#blastfromthepast – Celebrating Female Directors in Nollywood -Toni Kan

Following the announcement of celebrated columnist, Niran Adedokun’s new book, The Danfo Driver in All of Us, we present Toni Kan’s thoughts on the writer’s debut “Ladies Calling the Shots” published to wide acclaim in 2017.

The year was 2010 and I was on the job. A PR assignment.

My PR company was hosting a 60th birthday party for a client in the Gambia.

We arrived at the airport and were held up at immigration. They were demanding for a form none of us seemed to have. Our party was made up of captains of industry and business men as well as professionals of various stripes.

The immigration officers would not budge. We had to produce the document or be deported.

There was no other way.

Then, the actor Olu Jacobs, who was part of our party, appeared alongside his wife Joke Silva. Mr. Jacobs had been delayed by security officials who wanted autographs. The moment he stepped into the room the immigration officials snapped to attention and cries of Igwe rent the air.

“They are with me,” Olu Jacobs announced in his stentorian voice.
“We had no idea,” the immigration officers apologised as they scrambled to get his autograph. Once done they stamped our passports and let us all go. I recount this story now to underline the power of cinema and of the industry we call Nollywood, the third biggest movie industry in the world.
What I did not say was that there was a movie director with us. None of the immigration officers recognized him even though he had produced over seven movies some of which starred Olu Jacobs.

To fully understand what happened that afternoon in Banjul and because this is a review of a book on Nollywood with a focus on female directors, I will borrow a filmic trope to explain. Many of us here must be familiar with the tv series game of thrones. Now in The Game of Thrones aside the warring families – the Targaryens, The Starks, the Baratheons, the Lannisters and the Greyjoys we must be familiar with the Dothrakis, the Unsulled, the Wildings and the Nightwalkers.

Of all those fringe players, the Nightwalkers are the most feared and I dare say respected even though many couldn’t really tell what they look like. The Nightwalkers are the closest approximation to directors, that corps of movie practitioners venerated in France as auteurs. The word auteur refers to a creator, a small ‘G’ god. The one who brings the vision to reality in a filmic alchemy. I speak of the movie director.

In Nigeria the movie director is oftentimes male, a big man often times with a big ego whose job it is to dictate what happens on a set. Think Zeb Ejiro. Think Teco Benson. Think Charles Novia. Think Tunji Bamishigbin. Think Mahmood Ali Balogun. Now you are getting the picture. But the truth is that before these men, and coming after Hubert Ogunde and Ade Love Afolayan and Jimi Odumosu were women, creators and mother figures who presaged, in many ways, the industry we now call Nollywood.

Think Lola Fani Kayode and Amaka Igwe, women at whose teats the nascent Nollywood was nurtured. Lola was a pioneer and a visionary. She was, as many of her forebears have become, a triple threat and multi hyphenate; writer, producer, director. And after her came the imposing and inspiring Amaka Igwe. These were women who validated the Margaret Thatcher dictum which holds that the best man for the job is a woMAN.

Long gone from the scene by choice and death, their creative daughters continue to bear the torch, and to chart the path for what has been variously described as neo-nollywood one that has morphed from Idumota and Video cassettes to cinemas, cable tv, online streaming sites and iMAX.

This book, “Ladies Calling the Shots” is, therefore, at once a tribute and celebration of that visionary duo and those who have come after them. Niran Adedokun, PR man, columnist, writer and lawyer has given us a gift that will keep giving. His book is a handbook, a primer and a moving history of a rapidly evolving industry. This book is history, documentary and motivational literature.

Inside this book you will encounter the stories of Amaka Igwe and 16 other female directors whose works have redefined our viewing experience be it on the small or large screen. Within its 252 pages you will find stories of ambition, chronicles of resilience, tales of adversity overcome, memoirs of close brushes with failure and a paean to the restless spirit and creative imagination.

This is an important and timely book that documents Nollywood like none before it.

A wise man once said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. He was right. Nollywood’s biggest box office successes and envelope pushing movies have been helmed, as in directed, by women and I dare say produced by women. Women called the shots on The wedding party, they did on Fifty, on The Visit, on The Meeting, as well as on Tope Oshin’s all-female Journey to Self, amongst others.

Women continue to call the shots, to rule and to extend the boundaries of our beloved Nollywood by showing us that we can aim for more and achieve more in an industry that seemed to have reached a creative plateau when left in the hands of men. This is the triumph of Niran Adedokun’s ground breaking book.

In an age where sustainability has become a business buzz word, Nollywood and its practitioners need to read this book to better understand the nexus between show and business. They need to fully understand the reason why it is called showBUSINESS.

Niran Adedokun’s book, however, helps us see that despite the cries of disrespect and adversity and marginalisation, Nollywood female directors have fared better than their counterparts in Bollywood and Hollywood.

