Wednesday, 14 December 2011


by Tchidi Jacobs

Obi Emelonye
Heading for the Oscars!

      Obi Emelonye with his son

If we all lived a hundred years from now, and had the sacred privilege of walking through the museum of history; if some how we strode into a section displaying the names of the Nollywood film makers that made a difference by raising the bar of quality and making Nollywood movies attractive to the rest of the world in our generation, the name Obi Emelonye would boldly be etched in gold.  He was born in Port Harcourt Nigeria just when the drums of the civil war were sounding its beginning, little did the Emelonye family know that they had given birth to a genius. This brash persona is so full of humour and leaves with everyone he comes in touch, a contagious feeling of exuberance. Obi owes his huge success to his wife who stood by him when he abandoned his law career to pursue his true love in film making. Today, that decision has paid off with the multiple awards winning movie “the mirror boy” renown to be the first ever African movie to premiere in a London cinema. In this interview, he recalls the journey so far.

You've become a very big name in movie production both locally and internationally, but let’s take a minute to meet the home man, the Obi Emelonye who is a husband and father.

I am just an ordinary guy who refused to give up the face of disheartening challenges; who remained true to his art and bided his time. A simple positive guy who loves his family (nuclear /wider) and has a contagious enjoyment of life that is reflected in everything he does. That would be me.
Where were you born?

I was born in Port Harcourt just before the Biafran civil war as a part of a pair of twins. My parents are from Umuma Isiaku in south Ideato LGA of Imo state.
What was growing up like?

I come from a fairly large but closely knit family. My Dad was an advertising executive and I think my creative impetus comes from him (bless his soul) and my mum is a retired school teacher. I would say my twin brother Uche and our immediate younger brother Mezie and I grew up as exemplary kids in our neighborhood. We excelled academically; we were morally sound and exceptional in sports. The leadership qualities that have stood me in good stead in my career now comes from running organisation that we created from nothing in the 80’s, including football clubs and a musical group.
Looking back, I can really say that I had an almost perfect childhood. I grew up a ‘textbook child’ and my mum has a lot to do with the very amiable side of this rather brash persona that I have developed.

You were about to be enrolled as a solicitor of the supreme court of England (an honor most people would give anything to have) but you pulled out in the final stages. That must have been a defining moment in your life. What was going on in your mind?

In 2007, just before I reached a huge milestone in my age, I had to make a call on how I wanted my life to go. Before now, since my arrival in the UK, I had joggled two parallel careers; law and film. In fact I had to suspend my Law school exams to shoot Echoes of War which was one of my iconic productions before The Mirror Boy. I had taken up law because I felt I needed another career while I built up my reputation as a film maker’ a career that would allow me the time and resources to practice my art and one that had transferable skills. Law served that purpose but at some point, I had to bite the bullet, having earned the right to do so through years of dedication and training. Today, after a fairly rough start, I can say that I am a very happy and contented man who is doing what I love and loving what I do. Not many people, particularly those living abroad, can say that. I am indeed blessed.
Did your wife support your decision?

I am the luckiest man as regards my wife. She is beautiful, kind, supportive, caring and a great mother. It was not about how much I brought home but how happy I was. She bought into my vision and long-term plan. And now that it is all coming together, let no man, or indeed woman begrudge her. She deserves huge credit for her belief in and dedication to me. I owe everything I have achieved to her.
Okay let’s come to the big one. Your globally renowned movie “The Mirror Boy” - Break through artiste, Monaco film festival 2011, winner best young actor, African movie academy awards 2011, and now, two prestigious awards screen nation film awards ! That’s as good as it gets! Did you ever imagine it would become the huge success it has become today when you first put your hand on paper to scribble the first lines?
I started writing The Mirror Boy in 2005 when I would say that I was at the lowest ebb in my life...and how ironic the film now represents my biggest success story so far. It is one of those stories that emanated from the soul and as soon as I told the story to a few of my colleagues, I knew I had something special. The script kept me awake at night for several weeks but the writing was already on the wall that this one was going to be special. It was a blessed project from the onset. After being messed around by the UK Film Council, I ran into Akin Salami of OHTV who provided the bulk of the finance to make the film. Then the president of Gambia supported us to shoot it in Banjul. As soon as our trailer was put online, my life changed. CNN contacted me for an interview in November last year and the project never looked back from there. Like you mentioned my mantelpiece is filling up with awards and I am grateful to God for blessing me and this project.

