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Read Vice’s Account Of A Day On Set Of Izu Ojukwu’s “Amina”

Queen Amina (illustration by VICE)

BY EMILY WITT

 

The sets of Queen Amina, a historical epic, had to be in places with no traces of modernity, in this case a scenic cow pasture. Evening was not far off when we arrived, and the crew was scrambling to finish shooting a scene before nightfall. I was quickly introduced to the producer and director, then given a Styrofoam container of okra stew, a plastic bottle of water, and a chair next to Ojukwu, who was watching the scene on a monitor. Ojukwu was a calm man with an aversion to raising his voice. It helped, under the circumstances, to be a calm person.

They were shooting a death scene—before us one of Queen Amina’s many lovers was laid out on a pallet made of wood beneath a small dead tree. Amina, played by actress Lucy Ameh, was to approach his deathbed flanked by her troops, including her personal bodyguard, a wild-looking Amazonian figure who wore a leopard pelt over her shoulders and her hair in a Mohawk. Ojukwu was ordering the ranks of soldiers carrying shields, spears, and flags to disperse more widely across the fields.

Amina approached the corpse and delivered her lines.

“He died like a hero,” she said, dropping to her knees to embrace his corpse. “He sacrificed his soul to save my life.”

She stopped. The script called for the dead lover’s necklace to be yanked off, but the necklace wasn’t there. Members of the props team began rushing around. Ojukwu looked up from his seat before the monitor in disbelief. “We have less than 30 minutes of light, and now a necklace will hold us ransom?”

Illustration by VICE

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I see the ants are stressing you guys.” The soldiers appeared to be on the verge of mutiny. “I need water!” pleaded one.

They set up another shot.

“Your cousin will be avenged,” Amina said to another character, an estranged childhood playmate. “I weep for you, Amina,” the former friend replied coldly. “Now you are the monster we always knew you would become.”

The camera panned down to the body. Amina softened. “I loved him,” she said quietly.

The soundman, a German named Peter, ripped off his headphones and looked around, glaring. “It sounds like a discotheque,” he said.

Through his loudspeaker, the assistant director called for silence. The soundman took a reading, then shook his head again.

“Babies,” he said.

Some locals who had come to sell sugarcane and watch the shoot under a nearby tree were asked to silence their children.

“Action!” said Ojukwu. “He died like a hero—” started Amina. A cellphone rang.

A collective groan went up. “Drinks on him tonight,” said Peter. The assistant director spoke into his megaphone: “Please, crew members, remember to turn off your cellphones and call your mothers and fathers.” Another take.

“He died like a hero—”

“Ali, you’re breathing!” yelled the director to Ali Nuhu, a megastar of Nollywood’s Hausa-language industry who was supposed to be dead on the pallet.

But finally the scene was done. The golden necklace, which was found after a 20-minute search, was ripped from the dead man’s neck. In the last rays of the setting sun, the amassed troops received their heartbroken warrior queen. Then the light was gone, and it was a wrap.

 

Culled from VICE. You can read the full account here.

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