SEGUN Arinze, a long-serving actor in the Nigerian movie industry is angry. He is unhappy a certain Nigerian based in the United States is playing a fast one on Nigerian actors and the industry Nollywood. He tells NEWTON RAY- UKWOMA how practitioners will fight for their rights and shares the optimism that the entertainment sector can go all the way because the Federal Government has been understanding.
LAST May, 17 a Nigerian newspaper reported that Nollywood had been trademarked by one Nicholas Opara in the US since December 8, 2013. Did you get any report on this?
I heard of it and the first thing that came to my mind was that it was criminal. To patent something you did not invent is the height of criminality and such a person should be sent to jail. I think we, as practitioners, are taking this with kid’s glove. I think this should spark up a diplomatic roar. People should talk to government and government should take it up on our behalf.
Why didn’t he register Hollywood and say he is protecting it? I think this is highly criminal. I’m sure that the day he makes the mistake of landing in Nigeria, practitioners will go for his jugular. This is what people have sweated for, worked hard to build, and you are coming to say that it belongs to you.
He is worse than an armed robber, and we will take it up. From the government to the foreign affairs, we will take it up also with the American embassy here. We can talk to them, by the time we take it up, he will be called and asked questions, and you will find out that this is criminal.
It’s been more than three months since the news was reported. I was thinking that by now something must have been done about it.
That is what I mean when I said that it is being treated with kid’s gloves. But I know that it doesn’t matter how long it takes, even if people appear lukewarm now , we are going to take it up seriously. It is not something we will leave lying down.
Looking at the facts surrounding the patent rights granted Mr Opara, it seems he is at the right side of the law.
Temporarily, it might be legal, but certainly there are loopholes. And we will work on the loopholes. We will get experts in the field of law to look into them.
Do you think he is likely to challenge any recent use of the word Nollywood?
Let him dare it. Is he not a Nigerian? Is he an American?
He lives in the US.
Let him live there. The day he comes into Nigeria, he will know that there are people who are waiting for him and he will explain to us why he decided to reap out of other people’s sweat. Nobody is going to harm him. (Let’s get it right now!) Nobody is going to kill him, but the day he steps into Nigeria, we will treat it the legal way.
From a little research, it was discovered that the patented name Nollywood belongs to the category of soaps, cosmetics and detergents, and nothing relating to the movie industry?
Quite frankly, I do not know about that. What I know is that Nollywood is a brand that the world has come to acknowledge. The word knows that Nollywood is a movie industry. For anyone to categorise Nollywood with soaps, cosmetics or any other name is a joke. I think it is all part of the criminality the guy must have gone perpetrated. I will need to actually begin to speak with a lot of high ranking members of the industry so we can talk about this issue. It is a very serious issue. Even though there seem to be a layback reaction to it, but it is time to step it up.
Who do you think would be the affected by this ?
Everybody in the industry, of course. It is a big industry. It is a collectively-owned industry. For instance, we have the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), we have the financers and we have some government agencies that are related to the industry such as Nigerian Film Corporation, the Nigerian Censors Board, the Copyright Corporation and so on. It is a big thing, and we need to put our feet down now.
The release of Half of a Yellow Sun has recorded a huge cinema success. What do you have to say about that?
It is a welcome development. It is a good thing for Nollywood. I hope the guy (Opara)is reading this so that he can also patent Half of A Yellow Sun. He is a mad man. He is a lunatic. I am so pissed off by this thing. However, the release of Half of a Yellow Sun is a welcome development. That is not to say that it is the first or last movie to have a huge success. We have had movies with runway cinema successes anyway. Afolayan did his best job with Figurine. Jenifa was also a success. It is important to say that this was the first in a long while. It is also the first international film that has been done. This portends a good omen for the industry. And we are hoping that other films will follow in this direction. There is a new movie coming out soon by Steve Gukass. It is called A Place in the Stars. Yours sincerely is there. The premiere has been scheduled for November 7. There will be an industry announcement on August 20 at Freedom Park. I believe the movie will make a similar statement.
We now know the impact of Nollywood to the economy of Nigeria. Was it foreseeable?
It was a foreseeable turn of event. We knew we were making impact not only to the society, but also to the economy. But no one was there to punch the calculators around it until recently. Well, it is the way it is. The tenacity and zeal of the practitioners in the industry held this impact firmly. And lucky enough for us; we have an entertainment- friendly president, who has come to say, “Hey, this is an industry that can be an asset to the economy. Let me encourage these people.” And he has done that. Past governments have looked at the entertainment industry as one to be used and dumped. But the administration of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has looked at it as a possible gold mine for the Nigerian economy. He has been making plans to harness it. We can get it right. It is now left to us as practitioners to take a step further.