What inspired the story line?
At first, I wanted to tell a Nollywood story from the point of view of a young person instead of the usual adult perspective.
Secondly, I watched my 8 year old son grapple with his dual nationality (British and Nigerian) and wanted to explore the disconnect between children born in the diaspora and we born in Africa with this story of a London boy who gets taken to Africa and goes missing on his second day.

Has the movie influenced your son in any way?

My son is still fascinated by the story of the film. In fact he would have played the London boy if only he could get time off school. But he is not suffering identity crisis of the type that the film explores and he goes often to Africa and does not suffer from Afri-phobia.
Did you have any challenges with picking the cast?

The biggest challenge in casting was finding the 12 year old boy to carry the film. We conducted several auditions and were no close to finding him; until Edward Kagutuzi was presented to us. He was 19 at the time but looked 11 or so and he was in first year at uni.

That has turned out to be a master class in casting as he has gone on to win Best Young Actor at the Africa Movie Academy Awards 2011.
Casting the rest of the leading cast was easy. Genevieve is one of the best actresses of her time. As for Osita Iheme, he is a well known Nollywood stalwart. The rest of the cast came from Gambian who lacked experience but compensated for that with sheer talent and Endeavour.
Is there something unique or significant about Gambia that made it the ideal location for the movie?

The Gambia provided a great location for The Mirror Boy, as almost every African country would have done; great people, great colour and vibrancy.  The film was originally meant to be shot in Obudu Ranch Cross River state but the Gambian president, Sheikh Professor A JJ Jammeh provided the best conducive environment that I have enjoyed as a filmmaker. That for me was the magic of Gambia.
Are you going to be shooting in more African countries in the future?

I am already in preproduction for a new film to be shot in Kenya next summer with a huge American star. Collaboration is the key and the more people that show ownership of the film, the better.
How would you describe your approach to film making?

My approach to filmmaking is multi-disciplinary. I have a broad-based knowledge of all the factors and stages of production. With every humility, I can write, act, design set and costume, direct and edit. I don’t have to do them all in one production but that knowledge helps me direct whoever is doing the roles better and helps my holistic view of the entire project. It is my opinion that every director should be an editor or at least understand editing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Nollywood.

Obi at the Monaco film festival

With little support from the government, the Nollywood film industry has grown from a self-financed institution to the world’s second largest movie producer.  However, one problem it’s still grappling with is piracy. Do you have any suggestions as to what can be done to curb this counter-productive trend?

I am going to surprise you and say that the biggest problem to the industry is not piracy. Firstly, we have grown to number 2 in the world based on quantity and that is commendable for a self-funded industry without government support. The challenge now is to rise up the quality ladder from our 150th position.
To do that, we have to grapple with the biggest problem of the industry which is distribution network or lack of it. There is where the government comes in; to provide the environment to better distribution of films beyond Alaba, Idumota and Onitsha. Once that is done, the void which piracy presently fills will disappear and it will become like it is in the rest of the world; a parasite which will not get away but which only scratches the surface of our industry.
In this regard, the proliferation of cinemas is a welcome development. If Nigerian films like The Mirror Boy, Lje and Tango with me are making million in the cinemas, it may signal the involvement of the corporate world in the industry and that would be the final catalyst for excellence in the sector that has suffered as a very informal business right from the start.

The mirror boy is said by many in international movie business to be the Nollywood movie that can finally match the industry’s new found status. Would you say that the future of Nollywood has arrived?

The Mirror Boy is consolidating the gains that the industry has recorded with films like Ije, The Figurine, Anchor Baby and Tango with me etc. Without the achievements of these great films, The Mirror Boy may have just disappeared in the DVD market. While these have been huge hits back home, The Mirror Boy has opened more international doors for Nigerian films. It was the first to have a commercial run in Odeon Cinema in the UK and following its success, Anchor Baby has now had a great run too. Very soon, no week will pass with cinemas across the world scheduling Nigerian films. The future indeed has arrived but more films of quality and substance are needed to sustain the momentum, and better the achievements of The Mirror Boy.
You’ve had a very busy year, how do you unwind?

