African Entertainment: Nigeria’s Movie Industry is Experiencing Cultural Dislocation – Paul Obazele
His confidence shines brightly as his fair complexion. An evergreen Nigerian actor, dazzling in performance and unforgettable in actions, Paul Obazele is one of Nigeria’s biggest male movie stars. He belongs to the set of Zack Orji, Kanayo O Kanayo – a group of talented and untiring actors, bringing joy, tears and excitement to many homes.
Their illustrious performances captured on the silver screen, perhaps, remain unrivalled – and may still be for many years to come as Obazele and his ilk still once in a while ‘steal’ the show in Nollywood. The former President of Association of Movie Producers (AMP) speaks with Oge Ezeliora on the set of a movie, Busted, on his mission, dreams and intervention in Nollywood.
You seem to have been off the radar recently. What has been happening to you?
I’m still myself doing the work of God and doing what I know how to do best. I’m still a filmmaker, a producer, director, actor and I’m still a child of God and a devoted Christian. I still work in church. Nothing has changed except for the fact that you redefined the grounds because levels must change, higher grounds must come in and if you go to higher altitude with higher attitude, you just move like that.
We learnt you went to Edo State after you left the Association of Movie Producers; to do what if we may ask?
Immediately I stepped aside, the Government of Edo State called me in to become president of EFMA, Edo Film Makers Association. Most of the time, I was in and out of the country, I also had other businesses I had to do and within that period, I had done about nine movies and more are still to be released. Of course, you would have seen, Iyore, Invasion 1897, Delilah, Upper Creek, etc. I select the movies I do. This is my 32 years in this business and people have come to know and endorse me.
It is the criticism of the people that made me what I am today. So I am not scared of critics. The support of the people, the genuine effort of people motivates me. I become very selective because I hate it when I finish a movie, I can’t sit to watch it with my kids. It doesn’t make sense. Number two, I tend to stay the way I am because unconsciously, we are drifting away from what our culture is and I describe it as a cultural dislocation and because I am a man under authority, I’m a man who is passionate about what my culture is. I stand to do what my culture implies me to do. That is why you are not seeing Paul Obazele in every movie.
What are your thoughts about the current AMP president?
Everybody has a take and a stake in everything they do. My strive is different from their strive. So he does his things according to his own strive and I remember the AMP constitution told me something when I was the president that you run the association as you deem fit and so the current president, Ralph Nwadike is running the association as he deems fit. It is not for me to challenge him; it is for me to in whatever way I can complement and defend the association. I once steered that ship, helped built the association according to what its commands and its dictates are.
Whatever he does, if it is okay by him and his judgment and he calls me into to say, ‘see this with me,’ I will do. For example, recently, he launched Nolly-Care Scheme, I was there and I applauded it. The Nolly-Care has to do with the health care of our members and colleagues. And I congratulated him for a great initiative like that. I strongly believe that our members need health care. Though, I have done similar thing before now. I introduced it to Nollywood. And I encouraged all stakeholders to key into it. If he is sustaining that, great, because they say health is wealth.
You are currently on set for ‘Busted,’ and you said you are selective, why did you decide to be part of the cast?
One of my friends who have turned to my brother came on an errand with a leaf in his mouth and got my security to open the gate for him. I came out and saw one man who rose from nothing to something, who believes in what God has given to him. Media people call him Mr. Prolific but I still call him Chico Ejiro. He told me that one of our daughters sent him on a mission for me to be on set. I demanded to see the story. I read it and it is compelling. I loved it because it’s a family story. It’s a rhetorical question; it’s a food-for-thought story and I looked at the title, Busted – that attracted me too.
When I read the script, I saw my heart cry; the failure of parents. We see lots of criminals every day on the streets. If you go to the prison yards, the first thing that they will give to a criminal that is convicted is the Bible meanwhile when he or she was growing up, they did not give them Bibles at home and it became a big rhetorical question and what was the story? Simple story of not caring, listening; simple story of assuming that you know your daughter, son and for the fact that you want to please the entire society attending one function or the other amassing wealth unnecessarily at the peril of your home and today we have lots of parents who move from one place to the other.
