Phone Swap by Kunle Afolayan
Kunle Afolyan, a Nigerian filmmaker acknowledged when I interviewed him in Paris that his “objective has been to maintain the African culture and mainly to use his films to document and present who we are.” According to him, “Nigeria is such a complex country where you have more than 200 dialects and every of these tribes have their ways of communication. I realize this originality when you maintain your original language in film presentation, and sometimes when you even giggle in the indigenous way, people laugh because they feel your originality in it. This is what happened during the screening of my film: Phone Swap here in Paris. I don’t even think I will make my films only in English. It’s not because the actors cannot speak English, not because I do not understand English, it’s just not original and it does reveal who we are. And this has worked for me. I have done three major films and they are all multilingual and people really loved it, be it in France and other European countries. You feel good when you see people reacting to indigenous films”.
The case of “originality” is apparent in Kunle Afolayan’s perspective and method of making films for all audiences which underpins much of the discussion around the reception of films in Nigerian languages. Kunle Afolayan, as a filmmaker added that “the originality factor” helped his marketing in Nigeria and abroad.
“Taxi Driver, Oko Ashawo,” a film by Daniel Oriahi
So far, we have seen the contradicting views of some Nigerian filmmakers who came to France to promote their films in English and indigenous languages. Daniel Oriaha was one of them. His film “Taxi Driver, Oko Ashawo” was shot in Yoruba language and screened in Paris.
How does his own experience fit with that of Kunle Afolayan?
“Taxi Driver, Oko Ashawo” is a slang used in Lagos which means “husband of prostitutes” because they tend to convey prostitutes from one point to another around the city. And most of them eventually have some kind of relationship with the prostitutes. In my conversation with him during the Nollywood Week Paris film festival where the film was screened for both French and the Diaspora audience, Daniel Oriaha concludes that: “I wanted to make a film that was commercially viable. The film is about a taxi driver who goes around Lagos at night, picking up people and falls in love with a prostitute. It then boils down to a funny, quaky scenario after the other” The film got a very good reception in Paris irrespective of the fact that it wasn’t in English language. Daniel Oriahi tells why the Parisian audience enjoyed his film, “I made the film in Yoruba language because I wanted to be truthful to those characters: the Yoruba drivers – driving at night, they don’t really speak English. They speak pidgin or Yoruba. I want to make it indigenous. I equally did the subtitling in Pidgin English”. But in Paris, some scenes in the film were subtitled while the characters remained with their native background and language. Still, the audience understood what was going on in the film. The one thing common between the two Nigerian filmmaker is the “originality” of their indigenous films thereby taking the risk to show them to an international audience.
Is language a barrier to the reception of Nigerian films in France?
As much as Nigerian filmmakers will continue to create characters that are so smart and so good at what they are doing in a given environment, and other characters that can change things in their communities, language as a barrier will be inexistent for the French viewer and Diaspora audience in France. When I was a child, I watched Indian films without understanding the Indian language but I did enjoy them. Does language matter then?
In fact, in my capacity as a Nollywood radio host, researcher and analyst, I have conducted interviews on different topics with regard to how Nigerian indigenous films are making gradual inroads in France. It can be argued that how the characters drive their emotional and physical journey in a film is key. That’s the universal language that breaks cultural barriers and put the stakes high to grip the audience.
Articles written by Cyprian Josson
Nollywood Radio France archives, created by Cyprian Josson
Nollywood: The Billion Dollars Money Zone, written by Cyprian Josson (2016)
Nollywood Croissance Magazine, an online magazine created by Cyprian Josson
Nigerian Cultural Week magazine