Interrogating the Nexus Between Ideology, Training and Quality of Nigerian Movies: Niji Akanni’s Heroes and Zeroes
Tunji AZEEZ, PhD
Department of Theatre Arts & Music
Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos
The major theme in any discussion on Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry is the technical quality and thematic/ideological depth of the films. This is despite the fact that this film industry has been adjudged one of the highest producers of films in the world. In fact, the industry outshines older cinematic industries from which it borrows – America’s Hollywood and Indian Bollywood, respectively, when it comes to the number of films produced yearly. Similarly, Nigerian moviemakers generally and actors, specifically, have become men and women of world acclaim, as reflected in the mention of one of Nollywood’s leading female actors, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, among the one hundred most popular personalities in the world by Time Magazine in March, 2013. There is no doubt that other achievements, such as, the Best Movie prizes won by Kunle Afolayan, with his film, Figurine, at the 2010 African Movies Academy Awards (AMAA), attest to the place of Nollywood in world cinematic scape. Despite these achievements, however, many critics and observers argue that most Nollywood movies are “trashy” in content and form. While most practitioners posit that the factor responsible for the low quality of their movies is poor funding, this paper counters that apart from funding, lack of training, crass mercantilism, and ideological poverty of most Nigerian moviemakers account for the poor quality of Nollywood movies. It examines the work of a trained and ideologically conscious moviemaker, Niji Akanni’s Heroes and Zeroes, to conclude that for Nigerian films to compare with movies from other climes, moviemakers need to be trained and be ideologically conscious of the power of film in social re-engineering in their pursuit of profit.
Keywords: Nollywood, trash, ideological poverty, training, mercantilism.
Nollywood, the most popular name for the Nigerian movie industry has been a subject of debate in scholarly and popular discourse all Over the world. Interestingly, discourses on Nollywood have centred on both the positive and negative conditions of the industry especially in relation to its artistic product, movies (Adeyanju page?; Adeoti page?; Okuyade page?) and the engagement of the movies with the reality of contemporary Nigerian society. Nollywood as an industry, derived its name from two older film cultures, American Hollywood and Indian Bollywood. This industry has also been severely criticised by both scholars and a few practitioners as not representing the totality, originality and quality of films produced by various practitioners outside the mainstream movies produced and marketed by predominantly Igbo moviemakers.
The contention is that Nigerian cinema predates Nollywood as evident in the movies of such great pioneer moviemakers like Ola Balogun, Hubert Ogunde, Moses Olaiya, and Eddie Ugbomah, amongst others. It must be acknowledged, though, that while these pioneers produced their movies on celluloid, it wasn’t until the Late Alade Aromire, a Yoruba movie producer came on the scene in 1988 with his home video production (Fosudo page?; Husseini page?) that producing movies in the video format began. With the experiment of Alade Aromire, who shot Ekun, a movie in his indigenous Yoruba language with substantially low budget as against the very expensive celluloid films of earlier filmmakers, other Nigerians such as Kenneth Nnebue ventured into the art of making home videos. Kenneth Nnebue’s first movie, Living in Bondage was shot in 1992 but released in 1993. The success of the movie was such that he soon followed with another blockbuster, Glamour Girls in 1994. As Sola Fosudo noted: One major contribution of Kenneth Nnebue to the video film industry which must be acknowledged is the opening up of the theatrical space and the video film market to the Igbo audience which elicited the eventual expansion of video film production in English Language (sic). This fact, no doubt, deserves acknowledgement, because it transformed the hitherto regional theatrical cum film entertainment activities of the Yoruba, to become a more or less national phenomenon especially with the release of the first English language film, Glamour Girls, in 1994.
There seems to be confusion here by Fosudo for while he concludes that Glamour Girls was the first video film in the English language, he also stated earlier that, Living in Bondage, another film in the English language was produced in 1992 by the same producer, Kenneth Nnebue. However, Fosudo also adds that television dramas and soaps of the early 90s, such as, For Better for Worse, Cock Crows at Dawn, Mirror in the Sun, etc, with their engagement of theatre trained actors who have become household names and faces, added to the acceptance and popularity of the home movie and contributed immensely to its success.
