The Quality Question in Nollywood Movies: Mr. & Mrs. and Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Esther Frank APEJOYE
Department of Theatre & Film Studies
University of Calabar, Calabar
Over the years, Nigeria's movie industry has sporadically climbed the ladder of prominence into becoming a world phenomenon despite its crude and humble beginning. Moreover, it is also adjudged the second best in the world today. However, many film scholars believe that Nollywood is still very backward in many aspects, such as, storyline, acting, production as a whole, and ultimately the aspect of quality as compared to its Bollywood and Hollywood counterparts. This is what this paper seeks to redress, it goes further to show how high the quality of Nollywood films is presently, as it is gradually growing pass the aspect of low quality. To further work on the study two movies, Mr. and Mrs. (Nollywood's) and Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Hollywood's) are employed. The critical and analytical method is used for this research. In conclusion, it is believed that this work will contribute to film studies.
Key Words: Quality, Question, Movies, Nollywood.
An African proverb goes thus: “When a child is praised for giving a cup of water to his elder, he will give a bucket of water the next time he is asked for water.” The child will go an extra length to get more water so that the praise he is given will increased. This clearly states that if you want to get the best from someone or any organisation the issue of condemnation should be far from it; because, if this is not watched, that individual may suffer from inferiority and may end up not doing well. Though from the time Nigerian film began, we know that one of the hardest things we had to contend with was the issue of violence, sadism, wickedness etc portrayed in our movies but right now the reverse ids the case as most of these issues are rather treated in moderation. These movies are presently taking after the Hollywood pattern which as Prince Stephen puts it, The violence in Westerns and war films typically presented as a kind of righteous violence, carried out by heroes of strong moral purpose rather than the dubious role models supplied by gangsters and other criminals or monsters... (33).
Many things have been said and written of film industry, especially Nollywood, as it is our concern here. Some viewers as well as scholars have also come up with the fact that the criminally and violence oriented films produced in Nigeria has to no small extent contributed to the high crime rate in the country but Thomas Leitch, counters this by with an outstanding remark regarding the audience who after watching some so called crime and violence films go ahead to implement what they watched, he states here that, Criminally behaviour, then is the fault of a cruelly alienating society, or of the ethnic self-identification, or vaulting personal ambition, conscious avarice, sexual beguilement, male hysteria, the fatal need for the company of others- not just a warped society, but the social impulse as such (292).
He concludes by saying that the reasons for allowing these films are to focus on the problematic relationship between individual and social power and justice. It is important to note here that acting is doing on stage what others do in real life. Whatever film genre it is it falls into the category of things happening in the society; that is why people should encourage the movie industry to portray these even more so as to curtail the ills in the society. However, Hollywood and Nollywood are really doing their best in making sure that they take up what is happening in their society and put it on screen. Most times, these has saved a lot of viewers from making grievous mistakes, it has also been able to draw the attention of the government to issues that concerns the society and the citizenry.
Research has shown that many Nigerians prefer the Hollywood and Bollywood movies than theirs with the excuse that Nigerian films are below standard, it behoves this writer to state here that on the other hand the reverse is the case. Many non-Africans crave solely for films produced by them, so instead of these Nigerians helping to grow their industry they prefer enriching the pockets of others. To a large extent, one will say that despite the negatives that have been said of Nollywood, there is so much improvement and positive sides as the industry is gradually rising from glory to glory. The history of film cannot be credited to one individual as many scholars have done because each inventor added his own quarter to making it what it is today.
Synopsis of the Films in Focus
Diary of a Mad Black Woman. This film centres around Charles McCarthy (Steve Haris), a renowned lawyer and his wife Helen(Kimberley Elise) of eighteen years without children, the marriage has been full of difficulty especially from the part of Charles who despises his wife’s feeling, treats her like trash, cheats on her and does it so badly, the height of the humiliation meted on Helen by her husband was the gift of divorce on their eighteenth anniversary as he packs her belongings out of his house and ushers in his concubine Brenda Marcus(A white lady) who has gotten children(two boys) for him already. He drags her out of the house leaving her in a reckless abandoned not even having a place to go as he had already alienated her from her entire family. The truck driver (Orlando) whom Charles had contracted to take her things with her to wherever got upset on the way as their destination seemed uncertain, out of frustration she pushes him out of the truck and heads to her grandmother’s (Medea) house. Medea is another mad black woman who gets upset at the ill treatment meted on her granddaughter. She takes Helen with her to Charles’ house and destroyed most of his sitting room furniture. This act landed them in the court as Medea was placed under house arrest. Helen decided to give up everything to Charles who gloried in her seeming defeat. However, Helen was already in love with Orlando who met her at her family’s reunion.
