“No story is new” or “All Stories have been told before” are common maxims in creative writing. Yet, every storyteller knows that the only way to cultivate an audience is by imbuing his or her tale with a tinge of originality.
AMARACHUKWU IWUALA examines a tendency in Nollywood, in which the stories of some of Hollywood’s commercially-successful films are retold to death. His survey of eight films in the last few years, as he tells it, reveals that the Nigerian film-makers behind them either flagrantly copied or tastefully recreated Tyler Perry’s 2007 film Why Did I Get Married? Those who adorned the initial idea are in the minority.
This is where the inquiry starts…
What is Nollywood’s attraction to Why Did I Get Married?
A close look at Weekend Getaway (Desmond Elliot, 2012), Ikogosi (Toka McBaror, 2015), Couple of Days (Tolu Tanner, 2016), Dinner (Jay Franklyn Jituboh, 2016), The Women (Blessing Egbe, 2017), The Visit (Funke Fayoyin, 2015), Journey to Self (Tope Oshin-Ogun, 2013) and The CEO (Kunle Afolayan, 2016) reveal that the stories that the listed films tell take a cue from Why Did I Get Married?
Whereas Weekend Getaway, Ikogosi, Couple of Days, Dinner, The Women and Journey to Self are so glaringly copies of Why Did I Get Married?, the writers and directors of The CEO and The Visit, in spite of their movies’ several flaws, understand that originality is indispensable and, so, elevated their art, making it difficult for anyone who saw those movies to call them copycats.
THIS BANDWAGON ‘MOVEMENT’ is not a new one. Following the renaissance of film-making in Nigeria in the early 1990s, the independent producers, who were chiefly at the helm of affairs, told stories that were markedly different from one another, though almost all the films were family dramas.
This was a consequence of their training by the NTA and BBC. So, much as Living in Bondage was closely followed by films like Circle of Doom, Taboo, Fatal Desire, Nneka – the Pretty Serpent, Ti Oluwa Nile and Rattlesnake, the thematic focus of one film is considerably different from the other.
Following the ‘Otokoto’ saga in Owerri, Imo State, in 1996, the movie distributors, popularly called marketers, who had begun to bankroll a remarkable number of movies, started to exert an untoward influence on the creativity of film-making. Blood Money, Rituals, Scavengers and tens of other films were made to depict the Otokoto problem and money-making rituals. Of course, many of the films had abysmal screenplays or suffered from poor execution.
However, it was in 1999 that a bandwagon ‘movement’ was firmly established. That year, a notable marketer, OJ International, financed the production of Igodo, a period piece, which was jointly directed by Don Pedro Obaseki and Andy Amenechi. The film, which had a predominantly male cast, including Pete Edochie, Nobert Young and Sam Dede, was very successful commercially, prompting countless other marketers to produce films, in which the cast were dressed in sack cloth and raffia as was the case with Igodo.
Izaga, Festival of Fire, Amadioha, Ijele, Oke Osisi, Arusi Iyi and scores of other films followed the production of Igodo and for more than one year, a vast majority of Nollywood films told stories set in pre-colonial or colonial times. In fact, the word, ‘epic’ started making the rounds in the nascent industry to underscore the setting of such films. Save for a few, the stories were not easily distinguishable from one another.
It will be recalled that Igodo was not the first film set in pre-colonial times. A few years before it, The Battle of Musanga, starring Obi Madubogwu as the King of Musanga, was made, but film-makers did not rush to produce films with similar backgrounds simply because The Battle of Musanga was not a chart buster.
The activities of Bakassi Boys in Nigeria’s South-East region formed the theme of films like The Baka Boys, The Great Vigilante, Isakaba 1 – 4, amongst several other films. The group, populated by traders from the shoe-making section of the Ariaria International Market, Aba, had given the nickname – Bakassi – to their section of the market.
They became a vigilante group in response to the incessant burglary, theft and robberies, which they experienced in the market and the seeming helplessness of security agencies in the face of their travails.
In time, their activities extended to all the towns in the South-East, where they became, amongst other things, debt-recovery agents and revered alternative dispute resolution ‘experts.’ The dreaded band of machete-wielding young men instigated rumours that they employed diabolical powers in determining guilty people, whom they then executed extra-judicially through lynching. It was that and other excesses of theirs that made the government of the day to eventually ban their undertakings. It is, therefore, understandable why Isakaba, the most popular of the films on Bakassi Boys received huge attention.
When a certain wealthy man from Ihiala in Anambra State died, all sorts of tales were told in film, each maintaining that he had offended a deity, which made him die in an accident whilst his wife and children, including a baby, who were also in the same vehicle, survived. King of Money was the most audacious of those titles because it was translated directly from the deceased’s moniker in the Igbo Language.
Yet, there was a title, Arusi Iyi, which exquisitely executed the Ezego story, but required the informed to deduce that it was a film about that demise of the departed businessman as well as the wild speculations of the events that led to his death.
In fact, the producers cast Kenneth Okonkwo in a leading role because he is fair in complexion like the late Ezego, whose ‘biopic’ Arusi Iyi became. The film was set in pre-colonial and contemporary times to show that Arusi Iyi (The River Deity) is still as powerful today as it has ever been.
In the heyday of Idumota and Iweka Road, a bandwagon trend in Nollywood ended and another began whenever a fresh incident occurred in a Nigerian town or city, compelling the marketers to abandon an ongoing trend and exploit the new story, hoping to make a kill from that event or controversy before it becomes an all-comers affair. This is why it is tough to decipher the staying power of the Nollywood films that copy Why Did I Get Married?, considering the fact that the interest in the Tyler Perry film has endured for more than half a decade.
In the final analysis, every film-maker should choose whether to etch their works on the minds of the audience or be regarded as film-makers whose works are pedestrian.