When Holly met Nolly

Recently there has been an influx of African American and Diaspora based Nigerian actors to Nollywood for collaborations. Ok, maybe not an influx, actually more like a treacle, yeah, that’s it, a treacle of Hollywood actors.

From Hakeem Kae Hazim (24,Season 8),Kimberley Elise(Set it off,Dairy of a Mad Black Woman),Isaiah Washington(Grey’s Anatomy,Romeo Must Die) and the currently shooting adaptation of “Half of a Yellow Sun”,starring Chiwetel Ejiofor(Inside Man,Redbelt),Thandie Newton(For Coloured Girls) and Dominic Cooper(The Devil’s Double). The casting(of Newton) which set off a fire storm on the net when announced, but that’s a topic already covered.

Hazim was in Jeta Amata’s Black Gold(now Black November) and in Obi Emenloye’s sophomore outing “Last Flight to Abuja”. Kimberley Elise in “Ties that Bind” and Isaiah Washington in “Dr Bello”.

What brought them to Nigeria? Is this the beginning of new things? Is there finally a Hollywood/Nollywood collaboration? Or is there something else at play?

There are mixed opinions within the industry. Some are against it. Some are apathetic. Some are excited and see it as just a catalyst for bigger and better things.

A few people see it as naïve to believe that anything good is going to come out of this. Their opinion is that, the Western imperialists are doing what they’ve always done. Come to Africa , take advantage of our resources and leave us with the short end of the stick. Kinda like our oil situation.

Some see it as “has-been” American actors coming to Nigeria cos they can’t get work at home. Hence, they need us more than we need them..or in fact, We don’t need them at all.Howz that for National Pride, ey!

While each opinion deserves it’s fair share of consideration, each person has a reason for having such a perspective. Me!! Until proven otherwise I choose to drink the glass of water while the optimist and pessimist are still arguing.

Here is the kaleidescope I’m looking through:

1) With these collaborations, some of our actors who need to step up their game will be forced to for three reasons.

i) When they work with classically trained western counterparts, those less talented ones would see where they really are skill wise outside their protective circle of psycophants.

When they attend an audition and can’t pull off a monologue,and are promptly sent off, they’d see it’s not about being pretty and yelling about a cheating boyfriend or “you slapped me,Chidera you slapped me!!”.

Let’s face it , there are loads of people on screen calling themselves actors, with a gazzilion fans, that wouldn’t pass an audition for a high school play anywhere else in the world.

ii)Those that actually do have talent will still learn something,from the western counterparts. Who would have worked in more genres, diverse roles, and on action, high concept and epic films whose catering budgets could bank roll our persons last 30 home vids all their sequels, with enough change left to shoot 5 seasons of Tales by Moonlight.

iii) Working on a film that is shot within 60 days and one shot in 3 days have different discipline and approach. The actors will see the work ethic, expected performance and manner of shooting is different. So true ability will be seen, and much can be learned.

There will sifting of the chaff from the wheat and those with great looks, little talent and a lot of ego, could possibly reasses their perception of their ability when they can’t pass auditions or have to do 20 takes till the director is satisfied, when for years they’ve been used to just one “abeg make we do am comot” take.

2) When such collaborations reach the Cinemas in the west, those not usually exposed to Nollywood, could see the performance of certain actors and seek them out for jobs either there or when they have projects on the continent.

On twitter, Isaiah Washington raved about working with Genevieve ,stating something like “she’s the most professional actress I’ve ever worked with”, I forget the exact wording. (Na true or na wash na him sabi).

You never know who he shares an agent with, who that agent goes to lunch with or plays golf in the same club. Which producer/director will see one of our actor’s performance in a Holly/Nolly film ,and say “I want him/her in my next film”.; or that Kimberly Elsie won’t suggest to frequent collaborator, Tyler Perry,

“Hey I met this Nigerian actress on a film we did together,she’s brilliant, get her for the African role instead of getting an American to force a stereotyical accent”

6 Degrees of Seperation people!!!!

Loads of British Born Africans, are making it Stateside,playing all sort of roles. Idris Elba,David Oyelowo,Nonso Anozie ,Sophie Okonedo etc . With the right dialect/Accent coaches who says talented Naija actors can’t do the same?

