On this score, the movie 12 Years A Slave got me seething with black rage. From what pits of white hell did such inhumanity spring from? On this score, I was practically speechless, horrified, spellbound by the goriness of the black slave experience. I initially thought this post was going to be eight words long: 2 hours a slave, and it wasn’t pretty. Apparently, it’s a lot longer.
At the Ake Festival last year, Tolu Ogunlesi, as gathered from my Twitter timeline, tried to advance a theory of responsible stealing, which he promised he was going to elaborate upon later. I felt then that it was a nothing theory, at the very least in the Nigerian context. Give a Nigerian a step, and he’ll have completed a marathon before you know it, perhaps because of an existential despair. A Nigerian who steals will not steal responsibly. One who steals public progress is a priori uninterested in public progress. I am not sure Tolu has expanded his nothing theory as yet. I’m sure you’re wondering where this is going.
How do you react to a kind slave owner? Benedict Cumberbatch plays the sympathetic slave owner Ford. His sympathy-cum-kindness must be put in two contexts: 1) he chooses to separate mother from children when buying (I feel dirty) Solomon Northup at an “exhibition”, and more importantly, 2) he is after all a slave owner, sympathetic-cum-kind or nay. So how do we react to him, especially when he’s a foil for his far crueller slave owner peers? If for instance every slave owner was rounded up to be hanged, would we pass over Ford?
So as with responsible stealing, do we take the absolutist moralist stance with sympathetic slave ownership, or do we apply pragmatism, realpolitik, and take both situations as the best obtainable in their contexts? I can’t quite make up my mind.
Lupita NoBoobs Nyong’o
First, my thoracic region is far more undulating than Lupita’s. Second, there’s just this draw – perhaps for the sake of variety or perhaps for the struggle it takes guys to “make anything” of their thoracic regions – to girls who have flat whatsits. I had a strong reaction to Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in 2012 – I kind of chased a girl with minimal thoracic protrusions and a penchant for the Gothic for a while after seeing that movie. That didn’t quite work out. I’ve learnt my lessons so Lupita is not going to rekindle that fire. Na. Or maybe yes, who knows? what with this great big cornucopia of contradictions called humanity.
I had two different reactions to Lupita’s role (Patsey) in 12 Years A Slave. I had heard great things about Lupita as per the movie and upon watching it was underwhelmed. The performance wasn’t particularly strong or eye-catching, certainly not the type of performance I expected from one touted for an Oscar (she did win the Oscar), as opposed to Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips for instance. I wondered what the fuss – and all the awards – was about. My second reaction was a consideration of my initial reaction.
My conclusion was this: my initial reaction had probably been influenced by what I will term the Nollywood effect: where hysteria passes for proficiency and drama. I have not watched many Nollywood movies so my next accusation might be unfair, a nothing accusation: I don’t think there’s a Nollywood movie in which all the characters are not a blazing hot November afternoon, that is, several shades over intense. Every character is hotly intent upon outshining the other, not based on rendering the roles as should be, but based on the needless memorable intensity with which they can play the roles. While it is the totality of the film that should be dramatic, every single character in a Nollywood movie strives to be dramatic, to the detriment of the whole. An example: gateman is simply not immaterial in a movie where he is indeed immaterial, he must be wisecracking; he must drag the plot. Such repetitive, predictable nonsense abounds in our movies. If 12 Years A Slave were a Nollywood movie, how might Patsy have been rendered? My guts tell me it’d be something akin to what I was looking for initially: a “strong” but crucially unPatsylike performance.
As is, the Lupita as Patsy is precisely what she should be: sensual, incapable of machinations, devoid of force, helpless therefore willing to embrace death, the perfect foil for Chiwetel’s Solomon Northup. Northup is everything Lupita is not: an accomplished intellectual, a “free” man who had bought his way out of slavery, a fighter, a man convinced of the temporal nature of his predicament. Patsy doesn’t intrude upon Northup’s majorness (even if Lupita wins an Oscar and Chiwetel doesn’t).
One last point: I acknowledge the role of the film-making machine (screen writers, script writers, directors) in curtailing what might be classed as “exuberant excesses” of actors. You find that our directors etc, perhaps because they know no better or, often neglect this curtailing role, to the detriment of the product. Top actors deserve to be top owing to proficiency in acting, not a proficiency in hysterical performances.
For the avoidance of doubt, there are bad, really very bad Hollywood movies and actors, but only the very best take their place at the top. For that top, top bracket, we need more Joke Silvas and Bimbo Akintolas, less Mercy Johnsons, Rita Dominics, Genevieves, Omotolas, Ini Edos etc. This second group have their place but it shouldn’t be at the topmost. I haven’t been keeping up with the men. I also have not been keeping up with Nollywood so I most probably have missed the new kids on the block.
There are really good Nigerian movies. I watched one a few years back: Saheed Balogun was one of only two characters in that movie. I haven’t heard better dialogue nor seen greater innovation in a Nigerian movie (except perhaps the Mainframe ones, dialogue-wise). Of course that movie had to be dialogue-driven, given that you can only do so much “plotting” with two characters in a house.