KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
Another star is born!
Move over, Mama G; Alice is in town!
M. O. ENE
Saturday, January 20, 2007
SACRED NO MORE
After unnecessarily deriding the gods in Deceit of the Gods, Chinny Ahaneku wears the apparel of Alice, a certifiable-crazy citizen, to defile more institutions of the Udi community specifically and Igbo society in general. From the ancient, Alice demystifies a local masquerade, something that the colonial administrators never tried, even though they had serious run-ins with the cult during their days in Udi. The postcolonial government in Enugu shied away from dismantling the society, but banned “Udi Day” in Enugu because of the antics of more menacing masquerades. From the Christian religion, Alice sullies the white robe of a local Catholic priest, a symbol of some significance to devotees. From the social norm, Alice abuses elders big and small, the sick and the infirm.
Alice goes on the rampage and beats up her pregnant mate Akunne, after denigrating her dignity-in-penury stance against corrupt politicians: “Nwunyedi okpa n’ese,” she calls her -- a reference to the poor footwear that shows her five toes. Even after her husband sends her packing for the offence, she returns and reenacts a more serious beating! Alice probably has her reasons: with all her position and power, the poor but younger woman gets the warmth of their husband at night and during his many rest days. Alice is a equal-opportunity bully; no one is spared. In Umuneke clan, of which Udi is a seventh part, locals hold teachers in very high esteem; in the movie, Alice feeds sand to a teacher that dares to spank her daughter for failure to pay her tuition fees as and when due and then plugs his protesting mouth with the tuition fees in dirty banknotes! She does not stop: She insults the St Anthony’s Women Guild, ably chaired by a Louisa Nwobodo character. [Madam Nwobodo played grandmother to Omotala Ekeinde and Rita Dominic in All My Life (with Zack Orji)].
To understand the depth of Alice’s abominable acts, one must understand the place of masquerades in Udi environs. “Nwaanyi akakwaa mmanwu!” (a woman has demystified the masquerade) is an expression used to convey that something abominably unspeakable has happened. Nothing else comes close, not even homicide! In the area, women do no behold masquerades. Alice does not only stand before a masquerade, she sets it on fire and pours hot water on the village, masquerade-society devotees. Summoned before the elders, she posts the ultimate insult: “Spirit of the ancestors… whose spirit: Spirit of the living or spirit of the dead!”
Alice is angry and unloved, and she shows it in a well-delivered monologue, “Can you imagine: After flogging my baby. After whipping her like a thief, they want to come to my house, and I will prepare abacha (tapioca flakes salad) for them! For what? Are they fools? They are fools. Sometimes it is sweet to deal with fools, very sweet.” It is a sign of the times, a time of Catholic Charismatism and Protestant Pentecostalism. It is ironic that jilted young men now use off-season masquerades to get even with girls and then proceed to traumatize innocent schoolchildren. It is a sad sign of our times that a woman makes an impromptu arrangement for the initiation of her stepchild into the masquerade society. It is unfortunate that elders of a community, albeit fictional, invite a woman to masquerade-related session. Alice nails the reason when she lambastes the husband as a “weakling of a man,” and storms off.
The problem with wholesale desecration of sacred institutions is that no one is safe from screenwriters. However, certain envelopes should not travel too far to the edge. The masquerade society has stood the test of time and has served many communities in the area. Although the demystification did not start today, Chinny Ahaneku may want to stay away from indiscriminate vilification of a people’s way of life, especially when such customs are quite harmless or even good. [The Enugu Mmanwu Festival remains a major tourist attraction waiting to reactivate.] Besides, Mrs. Ahaneku is not versed in the intricacies and nuances of such cultural setups. I understand taking on osu concept and clitoridectomy, but writers and directors must find other sensitive ways of handling issues as masquerade societies. The truth of the matter is that, in real-life situations and in certain communities in Udi, the actions of Alice attract wholesale destruction of family abodes, ostracism, out-casting, and even death.
Nigerian writers should stay away from the treatment of occultism, cults, black-magic powers and all that jazz until they understand the true nature of African spiritualism, traditional divination, and herbal medicine. It is sad that the works of a few charlatans as the Okija boneheads now represent African tradition religion. It does not. Every religion has its charlatans and its dregs. Traditional African religion deserves and demands respect. Before anyone flays up with “Holy Ghost fire,” think how it will feel if what the world sees about Christianity in Nigeria is Emeka Ezeugo, the so-called “Rev. King of Lagos,” who was recently condemned to die by hanging. How will it look if the priest that raped a 13-year-old, sick girl in Awka the other day is all the world sees of Pentecostal movement in Nigeria!
Interestingly, writers and directors thread much more carefully with Islam, even avoiding non-religious issues that affect people in northern Nigeria. I wonder why! The fact I am making is that the issue of early marriages, polygamy, illiteracy, and the social consequences of vesico-vaginal fistula in northern Nigeria cry out to be put in perspective. Back southeast, the continued practice of child housemaids and hawking cries out for condemnation. The high rate of male school-dropout, emigration, crude corruption in high placers, etc. are issues to address and bring to the fore so that the society and authorities can take corrective actions.
No one is against the so-called ‘black magic’ in Nollywood because it is a part of the popular belief, but the treatment of such creeds still leaves much to be desired. In Alice, My First Lady, misunderstanding of ‘black magic’ endures. It does not have to take food laced with a love-hate voodoo to switch junior Alice (Peace Chukwu) from a loving 11-year-old child to a child monster that hates her mother and then goes on to become a social menace. Again, it does not take magic for Alice to love her daughter so much she will desecrate the holiest of shrines to keep her from harm, and it does not take magic to make a daughter resent such overprotective antics, especially if she is the reincarnation of Alice’s mom. Alice is a bad-tempered woman, and she is ready to fight anywhere and at any time at the drop of dirt. She is so easily dislikeable, and her decent daughter Angela (Nkechi Thelma Chukwu) should not find it difficult to abhor her.