With these successful experiments, the stage was set for other adventurers such as Zeb Ejiro and a few others who were actually trained in the medium of television. At this time, also, most of those who were to build the film industry now known as “Nollywood” came from related media of television, stage and radio with no background or training in the art of moviemaking. A few of them even had no education in any area of the performing cum literary arts. In fact some of them, especially the marketers were stark illiterates. One must, therefore, acknowledge the enormous energy, determination, industry and finance that went into the industry at its teething stage and without which it would have been impossible for the industry to be rated as the largest producer of films in the world followed by the two older traditions from which it took its name – Hollywood and Bollywood.
The lack of training in the art of moviemaking by the pioneers of Nollywood home video has, therefore, accounted for the quality of works produced by them and has made film critics and those who are trained moviemakers to reject every attempt to classify their works as “Nollywood” productions. Some of these trained moviemakers include Tade Ogidan, Tunde Kelani, Tunde Alabi Hundeyin, Niji Akanni and to some extent Izu Ojukwu, Kunle Afolayan, to mention only a few. It is interesting that the works of these moviemakers truly stand out, both in content and form, from mainstream Nollywood movies. The quality of the works of these trained practitioners, therefore, seems to justify their rejection of the ‘Nollywood’ tag. This study, therefore, takes a look at the work of one of the representatives of this class of moviemakers, Niji Akanni’s, Heroes and Zeroes, to arrive at the conclusion that for the quality of Nigerian movies to improve significantly, the moviemaker must shun the philosophy of mere entertainment and consumerism for a more socially engaging vision that places the film as an agent of social change and re-engineering. As Kolker posits in reference to American movie industry, All nations, our own included, understand the power of film and television to influence their people, to propagandise values and ideologies. Film may be a bargaining chip in foreign policy, always an economic commodity sometimes the subject of the politician’s wrath at home (as when candidates for office rail against the moral influence of Hollywood film, while Hollywood stars become politicians and influence our lives even more) and consequently film becomes the subject of study of many different kinds of academic courses in which its power and complexity are acknowledged and analysed... because film is big business and its creation, its form, and its content are about power, the core of politics (2).
The quote above reveals the power of the film in social engineering and national and international politics. For this reason, film, in most cultures is never left to the whims and caprices of individuals who are devoid of or careless about what aspects of the society to project and how to project it. In Nigeria, however, this powerful medium of information, entertainment and national branding is left in the hands of a cabal whose interest is mainly consumerism which, naturally, leads to poorly produced films designated as trash by others and which propels some practitioners operating in the same environment to want to distance themselves and their works from mainstream Nollywood.
Niji Akanni: A Profile
Niji Akanni is an established screenwriter and director in the Nigerian film and television practice. He holds a BA (Dramatic Arts) of the University of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife) an MA (Film Studies) of the University of Ibadan, and an MFA (Screenplay Writing & Film Directing) of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. He is currently a PhD candidate in Film Narrative and Aesthetics at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
In a career of twenty-six years so far, he has worked in all the genres of film and television production. Among his many award-winning screenplays, written for first-rate Nigerian producers, include Dangerous Twins and Playing Games (for Tade Ogidan), Saving Alero (for Francis Onwochei) and Narrow Path (for Tunde Kelani). He has also featured as Director in all the top Reality TV shows in Nigeria, including Amstel Malta Box Office in 2005, Big Brother Nigeria in 2006 and The Apprentice Africa in 2008. In 2009, he co-directed the second season of the Oceanic Bank Football Talent Hunt TV Show, featuring Jay Jay Okocha. He has produced and directed 10 documentary film titles, including the award-winning We Speak for Us (a civil rights project funded by DFID for the International Press Centre, Lagos) and The 11-Day Siege (for the Women Advocacy, Research and Documentation Centre, WARD-C, Lagos).
