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The Good, the bad, and the left out: Lessons from the VICE on HBO Nollywood documentary

Vice

Nollywood, the second biggest film industry in the world, has since put Nigeria on the global map. The 2016 record-breaking, romantic comedy The Wedding Party is indicative of the evolutionary growth that has occurred in the industry. And on VICE, the HBO documentary-style TV series that explores various issues in particularly rugged terrains, the correspondent Thomas Morton takes on Nollywood as a journalistic subject.

The episode is titled We Tried Making It In Nollywood, Nigeria’s Booming Film Business, and Thomas is your typical, bespectacled, white American who observes everything around him with quiet wonder. Sometimes it’s funny, even adorable, but his pronunciation of Lagos is cringe-worthy and I felt a certain way when he said he has never heard of Ramsey Nouah and Rita Dominic before. He admits, however, they they are Nollywood stars. Thomas stays in a plush-looking residence in Lagos. In his room, there are posters of Nollywood films above the bed and he regularly browses through online sites for movie audition updates.

Nollywood cranks out more than 2000 films every year, and therefore audition opportunities are always available. The episode becomes bright and immersionist when Thomas goes from audition to audition, meeting filmmakers and actors and directors. He describes the acting style in Nollywood as “extremely manneristic.” In other words, the acting is dramatic and loud. In other words still – overacting. I took a moment to luxuriate in a kind of justification for Thomas’ powers of observation. I recently investigated Nollywood’s predilection for overacting and the findings weren’t that surprising. “In most cases, the overacting isn’t overacting but the basic, expressive way of Nigerians.” says Gregory Ojefua to a curious Thomas.

At one audition scene, Thomas is spontaneously asked to play a terrorist who gets apprehended by the authorities. I couldn’t help but think about America’s deadly gun culture and the fact that Thomas is white. He’s simple and nerdy and almost nondescript. If he were back in high school, he would never be in the league of the cool jocks, or any other popular association within clique culture. He would be terribly lonely. As the scene was acted out, with Thomas shoved to the ground and pleading without much conviction that he wasn’t a terrorist, I saw the toxic combination of depression and self-loathing that high school Thomas would have had to deal with it, making him a prime candidate to carry out attacks. But then again, the Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz wasn’t a typical jock either, so this could just as well pass for method acting.

Nollywood has never addressed its typecasting problem. To have the light skin phenotype is to be more desirable: Ramsey Nouah played romantic lover boy for years while Jim Iyke, though good looking, mostly played bad boy roles because of his roguish exterior. Thomas soon goes to Benin, where he meets director and filmmaker Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen. Imasuen is on set shooting his film Love Upon the Hills and Thomas tries out playing the role of Reverend Father. At this point, I can’t take Thomas’ acting seriously. Nollywood is a sum of different components. For a journalistic voyage into the business of Nollywood, this Thomas Morton-helmed episode doesn’t factor in cinema culture and how it shaped Nollywood.

The box office success of The Wedding Party wouldn’t have been possible without the presence of cinemas. Furthermore, no female writer, director, or filmmaker spoke to Thomas in the documentary. Except for Rachael Oniga who briefly commended Thomas on his acting, no woman was shown giving a professional or technical perspective on the film industry. The documentary could have been so much more nuanced, but it ended up being schlocky and predictable, how ever well intentioned it originally was.

I don’t think VICE tried making it in Nollywood. Perhaps somewhere else.

Read » The Good, the bad, and the left out: Lessons from the VICE on HBO Nollywood documentary on YNaija

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