There have been major debates over the years when the first commercial movie in Nigeria was produced and released. Many people believed “Living in Bondage” by Ken Nnebue (1992), a film about a businessman whose wife died owing to his dealings with a money cult, as the first Nigerian blockbuster and the first commercial movie. In 2012, it was announced that Nollywood would be celebrating its 20 anniversary. The year marked the 20th anniversary after the release of direct-to-video movie, Living in Bondage (1992), which arguably introduced the boom in the video film era. The anniversary was eventually celebrated in June, 2013.
The event was later revealed to be a sectional decision that was not unanimously decided by the whole industry. The event was organised by the Association of Movie Producers (AMP), an association consisting of producers of video films. Since the announcement of the “Nollywood @ 20” event in 2012 till its celebration in 2013, the event had been dogged by controversies from many stakeholders; most of whom believed that the industry was much older than 20 years. Since Nollywood has been a term for the entire Nigerian film industry, it was argued that “Living in Bondage” could not be used to celebrate the Nigerian film industry’s life span stating that the film wasn’t the first Nigerian commercial video film, and it was not the first “Successful” video film, either.
This controversial celebration also gave rise to reports that another segment of the industry, the “Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP)” was planning to rename the industry, which would encompass the entire history of Nigerian film industry, since the term Nollywood has allegedly become ethnically coloured as it was argued by supporters of the event that it was the “Nollywood brand” that was celebrated. They argued that the term “Nollywood” came into existence only in year 1992 which isn’t specifically significant in any way. Others stressed that the earlier year when the first commercial movies was produced could not be ignored.
City People decided to do a little research and if there’s definitely anyone who knows the history of the Nigerian movie industry, so well, it’s Jide Kosoko.
Prince Jide Kosoko is a veteran Nigerian actor. He was born on January 12, 1954 in Lagos to the Kosoko royal family of Lagos Island. Kosoko studied business administration at Yaba College of Technology. He began his acting career as a child actor in 1964 in a television production entitled: Makanjuola. JideBabs as he is fondly called has featured in several Nollywood movies of both English and Yoruba genres. Few weeks ago, he was a guest at the newly launched City People Event Centre where the media house played host to a veteran actor, Dele Odule, who celebrated his 40 years career as a thespian. GBOLAHAN ADETAYO and DANIJI EMMANUEL had an interview with the actor who addressed the issue of how Nollywood was born in Nigeria, the role of Live Theatre in Nollywood among many other issues. Enjoy
How did acting start for you?
I actually believe it is in my blood. I have a strong passion for acting and also the influence of Hubert Ogunde. He lived very close to our house then and I loved the way people used to applaud him then and the inspiration came to me and that was how I found myself in acting. Back in the days, I wasn’t a very brilliant student in class, literally I mean I was an average student, but when it came to stage play or theatre, I was very good, everyone then knew this. So, these are some of the things that actually spurred my determination go into acting professionally.
How did your parents react to your decision to become an actor?
My parents? What do you expect? In those days, they didn’t tolerate such; people didn’t dare mention such to their parent that they wanted to go into entertainment. Initially, I was hidding it from them, but they eventually saw me on Television and that was the beginning of the problem. They did beat me much, but back then, I was equally rascally, I was not bothered, as long as I did set out to do what I wanted to do.
I remember a certain time when about 7 elders were abusing, beating me in front of our house, then suddenly Ogunde just passed by and all the people beating me suddenly started hailing him and cheering his name. Then an elderly man, Uncle Yinka Jacobs, looked at the people beating me and asked why were they beating me. He told them that they were beating me and hailing Ogunde not knowing that Ogunde was the person I was emulating. That day changed everything for me. I started getting the leverage to do acting but on the grounds that I focus on my education.
Would you say Theatre made you stall furthering your education?
I must say that even though I studied Business Administration at Yaba College of Technology, if not for my strong passion for the Theatre, I would have gone further with my education. But you see, what I didn’t gain then academically, I have gained practically and I thank God for that.
