C.J. Obasi: The Genre Filmmaker Nollywood Needs
Per his Wikipedia page, C.J. Obasi grew up watching Hammer horror films and reading Stephen King novels. I didn’t tell him that I read Stephen King too, as he emailed me back from the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen in Germany. His Afrofuturistic short film Hello, Rain had premiered at the festival, an adaptation of the short story Hello, Moto by award-winning sci-fi author Nnedi Okorafor.
Overnight, Hello, Rain became the modern avatar of the Afrofuturism renaissance, and it nudged the world towards the concept. As a director and screenwriter, other works in Obasi’s still-expanding oeuvre was on a much smaller scale. His 2014 zombie banger Ojuju was made on a shoestring budget, and as he gained prominence in genre filmmaking, Obasi recalls the mixed bag of words used in describing his films, from “weird” and “narcissistic” to “artistic” and “bold.”
“There’s an audience for everything,” Obasi says when I ask if there’s a market for speculative or horror films in Nollywood. “C’mon, Nigeria has a population of 200 million people! It’s statistically impossible for only one genre to sustain the entire population.”
He is right and I so wanted to email back, “Why do these Nollywood filmmakers think everyone likes the same thing!?!?.” I had just rewatched the horror-adjacent movie Something Wicked, which provided more than a glimpse of Nollywood’s capacity for making thrillers and non-mainstream flicks. Hello, Rain, a sci-fi tale about juju and superpowered wigs, has black women in narrative focus, thanks to Nnedi Okorafor’s consistent brand of black women-focused science fiction.
One thing I have been curious about is what drew Obasi towards adapting Okorafor’s short story. To understand this, Obasi first explains that there is largely a consciousness to push himself towards unexplored territory before embarking on any film. “I feel like as artists we have a lot of great images and ideas constantly floating through our heads, but if you don’t catch any one of these images and make it a reality, that’s all they’ll ever be great ideas. The time and season for this just happened. From getting in touch with Nnedi, optioning Hello, Moto to writing the screenplay and filming it, it all happened without a lot of effort.”
At the International Short Film festival (Kurzfilmtage) Oberhausen, which is the oldest short film festival in the world, Hello, Rain screened to a full cinema and the reception was amazing and energetic. “It’s one of those very humbling and at the same time proud feelings,” Obasi recalls fondly. But the filmmaker currently has another project on his mind and he calls it Mami Wata, a female-driven, black-and-white West African supernatural thriller.
To be honest, I really like the sound of it, as it is plucked from the rich grapevine of stories we have in Africa. Mami Wata is currently being crowdfunded on Indiegogo, and production will start as soon as Obasi is able to raise the complete funds. “Sometimes you want to do different things,” Obasi concludes, “but when the right story comes, and you tune into the moment, it works.”
Personally, no one in the industry is best qualified to bring Mami Wata to life than Obasi, and this is also a clarion call for funders, investors, art patrons and anyone who wants to see black-driven cinema which represents Africa on global platforms.