Oluwa Femi Agbayewa: Nollywood or Bust

June 13, 2007 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment

-by Charles “CZA” Sweet II 
 

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Q. What is the premise of “God’s Own Country” and what audience are you trying to reach?  

A. I would say the demographic of 25 and up. But me, on a personal level, I feel that anyone could watch this movie, ‘cause it is a movie after all. I’m still reaching out to an African American/ African audience in regards to the content, that’s the most obvious but I made it so everyone could relate to it somehow. I’ve had older Italian guys come up to me and tell me that’s their story, aspirations coming over to a new country versus the reality. On the surface, it might seem only African American but if you scratch a little deeper, you’ll see it’s universal. It’s about people trying to reach the American dream. 

Q. Some might say that you’re new on the scene but this isn’t your first movie. Give us some background info on what you done previously. 

A. My first movie was an autobiographical movie that I did on my life when I was traveling a lot and just decided to capture everything on tape as a way to tell the story. It revolved around everybody that I left behind as I moved on. People take a piece of you when you leave. Let’s say for example that the last time someone saw you were 1988. All they know is you from 1988, but you’ve moved beyond that. The collective knowledge from all the people who took a piece of you makes up a whole; not necessarily THE whole but a whole nonetheless. That’s why I named the movie “The Pieces of a Man”. So that people could understand how I progressed to get to the point where I am. That took me down a journey. We went down to Africa, I was at my Grandma’s funeral, we went to Japan with it, I was traveling around a lot. The other thing I wanted to break down was, at the end of the day, as a young Black male, I could be anywhere I wanted to be. When I got to traveling I noticed, “Wow. Everyone wants to get to know us.” And I wanted to convey that attitude with the movie, and let you know that your image is your reality; and your reality defines your image.  

Q. Do you strive for a positive overtone in your movies? 

A. (laughs) You know, that’s funny. It’s funny because I just had that conversation with my mom the other day. She was basically telling me that I should stay positive and I broke it down to her. I said, “Look, I deal with the human condition. When I talk about the human condition, I really believe that I have to look at the different perspectives that we carry around with us. Be it how people look at the world or how they shop for groceries, I tell it like I see it and believe it to be. Some days are more positive than others, some days are more negative, and that’s the reality. I strive to have reality based content in a lot of my movies. Some people are good, but get caught up in bad situations. Sometimes the person we call “bad” is actually doing “good”. I really just try to study the human condition and tell the human condition as best and as truthfully as I can. Obviously I want to represent my culture, but also as a filmmaker I wanted the freedom to be able to speak my mind to my people. I felt Nollywood is more independent and more backing and things of that nature, but I wanted to put my spin on it and take it beyond just being Nigerian and open it up to being as open as possible. I want to be the connector between that world and that of the appreciative United States viewers. The essence of this film—of any film is to open up dialogue and communication.  

Q. It seems that a majority of Nollywood movies have only African actors. Do you think that there is room for American actors to be included or is it purposely selective?

A. We have a cross-section of people from different countries. We aim to represent a section of what American society looks like. We have blacks, whites, you know, everyone because we want to tell the story realistically. We wanted to show what blacks were going through coming in contact with the American culture. It’s a very diverse culture, so you’re running into this and that. I wanted for the movie [note:God’s Own Country] to be as real as it possibly could be. There’s this one part of the movie where the lead character says, “I never knew what a nigger was until I came here.” All these different elements make up an experience, and I want this to be an inclusive one, rather than exclusively Nigerian. I think it has the ability to tell universal tales of the black experience no matter whom you are and where you’re from. I think that should be the goal of what Nollywood is. That’s why I attached USA at the end of it.

Q. What of that old argument saying that “American blacks aren’t a part of the nation in Africa”? How do you weigh in on it?

A. You’re looking at a new generation, one that grew up here in America that’s also from Africa. For us, [Africans] we don’t see the differences; we see the similarities. I know this from traveling back and forth. What I’ve found is when I go to Africa, the first thing Africans do is asking me “What’s going on with the brothers and sisters over there in America? Do they know anything about us?” They ask me about the lifestyle here, hip hop and politics. They know what’s going on. What we need to do is create a direct pipeline between the two, so we don’t need intermediaries. When you don’t have access to communication, there’s miscommunication. Some believe, “Oh, they don’t care about us, we’re different.” That can’t be further from the truth! We’re one people telling one story. We didn’t define how we talk to each other—we got it from an outside source. There isn’t such as an African or African American individually. We’re all black. We laugh about the same things, and the cultural divide is an artificial one. It’s all due to a lack of communication.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I have a production company that has an open call for anyone who has a story and they want to put it out there about the human condition from the black perspective. Our goal is to put it out there anyway we can. We have another production that we’re going to start filming in 2008. We also have a mixtape that is coming out called Nollywood USA and that’s going to be a whole collaboration with the intent of making a consistent dialogue between Africa and America. I want to be a force in this whole media game and keep it independent and real. Check us out at www.real-livin.com or www.myspace.com/nollywoodusa

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