Akanni has directed three 35mm short films (Just Do It, Hollywood Goodbyes and Vini Vidi), digital home-videos (Jogun O Mi, Bojuboju, and Ewe Oju Omi), as well as several TV Drama Series/Sitcoms, including Nowhere to be Found and Family Ties, both currently in their 8th Seasons and running on 39 television channels across Nigeria. He also directed Abobaku, a Super-l6mm film as Nigeria’s entry for the 2008 MNET New Directions project. This work won two Best Short Film awards at the 2010 ZUMA Film Festival and the 2010 TERRACOTA Film & Television Awards.
He wrote and directed Aramotu, a digital video film which has been described, as ‘a masterpiece of cinema.’ Aramotu won the Best Nigerian Film and Best Costume Design at African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) 2011; and was judged the Best Feature Film at the Africa International Film Festival 2011. The film was invited to and screened at several festivals around the world, including the Samsung Women’s International Film Festival 2012, Chennai, India; the Africa in the Picture Film Festival 2012, Amsterdam, and the Werkstatt Kulturen 2012, Berlin, Germany.
Niji Akanni’s most recent work, Heroes and Zeros, won the Most Outstanding Film and Audience Choice awards at the EKO International Film Festival 2012. The film was on the selection platform at the Pan African Film and TV Festival (FESPACO 2013) in Ouagadogou, Burkina Faso. At the 2013 African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Heroes and Zeros, the movie studied here, won the Best Editing, Best Screenplay and Best Director prizes.
Akanni has taught Acting and Stagecraft in the Department of Drama, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He was a visiting lecturer in TV Production at the NTA-TV College, Jos, and is currently on the faculty of a few private film schools around the country. He conducted a Master Class in Film Directing at the 3rd Ife Film Conference/Festival in November 2012. He has also run a parallel career as a Director in the Nigerian theatre.
With this impressive background, therefore, one can get a glimpse of Akanni’s refusal to be classified as a Nollywood director. In an interview with him on Wednesday, 1st May, 2013, Niji reveals that on his return from India, where he spent three years, learning the art of moviemaking, he could no longer fit into the industry that he was once part of despite the lure of money that it offered. For this reason, Nollywood, to him, lacks the quality and force that he desired. For him, the moviemaker must have an ideology that would make him rise above the common rung of society if the moviemaker truly understands his/her role as a social engineer.
Heroes and Zeroes, Nollywood and the Problem of Ideology and Quality
The movie begins with Ayoade Alisa (Akin Lewis), a journalist in a phone conversation with a prospective sponsor, Mr. McKenzie. The scene for a while is blank with only the voices of the speakers being heard as the opening credits roll in. A little while after, the character of Ayoade Alisa is revealed to the viewer. This scene sets the mood of the movie as the dialogue reveals a desperate Ayoade bidding for a contract to do a story on Africa. His desperation to get the contract is captured in his offering a bribe of fifty percent of the total money to Mr. McKenzie. Mr. McKenzie is shocked by this and asks what Ayoade means. Ayoade’s response to his prospective sponsor exposes the rot, graft and corruption in the Nigerian society, as he responds to McKenzie’s bewilderment that, “you can take it up-front before the money gets to me.” With this, an angry McKenzie cuts the phone on a surprised Ayoade, who wonders if his offer of fifty percent was too little for McKenzie, who was obviously a White man. With this, Ayoade takes us into how his life and that of Dibu Ojerinde, a journalist working under him are intertwined.
The story dramatized by Niji Akanni, it must be stated at this point, is not the peculiar Nollywood story of love, ritual, gangsterism or epic. The “epic” form it is interesting, received a swipe by a prominent Nollywood filmmaker, Charles Novia, when he says: One amusing feature common among the so called: “epics” was the predominant use of bean or jute bags as costumes for actors. These jute bags are commonly used to package raw beans but somehow, it became the standard template for costuming such genre of movies. To me, that revealed a bankruptcy of creativity in the costume section of the movie industry then as all the costume designers (if really there is any worthy to be called such in the real sense) thereafter recycled the “jute/bean bags” in almost all the movies (8).