Alice’s epiphany does not have to occur when Alice disrespects an old woman. It could be a native doctor to whom she goes to find out why her life is so empty. Her husband, mate, and stepchildren run away from her to the city; her daughter runs to her (Alice’s) father; she has only one friend, a dubious character who is into black-magic control of her husband; and her husband’s family members detest her and anyone who stands her. The Christian Mothers have suspended her for fighting in the market! The women political pastime is corrupt and has become a show-off stage for the latest Jooji wrappers and parachute-like headgears. Alice is alone; her existential emptiness is enough reason to seek traditional counseling, since she has violently refused the Euro-Christian version from the parish priest. With a good native doctor in the picture, the movie will respect and appreciate the traditional way of life, something Alice fails to do.
Alice, My First Lady is otherwise a great movie indeed. It is not perfect; nothing is perfect. Chinny Ahaneku took on a whole lot of role, including editing. It's no wonder the subtitling leaves a bit more to be desired. She should not have allowed Alice to get away so easily with just tear-free and even shined-eyes pleas. The woman beats up so many people, including her pregnant mate and only once does her husband react by sending her away, albeit temporarily! No one should get away with social murder; it sets a very bad example. Alas, I doubt Nollywood has the technology to simulate burning down of Alice’s home! Regardless, Alice should have developed full-blown madness and headed straight to Orieagu Udi Market or, even better, Nkwoagu Agbaja main market.
“The Return of Alice” would have been a sequel worth waiting!
What we have is a movie you can watch with your family and friends and enjoy. Set in and around the Abalu family in Amægu Udi village and Agbudu town, the production team did a great job, especially director of photography Wayeed Adeogu. Joseph Okechukwu was great as Amadi the weakling, who chooses to walk away from Alice before he commits murder. He impressed me in Falling Apart with Eucharia Anunobi-Ekwu, also starring Zack Orji, Charles Anwurum and Queen Okereke. The risqué frolic with Eucharia Anunobi pushed the envelope in the bedroom department. Veteran Sam Loco Efe is a bit melodramatic as ‘Pa Adindu,’ but I did not expect less. He brought some old-school connection to the new era. Patience Ozokwor was her usual self as wealthy ‘Amaoge’; she didn’t do much for the movie except, of course, to get people to grab a copy off the shelf. Nkeiru Sylvanus is an unnecessary appendage as ‘Anthonia’; a lesser-known but budding star could have done great and introduced us to another face of the future. Comfort Bruno as 'Akunne' is excellent: frail and bucolic, she is a face of the future. I expect Ms. Bruno and Joe Okechukwu in anther love flick; they click.
The children actors are wonderful; I am impressed. For those who have seen the movie, in case you are wondering about the uncanny resemblance between Alice Jr. (Peace Chukwu) and Angela, Alice’s daughter (Nkechi Thelma Chukwu), they are relations – probably sisters of Chinasa Chukwu, Mrs. Chinny Aheneku. By the way, Mrs. Ahaneku should consider reverting to her given name, Chinasa, a very meaningful, sweet name. For tidbits and talking names, note that the names of over twenty characters in the movie start with the letter “A”: Alice, Amaoge, Anthonia, Amadi, Akunne, Angela, Adindu, Abigail, Agnes, Amara, Amaechi, Amaobi, Anayo, Azuka, Agatha, Akidi, Appolonia, Anthony, etc.
If you have not watched the movie, remember to skip the unusually long advertisement of movies you will not otherwise watch. It is no wonder Nollywood cannot fit its feature film in one disk. Of course, we know all about trying to maximize profit by squeezing many parts out of one movie. However, remember to wait the preview of Deceit of the Gods at the end of 4/4. Also starring Chinny Ahaneku and Joesph Okechukwu, the movie promises to do well on the back of Alice, My First Lady.
Chinny Ahaneku as Alice marks the beginning of a new era in Nollywood. By the time the world of Nollywood’s aficionados see this movie, it will be goodbye to 'Mama G' (Patience Ozokwor) -- who needs to reinvent herself somehow, and welcome to “Alice” (Chinny Ahaneku) – who only needs to stay the course by raising the bar and learning from the mistakes of others. There is no way any director with half a sense will continue to feed the world the unrealistic, photo-trick black-magic scenes and expect the enlightened to take him or her seriously. Again, she cannot continue to defile sundry taboos carelessly without expecting a reaction from the affected section of the society. The time has come for Nollywood to take itself seriously and foresee the return of good television programming and steady power supply -- which have been factors in its popularity; otherwise, it will risk a sudden peak and an instant drop in popularity and revenues.
With Alice, Chinny Ahaneku has won back many Nollywood fans who were driven away by the loads of glossy and unrealistic urban violence-and-sex stories set in oceanfront mansions in Lagos and in flashy Nippon 4x4s and German machines cruising around detergent-clean zones in Abuja. She took us all back to the roots of modern Nigerian movie industry in Enugu, to the roots of unadulterated Osuofia (Nkem Owoh) and the undisputed queen, Mama G (Patience Ozokwor). If nothing else, the movie exposes the pains of polygamy and other weaknesses in community cohesion, and it encourages forgiveness, regardless of the enormity of the offense. Here is waiting for a new movie starring the indomitable, superwoman who has found her voice, not as secretary, but as a Madonna of moviemaking -- the Firstlady of filmmaking 2007.
© MOE, Jan. 2007
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