Did growing up in Lagos influence your career in the Theatre practice?
Not really, actually the “Alarinjo” Theatre was more patronised by people in the village. Many theatre groups developed from there. Very few of us developed in Lagos.
Can you share with us the History of Theatre practice in Nigeria?
I have said it before, Dr. Hubert Ogunde commercialised art theatre. Before Ogunde, we had the “Olumoles” (traditionalists) doing the “Alarinjo” theatre in such a way that was local but commercialising the organised theatre was started by Dr. Hubert Ogunde and that was in 1943 or there about.
With the way the movie industry is tilting, what are some of the regrets of the elders?
The regret is that there were things that Hubert Ogunde warned us about then. He warned that those we don’t expect would come and hijack the industry from us and it has come to pass. We can see now that many people are now in the industry whether trained or not, but they are in the business aspect of the industry and rather than seeing it as a minus on our side, I see it as complimenting our efforts. Because the truth is, without the commercial viability of the business, we wont have any commercial reward, we would just be doing it as we used to do back in the days – merely for the passion.
There was an assertion that Nollywood is 20 years old, how true is this?
I’ll be clocking 53 years in the industry in a few months; does that answer your question…
There are many untrained people in the industry at the moment who are producing sub standard movies simply because?
(Cuts in….) No, I would disagree with that, the truth is this, if you don’t have that orientation, the kind of training we had and you find yourself in the industry, that is gatecrashing, which we have stupidly accepted, but we turned our production to workshop, so you will not say they are not trained because we continue to train them. In those days, some of the actors under us used to be disciplined, if they go astray, but these days, many actors gatecrashed stupidly and that is why some of them are suffering now. Now, they cannot move ahead and I can tell you, though live theatre cannot send away the movie industry, but I can tell you that it would get to a time where some of them would feel somehow if they are not able to meet up with the requirements to perform on stage. Do you know that some of the artistes, who participated in “OkunAwoyaya” did a-one-and-a-half month rehearsal at a workshop. It was a training ground for them. In reality, between you and I, it is allowed, there could be some other sort of the actors aside stage actors, but the combination of both skills would be an added value. The unfortunate thing is that many of the new movie actors don’t want to be trained and you won’t abuse them, you would abuse us, you know why? It is because we did not guide the industry jealously on time, which allowed people gatecrashing and doing all sort of things. This is why, today, if you have money, you can come out and say you want to produce a movie and be the star actor. Yes, you can produce a movie, but being the star actor is ridiculous and embarrassing to the movie industry and if you watch their movies, you would be able to tell that they are novice and amateur with no skill.
Sir, back in the days we used to have epic movies that tell the story of our culture, movies such as “Sango” and its kind, but nowadays, we see movies that show sex scenes boldly…
(Cuts in…) Do you see me in such movies?
My question is, when would we have Epic movies back on screen as against the rising production of movies that promote immorality.
(Cuts in…) I know where you are going with this, you see, there are two ways to it. It doesn’t preach moral, when we say people are having sex in movies, maybe they went to the extreme, but for every film, it has its audience. What we can do is to advise them to play it down. You can let people have the feeling that it’s done, but you cannot stop anybody from investing his or her money on what he/she wants to produce but the few ones, who are trained, you cannot see them producing such movies.
What’s your plan to keep Theatre practice going?
That is what we have started. There are some young university graduates, their specialty is live theatre and that is what they do mostly now, that is why I’m always seen at most of their production. They do it every time at the Muson Centre and other locations. The way they sell their tickets is impressive. They put out a good marketing strategy for their plays. For example, they want to put out a stage play for about 5 days, they would have started marketing from 6 months ago and selling their ticket online and the money from ticket sales goes directly to the bank and the bank sees that money is coming in and they offer their support for the production. It’s evident that most corporate bodies are now sponsoring stage play than movies. It’s the truth.