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How to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Story -Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe.

Emmanuel does not spare words in restating his vision and mission as a media entrepreneur, more so a filmmaker; out to make a very personalised, or rather spiritual, statement about the essential black identity. He raises questions about major American producers' investments in Nollywood and South Africa. Albeit unable to prove what the intent of Netflix among the big ones is really, he figures time will tell in this third instalment of his Filmtalk.

Efefiong: So, your pursuance of black urban identity in the UK or anywhere else has been solely about conscientisation and actually synthesizing what you've learnt? Should I put it as cultural diplomacy to get and mold everything into an authentic black identity? Wherever you go you represent home and abroad, I guess?

Absolutely Marvelous a BUFF Studio Film 2022

Emmanuel: Yes; absolutely!

Efefiong: Right now, there is confusion among filmmakers in Nollywood about what they should pursue, uphold and keep. Would you reinvent the black urban black identity, if tomorrow you wake up and what you are pursuing, solidifying and achieving so far, becomes washed out? Would you reinvent what should be a standing legacy for black identity?

Emmanuel: That's a wonderful question. I guess having been in industry now for over 20 years, I've learned to pick battles and make sure I win them. You can't fight every battle. That question that you've asked is interesting; in that you mentioned, in Nollywood there’s a dilemma for a lot of filmmakers. In terms of why should they care? Why should it matter to uphold the black urban identity? Why can't they tell other stories that have got nothing to do with a black urban identity?

I was having this conversation with a Sierra Leonean UK based filmmaker, a couple of weeks ago actually. He wanted to develop a project basically with Irish characters and my thing is, yeah why not? It doesn't mean because the story is black that it has to be a black person telling it. But in my time in industry, I've seen too many stories about black people that have been found wanting.

Efefiong: So bottom line is you could still reinvent the essential black urban identity, if tomorrow you woke up, probably in Twenty Second century to find everything about black identity whitewashed. Especially with Nollywood embracing foreign culture, American culture and European culture by the day.

Emmanuel: The issue of black urban identity shouldn't be the sole responsibility of Nollywood filmmakers or black filmmakers in general. They shouldn't just have to tell black niche stories. They can tell other stories as well; if they want to. I guess regarding film, TV and media, it's all about business or money; in terms of what makes the world go around. What is deemed a commercial project.

These are constant issues that filmmakers are facing; which means they are compromising their creativity. They now suddenly have to think like business people. So, I guess the answer for filmmakers and also to your question to redefine or would I have to redefine black urban identity goes back to what I said earlier about creating your own belief system.

Everyone has got their own truth that they pursue or are looking for. It's not something that becomes apparent until you have what is known as your calling. So, when that calling suddenly arrives in you spiritually, you channel and use that at that particular time. I guess as long as you stay on the right path and meet like-minded people, who are able to help accentuate and enhance your belief system, what you believe in and how you communicate that will continue to grow and spiritualize more people.

What BUFF has done through the film festival, the awards and the studios is spiritualized people to the extent, where they feel comfortable in telling uncomfortable stories. Because to go to other spaces that have made black people feel uncomfortable traditionally, those people are probably not aware as to these structural issues in terms of gate-keeping; which is part of racism and power ultimately. So, if as a platform maker you don't have the power to tell your truth, fundamentally you are compromised in your creativity and earning potential.

Again, there's a lot of issues at hand with regards to black urban identity. Who is in control of that? But it's a great question that you ask. It's not about answering these questions from a binary approach; because it's always complex.

I'm always coming at it from an angle of experience and my expertise in the industry. I'm offering general answers laced within examples of what I have experienced as a person in the industry. Hopefully people will take that for what it is and use it. They can come to their own conclusions as to what they see. I don't want to say the ‘problem of black urban identity is,’ but certainly it's one of factors that are in constant play. The more I think about it and as long as people are aware of what the issues are, then there's a path from which they can oppose.

They can keep walking down a path blindly and waste all that time, money and resources. Thinking that they've reached the Promised Land? But like I said this is a lifetime process. I'm in it for the long haul. You're always learning in this business and in life. That's something I hope people will take away from this discussion that we're having as well.

Efefiong: Okay you've hammered on two issues: staying in prophecy or staying a mercantile. Either you stay a prophet or you stay a mercantilist. These two issues run parallel in Nollywood. In Nigeria when people are mercantile, with this mindset, ‘I want to put on the table. I want to build a house. I want to do this. I want to do that.’ And that goes down to accountability in the structure of the film industry in Nigeria. But staying a prophet is going down the narrow path that eventually admits you into paradise.

