North' is the type of flicks one expects to see in this era when we hope to bridge the yawning gap between our multicultural peoples. After 'Up North', the producers, Anakle Films and Inkblot Productions, should now give us 'Down South'!