Charles Novia and some Nollywood 'veterans' recently described OC Ukeje, Blossom Chukwujekwu and other younger actors as 'Instagram stars.'
Last weekend on Twitter was 'lit,' with subs and shades following the 'New vs Old Nollywood' drama. Or should I say 'Instagram stars' vs 'reality stars.'
The drama started after a clip from the recent episode of Emma Ugolee‘s The Gist, featuring Uzo Okpechi, Charles Novia and Moses Inwang, surfaced online. The 'veteran' filmmakers referred to the younger actors as 'Instagram stars,' who have brought nothing to the table.
Novia, who is no stranger to 'power tussle' with the younger generation, gave an example saying "If you put Blossom, OC Ukeje at the box office, and put a different film with Ramsay Nouah and RMD. It's the movie with Ramsay that would probably pull more crowd."
The use of the term 'Instagram stars' comes off as a bitter statement from a group of veterans, who feel slighted, and unhappy at how far the Nigerian industry has come without them. It is not their statement that is worrisome. It is the excitement with which they spoke on an issue that should be considered 'embarrassing' for the industry as a whole. The enthusiasm that came with their comments, was not missing.
Who is an Instagram star? I want to believe Novia and his co 'veterans' meant actors who are only popular on social media. They chose to mention two Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award winners, OC Ukeje and Blossom Chukwujekwu. Focusing on Ukeje's career here, the actor is one of the 'Instagram stars,' who has featured in distinctive movies - from "The Arbitration" to "Ayanda," Ukeje has represented Nollywood positively internationally.
The new generation of filmmakers and actors, have found themselves in an era where it is important to become an Instagram star. Social media is hands down the most effective branding channel, and in this era, branding is needed. Social media is one platform that allows actors to have direct conversations with their audience. So, it is actually important that an actor is popular on social media. If Novia, Richard Mofe Damijo, Ramsey Nouah, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, among others, had kicked off their careers in a social media era, they also would have been 'Instagram stars.'
The reason why some of the veterans are popular 'beyond Abeokuta' is the fact that they found themselves in an era when distribution was not a major problem. They found themselves in an era where every Nigerian was part of Nollywood. Every Nigerian religiously followed Nollywood movies. Every Nigerian had access to new releases featuring their favourite actors. Thanks to piracy, the DVD market is gradually going extinct. The cinema is currently a major source of distribution for most quality movies in Nollywood. But then, how many screens do we have in Nigeria? How many cinemas do we have in the Eastern part of Nigeria? An average Eastern resident has no means of accessing a movie featuring most of the younger acts.
In Nigeria, an actor who has been in several movies and lead roles still walks around towns and cities without being recognized. It isn't something to gloat over on social media, or more embarrassingly on TV. Rather, it is one to battle as an industry.
Over the past five years, Nollywood has created quality movies that should have created a new set of A-List actors. Unfortunately, a new set of A-list or household actors can only emerge when a proper distribution channel is made available to the elites and the average Nigerian - be it cinema, streaming sites, or the DVD.
Also, most of the new acts can walk 'beyond Abeokuta' without any kind of recognition because the Nigerian market does not favour most actors and the standard they have set. An average Nigerian is more interested in Slapstick comedies. An average Nigerian would choose "Blackberry Babes" to a biopic of Okonjo Iweala or a movie that chronicles an important period as the Ebola days.
Despite their popularity or lack of, these 'Instagram stars' are re-branding Nollywood internationally. They are having their films screened at International film festivals. They are collaborating with Hollywood. They are creating a 'new Nollywood.' I personally believe in a term called 'New Nollywood.' However, I don't think I am on the same page with Novia and other veterans as regards its meaning. The word 'new' can also mean 'advanced.' I am of the opinion that Nollywood has advanced. It has grown. It has grown from home video to cinema. It has grown from self-trained actors to actors who have gone an extra mile to refine their skills. It has grown into an industry with respectable award platforms that recognize talents and hard work. It has advanced. It is better. It is new. Referring to 'new' as a group of persons is simply a failure on the part of some 'veterans' to skim past the surface.
Novia mentioned that a movie with RMD and Ramsay Nouah would pull more crowd than one with Ukeje and Chukwujekw. "Just Not Married," a movie which featured virtually unknown actors, was selected and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the City to City programme. It's 2016, and veterans and the known names are not all it takes to sell a movie. Hype and good stories play a bigger role.
Charles Novia produced his "Alan Poza," his last popular Nollywood movie in 2013. The movie received negative reviews for its story telling and direction. Over the years, Moses Inwang has encouraged the growth of Nollywood and creation of new stars by working with actors including Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Tonto Dikeh, Uche Jombo, Joseph Benjamin, Ireti Doyle, Bimbo Manuel, Nse Ikpe-Etim, Jim Iyke, Kalu Ikeagwu, and his wife, Emem Inwang. While searching for an Uzo Okpechi movie, I came across the movie "Perfect Union," which starred Tobe Osigwe, Brycee Adiah Bassey, Ifeanyi Kalu, and Joju Muse.
The 'so-called' 'New Nollywood' is changing the narrative. They are pushing boundaries when it comes to genres. They are taking risks. They have given viewers movies like "Figurine," "Green White Green," "Ojuju," "Arbitration," "The Awakening," "October 1," "Confusion Na Wa" among others. They have produced talents the industry should be proud of, including OC Ukeje, Adesua Etomi, Somkele Idhalama, Kemi Lala Akindoju, Weruche Opia, Tope Tedela, Deyemi Okanlawon, Chacha Eke, Uzor Osimkpa, Linda Ejiofor, Gideon Okeke, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Ivie Okujaye, Seun Ajayi among others.
This is not the first time Novia is coming under attack for his statement regarding younger filmmakers. Earlier this year, Novia wrote on the controversial Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPICON) Bill. He described most young filmmakers as"upstarts, while likening their careers to "bubble gum."
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Following the 2016 AMVCAs, the filmmaker also shared his thoughts. A paragraph from his review caught my attention: "The Trailblazer Award went to Kemi Lala Akindoju, a hardworking young lady who has so much to give, after giving so much too, to the industry. She won a car with the prize and gave a good speech which recognised all she was grateful to, including the Directors she has worked with, except one who took a chance too on her years ago." The last sentence, alongside his various statements, presents him as a veteran in dire need of relevance.
After all said and done by Novia and his co-veterans, those 'Instagram stars' are needed to grow Nollywood.