3) If these films go on to be successful in the box office in North America and Europe,Hollywood studios could realize the market here ,see the investment possibility of funding films in Nigeria and setting up studios here.

MTV,TRACE and BET have come for music, so why not Columbia,Universal,Paramount,Disney etc for movies! Which can eventually inspire indigenous-ly set up studios.

Fox Searchlight, which is 20th Century Fox’s indie arm, already did that with Bollywood, “My name is Khan” being one of their co productions and It was a very good film. Why not in Nigeria? Who says it can’t happen?

4)Exposure to a broader more diverse global market and opening of possibilities for Nu Generation of Nigerian Directors. Those that are coming up and don’t have the ear of Alaba funders, nor the desire for such. There are a lot of talented young directors out there as evident in excellent shorts they’ve made, but no outlet.

Now, don’t get it twisted.

I’m NOT saying we absolutely need them to thrive and won’t without them.

I’m NOT saying that they are our only way out of the vicious cycle we all complain about.

I’m NOT saying that Hollywood is some sort of guardian or saving Angel.Far from it, they have their own many issues.

There are loads of Nollywood producers and directors who are doing well enough to reject any such offer,spit on it with disgust and tell oyibo where they can shove their collaboration. That’s cool. Elijah Mohammed would be proud.

For those open though,I’m just saying it’s an option worth exploring. Afterall ,we can’t keep doing exactly the same thing and then moan we aren’t getting better results.

If you have to get across the river , and a man in a speed boat offers u a ride as opposed to the canoe filled with holes and a drunk paddler you have, will u say “NO!!, I don’t want your help you decadent imperialist”. Ok, some of you might, but It all depends on the deal you make for yourself.

Several European film makers, got invited to Hollywood after making successful films(critically&commercially) at home.

The Swedish Director of “Let the Right one in” next directed “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.

The German Director of Oscar winner “The Lives of others” next directed “The Tourist”.

Bringing it back to “the motherland “, South African Gavin Hood, who won an Oscar for Tsotsi, went on to direct X-Men:Wolverine Origins

Ok, so some of their Hollywood debuts paled in comparison to the films that got them noticed. I’m sure due to interference by suits, constant notes/memos and little creative freedom. But the point is, They Got Noticed !!!! They got the chance to work with much bigger budgets, reaching a much wider audience. And with time will get that creative freedom or at least more wiggle room like Nolan went from Momento to Inception.

Who says that can’t happen for a Naija director? Who says a Naija based director with a brilliant feature can’t be handed a project like those?

Film collaborations between two countries is not a new thing. Britain and France have done it for years (Pathe and Working Title). The British and the Americans do it a lot. The Americans shoot A LOT of TV and film scripted in the US in Canada, hiring Canadian cast and crew, and thereby putting money in the economies of the cities they shoot in. Canadian actors get work,Canadian hotels and restaurants get business. Many of those Canadians became big stars in Hollywood Ryan Reynolds,Jim Carrey,Mike Myers etc While it may not work like this for “ethnic and exotic” actors. When you see people like Djimon Hounsou and others,you know it’s not impossible.

One of the belly aches about it is the financing. Whose pocket does the money go back into? Does it stay in the industry? Is it going back abroad?

Well, I guess he who drops the money gets the profit. If we financially co produce I guess that cuts a different deal giving equal say in profit sharing.

But in that naysayers argument or logic. They forget that a lot of crew and supporting characters will be Nigerian,as is happening currently in the “Half of a Yellow Sun” shoot. Now, I don’t know about the DP and above line crew members, but as we show we are as competent as them, they’d realize it makes more financial sense to hire indigenous DP,AD,2nd Unit Directors etc who can do the job just as good. Fing Fang Foom,Hey Presto!!!, Jobs for awon boys. (In absence of politicking,neo colonialism and tribalism)

It may be a phase,it may indeed be an imperialist move. They may not be coming here out of the goodness of their hearts,(after all,it’s called Show BUSINESS not “Save the Nigerians”).

Yes Hollywood is cut throat and a lot of the time is only out for the bottom line, but isn’t that the same thing here we “artists” moan about.

So for the time being,I’m gonna chose to be naïve as some call it, and focus on the hypothetical possibilities it could bring to the industry, for talented upcoming film makers and actors.


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