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Lagos Film Review

 Review of Film: ‘Bad Market’ by Paul Gaius.

By Dare Dan.

In the novel Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle, the protagonist, a Brit, who comes to Nigeria for a short-term assignment as a journalist, busts a syndicate: an underground network of sex workers and supposed ritual killers in Nigeria. Of course, he knows beforehand what prostitution is,—it is the oldest profession in human history and the highest profiting business in the world regardless its illegitimacy in most societies, including Nigeria—what isn’t known to him, however, is how it works in different localities and what excesses come with it. In the novel, one thing is indisputably true: the originality of cast and the vivid depiction of scenes— qualities fast becoming obsolete in the rendering of art in this sphere. Bad Market is a product of such unconventionality.

Paul Gaius’s Bad Market opens in a motion, a Volkswagen—the Golf model, a vehicle usually praised for its ruggedness in Nigeria, plies an equally rugged terrain in a typical Nigerian suburb: hundreds of blind windows, looping wires on electric poles, and scanty greenery, lay in the background. It’s early in the morning somewhere outside Lagos. There’s a sound of a church bell banging to the count of six. The car navigates its way through the muddy street. Here, the director displays his understanding and the willingness to relate to the real Nigerian experience: Life is rough out here, and it’s about to get even rougher for someone.  

The protagonist, Eno, played by Oluwanfunbi Adesolanke, is animated product (wouldn’t even qualify as a victim yet). “See as I arrange you like better person.” Her supplier, Lovette, a local prostitute who is head of an organized sex trade, says. She is satisfied to get another product set for profit. The driver of the car, who is a pimp—convincingly played by Sunny Chikezie—soon reaches them; takes Eno into the back seat like one would take a new product. She sits demurely there. For almost seven minutes into the twenty-eight-minute play, Eno remains what she actually is: A ‘Market’; but one who is intently absorbing the events around her and weighing the realities she beholds through the car window with her fate in the hands of her abductors. After enduring a chunk of the journey, she suddenly snaps from the psychic cage she must have been dumped in by Lovette: “Where we dey go?” she asks the driver. There is no human trafficking that doesn’t come first with physiological abuse, and this explains Eno’s solemnity throughout the film.

The scene where Eno tries an escape can’t be more real. Both actors—Eno and the driver—must have left the scene with different degrees of bruises—I felt a hitch under my skin when Eno fell. She isn’t successful with her plan to escape. She is recaptured and the journey to Lagos continues with all its unendearing factualness.

But the driver has a humane side to him; a soft spot quite rare in the seemingly jungle atmosphere the director painted. In a society where everyone looks out to cheat and take advantage of another, no one should care about another’s well-being that much, talk less of a ruthless pimp. Could the driver be one of the very rare exceptions? He continuously displays his emotions with Eno, and Eno, in turn, finds in it a route to escape each time. He would even advise Eno and give her a sort of motivational talk when they get to Lagos. “Sometimes, where life dey carry us dey go we go follow.” But as a pimp that he is, does he know any better?  

Eno would eventually escape after a severe assault meted out to her by her proposed client; she would escape and it would be through the loophole of the driver’s brotherly affection for her. But did she escape the ultimate tormentor: the ills of this society leveled on us all like a heavy cross: the economic forces turning young Africans against their wills? Gaius seems to ask in a sudden twist of the story in the last scene.   

***************************************************************************************How to Pluck a Man from a Tree (A Review of Get Out by Jordan Peele).

By Dare Dan

In the poem cum song Strange Fruit, made famous by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, the lines sing of black bodies hanging from trees; a reference to the widespread lynching of African-Americans by white supremacists in the USA in the wake of the slavery era in the early nineteenth century.

“Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck”, the song goes, “for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the leaves to drop, here is strange and bitter crop.”

It’s been several decades after those powerful words first written by Abel Meeropol to protest racism in the USA. Although these fruits don’t get forcefully hung on trees anymore, strange things still happen on the streets of America. Get Out opens with a scene of one such barbarity.

A black man walks in a street at night. He could be Emmett Till, Amadou Diallo, Alton Sterlin, Eric Garner, Tarmir Rice, Calvon Reid, Malcolm Ferguson, Ronald Beasley or even the recently murdered Jordan Edwards; he could be any of those names that have, over the years, made a compendium of America’s inhumanity against her African-American citizens; he could even be someone still breathing, someone for the next page.