Somewhere along the line, Charles had a client who was involved in a heinous case which he actually committed but bribed Charles with some money to help him win the case but this could not be achieved as Charles lost the case to the other side, this infuriated the client as he pulled out a trigger from his pocket and shot at Charles, this made him suffer a sever spinal cord injury which resulted to his immobility, when Brenda was told of his state of health she took to her heels taking with her all the possessions he refused granting Helen access to. Helen, full of kindness, takes it upon herself to take care of Charles who never appreciated her efforts but had to succumb afterwards after she had made him realised she was not the former Helen. It is worthy of note that before now, Orlando had proposed to Helen but she was yet to give him a reply, though Charles had asked her for her forgiveness. However, she spent three weeks taking care of Charles, he started regaining his mobility with the help of a therapist, this enabled him follow Helen and her family to Church. After service, they found themselves with other family members in Medea’s house, here Helen presented a divorce letter to him as she ran off to the factory Orlando worked to give him the reply to his proposal which was a Yes…. Helen experiences joy and peace ever after....
Mr. & Mrs. This movie is in two parts, for the course of this study we will do the two together. The movie is about two couples but one takes the lead (Kenneth and Susan Abbah) and (Charles and Linda). The story portrays Kenneth and Susan Abbah as a typical African couple, were the man wants the woman no matter the level of her education to remain a housewife, doing all the cleaning, laundering, cooking as well as being a sex object who is always there to meet the man’s sexual need while the man is accrued every right to become all that he wants to be, with liberty to keep as much concubines as possible. Susan his wife is reduced to worse than a maid in her own husband’s house, she has lost herself image just because of the way she is been treated by her spouse. She is a lawyer by profession but not given the right to follow her career path because Ken wants her to be home to take care of him whenever he is around. Ken as he was fondly called by friends and associates had concubines which Susan got lieu of.
However, this gets to a point where she could no longer bear the psychological trauma any more, the issue of divorce crops in, she connives with the counsellor to get a divorce, Ken is shocked as he could not imagine that the fearful and timid Susan could be so bold and ready for a divorce, with his ego he subscribes for it only on some conditions if sometime could be given for Susan to have a rethink and for it to also wait till after his father’s commissioning as a minister. But Susan knowing what she wants insists that whatever is his terms this should include the fact that she will be like a stranger in that house as she has no more business with him. The counsellor states this to Kenneth on the grounds that he must adhere to the above conditions; he had no choice but to adhere. Susan played her games rightly as she made her husband feel that she is no more in love with him, she also becomes her real self as she gets herself a well paid job. Kenneth got fed up and decided that the divorce be called off as he agreed to the further terms laid down by Susan, in short to reconcile properly she asked him to wed her again which he did and they lived happily ever after because Susan was able to teach him the right lessons on how to treat women. On the other hand, Charles and Linda (the second couple) are seen as the perfect couple, Linda a banker is a very buy woman, she leaves the care of the home to her maid and her husband while she focuses on building her career.
At one point, she boast aloud to Susan who at that time was complains to her on the ill treatment she had been receiving from Ken, Linda tells her that Charles is the best thing that has ever happened to her as he is so understanding, accommodating etc, she tells her that it is only on Sundays she cooks for him and that is the preparation of bread and tea. But as time goes on, with the help of the counsellor and Susan Linda discovers that the good man she considered Charles to be that is not who he is. He has been having sexual intercourse with their housemaid Ekaette because over and again he had been denied sex from his wife, when he was caught in the act he confidently told everyone present that Ekaette the maid is the reason why he is still in the marriage with Linda as she seems to do for him everything his wife would not do and give to him. Linda was dismayed. Wisely, Susan came to their house the following day and asked the maid to leave right away which she did. Linda and Charles learnt their lessons afterwards as they realized that staying together as husband and wife entails a lot which everyone must who wants to journey that path must be ready to follow. The two couples in the film are used to portray the happenings in everyday life.
