‘Nollywood used to be male dominated, but women have always been part of it’
What informed your decision to write the book?
Over the past three years or so, I had seen a few movies directed by Nigerian women. I think the first was The Meeting by Mildred Okwo, followed by The Visit by Funke Fayoyin, One Room by Blessing Egbe and then The Wedding Party by Kemi Adetiba. All these were movies that stood out for one reason or the other. I had a kind of covenant with God that I would do my first book in 2017, one day, the idea of this book came to me like a whiff. I shared it with my wife and then my friend Judith Audu Foght; they both felt it was a great idea. I felt I needed some more of justification for it; so, I did a bit of research. I realised that the job of a movie director isn’t exactly an easily recognisable one. We see actors and love them, but we hardly ask about directors. I felt it would be nice to do a profile of these lady directors all of, who are doing very well. Ultimately, I thought by sharing their stories, each of these women would serve as inspiration to younger people especially at the time when role models are scarce in the country.
How did you arrive at the people you featured? What criteria did you use?
The only criterion was for you to be a director, with at least one movie to your credit. Mrs. Foght assisted with what we considered to be a list of all female directors at that time. We had about 20 names or so and I began to reach out to all of them. She provided me with some phone numbers and made initial contact with some of them. For those whose numbers I couldn’t get, I asked questions, sent social media messages and all. A few of those I approached were too busy to meet my schedule, while one or two felt they were not ready for such exposure. Those, who eventually appeared in the book, were those, who were available, so to say; the two others are Lola Fani-Kayode and the late Amaka Igwe. I do not think anyone with a sense of history would query the eligibility of these two.
To what extend do you think the women have helped to advance the industry?
Significantly. I am happy to also see that these ladies have largely got the support of men in their accomplishments and almost of all the I found that there is a unique touch that women bring into everything that they do and so with their productions, each of them has added to the quality of stories told and adaptation of these stories into the filmic medium. Concerning the industry, the women have worked alongside men to create the level of sanity you currently have. I remember the insistence of Amaka Igwe on the need for structures as prerequisites to a worthy industry. Without such efforts in the early, we will not have what we have today.
Nollywood, especially directing, used to be a male dominated industry, at what point did it change? What are the factors responsible for that?
It truly used to be male dominated, but women have also always been part of it. In what you may call the first era of filmmaking in Nigeria, women played significantly roles on the sets of movies. They were not necessarily directors, but they helped with equally important sectors like costumes, make up and all. I think a significant shift occurred with Lola Fani-Kayode’s return from her studies after which she directed the cinema adaptation of Adebayo Faleti’s The Dilemma of Rev. Father Michael (Idaamu Paadi Minkailu). Fani-Kayode and to a much larger extent, Igwe played significant roles in inspiring and actually mentoring a number of the women who have become active players in the industry today.
Some people are of the opinion that funding of movie project is easier for women than men, what’s your take?
I do not think it is such a straightforward thing like that; my interaction with the ladies showed me that they have it as difficult as the men. What happens with women is that once they set their minds on something, they get it done. So, sometimes, they go it on shoestring budgets and sacrifice a lot of their personal comfort. Even some of the women whose works are easily identifiable still find securing funding herculean. I think the atmosphere is just generally hostile and would not want to say women have it easier.
What future are you seeing for female filmmakers in Nigeria?
Very bright! This is because those, who are already in the business, are not ready to let go. They train and challenge themselves to surpass whatever they achieved with their last work. These ladies research, retrain and have remained teachable. The truth is there is no way to limit people who are ready to dare the odds, reinvent themselves and blaze the trail. Let me give you one example of the incredible stories of the audacity of these ladies. Blessing Egbe had a running battle with cinemas for years; some other people would have given up and possibly taken up some other ventures, but she found a way to deal with the terrorism of cinema owners; she recorded drama for TV found an Internet platform to put it. Today, her productions are seen all over the world. What makes it more interesting is that their achievement daily motivates more women to take the plunge. So between the presentation of Ladies Calling The Shots last November and now, I have heard at least three new filmmakers!
What has been the response since the book was released?
Fantastic! To be honest with you, I did not realise it was such a worthy venture when I started out, but God has really been good. We printed the fewest we could print at the beginning and have since run out of stock; we are in the process of reprinting now. The second very happy thing about it is that the book is proving to be a veritable resource for students of theatre and films. I have received a number of good feedback from such people and that really satisfies.
How long did it take to complete the entire book?
The book was done in less than nine months. I imagine that is a very short time to do a book, but I must confess that God gave me incredible grace and speed. I also found favour with the subjects of the book and in so many other places.
Are there possibilities of a follow up to the book to accommodate more women filmmakers?
There is always a possibility, especially at the rate at which more women are taking up the challenge of directing. When we get to that bridge, I am very likely going to consider stepping out of the country and looking at what women are doing on the continent.
What’s your take on Nollywood of today?
It’s a burgeoning venture, with potentials that very few people, even within the industry, understand. But even for where we are, we must commend the irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerian filmmakers, who have defied the depressing nature of enterprise in Nigeria. What you see in Nollywood today and I dare say is comparable to what you can get anywhere in the world is attributable to the individual efforts of Nigerians. No matter what we say about quality of lack of it, every one participant in the filmmaking space has contributes something to the emerging industry and we must give it to them.
How can the industry improve?
From the level of the industry, I think practitioners must learn to organise and speak with one voice. As they say in Yoruba land, people find it easy to kill snakes because they lack the communal sense. I think we would go a long way and faster if we unite and fight the demons that confront the industry since everyone faces the same challenges. The second thing is that practitioners must be professional; I would love to see the guild structure more effective, ensuring that the gates are properly manned and that members never get the short end of the stick. Professionalism is key to the future that awaits Nollywood.
Do you think the government really understands the creative industry and its potentials?
Government certainly does not; there is no question about that. As we speak, Nigeria does still not have a film village and we have 36-State government with limitless landed property lying fallow and hundreds of thousands of youths roaming the streets. The interesting thing about the creative industry is the value chain it creates. A lot of our states grapple with the problem of revenue generation, but here is an industry, which continually makes the state of California, which hosts Hollywood in the United States one of the few states that hardly experiences economic depression. About 6600 industries exist in California because they service the film and television industry. Investing in Nollywood by a state or states would not only boosts the revenue of that state, it will also open up employment opportunities from sundry areas of endeavour ancillary to filmmaking and television production. I imagine one state in Nigeria exploring the boom in the filmmaking and television industry in the country and setting up a community, where filmmakers from all over the world could come and shoot productions; that would have a multiplier effect on the national scale.
What should be done to ensure development of the sector?
We need government to provide the enabling environment for business to thrive. This will include creating a specific funding protocol that recognises the peculiarities of the industry. I also think that practitioners should lead any institutional initiatives aimed at harnessing the potential of the industry; the industry itself needs to come together and speak with one voice about it needs. This is the only way we can earn the respect of government and investors.
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