A car crawls up on the man; he knows he should be scared like every black American out there walking the face of their country. He turns around to get out of trouble “Not today; not me”, he says. He turns again and then again until he has nowhere to turn. Someone comes out of the car and, like a cat on a mouse, pounce on him, kills him and drags him away.

But all that will soon be a thing of the past, Jordan Peele, the director, seems to say in this debut epic project of futurism; Black bodies will be “in fashion” and gets to be most sought after.

Chris, played by the talented Daniel Kaluuya, is visiting his girlfriend’s parents for the weekend. Chris is a young black photographer dating Rose (Allison Williams), a white affluent girl. From the very start of his preparations for the journey, he gets signs that should spell what horror awaits him: He cuts himself sharply while shaving, and on the way, a deer crosses their car and gets killed—of course, these can all be coincidences, but Peele, a fatalist, is getting at something with the suspense, we, the viewers, sense this. The deer reminds Chris of a haunting memory of his mother, who had died from injuries suffered from a hit-and-run when he was a kid.

They arrive at their destination. Rose’s parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) are white liberals just as Rose had convinced Chris to believe before the trip, and they don’t mind their daughter’s choice of bringing a black man home. Until the scheme to hypnotize Chris and carry out a bizarre surgery that would leave him with an old white man’s mind starts to unfold, things are as expected: The family seems a regular one.         

With time, however, Chris’ bewilderment about the black housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the gardener Walter (Marcus Henderson), who both behave strangely as African Americans, would get aggravated when he meets Logan King, another African American visiting the family on a get-together among all-white family friends.

“It’s not what he says, it’s how he says it”, Chris tells Rose of Logan after their brief meeting.

You can plant a dead man on a tree—as we’ve seen done in history—, but how do you pluck a living man from a tree, from his root? How do you take over a man and upturn centuries’ old culture and tradition? How do you pluck his body and soul in one night? This film tries to paint the horrific picture of how this can be done.

Chris gets hypnotized easily on his first night because of his very emotional past: his helplessness during the time his mother died, a story he had told Missy. But the denouement in the film is when Chris is tied up in a chair to face a television, which shows clips to prepare his mind for the surgery. At that moment, he starts to fight back.  

There are two ways one possibly can see the film: One, to strictly theme it around racism in the United States as we know it today and come quickly to the mainstream conclusion, or, two: to see it as a work of futurism, an exceptional experimental project that isn’t blindly so. I see it much as the later. The modern human will want to defeat death. In the coming decades, that’ll be the ultimate goal of his existence. And in achieving this, he’ll fall in and out of modern myths.

****************************************************************************************BLUE IS THE COLOUR OF LOVE (A Review of Barry Jenkins Moonlight)

By Dare Dan Barry Jenkins critically acclaimed film, Moonlight is adapted from a drama piece –“In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” – by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film, structured in three parts, is the second feature by the filmmaker (“Medicine for Melancholy” being his debut). Moonlight is the growing-up story of a black boy in a black community in Miami, Florida. The parts are titled in the names he’s given at different stages of his life – Little, Chiron, Black.

Little Played by Alex Hibbert, our title character, resolves after-school encounters with boys his age by running away to avoid taking a beating. This is how Juan (Mahersha la Ali) finds him, hiding in a dark room of an abandoned building project. Thereafter, a seeming rummy relationship develops between the two. Little – he earns this nickname from his size – builds a wall around himself as protection,  from peer victimization, parental abuse, and, perhaps, societal neglect. It takes two sumptuous meals to crack this wall. “My name is Chiron” he ventures, in the middle of the second, served him by Juan’s beautiful girlfriend, Teresa (Jannelle Monae). “People call me Little.” The voice, buried in little Little’s stomach, is manly, and his look, piercing – perhaps, this is what evokes Juan’s curiosity. At the beginning of Moonlight, there is almost a sense of deliberate attempt by the filmmaker to