Critical Theories in the Films
Many critical theories can be used in interpreting the two movies depending on the critic. For better understanding, we will be looking at feminism, psychoanalysis and readers-response theory (the latter happen to be the major critical tool for the analysis of these movies). Feminism or feminist criticism according to Tyson Lois, examines the way in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforces or undermines the economic, political, social and psychological oppression of women (83). One of the reasons why this movement came about was as a result of the various issues that challenged women, limiting them to mere properties or house wives. Women from all over the world especially in Africa have been faced with the situation of where they are seen as an housewives with little or no rights to express themselves in every sense of the word. Many women are just seen as sex tools used only to satisfy the male sexual desires consequently, the feminist movement seeks for equal rights, as it kick against segregation, favouritism of the male gender against the female. Therefore, in viewing the movies through the feminist eyes, we will see that the heroines in the movies are a reflection of the subjugation of the female gender.
Looking at Helen (the “mad” African American woman), you will see a woman that has been tortured and made to believe the lies that women are to be voiceless around the men, and encouraged to accept whatever the male gender does to them as part of the cross they should carry. Helen lost more than two pregnancies in the eighteen years of her marriage to Charles. Going by the background of the movie, whenever she gets pregnant with child, he beats her up to stupor until she loses her pregnancy, Helen buttresses this in her words: “( Amidst sobs) Charles, you made me loose two pregnancies....” Even with this dirty act of wife battery, he is never satisfied; he goes about having concubines while he leaves his wife to the cold hands of the wind as he pours out his care and love outside his home. Moreover, Helen despite her level of education remains a house wife serving her husband’s needs whether he deserves it or not. He uses her as a punching bag and finally throws her and her belongings out of the house while he marries a whore in the person of Brenda (a gold-digger). Helen’s ordeal is typical of an “ideal” married woman in the world’s context.
How about Susan in Mr. & Mrs., Susan also found herself messed up in almost the same condition with Helen, here Susan is reduced to a maid in her own home with no right for the achievements of her own dreams and aspirations. A trained lawyer who ends up cooking in man’s kitchen. Kenneth Abbah is a spoilt kid from a politically rich background, he has everything at his beck and call. He tells his wife to prepare fresh food for each meal with choice juice; he turns Susan into a sex object, which he uses for sexual gratification, he alone gets the pleasure while Susan weeps as she is being used by the man she married. The day she realised herself, sense and direction began a journey to their home. When she rose up from the dunghill Kenneth had placed her and decided for a divorce, Kenneth has to plead for peace while Susan stamps her feet on the ground that for that to be done they must take their wedding vows again, this was agreed upon and the family lived even better ever after.
From the two movies we can see the female gender struggling to regain her freedom from the supposed prison put her by the male gender. These women arose from their slumber and were celebrated at last. Every woman must know that she has a right that no one should stand against especially when she is on the right. There is nothing right for a man to take up a woman’s duty, by the way who even divided the duties? Man himself, that is why everything is dome to his favour. The issues faced here by Helen and Susan has been in existence long before now, the slave trade gave rise to it even the mover as the women were considered as....
Another critical theory for our consideration is psychoanalysis as propounded by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). This theory has so much to it, it is seen as, At one point we could see Helen passing her anger unto Orlando which is displacement in the psychoanalytic criticism. Orlando did no harm but was only frustrated as she had no direction she wanted him to take her to, his question made her descend on him pushing him out of the truck at the middle of the night. Another aspect of this theory is inferiority complex, this was found in the two main characters above where they were so maltreated that they lost their self worth thereby accepting whatsoever was meted to them. Inferiority complex makes one to lose her self esteem image and take up whatever is given to you without questioning. For the two major characters in the movies, the situation they found themselves brought low their self images.