WhatsApp is controlling an entire family. They come back home, rather than find out what is happening to the kids you see everybody busy on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. I felt OK, this is the only time I can express myself. Chico came in as a consultant because they brought in the directors and we discussed. The story is about a father who would not want the daughter to stand with anybody, who suspects that anybody that is standing with the daughter is misleading the daughter. She was coerced and taken away from a mixed school she attended. She was harassed.
Sadly, a house help introduced her to lesbianism. She grew with that and have the audacity to marry a woman against the laws of the land – the law stipulates a 14 years jail term and all of a sudden, the empire that her father built was crumbling and guess what again, he shifted the blame to the mother. As long as the child is not good, it’s the mother’s rather than face his responsibility. Not only that, again because of the busy nature of the mother and his busy nature, the mother is tired and he comes back home to sleep with the house help. So what is the wealth for? Most of the very rich men you see today, their kids are into drugs; their daughters are hopping from one bed to the other seeking for satisfaction of care and love. They get into different vices; that is the sum total of what the script is all about. Go to any home, earliest you see some parents come back home is 9pm or 10pm.
Do you have a personal project for 2017?
2107 is a pregnant year. Traditionally, Royal Picture as an organisation that I happen to be the CEO, has a yearly event we call, The Legends of Nollywood Awards. Traditionally, we must do that and this is the sixth year and we have done the ‘Yesterday of Nollywood’ and by that we went to the soap operas that created Nollywood. I need us to understand what Nollywood is. Nollywood is a phenomenon and a brand that was berthed some 25 years ago but cinematography-wise, Nigeria is 54-year-old as a film country.
They were people who graced the silver screen for a very long time and for us to understand what the history of filmmaking and videography is; we needed to visit the silver screen. They were people who bestrode those things as colossus then. We have been able to do that. So, the Legends of Nollywood did that. Now we are getting into the first five years of Nollywood itself from ‘Living in Bondage’ and other films that were produced in the first five years of Nollywood. We are going back to bring the young Liz Benson, Young KOK, Zack Orji and others.
We are bringing them all out. You will see them how they were and how they are. It gives nostalgia of feelings; it gives a sense of belonging; it makes the new generation of people to look forward to the day they will call them up as icons and legends to come and grace the stage. Again, Legends of Nollywood has a talk show, a ‘Legend of Nollywood Talk Show.’ If you are not 10 years old, you can’t sit on my seat. Not 10 years old of walking away but of steadfastness. You must be in that profession. It means you have been able to weather the storm. You have seen the good, the bad and the ugly and you are still there. Because you cannot be a television man or film man if you don’t have passion. It’s like journalism, no matter how hungry you are, you must write. You cannot quit it for another one because journalism is jealous, the same thing with film making.
How can you and others come together to move the movie industry forward?
Nollywood is a family. We quarrel and settle. Siblings clash but what makes it dangerous is when outsiders get involved. The moment you get involved, there is every tendency that you take side with one person; it aggravates such anger and that is what is happening to Nollywood. Those who do not mean well for Nollywood get involved and mess it up because of their selfish interest. As long as Nollywood remains divided, they make money from Nollywood.
I tell my colleagues with all sense of responsibility and fear of God, don’t take this out. It is like a marriage between a husband and his wife. If they quarrel, they will settle. The moment a third person comes in, it escalates. For example, why will I post my marital stuff on the Internet? Why should I offend Chico and post it on a platform? Ibinabo has issues. The people she leads has the right to caution her and it ends there in a meeting. It is resolved. That is why we have disciplinary committee in association and organisations. But sharks and hawks see it as an opportunity to make money. But amazingly, a dawn of realisation has come: we have come back to the drawing board, we are looking at it.
Yes, the founding fathers and stakeholders are sitting to say we can actually rectify this. Take for example, Association of Movie Producers is standing, DGN is standing, the other guilds are standing and the actors that we use to make money are not standing, we will make them to stand. If you are not a registered member of AGN, you cannot perform anywhere. That is why you see everybody on this set is registered members of AGN. That they are having crisis up there does not mean the ethics, privileges and values that hold us or bind us as one do not stand, it stands. We are not crazy, we are not bastards, we have surnames and we defend our grounds.