Just like Beyoncé, I think Genevieve Nnaji is one Nigerian celebrity that enjoys the status of some sort of deity and should be criticized with caution, as she often has loyal fans waiting to slay anybody that dares to disparage her with the ferocity reminiscent of the Beyhive. Let me first of all state that I am not big on Nollywood for very obvious reasons; the story lines are often shallow and the acting is also usually mediocre, except for a few good names. In general, as a people, Nigerians are tolerant of mediocrity. We accept it and have very low standards for everything; this is why, for instance, we praise our state governors for paying salaries and for constructing roads, obligations they are owe it to their people to execute in the first place.
Anyway, back to Genevieve Nnaji whom I really do like… She rose to the top of the stakes steadily before our eyes. There was that ban that happened, in which the marketers tried to cut a few of the Nollywood ‘divas’ down to size, a circumstance that forced Ms. Nnaji and a few of her colleagues to take a hiatus. If you ask me, this was the best thing to have happened to her. She returned at the end of the ban a total star. It is my belief that she probably went to a finishing school in faraway lands and they morphed her into a star. She learned how to dress, how to walk, how to talk and how to generally conduct herself like a star that she is now.
But talent, however, is another story.
I talked about mediocrity earlier. I’d like to add that we find ways to excuse not doing things excellently. I remember ordering stuff from a store that prides itself as Nigeria’s leading online store a while back, and while I was there, I ordered some other stuff from a UK store also. In less than a week, the UK store delivered my purchase to me. But two weeks later, I was still trading emails with the Nigerian store, trying to find out why my shoes had still not been delivered. At the time, I was resenting the fact that I paid online and did not choose the “Payment upon delivery” option. I eventually got on the phone with a customer care person of the store, and when I told her that a UK store had already delivered what I ordered from them on the same day I made a purchase from them, she responded with a terse “Sir, that is the UK. You don’t expect us to match them. We are in Nigeria after all, there is the Nigerian factor.” I was so mad that I had to hang up so as not to insult her ancestors. This phrase is what we use to excuse mediocrity in all sectors of our national life.
So then, there I was with my friends, and I mentioned casually that I didn’t think Genny was a great actress, but an okay actress; that yes, amongst her peers, she is one of the few who understands how to be a star, but as per being a great actress? Naaa! My friends came for my head with vociferous proclamations of her as the thespian queen of Africa and told me in very colorful language that I was silly for daring to denigrate their princess. We argued back and forth a few times about the issue and I eventually gave up when I realized that I wasn’t going to be heard amongst these adoring fans of Ms. Nnaji. I was however trying to establish to my friends the point that Genny is simply a one-eyed man in the land of blind men. She is a good actress, not a great one – as she is so often extolled to be – but in an industry filled with names like Chika Ike (sorry, I could not resist. lol) and Mona Lisa Chinda (why does that woman even act?), Genevieve shines bright like a diamond.
Let me draw our minds back to the screen adaptation of the bestselling novel, Half Of A Yellow Sun. It is one of the most impactful books ever written, by a very iconic Nigerian writer. And when talk about the movie adaptation came around, the anticipation was high. Nearly everybody I knew and didn’t know wanted to see the movie, especially those of us who had read the book before then. And the whole controversy with the censors’ board further heightened the fever. In the news reports leading up to the release of the movie, we read that Genevieve was going to star in the movie as the professor of medicine who lives by her own rules.
Alas! I was disappointed. The movie failed, in my opinion. The story was shabbily told and the characters were quite shallow. Most importantly, Genevieve fell flat on her face with her efforts to bring life to the character of Ms. Adebayo. Her casting in that role, alongside some other great actors, finally exposed Genny as a not-so-fantastic actor. My friends argued that the character was a bland one, and that there was not much anyone could do about it. I told them that that is what acting is about – bringing life to a character.
So, one of my friends then asked me, “Oya, bizi body, who are the great actresses in Nollywood? Name them!” And I began mentally scratching my head, as I had not seen very many Nigerian movies to make an honest assessment. However, after a few seconds, I recalled a name I should have said at once – Nse Ikpe-Etim. They scoffed. I mentioned Blessing Effiom, Joke Sylva, and Clarion Chukwura Abiola, but then, I need to see these women in more roles to be able to make an honest assessment anyway. But they wouldn’t back down, these Genevievites. They simply wouldn’t agree with me that Ms. Nnaji is anything short of magic on the silver screen. So, I turned to my Orijin, nodded along to Korede Bello’s Godwin, and let the matter rest.
Written by Dennis Macaulay