The Quality Question in Nollywood Movies
In assessing the question of quality in Nollywood movies, we are going to be doing a comparative study of the two films above each representing Nollywood and Hollywood. It is pertinent to note here that many have said that due to the poor quality of our movies we cannot be compared to Bollywood and Hollywood, the question we should ask ourselves is what makes a quality film? According to Mick LaSalle, a senior film critic in San Francisco, he enumerated that for a film to be seen as quality it must be topical, embodying timeless human values, great performance, must have an overarching consciousness or personality that brings the brings the movie into a balance, it must contain at least one memorable scene, it must end in the note of complexity not just ambiguity. This researcher is in support of LaSalle and also of the opinion that content, thematic import, sound, light, cinematography, visual elements, director’s approach (style of directing) etc makes a quality film. We shall therefore discuss them in line with the movies of our consideration.
Content simply deals with what makes a film worth watching. It comprises of the plot, theme, characterisation, language etc. In Mr. and Mrs. (Nollywood), these were in place. The plot has a beginning, middle and an end with a synchronisation in the storyline. It has a well constructed plot for the better understanding of the viewers. It followed a well defined order; the storyline is universal as many families tend to suffer the same fate with Mr. and Mrs. Abbah and Charles. Viewers quickly identified with this movie. As Jeffrey and Rutsky puts it, Some films are themselves analysis of prevailing societal structures or beliefs. Their narratives obviously contain political implications; gender roles and the oppression of women... religious and socio-political orthodoxy, as well as class and gender...films...work to engage or intellects and encourage further thinking about the political and ideological questions they raise (26).
Come to think of it, the moral lesson derived here is unquantifiable. Through the movie, couples learnt that divorce which is the current trend in marriages today is not the best but useful and meaningful resolution is the key. In other words, we see the message treated in the movie as topical as the issue of divorce, quarrels in marriages etc are the present happenings of the day. Simple language is used to communicate in the movie that even a lay man will be able to grasp what each character has to say, no complicated language was used despite the educational qualifications of Mr. and Mrs. Abbah, their language was pure and devoid of grammatical jargons like some directors and script writers will do. In terms of acting, Haase Carthy, notes that, For a film actor to carefully bring out his roles in a play, he must be sure of: the dialogue must be worked on; all problems you might have in executing it have to be solved before you get to the set. It must be perfectly memorizes. I know all the stories about actors in movies not knowing their lines, but that is misrepresentation of the truth. Movie actors are expected to know their lines perfectly without any rehearsal at all...flexibility is the key word (125).
Initially, some of the movies shown on our screen were with this flaws but right now, actors from this part of the world are really on their feet, you can see them deliver their lines as professionals, people that have well studied the script, gotten their cues and know their lines. The characters used here are well trained actors who brought life to their roles, for instance, Susan played her role so well that when she was being treated as a maid she played it and when she turned into a woman who wants and knows her right we saw a very different person in her, she was able to carry this roles flawlessly. Each of the actors interpreted their roles befittingly. Looking at The Diary of a Mad Black Woman, the same thing implies, it must be stated categorically here that, the content is good, the theme is also universal, role interpretation was wonderful, and Helen, Charles, Medea gave so much to the realisation of that movie. Helen so carried her roles as she played more than two roles in the movie successfully, she played the role of a woman who had been under subjectivity for eighteen years, enduring every shit Charles aimed at her, she also played a woman who is being rejected by her husband, thrown out of the house with no money for support or upkeep, another role she played was that of a sales girl in a restaurant etc, all these she interpreted so real. Medea is the bomb, here is a man playing the role of a dangerous old woman side by side two other roles, these were interpreted very well.
The issue of performance come to bear, here asides the acting, we will consider the directorial techniques used here. In the two movies, using the major characters as an example Kenneth and Susan, Charles and Helen, Kenneth played the role of a rude and unsatisfied husband with all the characteristics of such character intact. From when he stopped Susan from having her own career to making her a maid an a sex object, he portrayed that character with great expertise. At the point when he began to develop a sense of sobriety, he did it so well that his viewers could identify with his character. Helen on the other hand had so developed her acting skills that she could turn herself into a maltreated wife and housemaid to a woman of authority who is ready for any show of shame as far as she can get her marriage as well as house back for m the cold hands of the strange women in the life of Kenneth. From my research more than seventy five percent of women who have been opportune to watch this movie have come to identify with her character. This would not have been achieved or possible if she never did a great performance therein.
