I just watched the conversation that the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival had with superstar actress Genevieve Nnaji and director Kunle Afolayan. And this onstage conversation was very illuminating and inspiring. Inspiring because you see how these two stars embody a struggle that is yielding such success and greater promise, and illuminating because, well, I cannot believe I’ve been entertained for so long by our film industry and not quite gotten or understood the Nollywood struggle. There are so many complexities in the dynamics of Nollywood’s rise, and these two luminaries of the industry did a wonderful job of highlighting them.
Genevieve was especially a delight to watch. And it mostly had to do with her penchant for injecting her remarks with bits of witticism. This made for a perfect balance with Kunle; she offset his often brooding, heavily-contemplative responses with her wry sense of humour.
And it was especially gratifying to discover that this woman I have always admired shared tidbits of her beginnings in her craft that were quite similar to my awareness of my love for writing.
“At 8, I had had a lot of practice in my little home that I built for myself with my lesson teacher’s blackboard and my mum’s very precious wrappers, and I had my friends, a group of them, I only found out later on that they were in my head.” – Genevieve
“My job is to actually get lost which I enjoy doing because I enjoy being anybody but myself. And that comes to me really naturally.” – Genevieve
This is a lot like me both past and present. As a budding writer of 10 or 11, I had a lot imaginary friends who I loved to reenact the scenes of my stories with. I’d have these long scintillating conversations with them, and imagine them responding to me, gradually building these characters and depictions that eventually made their way into the written stories. And as I matured, even though I have said goodbye to those friends in my head a long time ago, I still find it a little challenging to write without immersing myself into these character’s lives, without staring off into space every now and then and just being them, anyone but myself.
Kunle also shared something too about his past that was inspiring, that emboldens those who intend to chase their dreams.
“Storytelling is something that comes naturally with Africans. But the means to tell it is usually the challenge. I used to be a banker, and in 2005, I resigned, and I said, look it’s film, I want to start making film. And I wanted to tell African stories but in a different way.” – Kunle
There was also the actress’s not-so subtle admonition of Hollywood.
“Our accent is distinct. I love all my Kenyans and South Africans but you can’t sound like…You can’t get anybody who is not Nigerian to sound like a Nigerian. Just get a Nigerian. Just little things like that put us on the map. You don’t have to shoot in Nigeria. It’s okay to build your set outside. But at least, let’s put some authenticity to what you’re doing. And little things like that really go a long way.” – Genevieve
And then, there was this testimonial of Nollywood, a remark that speaks to the viability of an industry that in spite of its fledgling entrance into the world stage, is a force to be reckoned with:
“I know it’s a business. At the end of the day, investors are going to put their money in somewhere they feel they can get their money back. They probably don’t believe that there’s a market for our kind of content. But there is. Because we tell one story. And everybody can identify with the kind of stories we tell, because we tell our story. And our story is quite peculiar to almost every country that has a culture.” – Genevieve
“At the end of the day, you can say what you like about Nollywood and its quality, but the truth is it’s just quality, it’s just technicalities. All of these things can be put in place. Cameras, cinemas, building them, distribution – that’s money. We have the heart. We have the talent. We have the gift. We just need believers to invest in the industry and help us grow…. But having said that, we still have to do our bit, which is be the kind of people that people want to partner with, and that’s what we are doing with the kind of productions that are being churned out now by really talented people. We are trying to structure ourselves and be the kind of people that attract serious investors and serious movie houses.” – Genevieve
I finished watching this talk and I am quite simply rooting for Nollywood and all the talented thespians that make up the industry. Kunle Afolayan calls what they do a labour of love, and it is my prayer that this labour of love yield all the fruits of love.
If you haven’t seen the TIFF 2016 conversation yet, check on it below:
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