You mentioned the president, how exactly has he supported the movie industry?
He has given N3 billion grant to the industry. And that is a major encouragement. All we need to do now is to take the necessary steps. What we do with what we have now will determine how many of this kind of encouragement we will get from the government.
Beside the money, what other things has the present administration done to encourage the industry?
The president has put in his words of encouragement. We have been recognised by him. He has been honouring actors, actresses and movie makers in several forums. In some of his trips abroad, he has been known to carry some actors and actresses as ambassadors to other countries. It is a huge plus to the industry. And anywhere you go all around the African continent Nollywood is being discussed. We started it; other African countries have followed us. Ghana followed suit. Now, South Africa came in and they are doing things here as well. Kenya now has its own industry as well. It is a growing industry. Before now people were looking down on the industry. Something that was done before our very eyes has developed to such an extent that no government worth the salt can overlook it. And it is a good thing that people have begun to look at the activities of the movie industry professionally and not as a hobby. This change of attitude will make for a better output, improved research and continuous update on international best practices. This is a job. It is a big industry made up of not just the acting crew. We have the directors, distributors, financers, not to mention the cinematographic angle, and so on. It is a long chain of activities. And every beat requires the professionalism that goes with the job.
Nollywood is rated the second largest in the world in terms of output. Given the importance, are we to expect an improved industry?
Last week, Wall Street reported that Hollywood took a slump. If you notice what is going on in Hollywood right now you will discover that they don’t even have stories. We still have our content. We still have stories to tell in our own way. Now, what we need to do is continue in that trajectory by turning out quality productions, improve on the facilities we use, the actors, the editing, in fact the entire packaging. And in no distant time, a much better and well organised Nollywood would emerge.
You once said the reason you shied away from movie roles was because of the quality.
I didn’t say it was because of the quality. I said if I wanted to do something I would have to work with people who are quality- conscious. Everybody has their own standard. You are as good as your last movie. I want to work with producers who know their onions.
What could be responsible for producers who turn out poor work?
It is given that all over the world every movie industry has its own share of below- average productions or producers. Sometimes the blame is not on them. Sometimes the passion is there, but there is no finance. Everything boils down to budget. If you don’t have a commiserate budget for your ideas, even the loftiest ideas would be meagrely treated. Some of these people have the ideas but they do not have the collateral to access funds.
Now that the government has stepped in with the grant, how would this money reach these people?
I wouldn’t know the modalities that will be used to give out money. But whatever modality I can assure you that those involved know what they are doing. The members of Project ACT-Nollywood are not jokers, trust me. This fund will get to the right quarters.
A lot of people have been clamouring for a film city, like Hollywood. Has this ever crossed your mind?
Yes, a number of times. Maybe that was what that guy (Nicholas Opara) took advantage of. Nollywood is only on paper. Hollywood has a structure. You see the studios and all. Having said that, it was wrong of him to have patented Nollywood. He would have come down here to build a studio for shooting and called it Nollywood, that would have passed the message, but to trademark a name like Nollywood is absurd. It makes him a person with a criminal intent and an unpatriotic usurper. However, the structures are going to come.
Is the plan on the way or…?
When you look at it right now, Surulere has many facilities. There are a lot of studios, editors and a large percentage of artistes and actors who have emerged from there. So, Surulere is like a meeting point for everybody in the industry. It was from there that Nollywood started.
Are you suggesting Surulere?
I am saying Nollywood started from there. Nevertheless, it can grow bigger than that. Nothing stops us from having a parcel of land somewhere in Lekki to build or somewhere along the Lagos/Ibadan Express way to start a film village. We can get the financers or consortium or banks for it. It is possible.
After a little research, it was discovered that Nollywood is not a registered name. What do you have to say about that?
We didn’t name ourselves Nollywood. It was a journalist at Washington Post that just looked at the industry and in the bid to create something out of Hollywood and Nigeria coined Nollywood. And since there is Hollywood because there are a lot of trees in that town of Chicago, Bollywood in India because of the place Bombay, it only made sense to call the Nigerian version Nollywood. And Kenya and Ghana have also called their own Kanyewood and Ghollywood respectively. Words can be coined at every time. Nollywood might not be in the dictionary now, but it is a potential entry. And it will be entered as the movie industry of Nigeria, not some cosmetics or soap.
So, an American journalist coined Nollywood?
Yes, a journalist from Washington Post coined Nollywood.