Can you envisage a situation, where we as an industry, as a black industry, as Nollywood would be able to stay accountable. Buy into what we believe is the prophecy? Let me put it so: the black prophecy, the black essence staying accountable, being true to the prophecy and then probably in the long run see light at the end of the tunnel. Is that possible?

Emmanuel: Is that possible? Um! Oh; if you don't mind, what do you think personally; if I can flip it on you?

Efefiong: I mean right now networks are coming to Africa to harvest stories. The very Africa that they harvested stories from in the decades behind us. Probably the stories they harvested have lost authenticity. So now they're coming back to us to give them the authentic thing. Really in the colonial times or the Transatlantic Slave Era, the ancestors of those guys, who harvested us physically took our cultures abroad, told their future generations these are people who live on top of trees. Now those generations have upheld that regard, that evaluation of who we are for so long. They are curious now to know the truth. What do you think?

Emmanuel: Yeah, you touched on something that is obviously very prevalent now in Africa with regards to the likes of Disney, Netflix, Amazon imposing their American soft-power on the continent. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? I guess time will tell; because we're still in the early infancy as to the real agenda. Why are they coming to the continent? Why now? Obviously, we've had Black Panther 1 and Wakanda Forever.

I remember saying this to someone at the time of the first Black Panther in 2018 as to why a whole content Africa couldn't do a film like Black Panther. Or why it couldn't be made in the continent. To this day, I've still not had the answer to that question. Given what you said with regards to our rich heritage of storytelling and there's a lot of stories yet to be told about the history and heritage of Africa. But with Black Panther, which obviously now has its sequel; grossing close to Two Billion dollars, why can't Africa create a film or a franchise with that kind of potential?

So that I…I…I…put it this way. I was born in the UK and we kind of made a joke at the start of the interview that you know I wasn't born in the motherland. I'm kind of detached from some of the issues. Despite what I do in the UK, I feel close to what's happening in Africa. But you're not really close until you're there. As part of the delegation led by the British film production, I was very fortunate to meet you last August at the Nigeria International Film Summit.

When you look at what the likes of Amazon and Netflix are doing, it doesn't feel like co-production. It still feels like a relationship, where they are very much kind of the majority partner. But Nigeria is the largest Black Nation on Earth. It has 200 million people living there. Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world. The potential in terms of the workforce, the creativity is not really being reflected in the nature of the relationships that these streamers are having with production companies on ground.

That's the sense that I'm getting anecdotally. I don't have any empirical data to backup what I'm saying. It's just a feeling that I get; so whether the balance is going to be adjusted over the coming years, time will tell. But it's down to people like you and people on ground in Nigeria to speak up as to whether these companies coming into Nigeria and Africa in general are a good thing. What does a good thing look like? Why do we need validation from these companies, you know?

We've got things like AMAA that has celebrated the best of African films for 19 years without Netflix and Amazon. There's already an example of a system, a belief system. That’s going back to the term that I used in the previous answer. We've created something for ourselves. It's by us and it's something that should be cherished. It should be commoditized and harnessed going forward. So, there is an example as to what can be achieved within ourselves. I don't know whether there were people in Nigeria that reached out to the likes of Netflix and said we're open for business; so, they came to Nigeria. Or was it Netflix in the States seeing what's happening in Nigeria, thinking here's an opportunity we can take advantage of.

I'll tell you something that I read the other day with regards to Girls Trip, a movie that grossed over 100 million dollars when the first film came out in the States. When did it come out? Probably five, six years ago. Now Girls Trip produced by Will Packer, whom I met last year, when he came to London to promote Beast. That was shot in South Africa, but it's an American production. It used Idris Elba, obviously British based, but originally from Sierra Leone, plus not really popular South African cast; but again, using the best of Africa. That's American money and someone wrote an article about this kind of soft power at play again.

It was announced recently that they're going to do the sequel, part two in Ghana. That Idris Elba might be potentially looking to set up a film studio in Ghana. My first reaction was why isn't Idris investing in Nigeria? The probable reason is because there's not much money to be made or looking at it crudely there's not much people to take advantage of. Maybe that's because people are wising up to lack of potentials to exploit in Nigeria. So, they are trying to take advantage of another territory like a Ghana.

Again, I don't know that for sure I'm only going on anecdotal evidence; in just a sense that I get the way the industry is moving. So, there's a lot that we've unpacked there; but I think it's a daily battle and over the coming years we're going to see that unravel in terms of their actual intentions.

When are they going to pack up their toys and go to another battleground? Whether it's in Asia, the Middle East, Australia. Obviously, Europe and the US are oversubscribed; saturated. So, they're looking at new battlegrounds; to bring new audiences and new business. The challenge is there for Nigeria and Africa? We generate our own business. And if so, what does that look like? ( be continued).

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