Novia’s attack on the costume section of Nollywood reveals the level of consciousness of other practitioners in this industry and a pointer to the quality of the films produced. This also shows the consumerist nature of the practitioners in the industry who, on account of box office hits of a ‘genre’ of movie rush to produce similar films with little or no understand of the demands of such a genre.
As a departure from mainstream Nollywood movies, Heroes… also departs from the standard Nollywood movie in so many respects, which shall be discussed fully later on. Suffice to say that the story-telling technique employed by the script writer/director, Niji Akanni, makes the story compelling and devoid of most of the nuances found in most Nollywood movies such as unnecessary flashbacks, predictable plot structure, stereotypical characterization, outlandish and ‘undramatic’ dialogue, uncreative shots and poor editing.
The story moves smoothly into the lives of Dibu Ojerinde (Gabriel Afolayan), a journalist under Ayoade Alisa and who Ayoade admits was the most hardworking journalist that has worked with him and the protagonist of the film, Amos Ayefele (Bimbo Manuel). The shot opens with Dibu taking a secret photograph of Ayefele, playing football with little boys. Ayefele is introduced to us creatively through Dibu’s point of view as he takes shots of Ayefele chasing after the ball. With this, two things are achieved: Dibu is introduced as an unethical journalist while Ayefele is introduced as a man without focus, a man who is dreaming of being selected to play in the big league at over fifty years of age! The dialogue that follows between the coach and the football scout, therefore, is only complimentary to the shots that already established these ideas, personalities and the incongruity of Ayefele’s dream with reality.
The dialogue reveals that Ayefele was a famous movie director whose fortune has declined and who shifts from the art of moviemaking to becoming a footballer in his old age! With this introduction, the audience is kept in suspense to find out how this character would succeed as a footballer at over fifty years of age. The audience is also left wondering what the link is between the art of moviemaking and a career in football. Also of interest is the reason behind Dibu taking secret photographs of Ayefele not only on the football field but that he actually stalks “Fele” as the later goes home! The shots taken by Dibu as he follows “Fele” home which is that of “Fele” engaging in a fight with a young man who splashed water on him with his car finally establishes Dibu as a “yellow reporter.” A word on this!
The Nigerian journalistic space is rife with reporters who seek sensational news items at the expense of professional and ethical journalism. Yellow reporters always seek out celebrities, politicians and other men of affluence in a bid to bring their private lives into the open just to sell their papers. It is therefore, a common thing in Nigeria to find screaming headlines about popular people’s private lives in newspapers. Most times, however, the information contained in the papers bear no link with the truth and defies the ethics of the profession, which is to properly interview their targets. These journalists only seek material gratification by destroying the personalities of highly placed people. It is therefore not surprising that in the scene that follows, we cut into the conversation between Dibu and Ayoade Alisa, Dibu’s editor, as Dibu tries in vain to sell his “discovery” to Ayoade, who believes strongly in ethical journalism and who by holding unto his ideological belief in honesty, rejects Dibu’s “great discovery” in preference for quality.
In this way, Niji sets the conflict of one strand of his movie between an ethical journalist (Ayoade Alisa) and an unscrupulous and money-driven upstart (Dibu Ojerinde). But if this scene reveals the rot in journalism in Nigeria, the scene that follows advances the fact that Nigerian newspaper publishers are in the business not to serve the people by publishing stories that are true and that would move the society forward but that they are, like their Nollywood counterpart, in the industry mainly for the money in it and so do not care about ethics, quality and standard.
With the rejection of Dibu’s “discovery” by his editor, Dibu reports the matter to the publisher and Chairman (Olu Jacobs). Ayoade cuts a pathetic picture as he tries to explain why he rejected Dibu’s story on Ayefele. He argues that while Dibu is an excellent and gifted journalist, he is unethical as the stories that he brings are not fit for publication in “his” paper to which Chairman retorts, “Your paper? Any self respecting editor would have resigned if he couldn’t publish such stuff! I know of a few, who did and who today are, taxi drivers”!