I like driving and football (playing and watching) to unwind. But I am my happiest when I am in the company of my wife and beautiful kids...Life couldn’t be better when I am around them and I am as cool as a cucumber.
What has kept you going over the years?

I have had a raw deal in this industry with marketers exploiting my meekness and frustrating me temporarily out of the industry. But I was determined to continue to improve myself and wait for the right set of circumstances; the right time, right project etc. That happened with The Mirror Boy.
In those years of frustration, I kept going because I believed in the Nigerian entity. I believed that in a country with over 150 million people with disposable income and who love movies, it is just a matter of time before the stars align. That is beginning to happen and people like us that have refused to go away have been vindicated.
What’s your favourite vacation spot?

Disney land Florida or Paris, really because of my three kids. Personally I feel refreshed in my village but kidnappers have robbed us of that...shame
Your kind of music?

I listen to melodious sounds, from Egedege to Michael Jackson and Rihanna. I also do the musical scoring of my films and have gradually carved a niche as making films with the best musical enhancements in Nollywood...something I am so proud of.
If we go peep into your wardrobe, what would we see?

You will see sensible and quality clothes that fit. Some expensive, others very cheap, I take a lot of pride in how I look and clothes are only a small part of that. I live my life with the best care, eat right, sleep right, and exercise right, no smoke, no me that’s more important than what label I am wearing.
Let’s say we are having a chat like this five years from now, what new achievements of yours would we be talking about?

I am not a clairvoyant but I am positive that if I continue the hard work that I am doing now and my star continues in this trajectory, then, I will be an international filmmaking figure; championing the emergence of African cinema to the mainstream; making films that are released all over the world to critical and commercial acclaim. And then, there is the Oscars, I hope to get a mention in the next few years, insha Allahu or by God’s grace..

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Why I Love Writing Romance

An interview with author and award winning blogger, Myne Whitman

Myne Whitman is the publisher and managing editor of NAIJA STORIES, a critique website for Nigerian writers. A former banker and NGO consultant, she is the author of best selling romance novel A Heart To Mend. Born and raised in Enugu, eastern Nigeria where she had her early education, she later moved to Edinburgh where she obtained an MA in public health research in 2007 before returning to writing, her first love, in 2009.  She is the 35th most networked person in the United States and this is no surprise because she loves blogging and face booking and twitting. Myne is a very friendly, caring and fun loving person, but she likes some “me time” too, especially when she’s writing. Although she now resides in Seattle with her husband, Myne still misses the Nigerian weather and some of our local fruits like mango and cashew. Myne has a thing for love and romance, her latest novel A Love Rekindled has love as its thematic focus. She tells us about it in this interview. And just in case you were wondering about her name, she is fully Nigerian, but with a pen name like hers, you could easily pass for Afro-American.

How did you start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was much younger, around twelve or thirteen but it was always more of a hobby. The career path I initially chose was in the health sciences and I have a Masters degree in Public Health which I got in 2007. All this while, I always wrote by the side and it was only in 2009 that I decided to go back fully to my love of writing.

Why did you choose the pen name Myne Whitman, Is Myne Whitman different from the real person?

The pen name was inspired by my real name. As a teenager, I read so many books and found out in the process that a lot of authors used pen names. That was when the idea to use a pen name started, and when I started writing again I decided to use one. There are two major reasons for this; first, I do most of my writing online and one has to be careful when on the internet. Also, I do still have a passion for health systems and I don’t want to conflate both aspects of my life. That said, there is no difference.

Tell us about your book "A love rekindled"

The major themes in the book are of forgiveness, and of tolerance, framed within love. In the book, Efe returns to Nigeria after years in the United States, dreaming of a happy, independent life. However, her nights become plagued by nightmares of Kevwe Mukoro, her ex-fiancĂ©. Long hours at work and drinking in nightclubs only provide temporary relief, and when she encounters another Mukoro, she knows it’s a matter of time before Kevwe is back in her life. Sparks fly when they finally meet again, but desire is no match for bitter memories of heartbreak. All these years, Efe believed she was rejected; now Kevwe claims he’d never stopped loving her. Stuck at a crossroads, Kevwe prefers to look to the future, with them together. Efe does not want to lose him, yet she needs the traumatic events of the past resolved before she can give in to rekindled love.

