When we did a profile of Mercy Johnson, the writer made a point about how Mercy Johnson is slow in making the switch to the big screen of the cinema and she concluded that Mercy has the body, the talents and the personality for the big screen. With “The Legend of Inikpi”, Mercy Johnson has now made her debut as a producer. Mercy Johnson has now joined the ranks of the biggest stars in Nigeria to make the switch to moviemaking. We saw Genevieve with “The Lionheart”, we saw Ramsey Nouah with the sequel of “Living in Bondage“, and we are used to seeing Funke Akindele as a filmmaker, something she cemented with her giddy movie “Your Excellency“. “Small Chops” is in the cinema this moment and it is a creation of Chika Ike.
So Mercy Johnson Okojie’s making a movie is a trend that older actors have begun. It is actually a good thing having superstars bring their expertise and influence and resources into the making of the new Nollywood we would all be proud of.
But how did Mercy Johnson fair with her movie? Not so bad.
One aspect where Mercy Johnson scored A was in bringing a popular cultural story to life. The old Nollywood is majorly about the culture, which is bastardized on set by the way, of the Igbos. The TV aspect of old Mollywood which peaked with Wale Adenuga’s “Super Story” is more Yoruba-centric. The north is poorly represented in mainstream Nollywood. Igala is Middle Belt but is north of the Niger and is one of the powerful non-Hausa cultures before the white man set pale foot on our shores and interrupted our development. The Igalas, the Jukuns, and the Binis formed a triumvirate of kingdoms that dominated portions of central Nigeria stretching as far as Onitsha in the East and as far into Cameroon in the north. It is a great thing that an aspect of the story of ancient Igala is coming to the big screen.
With this, we believe that we are closer to seeing the story of Queen Amina, Bayajidda, Kanem-Bornu, the Jukuns, the Nok Civilization, the Kwarararafas, etc. We have stories and some of them are well-documented, and in the absence of documents, we have strong oral versions today. They can refuse to teach history in schools but they cannot stop our histories from making the big screen. The story of the legend of Inikpi is a concept worthy of every commendable round of applause.
What the Legend of Inikpi Got wrong
The first problem I have with “The Legend of Inikpi” is that the whole movie is a story that someone is telling a white man. Why should the story be told and not just happen? And why tell a white man? Is this a way of saying that our stories are not relevant until it passes the patronizing nose of the west? Is this the writers saying that the story of Inikpi is one that everyone in Nigeria knows so much that we just have to export them? Telling a white man this story was the first wrong move the movie makers did.
The vision of “The Legend of Inikpi” is set on a dark hue to show it is a flashback and that it is about a long time ago. This is a mistake for a handful of reasons. One, the flashback is the main story so there was no need differentiating it with a darker view. It is understanding to go as far as using black and white vision for flashbacks that last for a short minute or two. But when your entire story is a flashback, it makes no sense. Two, the movie is on cinema where the joy is in watching a rich colorful 4K piece.
Mercy Johnson robbed us of this satisfaction.
The use of language in the movie was surprisingly largely English. Inikpi herself did not speak one single Igala word, Mercy Johnson who played her mother did not, the Attah played by Sam Dede spoke one or two Igala phrases. The chiefs, the Chief Priest and the villagers were a major let down. I expected a good chunk of interactions to have been in Igala.
In fact, one major character perhaps the Chief Priest should have spoken only Igala all through the film. Saluting the king and singing in Igala are the major ways the Igala language is heard in the film; it is painfully insufficient. The same goes to the Benin side of the story, we heard so few Beni and we may be asked to forgive since it is an Igala film but how do we forgive the paucity of proverbs in the show. The entire film has two or three proverbs in all. This is unforgivable.
The actors were not invisible, you can still tell it is acting. The Chief Priest played by Saheed Balogun was a disaster. He didn’t own the character – he played the character of an oracle instead of becoming an oracle on set. The girl Naoma Ameh who played Inikpi was good but she still had aspects of a beginner around her.
This is made more obvious by the fact that she didn’t have anything doing in the film. She was just going about sharing morsels and picking her nose. If the writers have written tasks for her character, it would have stretched the star in her. For most of the show, it seemed as though she was seated, hands buried in her laps, waiting to be taken and sacrificed. Sam Dede as Attah was average and Mercy Johnson uninspiring.
Other issues with the story include the fact that an Oba of Benin played by Paul Obazele (as usual) would never leave his palace and not for a coming of age dance of an Igala Princess, the failure to show Inikpi’s siblings, the fact that the custom was so modern plus the sight of modern pillows, the unconvincing Inikpi’s grave which would never have contained ten maidens, the poor dialogues in the film, the absence of any show of supernatural powers, etc.
The Leged of Inikpi: A missed opportunity
Since the story of Inikpi is mostly known or can be narrated in a few lines, the film should have been more just about the story. The film should have demonstrated the story and added layers to it. For instance, the emotional connection is lacking in the film. The Igalas are shown attacking the Binis after a betrayal of a sort from the Oba of Benin. We saw children and women being attacked. It cost the Igalas the viewers’ sentiment.
We ought to have been shown men, toe to toe, sword against shield, clashes, blood for blood, fighting, rage. This is a movie, dear Mercy, entertain us. Let us see heads rolling on the dust, eyes being gouged out, limbs flying in the air. This fight will raise the adrenaline of the viewers and put them on edge so that we can see what would befall Idah if they lose the war.
In the legend, I heard Igala waters were poisoned and farmlands burned. Show us starving children and people dying from having drunk water. Let there be an existential crisis and not a belief that there will be an existential crisis. Let the elders try many things, sacrificing cows, stoning adulterers anything but sacrifice Inikpi at first. If they do all these and we see deep sorrows, we will cry when it is time to sacrifice Inikpi.
A subplot could have helped too. An Igala soldier whose wife has been barren for nine years and whose wife is now pregnant and close to delivery will be going to battle the Binis and is not sure of returning. Or a widowed woman whose only son is brought home dead. Or a boy whose twin brother is killed before his eyes and he is given the head to go show his parents. No great story is without powerful subplots. Can you imagine “Things Fall Apart” without the story of Ikemefuna?
Mercy Johnson and the director, Frank Rajah Arase, missed a golden opportunity to show us that our legendary stories can be powerfully demonstrated and entertaining. The fact that this is Mercy Johnson’s first movie is no excuse. The fact that it failed to do justice to an important cultural artifact is sacrilegious.
It is normal to hear people on Twitter clamoring for stories of our gods such as Sango and Amadioha and Idemili and hundreds of others. But with “The Legend of Inikpi” disappointing show, many will not look forward to future cultural stories as much as they should. The movie of the Inipki could have become a powerful example of how successful our legendary stories can be on the big screen and help inspire dozens more.
They missed the opportunity.
Image source: Eelive