Chairman’s anger arises from the fact that Dibu sells the story to another newspaper and the story brought large returns to the paper! For his refusal to publish the story and giving a rival newspaper an edge in sales and profit, Ayoade’s job is threatened. Therefore, faced with the possibilities of hunger and deprivation, this ideological journalist is buoyed into accepting whatever Dibu brings to him for publication! His reason for sacrificing ideology and ethics on the altar of materialism is that he has a family to take care of. This is a case of poverty leading to the sacrifice of quality on the altar of commerce. More of this link between poverty, quality and ideology will later be seen in the life of Ayefele in the scenes that follow.
The character of Ayefele, the moviemaker turned footballer at over fifty years of age has been described as confused and lacking in focus. We may need to ask how a successful movie director got to be followed by a yellow reporter who seeks him out for public opprobrium. Unlike many Nollywood moviemakers, especially directors, Niji Akanni tells his story from the point of view of the camera. In the scene that follows, Ayefele is seen with his friend, Nnamdi (Norbert Young), in one of the slums of Lagos. That the writer/director decided to set his movie in this slum is to reveal the level of poverty in Nigeria and the failure of government to serve the people. The graft and carelessness of successive governments have been the concern of many Nigerians and foreigners. Niji, therefore, deftly takes us into one of the ghettoes that litter a supposedly “mega city,” Lagos. As the camera rolls and pans, we are confronted with the squalor, the dirt, decay and poverty of the inhabitants of the community which is a symbolic representation of the country at large as one is left to wonder that if there could be so much decay and poverty in the city inhabited by a tiny fraction of the Nigerian population, what does one expect to see in the rural areas that are even more neglected by the Nigerian ruling class.
Akanni, through the eye of the camera reveals a community of fishermen one of the many ghettoes in Lagos (Makoko), where basic amenities such as potable water, electricity. housing and toilets are non -existent. One of his shots captures the near bestial lives of the people. This is the scene that reveals the true person of Ayefele as a true crusader of the down trodden who is determined to carry out his crusade using the medium of the movie, his forte. We must note here, that the decision of Ayefele to embark on doing a documentary is to show the squalor in which the people are living with the aim of improving their lives. Ayefele takes on this responsibility, not on the basis of his wealth and life of affluence but as a man who empathises and sympathises with the down-trodden. It is an ideological position, a state of mind of a committed and principled artist who would put his art in the service of humanity.
For him and by extension art, and in this case, the movie should be used for the advancement of man and not merely for commercial purposes even if the filmmaker at the end of the day cannot divorce commerce from his art.
So, Ayefele gets a “contract” from these fishermen for a paltry fifteen thousand Naira and he was elated! His joy, based on the fact that he has at least got an opportunity to do something that he loves doing, is soon cut short by his wife, Tinu:
Tinu: So, I am to do a somersault just because some fishermen are paying you fifteen thousand to do a lousy film? A film that can’t feed us?
(Fele is dumbfounded and Tinu capitalises on this to drive home her point).
Tinu: (Sneeringly). Tell me you’re too professional to do Nollywood but prefer to do a documentary of fifteen thousand! At your age, your family is starving!
At this point, their only child comes in and his entrance was Niji’s way of showing the poverty and deprivation that Fele and his family are going through and a way of ending the discussion going on between husband and wife. This scene explains an earlier scene where Ayefele’s neighbour gives us a background into the poverty that hovers around Ayefele despite his achievements as a moviemaker. The woman reacts to a question by a passer-by who is wondering if that was not the famous Ayefele. The neighbour’s (a woman) reaction captures the belief of most Africans about the supernatural. The woman speaking in Yoruba says this much:
Woman: Amos Ayefele, I know him very well. He was living in Magodo before he moved here, Mushin. From Magodo to Mushin! (Shakes her head pitifully) Fele should seek spiritual solution to his problem. How can one explain that for eight years his wife has been the one feeding him? In fact, his landlady must not see him! If not….
