July 7, 2020

Film Rats Club

Let's Talk Movies

A READING OF OSUOFIA IN LONDON by ‘Chukwu Martin

“I COME, I SAW, I CONQUER!” DISAPORA AND THE BLACK MAN-“OSUOFIA IN LONDON” A FILM PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY ELOHO KINGSLEY OGORO

Eliminate the diaspora or the diaspora will surely eliminate you” – (Ze’ev Jabotinsky)

This 2001 film in two parts written by Kola Muiz and Emeka Obiakonwa is a story set within two worlds; Europe and Africa, (Nigeria). A poor village hunter; Osuofia Esigbo Nwokorie sets out on an adventure to claim his late brother’s wealth in London. This journey takes us through Osuofia’s misadventures in the heart of London amidst its ‘alien culture’.  Using ‘Culture shock’ as framework for the film, the filmmakers cleverly through its narrative (though not technically fantastic) lead us through a comic-eye-opening world of the “bushman” in the “big city”. Jonathan Hayes states of the character Osuofia in his book Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres (Pg.228) “…with Osuofia leading the park as the comic rogue…He is self-centered, greedy, and scheming. He is domineering as well as irresponsible; characteristically, he is both at once…Osuofia is above all, a talker, exceptionally voluble even in this voluble tradition, words streaming forcefully out of his collected mien. He plays with language and uses it as a weapon, jabbing, probing, overwhelming, a master of the novel insult…”

With these defining attributes, we see an African man try to intelligently surpass the white man’s schemes to dupe him off his inheritance through the body of the ‘black man’ – Ben Okafor (Charles Angiama), and by his side the serpentine Samantha (Mara Derwent) who both serve well as antagonists in the narrative.

The character of Osuofia (Nkem Owoh) and Ben Okafor (Charles Angiama) are similar contrasts in the play of these identities. Osuofia the (the African ) and Ben Okafor (the “Whiteman”). Ben is an African in diaspora, he seems to have accepted the soul of the white man and works at erasing every part of him that reflects Africa which he considers uncivilized. However, he hasn’t changed his father’s name which possibly has some personal gain for him. These two characters are the focus of this reading.

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A lost soul in the sea of many African souls in Diaspora

Over the years, many Africans have travelled over the seas to find greener havens in the white man’s land. Now and for the past generations, there has been a flock from across seas into diaspora (a word that sounds like the abyss). These Africans have come thus far willingly- often the sons and daughters of the most educated and affluent segments of the African Society, they have come to the white man’s land to fulfill dreams. But often, they have come because they feel dreams don’t come true in Africa due to strife, corruption and misrule. They have remained cows in this green land feeding off grass and getting milked, too dry to return home for shame, lost.

Taking a hint from the restroom monologue, here Ben Okafor flaunts his accent and dislike in dealing with Africans. He categorizes them as “semi-illiterate foreign clients”

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                  Osuofia in London Pt1: Ben Okafor’s Restroom monologue (1:08:27)

He continues:

BEN OKAFOR: …and when I get annoyed, I lose my British accent…my cultivated, natural, English accent. Then I start to speak like my father! And I don’t like it!

In this monologue, the word “father” is connotative, varying in layered meanings to the internal struggle he must face from being black, so he must denounce every iota of that black heritage, so as to have better opportunities and get accepted by these foreign clients. A case of an extremity in the saying “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. As the character wishes not to speak like his father, he gets a sudden whiff of home and loses himself in a blink. But not for long, have an accent and blend in.

This scene is very significant to the core of this reading as it exposes the thoughts of many Africans in Diaspora who have decided to lose touch with their root so as to blend in. As many African brothers and sisters still stand at the river bank waiting for the ship – ignorant. The opening narration gives a clue; EXT. LONDON – DAY
THE narrator speaks as camera opens with glam montage of a London Tower  bridge, castle, double-decker buses and skyscrapers…

NARRATOR:  …But true enough, elsewhere on this planet, other people build large jungles of concrete and steel, where life was TENSE and often very SAD.

*Did the filmmakers decide to use these words to enhance the opening mood of the character Samantha who is in mourning or is it an account of their own SAD experiences?*

About Africa, the narrator continues:

NARRATOR: Now in our small and peaceful village, big cities and fast lifestyles never entered their wildest dreams, politics and confusion remained unknown…

Osuofia would also narrate the story of his younger brother Donatus, for whom their father sold all his property to finance his travel abroad, even when their father died no one heard from him. Until now, twenty years later a message is delivered through Teacher Charles, a village teacher (Paul U.U Udonsi) and a man presumably a lawyer (Stephen Ahanonu) to inform him of Donatus’ death with a will lording Osuofia as the heir to his property.  This buttresses the ill-luck of many Africans in Diaspora whose family have to suffer to send them out of the country as they never look back afterwards. Sound Sultan – a Nigerian musician proclaims this well in his hit song “Motherland”. Many of them like Donatus are pronounced dead after many years, empty coffins buried in their “honour” as they rest in peace.

Osuofia, a poor farmer who could barely provide the needs of his family stands out as the chosen man, the first man to step foot in the white man’s land, as he is to inherit his late brother’s property abroad. He becomes the hero of the village (the Man of the People). Osuofia wastes no time to fit into the suit of heroism. He will save his people. Osuofia like many Africans before him, like sermons by our bellied-elephant ear politicians, he promises the village people a better life when he returns – even “madame Yamehe” the liquor dealer.

In the face of Comedy, tragedy laughs. If Osuofia hadn’t hurriedly left London back to Africa, a result of Ben and Samantha’s failed attempt to dupe him off his brother’s wealth, perhaps he too could have forgotten home grazing in the greenland, eating his roots and become a cow. As he too appeared to be as greedy and possessive as Samantha and Ben. If Samantha had agreed to marry Osuofia from the start, and persuaded him to stay in London, that would have been his end. Osuofia had plans. Pack the money – marry brother’s wife and take all it all to Nigeria and be the hero he promised to be.

Those processes that often lead many to forget home especially Africans in Diaspora is a complete system of culture manipulations. There happen to be four stages to Culture shock: The Honeymoon stage, Frustration stage, the Adjustment stage, and the Acceptance stage. Osuofia in his adventure summarily experienced only three stages. He was beginning to complete the third stage which was adjusting to his immediate world and falling in love with Samantha, which would naturally have led to the fourth stage – Acceptance. Samantha has been double-crossed by Ben Okafor, she must find another way to get the money from Osuofia and this meant going over-seas with him to Africa.

The system often blackmails the man to find comfort in this strange land. The Lacanian notion of desire describes desire “as something that can never be satisfied within the parameters of the socio-symbolic order”. Greed rules in this narrative as every character’s want is mostly inspired by this vice. This system backfires on Samantha and saves Osuofia from the pangs of losing his heritage. Osuofia returns home as the hero again and partially fulfills himself, giving the people little or nothing as compared to what he had promised, but they are happy with him. OSUOFIA CAME, HE SAW, AND HE CONQUERED. The narrator in the final close of the film gives a word of advice, a voice resounding to many who have and still intend to be lost in diaspora, to the system, the lifestyle and to those waiting at the river bank for the ship.

NARRATOR: …perhaps for now we best remember that, no matter where you may roam, there’s just no place like home…

Film: Osuofia in London Pt 1 &2

Producer/Director : Kingsley Eloho Ogoro

Year of Production: 2001