You like to write about love and romance, is there a reason for this choice of genre/style?

First and foremost I want to write stories of love and of finding oneself. I also felt that there were not were not enough romance novels set in contemporary Nigeria, and that I could do something to change that. Therefore, a lot of these themes in A Heart to Mend are motivated by events or stories I’ve heard or read about in real life Nigeria of the last few years. The characters and issues dealt with in the book are meant to be relevant for contemporary life and relationships. Again, I have always been intrigued by the principle of unconditional love. When I started reading the Mills and Boon Romance novels as a young adult, their stories had a big influence on me and my writing. My imagined and written stories changed from adventures to romance. So now that I decided on full time writing, I was moved to go back to that genre. 

Do you have any rituals that help you write?

Not really. It does help though if I'm sitting down, either on my bed or at my writing desk. 

What is your daily routine like?

I try to write for at least a couple of hours every day. I usually write during the day time, but my muse can be quite strange, and has kept me awake all night in the past.

What would you rather do, sky diving or ice skating?

I have tried ice-skating and it involved a lot of falling on my bum. I'll like to go sky diving one of these days, all I have to do is jump off the plane, right? 

If you had to pick your favorite book of all times, what would it be?

 This is very hard to tell. I have read so many books and greatly enjoyed and benefited from a lot of them.

What is the best compliment you've ever received for a book you wrote?

One of my characters in A Love Rekindled, my second book, made me cry while writing it, and when some readers sent me feedback saying they cried at some points of the book too, I felt completely fulfilled. 

Myne's book A heart to mend

At last year’s garden city literary festival, I saw you freely chatting with fans and some of the participants and I thought "That's a very friendly person". Are you, or is it just part of being a celebrity?

I think I'm a very friendly person when the occasion calls for it. I do like some me-time too, especially when I'm writing. 

How did you arrive at your status as the 35th most networked person in the United States?

A lot of my publicity efforts have been using social media and blog and my Facebook page are my hubs. In August 2011, Western Union celebrated its 160th anniversary by launching of a hunt for the most networked person in the world. I was intrigued, and curious to know how connected I was, so I took the challenge. I found that I was 3rd most networked person among my Facebook friends and 35th in the United States.

You once wrote that women are better communicators than men, is this why in contemporary times; female Nigerian writers have been doing much better than their male counter parts?

You could say that. But really, the male writers are there too, including Helon Habila, Eghosa Imaseun, Tony Umez, among others. 

Since you live in the states, do you still eat African dishes?

Yes, I do. The food stuff are rare in the area where I live so I don't eat it that often though.

What is your favorite Nigerian dish?

I think it is Banga soup with pounded yam. 

What do you miss most about Nigeria?

It has to be my family. And I like that the weather is more stable and warm year round. I also miss some of our local fruits like mangoes and cashews, and I miss the vibrancy of the people.

Advice to young aspiring Nigerian Writers?

 They should keep writing till they complete a collection of shorts or a novel, and work at editing their manuscripts till opportunity comes knocking.
Three things Myne Whitman can't do without?

Books, conversation with friends, and relaxing music.

interview by Chidi Ugbe

NIGERIA'S STRIDING AMAZON: An Exclusive Interview with Award Winning Author Nnedi Okorafor

 Young female Nigerian writers, of recent are making sensational waves around the world. They have brought in a fresh perspective to the art, and are heralding a renewed appreciation of Nigerian literature abroad as well as in Nigeria. A good measure of their impact on the contemporary Nigerian literary scene is the numerous international and national awards and award nominations they've harvested in the past two decades. Among this new bloom of female Nigerian writers who are making us proud is award winning Nnedi Okorafor. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1974 to two Igbo parents who emigrated from Nigeria in 1969. After earning a BA in rhetoric at the University of Illinois in 1996 and an MA in journalism from the Michigan state university in 1999, she moved on to obtain her MA in Englishfrom the Chicago state university where she is now a professor of creative writing.