The quote above shows that Ayefele, due to poverty moved from Magodo to Mushin and that he owes rents. We must explain that Magodo, Ayefele’s former residence, is a haven for the wealthy while Mushin, his new abode, is a slum where the lowly in the society lives. This is falling from grace to grass and many an African would attribute such a situation to some supernatural powers. It is a culturally accepted option. In the same vein, Ayefele’s refusal not to do Nollywood (mainstream Nigerian movie) for the money and glamour it affords is both a cultural and ideological position. This ‘is because ideology, culture and politics are intertwined as Kolker succinctly puts it: Culture is the sum total of the intricate ways we relate to ourselves, our peers, our community, our country, world, and universe. It is made up of the minutiae of our daily lives the political ideas we hold; our gender; the image we have of ourselves; the models we emulate. Ideology is the way we agree to see ourselves, to behave, and to create the values of our lives. Ideology and culture are intertwined (7).
Thus, Niji Akanni, like Ayefele his authorial voice in the movie reveals to this writer in an interview that when he came back from India, he suddenly found out that he could no longer function with an unprofessional but money-spinning Nollywood. Like Ayefele, he was without money but with a lot determination not to be pushed by poverty to “do Nollywood.” It is interesting that in both Niji (the director and script writer) and Ayefele his character is a strong ideological commitment to quality and functionality above crass materialism. Of course both of them are sneered at by a society which has lost and is losing its values and offering it for sale to the highest bidder.
The narrative soon moves into the life of Ayoade Alisa, another ideological and committed character who is facing similar harassment from his employer, the chairman of his newspaper. Ayoade, in an attempt to keep poverty at bay had grudgingly accepted to publish any and every article by the unscrupulous Dibu or be sacked. We are again taken into the antics of Dibu who goes after a politician, a gubernatorial aspirant, in an attempt to discredit him. Once again, Ayoade Alisa, the editor looks at the story and supporting pictures professionally and concludes that they are too good to be true as they seem to suggest that Dibu was actually the one who stage-managed or planned everything. However, the Chairman would have none of it. All he cares about, like many Nollywood moviemakers, is money not quality, ideology or any other nationalistic consideration. Ayoade, therefore, must not only suppress professionalism and ethics hut he must throw them away if he wants to fight the scourge of poverty and deprivation. From this point of view, one sees the link between poverty, ideology and quality. While Ayefele refuses to crumble under the weight of cynicism and condemnation by his wife and the society, Ayoade Alisa is unable to withstand the storm.
If Ayoade, the editor, is under pressure to sacrifice quality and ethics for commerce and he succumbs due to poverty, he soon finds an ally in Ayefele whose wife Tinu (Tina Mba) is angry at her husband for refusing to direct Nollywood movies based on his ideology and adherence to quality and standard. The narrative moves deftly into the opportunities that lie ahead for Ayefele as he is offered a whooping fifteen million Naira to direct a Nollywood movie with the title, ‘The Search’. The title of the movie ‘The Search‘ is metaphorical of Ayefele’s and Ayoade Alisa’s search for the ideal. Ayefele explains to his friend Nnamdi that he is not ready to direct the movie because the script, like many of Nollywood scripts, lacks substance;
Ayefele: (Depressed). It’s not about money. I read twenty pages of the script and it had nothing”!
Nnamdi: (Pleading). Amos, think about Tinu. Think about Konge. Think of what fifteen million naira can do for you. If you think of these, this job will become a duty.
Half convinced, Amos Ayefele decides to perform his duty as a father and husband by accepting the job. The auditions are held and shooting begins.
Perhaps, the scene where Nigeria’s Nollywood movies are seriously criticised in Heroes and Zeroes as lacking in quality both technically and thematically is the scene where Ayefele, the movie director reads the script with the cast and crew before shooting begins. As the cast reads the script, we see a close up of Ayefele looking disinterestedly and finally dozing off while the cast continues reading to the end. When one member of the cast asks if she is interpreting the role well, Ayefele screams, “...read it anyhow!.Say anything! This is Nollywood for God’s sake!”
With this, the audience is made to see that Nollywood is trash as Kenneth Harrow argues for it is in Nollywood that casting is based on the actors whose faces would appeal to the audience and not what the script demands (page?). It is in Nollywood that movies are produced in record time of two weeks for shooting and editing and ready for release; it is in Nollywood that movies are targeted for release to meet festive seasons etc. As a Nollywood moviemaker Charles Novia says: With the success of When Love Dies, I was fully buoyed to embark on my next film projects. I and my production team went into strategic planning to shoot my next three scripts back-to-back with two weeks intervals (49).