Little – he earns this nickname from his size – builds a wall around himself as protection,  from peer victimization, parental abuse, and, perhaps, societal neglect. It takes two sumptuous meals to crack this wall. “My name is Chiron” he ventures, in the middle of the second, served him by Juan’s beautiful girlfriend, Teresa (Jannelle Monae). “People call me Little.” The voice, buried in little Little’s stomach, is manly, and his look, piercing – perhaps, this is what evokes Juan’s curiosity. At the beginning of Moonlight, there is almost a sense of deliberate attempt by the filmmaker to

At the beginning of Moonlight, there is almost a sense of deliberate attempt by the filmmaker to railroad viewers on an emotional track. Juan, a jaded black man, who has fairly enriched himself by dealing in drugs, romances the idea of fostering a little boy. Juan talks to Little about race, sexuality, and about his own life; discussions too complicated for Little, a kid who doesn’t even understand what the word faggot means. Later, Little would ask Juan “You sell drugs…and my mom do drugs?” At this, Juan would feel so much remorse you think, sitting before the flickering screen, he’s going to fall on his knees and cry. Though a very sensitive role to play: penetrating the innocence of a broken child who prefers to stomach his thoughts, Hibbert interprets his character quite well; almost as if living the life. Finally, the melodrama gives way to the second part of the film: Chiron.  

Chiron  Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is now a teenager and all his earlier challenges as a boy take more defined forms. Chiron’s mother is now a chronic drug addict, and his victimizers have grown even stronger and threatening. The question of Chiron’s queer sexuality deepens. The result is a delirious and deranged ego. To what extent is this a result of family/societal dysfunction?

Although Juan’s home, even with him not present at this moment in Chiron’s life, is still open to Chiron, a safe haven, one wonders how he would have dealt with Chiron at this moment in his life. This stage, of self-discovery, Chiron finds particularly difficult to deal with. Cornered, finally, while nursing his wounds from the brutality of his peers one sunny afternoon, he is urged by the school proprietress (who calls him ‘boy’) to press charges. “I’m not ‘boy’!” Chiron retorts. She then asks if he’s a man. He cannot call himself ‘man’ either. “You don’t even know what this is”, he cries. It is this question, of identity and where to fall, at this point, that hems Chiron.

If Barry Jenkins had intended romance or love, this film would easily be tagged ‘pretty’ – if not sexy – like Akin Omotoso’s Tell Me Sweet Something. But the theme is a difficult one. The journey is rough and brutal. Still, the pictures delight the eyes; the whirling movement of the cameras and the close shots on faces; the music; the blue of the sea and landscapes.

One need not be an expert face-reader to fully appreciate the ingenuity of the filmmakers, as a lot is said in this film by the face. From when he was known as Little, Chiron has a look, one he would use to wade his path later in future. So that, launched into a deep vacuum of the self after he discovers his sexual preference. Chiron navigates this journey through the language of the eyes.

As is the case with narratives of young black males in poor, black, drug-infested communities in America, Chiron goes to prison – but not for drugs. He, at last, conquers his fear of his tormentors and carries out a long overdue revenge on the ringleader. With his face still in stitches from brutal attacks, Chiron storms his school one afternoon, burst into his classroom, picks a chair and wallops his oppressor from behind, striking the bully unconscious. He goes to prison and becomes Black.

Black In his new persona, Black (Trevante Rhodes), named as if to chronicle the young black male experience in America, Chiron has been transformed in every sense of the word. “I pick myself up,” he says after meeting his friend and lover again. His posture embodies total confidence. This is a Chiron now comfortable in his body and whose ideas about life are grounded in him; in well-built muscles and seemingly calm but dangerous outlook. Perhaps, only an experience in prison; or a successful fight back from delusion, would make such transformation possible. This new Chiron calls to mind Curtis Jackson in Get Rich Or Die Trying – Is this a bold statement for black Americans in the present United States?

The closing shot shows Chiron against the sea – blue in the moonlight. Beyond its beauty, this shot seems symbolic: what fate lies ahead for many like him? Moonlight is insightful, colourful, important and urgent.

  ***************************************************************************************                                                           

Lagos Film Review is a publication of the LFS. It’s aim is to present regular film critiques and writings about films to a general audience. The last issues of the Lagos Film Review were published for the iREPRESENT International Documentary Film Festival in Lagos, Nigeria, 24-27 March 2016. You can read the four editions that came out during the festival here. Further reviews will be published directly on the homepage under the category Lagos Film Review.

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