BY ‘SEGUN ODEJIMI
“A Trip to Jamaica is an awful attempt at making comedy…”
“30 Days in Atlanta does not have any sense-making storyline…”
“The Johnsons is horrible. Do they genuinely think they make people laugh…?”
“Have you seen North East? Omo, that film is very bad…”
“This, that… bad this, horrible that…”
But I think, in all of this, sometimes, we should cut Nollywood some slack. Instead of putting all of the blame at the doorstep of these filmmakers who do not want to have to beg before they can put their kids through school or live a life of reasonable, we should shovel together all available blame and dump it in the living rooms of today’s Nigerian audience.
As a student of drama, a critic and a Nollywood fan, I have seen several films and TV dramas/series in the last couple of years that will ordinarily not survive one minute of critical analysis before they are wrapped in bin bags, picked up with a six-foot pole and flung far into unending distance. This year has thrown up several. You look at some and can’t believe how a group of people have decided to come together to waste money and effort. Critically speaking, North East, A Trip to Jamaica, Ghana Must Go, Casino and Hustle are some of this year’s films and TV shows I am convinced would have been better off not made.
I saw AY Makun‘s A Trip to Jamaica sometime last week in a packed cinema hall in Ikeja and while I simply could not find the film’s story and the execution of most of the comedy funny, many people were working hard to stop themselves from rolling on the floor. They found every gesture, word and sound funny. Everything! To them, this was the next best thing after sliced bread. And this is just one example out of several.
A Trip to Jamaica is romping to the top of the highest grossing Nollywood chart within weeks of its release. It’s predecessor, 30 Days in Atlanta recently strolled into the Guiness Book of World Records for eating up the Nigerian box office in 2014. What these two projects of Ayo Makun lacked in critical acclaim, they had abundantly in audience acceptance and popularity.
Many people would say maybe Nigerian critics are faulty-loving and unnecessary evil, but when Mo Abudu‘s Fifty was screened upon its release last year in London, most of the foreign reviews that greeted it were scathing. But, the film still ended up grossing the highest of any Nigerian film in 2015. It’s cinema success continued into the early period of this year. Despite being a 2015 film, Fifty still sits on the 2016 highest grossing table below only A Trip to Jamaica, Wives on Strike and The CEO.
For all the evident good work put into The Arbitration and 93 Days, they didn’t turn out to be box office hits. At least, not from what we know at the moment. And that is looking increasingly unlikely to change.
This tells us something.
But now, let’s take a brief look at a couple of what is on TV these days.
Jenifa’s Diary and The Johnsons. These two shows are very popular. Jenifa’s Diary is so popular, there is a fifth season. But are they great productions? Even though they are sitcoms, do they have good stories? Will these shows be remembered years from now? The answers to one or two of these questions is definitely “NO.” But they are popular. I have seen several episodes of both shows and, for supposed sitcoms, they were far from funny. They looked like miscued slapsticks. But while we were watching Arsenal eat Ludogorets for dinner last night, a colleague randomly remarked to me, “Let me watch the whole of the first half of this match here (at the office) because if I go home now, it is The Johnsons that my wife and kids will be watching.” There are many homes like this. I once had a friend over and she had a full season of Jenifa’s Diary on her phone. While she was watching one of the episodes, she just couldn’t stop laughing. Nothing could come between her and her JD while she was at it.
This says something.
That is the same “something” that is being said loud through the Nigerian music speakers. The kind of music that makes the most money is what the older folks and the critics refer to as “garbage music.” The pangolo songs. Those songs that are shallow on lyrics but deep in feet-moving music. Many of those who are trying to make “good” music and sing the “right” way seem unable to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the “street” singers financially, except for those whose marketing games are strong. You know, like what Kunle Afolayan still someone is able to make some good money while trying to make “deep” and very well-made films.
The Nigerian audience is today drawn to such films and TV shows. That seems to be what the majority wants regardless of what the critic or the film buffs think. This does not mean the role of the critic is dying a slow death. Rather, it is the opposite. It is now, more than ever, that the industry and its audience need the critic to put everyone back on track and remind everyone of what a work of art should be.
But what’s going on right now shows that it is a smart move to guage what your audience wants and give it to them. And right now, the Nigerian audience is madly in love with the Wizkids, Olamides and they want to take trips to Jamaica with the Johnsons while holding Teknos in their hands.
So, maybe we shouldn’t just blame Nollywood alone.
*increases the volume of Pana playing in the background*