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The Anyiam-Osigwes: Soul of Nollywood Home & Abroad!

Updated: Feb 8

Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe(MBE), represents the Anyiam-Osigwes Family legacy in the Nigerian media and entertainment industry, more so Nollywood. He pays tribute to Peace Maria Ogechi Anyiam-Osigwe,( founder of African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA)). He also insists on his peculiar contribution to Nollywood, which seems to hunker under cultural duality or identity crisis from Anglo-American influences with his organisation, the British Urban Film Festival(BUFF).Read it in this second instalment of Filmtalk.

Efefiong: You have invariably become a native of the UK filmmaking scene. What would be the fate of the main character in urban black identity with hybridized UK cultural space? I mean, the UK cultural space has so many minorities, so many people synced into colors across racial margins. How would that help your main character, if your main character is in that ambience of White or Asian or African? How does that really help that kind of main character?

Emmanuel: That's a brilliant question.

Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe Courtesy of Salekin Liakat

Efefiong: I want to assume that probably your main character is half-cast like we used to say in Nigeria. If you had your main character to be that kind of person, how would your main character survive the UK environment?

Emmanuel: So that's a significant question, because I guess the story is told from the perspective of a dark-skinned black woman, my wife. She would probably be the best person to answer that question. It would be hard for me to speak on behalf of dark-skinned black women, because I don't ultimately share their experiences and what they go through on daily basis.

You hear stories about the oppression that they face routinely. Whether it's people like Viola Davis, (you read stories about famous people) to everyday people. I mean these issues are constant. You know it happens obviously; because of how the Western world operates. There is this inherent competition complex with regards to beauty. How do you define beauty? Is it through the gaze of a white woman? Is it through the gaze of a black woman? That's just color!

There are things about body image regards to psi zero, fatness etc. There's lots of complex issues at play, when it comes to beauty. There is no right answer you know. It's like they're say in the adage, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ So, it's for people to take ownership. I guess, if we're going into a spiritual kind of space with this, it's really about loving yourself rather than seeing what the industry or certain belief systems perceive to be beautiful. It's whether you conform to that belief or whether you go in another direction and define or create your own belief system. And creating validation systems is a huge part of who I am.

That’s what I have done with BUFF; whether it's through the film festival or with BUFF duties. It's always been about ownership of oneself, our values and belief systems. How we present ourselves is left for other people to either accept or reject it. We're not here to pacify or please people. We're here to tell our own truths from our own experiences.

Everyone comes into this world from a place of advantage or disadvantage? What we do with that is really up to us. It's not really up to the universe to tell us how to live our own life. So, the question you've asked there, is very complex. There's no linear answer and it's good that we're having this discussion. It’s left for the people listening. What they are hearing are not a daily routine. Whether it's on a news broadcast or a current affair show. I hope that what listeners are hearing will resonate either completely or partly. It's something they can relate to and take forward in their own lives.

Efefiong: How would I in a relationship with a white woman, authenticate myself as a black person, as a human person? I guess that's where you're driving at.

Emmanuel: Well first and foremost you mentioned the keyword humanity. So wherever you go, whatever it is that you're pursuing or looking for; whether it's work, love, money, humanity must be respected at all times. At the moment someone's way of life or outlook on life is compromised or taken advantage of, that's when the problem starts. So my thing is, you can marry whoever you want to. It shouldn't really come down to these isms: colorism, racism, socialism, communism. It shouldn't come down to these concepts to determine ultimately what your true Pursuit of Happyness is in life.

I think you just need to take full ownership of what you feel inside and if that seems to resonate with someone else then you're on your way. You start spiritualizing other people. So I think it's really as profound as the moment you take notice of your peers and what society deems to be the way forward. Then that's where a lot of the problems start.

Obviously with how the world is designed in many areas, there are systems in place to keep people kind of blink it from seeing their true potential. So, I think for some of us, we're kind of on this earth to find our true potential. Then if anything or anyone gets in the way of that we are equipped personally to overcome those obstacles.

It's not something that can be achieved after 10, 20, 30 years. It's a constant lifetime work. Like I said, I've got children that are watching me in terms of what I'm going through and stories I'll to leave. Legacies, memory lessons and belief systems for them to take forward for their children. So it's very important to have that succession in terms of, who are you leaving your legacy for and why that legacy to certain people. There's a lot of things at play in my life, both personally and professionally that speak to the type of person that I am.

Efefiong: What's the degree of variation from native Africanness, if you could compare your filmmaking experience as a black person to Nollywood for example? I know some people in London, UK also have Nollywood UK. Have you reconciled all these drivers that you've put forward to authenticate black identity in urban UK with what Nollywood stands for in terms of duality of concepts or culture?

Sometimes you listen Nollywood actors speak like they are from the UK or or America. There's a whole mixed bag of confusion; let me put in that way.

Emmanuel: I'm kind of uniquely qualified to answer that question. In terms of full birth, before the British Urban Film Festival, I started out my film career working for black film companies. In 2002, I worked for a company called Black Filmmaker Magazine; set up by a black filmmaker called Menelik Shabazz; originally from Barbados. He is well known in the UK for a film, he made about black love called Burning An Illusion filmed in 2004.

I worked for another film organization called Screen Nation, the Screen Nation Awards. I worked through another black film producer called Charles Thompson, originally from Ghana but based in the UK. I was able to understand the appetite for Nollywood in the UK, through working for these two companies. But we also have institutions in the UK like the BFI, the British Film Institute, which in the old days used to be called the National Film Theater on the South Bank.

They would put on lots of screenings from Nigeria and that would be the first opportunity for people from the Diaspora either in London or the UK to watch Nollywood on the big screen. So it was through there that the appetite grew. I got older, my parents told me about my family background in Nigeria; the Anyiam-Osigwe family. My distant cousins were very prominent practitioners in children's television in the 1970s.

One of my distant cousins Charles Anyiam-Osigwe created Fun Time(Nigerian Television Authority-NTA), which from what I hear is one of the most popular children's television series in Nigeria. So to think of being related to someone like him means I come from good stock. Later as it transpired, his sister Peace Anyiam-Osigwe founded the African movie Academy Awards, AMAA. That's still going after 19 years.

Obviously, we started this interview by talking about the events in the United States and the death of a black man. So with Peace unfortunately, she's no longer with us having passed away on the 10th of January, 2023 this year; so suddenly; that’s the stock I come from. That is the reputation I am upholding with regards to Nollywood abroad. But also to bring that Diaspora influence back home to Nigeria, in many ways I've come full circle in that journey and with BUFF. I've been able to celebrate the best of the diaspora culture on film through the film festival.

Last year we honored Obi Emelonye for 20 years outstanding contribution. We nominated several Nigerian actors and actresses such as Kelechi Udegbe for his great performance in Collision Course; which I told my wife is one of the all-time classic Nollywood films. I would put it as one of the best 10 Nigerian films I have ever seen. That's Collision Course that only came out two years ago. When you think of films down the years such as Living In Bondage or Osofia in London; there are so many films. Lion Heart as well. But off screen through Peace Ayiam-Osigwe’s film Academy and Terra Kulture; so, we're all kind of playing our parts to celebrate the Nollywood culture both at home and abroad. ( be continued)

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