Making the point, Niran Adedokun writes – “In a sense therefore, it is accurate to say that female filmmakers in Nigeria have held their own better than their counterparts in more advanced countries, although filmmaking in Nigeria is just about half the number of years that it has become a commercial venture in the United States.
In Hollywood, out of 90 Best Director Oscars, only one woman has won it.

In Bollywood, beside Oscar nominated directors like Mira Nair who gave us – (Salaam Bombay!, Monsoon Wedding, Mississippi Masala, The Namesake, Amelia, The Reluctant Fundamentalist)  and Deepa Mehta who gave us very controversial films like – (Earth, Fire, Water, Midnight’s Children, Heaven On Earth, Bollywood/Hollywoodam) I am not aware of A list female directors in Bollywood like we have in Nollywood even though a few are emerging like Reema Kagti (Honeymoon Travels,Talaash); Rajshree Ojha (Aisha, Chaurahen); Kiran Rao (Dhobi Ghat); Farah Khan (Main Hoon Na, Om Shanti Om, Tees Maar Khan) and Zoya Akhtar (Luck By Chance, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.)

The amazing thing is that most of these women we have gathered here to celebrate achieved their successes not through formal training but through a cocktail of tenacity, pupilage and tutelage from Ema Odioso who apprenticed herself to Clarence Peters before saving enough and going to film school; Mildred Okwo who cut school to be on Lola Fani Kayode’s sets; Funke Fayoyin who studied at the feet of the master, Tunde Kelani; Grace Edwin-Okon who was tutored by Zeb Ejiro; Blessing Egbe who went from modelling to acting and then directing as well as Tope Oshin who credits Amaka Igwe with opening her eyes to possibilities beyond her purview. These women dared to believe in themselves and in believing have and continue to change the trajectory of Nigerian cinema.

As we celebrate these women kudos must be given to a few men who have acted as mentors – Zeb Ejiro, Clarence Peters and Izu Ojukwu. But the greatest applause must go to Amaka Igwe whose nurturing spirt has been chronicled for posterity by Tope Oshin in her award-winning documentary Amaka’s Kin.

I have described Niran Adedokun’s book as – important and timely and ground-breaking – and many may wonder why. The reason is simple: aside from books like Global Nollywood: The Transnational Dimensions of an African Video Film Industry by Matthias Krings and Onookome Okome; Nollywood: The Creation Of Nigerian Film Genres by Jonathan Haynes and “Auteuring Nollywood: Critical Perspectives on The Figurine’ edited by Steve Ayorinde with especial focus on Kunle Afolayan’s break out movie The Figurine, no other book on Nollywood has gone to great lengths in documenting the industry like this one and that is why I believe our author deserves a roound of applause.

We live in a country and a part of the world where knowledge is not codified, experience is not chronicled and journeys are not captured thus leaving a gaping lacuna of lost knowledge.

My son told me a joke recently. He said an American millionaire when asked how he became a Fortune 500 business leader will tell of how he got a 500 dollar loan, how he set up shop in his father’s garage, how he courted mom and pop shops before raising millions via and IPO. But ask a Nigerian billionaire and his short answer would be – God has been good!

This is why there is no book on production wizard Don Jazzy nor on Zeb Ejiro or Amaka Igwe or Linda Ikeji. We need to document their experiences, their successes and near misses in order to learn how they did what they did and in learning inspire the coming generation.

A simple google search turned up 4 books on Justin Bieber, 5 on Jay-z, and 8 on Rihanna. I could go on and on.
This book has resonated with me not just because my friend and class mate is the author but because in the past 6 years, my partner Peju Akande and I have devoted our time to writing biographies. We have chronicled Julius Agwu and Jimmy Jatt and Ali Baba as well as Newton Jibunoh and Samuel Shonibare. We hope to write more.

Any young woman who reads Niran Adedokun’s rendering of Blessing Egbe’s hard fought battle to box office relevance will learn a valuable business lesson no business school can teach. This is a book that the Lagos Business School should have on their curriculum. It is a handbook every aspiring filmmaker must have in his or her library. It is a navigational tool that will mark the difference between success and failure.

To close let me say that by writing this very important and timely book, Niran Adedokun who is a usually calm fellow has got himself into trouble because to make a list is to leave someone out and to leave someone out is to cause offense.

People have asked me why so and so director is not in the book and I have tried to proffer the true answer; Niran reached out to them but they didn’t get back to him.

But Niran need not worry. I have a simple solution. For an industry used to churning out movies that go from Part 1 to Part 2 to Part 3 Niran should take all the comments about those left out and write “Ladies Calling The Shots Part 2”

And Niran please don’t forget to add this important bit of Nollywood at the end of the book – To God be the Glory.

Book Title: Ladies Calling the Shots, Niran Adedokun, Grace Springs, 2017, 2017

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