Olympus Ejue lends his voice to the money-driven motif of most Nollywood filmmakers:
This profit motif is seemingly becoming an overriding factor responsible for the poor quality of films produced today in the country. Indeed, the issue of how good or how bad the films are is basically dependent on the special qualities of the filmmakers themselves. Invariably, professionalism in this regards is believed to have suffered a major set-back (page?).
From the above, one is tempted to ask how quality and depth can he achieved in these movies with the rush and desire for money. This is why Niji Akanni in the interview cited above argues that many Nollywood moviemakers do not take into cognizance the fact that a movie is first and foremost a series of pictures that tell stories. For him, one can close one’s eyes and just listen to the lines without being enthralled by the shots in most Nollywood movies and that for him, the shots must tell the story; the audience must be enthralled by the moving image as much as he/she is in the dialogue. In fact, in the art of moviemaking, it must be understood that the image, the picture, the shot is primal while the word becomes ancillary to the image. Mitchell Stephens captures it well when he posits: I will argue that once we move beyond simply aiming cameras at stage plays, conversations or sporting events and perfect original uses of moving images, video can help us gain new slant on the world, new ways of seeing. It can capture more of the tumult and confusions of contemporary life than tend to fit in lines of type. Through its ability to step back from scenes and jump easily between scenes, video can also facilitate new, or at least previously unused ways of thinking (18).
There is no doubt that Niji has attempted in all his movies and especially in the movie under discussion to stick to the demands of ideology and quality. He has refused, though a Nigerian moviemaker, to “do Nollywood” like his character, Ayefele. For the production of Heroes…, he also reveals that; ‘Heroes... is a digital video film shot with Sony F3 cameras, over 23 days in Lagos in October 2011. Post-production took eight months and it was released in September, 2012.” This is far removed from the Nollywood standard of movie production where everything is done in a rush and without consideration for standard and quality.
Of Ideology, Quality and Reward
If one thought that Ayefele would make a success of the movie, “The Search,” that he accepted to direct due to the pressure from his wife, friend and also due to the reality of poverty and deprivation, that was not the case. Ayefele is soon sacked for reasons beyond the scope of this paper – his obsession with Tonia – one of the female lead characters in the movie – but also for his lack of commitment to the movie. His ideological position could not make him give the movie the professional attention that it deserves.
At this point in the movie, while Ayefele is now permanently stalked by Dibu, the yellow journalist, and negative reporting of him continues to hit the airwaves, Dibu makes a lot of money from his mediocre and unethical practice. Niji reveals this in one of the scenes where Dibu takes shots of Ayefele as the former messes himself up with Tonia, the ravishing beauty of “The Search.” For his unethical journalist work, Dibu now has a car and dresses flamboyantly. The contrast between Ayoade and Ayefele, two ethical and ideological persons and Dibu Ojerinde is symbolic of the reward that may come the way of untrained and mercantilist filmmakers and trained and ideologically conscious filmmakers who are not only committed to ethics and quality of their work but who, more importantly, use the film medium to examine the moral pulse of the society. Of course, committed filmmakers, like the professional journalists, feel frustrated sometimes when their efforts at professionalism and commitment to quality and society seem not to pay off materially. This is seen in the scene between Ayoade Alisà, the editor and Dibu Ojerinde where Alisa threatens to throw Dibu into the lagoon for destroying his career. The scene is set on the bridge with the lagoon below as the two men talk. But as a fox that cannot be trusted, Dibu records their conversation and reports Ayoade Alisa to the unscrupulous and mercantilist Chairman. Ayoade, like Ayefele cuts a pathetic figure as he listened to his voice on the phone which Dibu uses to record their conversation! This was the act that finally led to the sack of Ayoade Alisa from the newspaper house. On the other side of the narrative, Ayefele is sacked as director of “The Search” and with this sack, his dream of making fifteen million naira is lost. But more pathetic is the loss of his son and his marriage! Both are sacrificed on the altar of ideology and commitment to quality.
