In a few months, the long gestated Izu Ojukwu movie, “76,” would be hitting cinemas across Nigeria, after its TIFF world premiere this month. The movie about the life a military officer during the 1976 coup as a backdrop, would be the 2nd Nigerian film with a significant period of Nigerian history as a story the first being 2012’s “Half of a Yellow Sun” which had the Biafra War as a backdrop. Personally, I think movies like these are long overdue.
I grew up watching a lot of American War movies; “The Dirty Dozen,” “Where Eagle’s Dare,” “The Great Escape,” “The Guns of Navarone,” and others, where just a handful of movies had World War 2 as a backdrop. I saw most of these films before I turned 15. Later on, I saw “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Apocalypse Now”; all were commentary about the Vietnam experience – some of them made by filmmakers that actually saw combat. I watched many of these films as entertainment, but they also sparked a curiosity in me to crack open an Encyclopedia (pre-internet research kids) to find out more about these wars, what sparked them, and to try and learn the backstories of each, who was at fault etc. Maybe that was just me being a weird introverted teenager with no social life, but these filmmakers made a teenager in Nigeria do some follow up research.
I had seen many references to The Vietnam War and the different opinions on it, but never fully understood, till I saw “Platoon,” though the eyes of Oliver Stone who himself is a vet. For those who wouldn’t do follow up research, some of these movies were enough to let them know of the horrors of War, as a much later movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” would do; a film that veterans would attest is the most realistic portrayal of the things they saw on the battle ground.
Movies have always been the grandchild of telling stories around the fire, passing history and lessons from one generation to the next; those that aren’t huge fans of reading, have been able to pick up a lot of lessons from movies. Granted, the movies take liberties with some things but for the most part, they pass on the basics, which are enough for conversations about these points in history. I have never been to the USA, but through these movies and follow up research, I have been able to learn a lot about the country’s history.
Nigerian History has been eliminated from our school curriculum for many years; several generations have gone by and know next to nothing about anything that happened in this country. We know little pre-colonial, colonial or post-colonial history. We know very little about the numerous coups, who was involved, why, and the effects. Aside from what our parents, uncles and aunts may have told us – which is just their side of the story, and may be tainted by prejudice based on what they and their parents lost – there is nothing. This is wrong and dangerous. As the cliché goes, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
I don’t know how much of the coup would be narrated in the upcoming “76” film, but I think it’s a good start and I hope to see many more movies with our history as a backdrop, and as a significant part of the narrative. The generation that came after the war and the coups, need to know what happened, and be aware of how some of the same thinking and behavior are cropping up amongst them.
Though many films based on historical periods have just been entertainment and escapism, some have served as commentary on those moments; what the writer and directors thought of the decisions that were made, and the effects they had on the people involved, and the country as a whole; reminders of how momentary decisions can send ripples through time and affect generations to come.
The domino effect of the very first Nigerian military coup still profoundly affects the country today. The decisions made during the Nigerian Civil War still reverberate through the hearts and minds of many people around the nation, affecting how they see their leadership, and other tribes. Nigerian films that can serve as commentary – much like “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now” did on the brutality of war for USA audiences – can quell some of the cries of those asking for separation.
I don’t know what “76” holds, but I hope it can be the first of many films to start conversations that will fill in the gaps and bring back to our consciousness – the significance of how the choices we made in our nation’s past, calibrated our status quo.
Olu Yomi Ososanya is a writer/director and film nerd living in Lagos, Nigeria. He has written for and worked on shows for Mnet, Ebony Life TV. Films he has written and directed have screened internationally, including the Cannes Short Film Corner. Follow him on Twitter at Oludascribe. He also blogs at oludascribe.com.