Nigerian director Kunle Afolayan is one of a handful of internationally-known Nollywood filmmakers, whom we could say is pushing for a new brand of Nollywood cinema – specifically, a Nollywood cinema that can compete in the international film marketplace; and as we continue to see more and more cross-continental (we could even say pan-Africanist) collaborations between African American or British actors, and African writer/directors (those in Nigeria/Nollywood especially), that movement continues to bear fruit.
But, before we get deeper into Afolayan (and others) plants his feet firmly in *new* territory, it was about 6 years ago when a film that I think is among his best – the horror/thriller, “Araromire” (aka “The Figurine”) – hit USA shores, specifically African film festivals; it was a film that Nollywood critics said would “… change the face of Nollywood on the world map…”
Did it? We’ve certainly seen upgrades in terms of the caliber of work that’s come out of Nollywood since then – work that, for the first time, is seeing the kind of international exposure and recognition that Nollywood films didn’t see much of prior. For example, just last year, one of the most prestigious festivals in the world, the Toronto International Film Festival, hosted a Nigerian cinema sidebar, screening about a dozen contemporary Nollywood films, and bringing Nollywood talent to discuss the state of the industry and its future; among the few who were flown in for the event was Mr. Afolayan himself.
“Araromire” is also a film that did inspire conversation among African bloggers (especially those outside of the continent – in the USA, Europe and elsewhere). For example, this, at the time, from the Africa Is Not a Country blog about the film: “I attended the conference on African Film in the Digital Era yesterday and they were talking about The Figurine, a “quality” Nollywood movie [i.e. sound quality, acting, editing, etcetera] that recently premiered in London. Apparently, there’s been a whole media hype around it. I somehow missed it but … nearly 3,000 people turned up at the London premiere … I really don’t know whether 3,000 might have been exaggerated figure but it’s quite extraordinary. Apparently, the organizers managed to get a second screen so that they did not have to turn away people. They even tried to get a third one but they failed The director, Kunle Afolayan, also attended the event [Sunday] …”
The film’s premiere was a star-studded event with many familiar faces on the red carpet, including British actress, Ellen Thomas, along with then-rising playwright, Bola Agbaje – and several other British and Nigerian creatives, all of whom expressed their eagerness to appear in Nigerian movies. “I’ve come to support the Nigerian film industry because here in Britain we’re feeling very left out. For the longest time I’ve been interested in Nollywood and I’d love to do a Nollywood movie but I’ve never been asked,” said Thomas. “There are lots of African-Caribbean actors in the UK who are longing and waiting for a call from Nollywood.”
In relation, at the time, director Afolayan did have the following advice for Nigerian filmmakers: “Be ready to take the bold step… A good product will always sell itself. If your product is good it stands the chance of making a return in a short while. But the first thing that cannot be compromised is the quality. As a filmmaker, I can only say this is just the beginning of better things to come from Nigeria…”
The film screened at the New York African Film Festival in 2011, where it impressed many; demonstrating levels of quality above what we had seen of Nollywood cinema up until then – especially in terms of overall production control – acting, cinematography, sound design, etc – which are areas in which Nollywood cinema has typically been criticized. It was definitely an ambitious attempt on Afolayan’s part, and it was most-appreciated by this writer.
So what’s the film about? While serving at a National Youth Service Corps camp, two friends find a mystical sculpture in an abandoned shrine in the forest, and one of them decides to take the artwork home. Unknown to them, the sculpture is from the Yoruba goddess Araromire which bestows seven years of good luck on anyone who encounters it; and after the seven years have expired, seven years of bad luck follow. The lives of the two friends begin to change for good, as they become successful and wealthy businessmen. However, after seven years, things start to change for bad, as expected.
It’s really not-so unlike similar Hollywood genre films, with the same zest, thrills, suspense, mystery, and so on, in which some artifact is discovered in some far-off place, is brought back to “the city” and strange things start to happen to those who possess it. So its appeal is universal. It’s also a kind of serious horror/thriller movie that we rarely see with all-black casts, written and directed by black filmmakers.
“The Figurine” stars Ramsey Nouah, Kunle Afolayan, Omoni Oboli, Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, Jide Kosoko, Wale Adebayo and Muraina Oyelami. It won 5 awards at the African Movie Academy Awards in 2010, including the awards for Best Picture, Cinematography and Visual Effects.
The film’s significance was maybe cemented when a scholarly book analyzing it, titled “Auteuring Nollywood: Critical Perspectives on ‘The Figurine'” was released a couple of years later. Said to be the first book in the history of Nigerian Cinema to be devoted to the work of a single Nigerian film director, it contains scholarly essays, exploring “the thematic focus and cinematic style employed in The Figurine,” as well as interviews with the cast and crew, insights into the African, specifically Nigerian film industry, and the trends in “New Nigerian Cinema.”
The book’s content was contributed by a number of scholars from various educational institutions, including: Sola Osofisan, Dele Layiwola, Chukwuma Okoye, Jane Thorburn, Matthew H. Brown, Gideon Tanimonure, A.G.A Bello, Foluke Ogunleye and Hyginus Ekwuazi. Foreword was written by Professor Jonathan Haynes of the Long Island University; there is also an Afterword on “Neo-Nollywood and its Other” by Onookome Okome. The book is packaged and published by University Press Plc in 2014. It’s a book you can buy in the USA, thankfully; Barnes & Noble online is selling it for $43. But there are other sellers.
However, the film sadly isn’t readily accessible to USA audiences; it was released on DVD, and was, at one time, available on Amazon, but it’s not there anymore. Nigerian streaming video platforms like have carried it, but I couldn’t find it online anywhere. Its Wikipedia page says it was re-released in late 2014 in a special edition collection DVD titled “Kunle Afolayan’s Collection.”But it appears that happened only in Nigeria. When I know more about its availability, I will share here.
In the meantime, if you live in Los Angeles, the 25th Pan African Film Festival is bringing the film back for a pair of screenings this month – Wed, Feb 15 at 1:30pm and Mon, Feb 20 at 5:20pm. Tickets can be pre-ordered here. It’s a film that’s worth seeing on the big screen; although a suggestion for those who will embark on this journey and seek out the film: you can’t watch a film like this and compare it to the myriad of big-budget Hollywood studio horror films you’ve seen all your life – especially if you’ve never seen a typical Nollywood movie. While, at one time, years ago, “The Figurine” represented what was considered among the best in contemporary Nollywood cinema, you still have to watch it in context, and appreciate it on its own terms.
A trailer follows below, although it really doesn’t do the film justice. It’s the best I could find online.