One very touching theme in the movie is the theme of love and commitment of Tinu towards Ayefele. While Tinu suffers both physically and emotionally in marriage, while she loses her only child to death and also loses her husband due to his philandering, she remains truly attached to him emotionally. For this reason, she goes to watch Ayefele on the field of play on every memorable day of their life as husband and wife. It was on one of such occasions that the untoward happens to Dibu, the unscrupulous journalist. But before Dibu gets his reward, Ayefele’s reward comes in the form of his retirement to the fishermen’s village; he finishes his documentary and settles down with one of the women in the community. He also receives his biggest reward as the documentary that he shot to show the squalor in which the fishermen are living caught the attention of the government and the government decides to give the people all the social amenities that they desired. So while Ayefele is not rewarded materially, he becomes a hero as he finds joy and fulfilment in using his art to better the lot of the people.
On the other hand, while Ayefele (the hero) is “enjoying” his new found peace and playing football with boys old enough to be his children, Dibu finds out that Tinu, Ayefele’s former wife will be around to see her husband and he makes arrangements to stalk and take their photograph in a bid to, as usual, sell his “find” to the public. As he struts out of his car bespectacled, and getting ready to take his shots, we see a close up of his contented face chewing gum. He is in this stale when a car drives past and we hear a gun shot. Dibu is killed by an unknown gunman, perhaps, for deeds other than the stalking and destruction of Ayefele’s life through yellow reporting. Dibu is, thus, reduced to zero while Ayefele becomes a hero.
This paper has taken a critical look at Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood with regards to the technical quality and ideological disposition of the movies. By focusing on Niji Akanni’s Heroes and Zeroes, it argues that despite the low quality of most mainstream Nollywood movies, there are a few trained and ideologically conscious moviemakers, such as Niji Akanni, who are rejecting being branded as Nollywood moviemakers due to the quality of their movies.
Although this study has focused on NijiAkanni’s Heroes and Zeroes to argue that training and the ability of moviemakers to see the film as a powerful tool in promoting values, it must be emphasised that Niji Akanni is not the only one that is producing works that compares with those in highly rated movie industries such as Hollywood and Bollywood. There are several others such as Tunde Kelani, Tade Ogidan, Izu Ojukwu and Kunle Afolayan who have produced award winning movies. For this reason, this study recommends that moviemakers who fall in this it be studied differently from mainstream Nollywood moviemakers. To do this, it makes a case for the classification of such moviemakers and their works as “off Nollywood” due to their training, orientation and because they do not operate with crass mercantilism as the major aim of their artistic engagements.
A closer look at the works of these moviemakers will reveal their departure from mainstream Nollywood movies as their works have won international acclaim and have compared favourably with movies from other regions of Africa and beyond. One of such platforms where these moviemakers have been rewarded is the African Movies Academy Awards (AMAA), an awards scheme instituted and managed by Peace Anyiam-Osigwe to reward quality and excellence in African movie. It must be noted that the movie discussed above won the Best Nigerian Movie, Best Director and Best Screenplay awards at the 2013 African Movies Academy Awards held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. This is a mark of the quality of the movie which, we have argued, is founded on a sound ideological position, training and commitment to professionalism the major things that are lacking in most Nollywood moviemakers. As Fosudo rightly observes: …most of the characters currently occupying the centre stage and playing major roles in Nollywood either as actors, directors, scriptwriters, leaders of guilds, etc. are people who have not received relevant education either in the performing arts or film studies. And this has had adverse effects on the content and quality of most of the video films produced in recent times, in addition to the general lack of direction for the industry. A curious (sic) survey of most Nollywood video films such as Battle for Pride, Dirty Secrets, Money for Love, etc, showcase immorality, sex, nudity, fetish practices, dirty and offensive language and so forth. Many of the stories in Nollywood films are re-cycled; most of the titles are mundane and pedestrian and this is basically because most of the practitioners arc industry dabblers (page?).
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