In the case of Helen and Charles, who is similar to that of Kenneth and Susan, we can say that the height in which this was carried out is beyond our imagination. Helen carried out perfectly he role of a maltreated woman who has been in bondage for more than eighteen years losing two pregnancies, watching your husband battering you and flirting around with other women to the extent of having two sons outside your marriage and having the effrontery of throwing you and your clothing out of the house. This is the highest form of wickedness a woman should suffer, the way Helen carried out this roles brings about catharsis which is the purgation of emotions from her viewers. We also watch her evolve from the sad, moody woman into a happy and fulfilled woman as she accept Orlando’s proposal. Charles her husband, had studied that role so much that he turned himself into an unrepentant wicked and weird husband who takes pleasure in seeing his wife grin in pains and anguish. Even when his blonde wife left him and Helen came to take care of him he still carried out his unrepentant character but by the time he wanted to change it was already too late as she had moved on with Orlando. In terms of the directorial approach or concept, Effiong Johnson, listed out various directorial approaches which includes; the slavish, the elementary, the aesthetic and the super objective approach but for the sake of this work we will be considering the auteur approach as used in the two movies of our consideration. Johnson notes that, This approach takes cues from great experimentalists like Meyerhold and Brecht. The director in this approach takes over the roles of the author (in this case the script writer). He reads... understands it and subjects it to his interpretations. If the degree of interpretation warrants the creation of fresh characters, fresh lines and fresh situations, the auteur director does not hesitate in doing so... (101).
From the films can see the auteur directorial approach in use. The directors of this movies did not just follow strictly the design of the script writers bt interpreted and added to the script to making it worth viewing, how does the researcher know this, you will bear with me that the character Medea played by the director of the movie (Tyler Perry), did so much in terms of adding more lines to himself at some point, her role was exaggerated, this is what the director wanted. Looking at the various characters in A Diary of a Mad Black Woman, you will bear with me that many of the roles were carried out as perceived by the director. Though in Mr. and Mrs. the issue of exaggeration is not so much but they all make good films for better viewing. Finally, the director and the actors are in charge of any movie if it must be termed as quality.
It behoves this researcher to note here that Nollywood movies are doing their best to represent not just the country but the continent in a great light in terms of quality presentation. Suffice me to say that film critics should make balance judgement of our indigenous movies and not to out rightly condemn and reduce our product to the least state. From the findings in this research, one can boldly say that Nigerian movies are gradually competing healthily with their foreign counterparts. It is important to note here, however that if well equipped and supported, Nolly films will become the best in terms of quality. There is however no need to continue comparing Nolly with Holly because the Americans started this work even before Nigeria had her first broadcasting firm, America had been on the business of film making, so if at this stage some movies produced here can competently compete with those from their foreign counterpart then we should know that in years to come our movie industry will be a cynosure of the world. At this juncture, i therefore recommend that the government of Nigeria increase it support to the film industry, by giving out funds to get better instruments as well as have a place called Nollywood industry, because as at we just have a name but no location, if or film industry must live up to the standard of the world then all these and many more should be in place. Besides these, the Nigeria film censor board should be equipped with professional man power, those who studied courses in line with film, media and theatre studies should be in charge of the affairs of that cooperation. We believe in Nigeria and in her film industry, we know that it can attain in greatest height if such opportunity is given.
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Bolick, Robbie (Director). Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Screen play: Gail Hunter. D.O.P: Curtis Miller. Producer: Pamela Green. Stars: Kimberley Elise, Steve Harris and Tyler Perry. Company: The Tyler Perry Company, 2005.
Onyeka, Ikechukwu (Director). Mr. and Mrs. 1&2. Screen play: Chinwe Eguagu. D.O.P: Tom Robson. Producer: Chinwe Eguagu. Stars: Nse Ekpe Etim, Joseph Benjamin, Barbara Soky, Thelma Okodua, Paul Apel and Paul Sambo. Company: Peculiar Communications Limited, 2011.
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