Abba Makama’s exuberant comedy Green White Green (2016) belongs to a new breed of Nigerian art films made outside of the Nollywood industry. Financed, in part, by the federal government’s now-defunct Project Act Nollywood, Green White Green bypassed familiar Nigerian distribution streams, including the local multiplexes, for the international film festival circuit, where it has been met with considerable acclaim.
The film had its US premiere at this year’s New York African Film Festival. An official selection of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Berlin Critics’ Week (a sidebar to the Berlin International Film Festival, run by the German Film Critics Association), and African International Film Festival (where it won Best Nigerian Film), Green White Green follows the fortunes of three Nigerian teenagers as they anxiously await the transition to university life.
Green White Green is Makama’s feature-film debut. It begins with a sardonic survey of Nigerian national identities, emphasizing the country’s three most prominent ethnolinguistic groups — the Hausa, the Yoruba, and the Igbo — in a brilliant parody of documentary-style didacticism, complete with stentorian voice-over narration. Perhaps most amusingly, the representative Yoruba family features a matriarch who uses Nigerian film to loquaciously express her ethnic chauvinism, loudly proclaiming the allegedly unique beauty of the Yoruba-identified work of Tunde Kelani and Kunle Afolayan — much to the chagrin of her son, Segun (Samuel Robinson), whose closest male friends, Uzoma (Ifeanyi Dike) and Baba (Jammal Ibrahim), hail from Igbo and Hausa families, respectively. Acknowledging the persistence of ethnic nationalism (embodied most memorably in the figure of an Igbo man who speaks endlessly and eloquently of Biafra and of the separatist dream that it represented), Green White Green depicts the mutually transformative friendship of three “ethnically different” young men whose elders nurture more conservative notions of “proper” social interaction.
Green White Green trailer
Makama’s film is a hopeful, downright energizing love letter to Nigeria’s enterprising youth — to a new generation plainly capable of greatness. During the Q&A that followed the screening at Lincoln Center during the festival in New York City, Makama was asked why — and with what conceivable justification — his film is so positive, so optimistic. He replied that while his original vision was much darker — arguably in keeping with contemporary Nigerian sociopolitical realities — the finished film reflects his vision of a culturally sophisticated, creative, and altogether driven young generation (which includes the youthful Makama himself), as well as his love of comedy. Co-written by the playwright Africa Ukoh, the script for Green White Green features, along with a number of hilarious one-liners, biting references to certain patterns of ethnic prejudice familiar from Nigerian popular culture (“When did Igbo people start to become dominant in the visual arts?” asks a snobbish and altogether tone-deaf Lagosian gallery owner, perplexed upon discovering Uzoma’s artistic talents).
Makama is a master of satire, as evidenced by a succession of short films that he made before Green White Green, including 2010’s Direc-toh, an uproariously funny take on Nollywood’s legendarily speedy shooting schedules, and 2012’s Quacks, which pokes fun at wealthy, well-educated Nigerian expatriates who return to their home country only to pompously prescribe remedies for its innumerable political problems (all while remaining ensconced in their air-conditioned, generator-driven compounds, of course). Strikingly, Quacks includes priceless documentary footage of Occupy Nigeria (specifically, the Ojota fuel subsidy protests of January 2012), shot by Makama’s friend and collaborator Tejumola Komolafe. Similarly, Green White Green is punctuated by documentary inserts, demonstrating Makama’s commitment to recording and conveying the lived realities of Nigeria even while offering jaunty satire.
Born and raised in Jos, Makama attended college and graduate school in the United States before returning to Nigeria to found Osiris, a production company based in Lagos. Working out of the Osiris offices in Lekki, Makama has secured work in an impressive array of media, from television to the internet, collaborating with such corporations as BlackBerry, Viacom, and Globacom. In 2015, he directed Nollywood, a short documentary for Al Jazeera, which outlines the development of one of Nigeria’s most prolific media industries. Despite his career’s intersections with the Nollywood industry (and with what might be termed the Nollywood imaginary), Makama told me that he does not identify as a Nollywood filmmaker. For one thing, his work does not rely on Nollywood stars, nor does he depend upon the traditional, Idumota-, Onitsha-, and Asaba-based marketers for financing and distribution. Makama’s work thus serves as a vivid illustration of the importance of distinguishing Nollywood from other, independent forms of Nigerian cinema.