Nnedi's debut novel  Zarah the wind seeker appeared in 2005. The Novel which was published by Houghton Mifflin was the winner of the 2008 Wole Soyinka price for literature in Africa. The wind seeker made it into the Parallax awards and the Golden Duck and Garden State Teen Choice awards as a finalist. Nnedi was also the Winner of the 2007/2008 Macmillanwriter’s prize for Africa. Her fantastical Novel WHO FEARS DEATH is currently being converted into a movie by award winning director, WanuriKahui. A shining example of outstanding success and self-determination, this striding Amazon lives in the Chicagosuburbs with her daughter. Enjoy this chat with her.

You were born in the US, is that correct?
Yep, i was born in the US, Cincinnati, Ohio. From the age of 7,my parents started  taking me and my siblings to Nigeria, so while I had a American experience, I had a Nigerian one too.

It’s clear that had a big influence on your writing. How did you come about your love for the magical and speculative?
The magical and mysterious in my work is merely a reflection of how I see the world. It’s been there from the first story I wrote. The science fiction interest came later when I started wanting to see Africa in the future and an Africa that reflected the one Iknew. Clarion sparked everything, whenI arrived at the clarionschool of creative writing, met these other people writing fantasy and science fiction, this really crazy stuff, andI thought, oh these are my people! These are who I belong with. This is who I am.

Talking about science fiction, why do you think it hasn’t made further inroads in Africa?
I guess people write what they know, from my experience with Nigerians, most don't read stuff specially characterized as fantastical. Ben Okri, AmosTutuola, even Chinua Achebe...their work has fantastical elements,definitely,but the categories of science fiction almost aren’t in Nigerian vocabulary. I think that part of why i am able to write science fiction is because i was born and raised in the United States. Thus I have been exposed to this specific style of writing, along with African literature with fantastical elements. Maybe this category doesn’texist in Nigeria because it’s not needed. The fantastical is naturally a part of the Nigerian World Already.


Most of the major characters in your stories are female; does this in any way support the view of you as a feminist writer?

I have been called a feminist writer and that’s correct. I'm a feminist, a womanist,pro equality, all of that. What’sinterestingisthere’s always a little conflict between my womanist side and my feminist side. For instance there was a scene in one of my novels (who fears death) about female circumcision ,andI was trying to Get to the root of it. It’s a horrible practice, but it’s a complex thing. You can’t go into somebody's culture and say something is wrong with what you are should stop it, without respecting their culture first. I have been accused of being pro female circumcision because of the way Iportrayed this incident. I think even if you look at it in a non judgmentalway, you can see its rotten. So there is a cultural conflict, when it comes to feminism and how I identify with myself. I'm the extreme side of feminist and when I come to Nigeria I'm yelling about everything. And then when I return to the states, I am defending Nigeria. Its that whole being in the middle of things.

Who were your influences?
I grew up reading Stephen king. He taught me to love story telling. The first book of his that I read was it. Scared the heck out of me.

In July, you were one of the VIPs invited to witness the final launch of the historic space shuttle, Atlantis at the Kennedy space centerFlorida. Can you tell us more about this experience?
 It was a fascinating experience. And you know, I’vealways wanted to write about space travel.. It was the final space launch for NASA, ending three decades of crewed flight into earths orbit. It was a chance to see an exercise in American technological greatness. I got to the space centre with my daughter two hours early. We had to wait with other  visitors for about two and half hours listening to the official say wonderful things about the space shuttle program of NASA, before the thirty minute count down began. It was miraculous. Then it started to dawn on me that the gigantic shuttle on the Pad 39A would actually take off. We were there to witness history. There was festivity in the air as it seemed to dawn on the people around us too. Every time the clock stopped for whatever reason, we all held our breath, when it restarted..we all applauded. I focused on the launch pad,3 miles from where we were. I had two cameras, butI wanted to see the craft take off with my own eyes. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and blast off! Ones everyone saw the plumes from the exhaust people started cheering.. It was an exhilarating moment, Imean, it was actually happening in front of me. I've seen launches plenty of times on TV but this felt real, so real. It was right there in front of us. I was tingling with astonishment and fear. It was so close. Up, up,up, it went. Then it punched through thethinning clouds and then it was gone. You could see its shadows reflecting on the clouds. It took less than a minute, but it was absolutely awe inspiring. I had watched human beings leave the earth and it was beautiful.

interview by Tchidi Jacobs