What Nollywood Can Learn From Jade Osiberu’s Isoken

What Nollywood Can Learn From Jade Osiberu’s Isoken

In the eighteenth century, the French proletariat and lower classes, after a lifetime of being starved, punished, overtaxed, overworked, underfed, and underpaid, revolted against the aristocracy. In a similar way, after being starved for good movies, and tortured by filthy pictures masquerading as films, the Nigerian movie industry underwent a revolution that has resulted in the New Nollywood we behold before us. With the Renaissance came a lot of much-needed upgrades, most of which are still ongoing. Spanning some memorable hits in the recent past and the first real box office heavyweight, the new Nollywood has come far.

Being an aspiring filmmaker and a fan of Hollywood, my taste in films is a bit more demanding, requiring the best in all the criteria that make up the ideal standards of what a good movie should be. In light of this, it’s a surprise—given some of the big budget titles from Nollywood recently released—that only one movie stands out, with the second best falling too far behind.

I speak of Isoken, the phenomenal silver screen debut by the immensely talented Jade Osiberu, who is credited as writer, producer, and director. For those unfamiliar with the name, Jade is the beloved creator of NdaniTV’s Gidi Up. Isoken is a movie that hit all the right notes more Nollywood movies need to hit if the Nollywood symphony is to be pleasing enough to capture us, as well as foreign markets. Proof of its quality resides not only in its massive earnings at the box office but also in its very generous 8.6/10 rating on the International Movie Database (IMDb). For perspective, the much-lauded The Wedding Party has an IMDb rating of 6.5.

How did Isoken climb to this pedestal that I’ve put it on? Here’s why I think it succeeded and what the rest of Nollywood can learn from it.

Isoken movie poster

With Isoken, Jade crafted a quality movie that tells a great story and connects with a wide—mostly African—audience.

It Is a Quality Movie…:

This is pretty easy to understand but also easy to misunderstand. What makes a quality movie? Filmmaking is an art of illusions; making people believe that something they know for a fact to be fake, is real. A quality movie is that which never makes the audience question the illusion on the screens. Dressed with beautiful set design (that supported the story by making characters living spaces reflect their personalities), beautiful cinematography, good acting (across the board, not let down by one weak side character) and brilliant score (which aimed to bypass your thinking brain and head straight for your emotions), Isoken was visually stunning, believable, and sonically pleasing; a quality movie.

…That Tells a Great Story:

It’s not enough to make a quality movie, it also needs to be a quality movie that tells a great story. Wonderful visuals, brilliant score, flawless acting, etc., mean nothing if there’s no great story holding it all together. Isoken isn’t the first time the new Nollywood has made a quality movie, but it’s the first time that quality movie has told a great story, one that can be summarized thus;

Isoken is a movie about a female protagonist who wants something in the face of strong antagonism, and in trying to get that thing, she comes to a new understanding of herself, one that helps her overcome the forces of antagonism in her life.

I was tempted to address its wide audience appeal as a third criterion, but it is my belief that a great story, naturally, connects with a wide audience. How wide an audience is dependent on a few factors. Who is the story about? What is it about (plot)? What is it really about (theme)?

 

The aesthetic quality of a movie—all the things which can be seen: cinematography, acting, set design, score, etc.—is not enough to propel it to the standard of good, much less great. For that to occur, the movie needs to hit both criteria. Where the aesthetic quality can be regarded as the makeup which a film puts on, it’s story is the raw beauty which the makeup is trying to improve upon. For another analogy, consider the aesthetic quality as the clothes a movie puts on, with the story being the body that’s covered. Great mechanics—that which can be seen—can carry a mediocre story, but never to the heights required for quality cinema. The core content—that which can’t be seen; story—is king.

The resounding success of Isoken should show the rest of Nollywood that people are eager for great stories. The only other movie that came close was Izu Ojukwu’s 76’, but sadly, it’s superior aesthetic outer layer—cinematography, acting, set design, score, believability—was undone, in my opinion, by a weak story. It’s no surprise that its IMDb rating sits at 7.6/1o.

We all know what makes a quality movie, we can see it—if you can’t, watch some Hollywood blockbusters. But what makes a great story, or rather, what makes Isoken a great story? I’ll explore the answers to both questions in a follow-up post.

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