Sex for role in Nollywood, so what? - Femi Ogedegbe

By Yejide Gbenga-Ogundare and Bunmi Obarotim
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Femi Omokhafe Ogedegbe hails from Dagbala, Edo State. An actor, producer and director with about 16 years experience in the movie industry, Femi has featured in several Nigerian home videos. In this interview with Yejide Gbenga-Ogundare and Bunmi Obarotimi, the hunk who has appeared in Okoto Ife, Haunted House, Omo Alhaja, Desperadoes, Ogidan and others, speaks about his life, career and happenings in the movie industry. Excerpts:

What made you take up acting?
I started acting around 1987 when I joined Miliki Olumegbon's theatre group. His father was one of the legends of the Yoruba film industry and we used to go to secondary schools to act. We later ended up in NTA Channel 7, Lagos, for a youth programme called Ogbon Ewe. I stopped but later returned to the industry in 1996 to act in an English speaking video film.

What's the name and what led to the first film you acted in?
The very first film I took part in was Back to Africa. Some Nigerians based in the United States came to Nigeria to shoot the film and a friend, Jude Ossai, invited me to participate. We went for the audition and I got a minor role. Since then, I have been in the industry.

What is your greatest challenge in the industry?
We face many challenges in life but it depends on the way you handle it. Before I joined the Yoruba movie industry, it was difficult for a non Igbo to get a role in the English speaking Nigerian films. Take it or leave it, the English speaking Nigerian film industry is owned by Igbos who favour their own. Sometimes when you go for auditions, it seems non Igbos can't speak good English the way they do although there are some Igbo directors and producers that see you for what you are. Thank God I have been nominated as the best upcoming actor in Nigeria and that means I am good. I have directed films in South Africa and Tanzania and people appreciate what I'm doing.

Which film is the most tasking you have ever featured in?
I will pick three films: Haunted House produced by Prince James Uche and directed by Sola Akinbo; In the Line of Duty produced by Infinity Merchant and directed by Izu Ojukwu and Desperadoes produced by Solid Production and directed by Izu Ojukwu. In these three films, I almost lost my life. There was a time when I was regarded as the best stunt-man in the Nigerian English speaking film industry. Then, I was slimmer and agile and I used to do stunts a lot. I almost lost my life in the process of doing stunts in these films and even people around thought they had lost an actor but thank I'm alive.

When was the most depressing period in your acting career?
The most depressing period in my acting career spread over a period of three, four years. Then, I could not feed myself, cloth myself or even get a decent place to live because I could not do what I love doing best because one Emeka would be given a role I'm supposed to get due to the fact that I answer to Femi, not Emeka. This was the most depressing period of my career and it caused me to diversify. I started producing and later proceeded to study directing. I did not just jump into acting like many, rather I undertook courses which I registered for on the internet and I understudied the best in Nollywood which further enhanced my directing ability. People like Izu Ojukwu, Andy Amenechi and others don't care where you are from; if you are good, they pick you.

What do you think caused this tribal segregation in the movie industry?
The average Igbo man is more interested in making money and this could be traced back to the days of Living in Bondage. The film made so much money that the Igbo boys selling electronics started selling video and because there is money to be made, Igbos rushed in to make money. This made the movie industry more popular in the Eastern part of the country; locations were picked in the East and this added to the number of Igbos that moved into acting.

That is the reason why at any audition, you will find about 30 Igbos as against 10 from the other tribes. And I think they feel more comfortable shooting videos with someone with whom they share the same mother tongue. At some auditioning, you'll just realize that Igbo language, most of the time, becomes the auditioning language. Even on occasions when you have the Omotolas, the Ramsey Nouahs and other artistes that are not Igbo featuring in the film, the credit list at the end of the video will be about 90 per cent Igbos. It will be all lies if anybody told you there are no favoritisms in Nigerian English speaking films.

Does the same thing apply in the Yoruba movie?
Though I'm a Yoruba man, I have been acting English movies all my life. When I joined the Yoruba movie industry, they welcomed me whole heartedly. Once you are able to speak the language well; they even see it as a marketing strategy to bring a non-Yoruba to act in Yoruba film. The Yoruba film industry presents a level playing field for all so far you can express yourself well in the language.

Is there much disparity in the fees of actors in the two industries?
I think the fees of the highest paid artistes' ranges from NI00,000 to N170,000 in the Yoruba industry, while in the English speaking Nigerian film industry, they pay as much as 1.2 million naira for a five days job.

The two associations that can be said to constitute the Nigerian movie industry are the ANTP and AGN, what are these two associations doing to address the discrimination in the industry?
I am the vice-chairman, task-force of the Actors of Guild Nigeria (AGN) headed by Ejike Asiegbu and a member of the ANTP headed by Prince Jide Kosoko. Since I'm not at the helms of affairs, it will be difficult to bring the two together even though Uncle Jide is like a father to me and Ejike is like an Uncle to me.

I can't force them to unite because they would like to remain their own bosses but I'm working on a Yoruba movie which will be premiered very soon and I'm hoping to use the film that features both Yoruba and English speaking actors like Mercy Johnson, Kelvin Ikedugba, Prince Jide Kosoko, Lola Alao and others to close ranks between the two associations as I will be inviting the two presidents to the premiere and actors from the two associations as well. It would have been the best if the two associations could unite or while maintaining their independence, form a Board of Directors that will be overseeing daily activities in the industry.

Are you married?
I am still searching

How are you coping with female fans?
I'm coping well. They are not disturbing me and I'm not disturbing them, we get along just fine. I'm not one of the actors that female fans harass sexually.

What is your take on the issue of sex for role?
We all know it goes beyond the Nigerian film industry. Even outside the industry, people pay in different ways to land jobs. Some pay with their body while others pay using other means. However, one thing I know is that every role I give out in my movies is based on merit. I'm a business man and I don't mix pleasure with business; when it is business it remains business. If I want to take you to bed, we can do that at another time but the issue of sex for role is existing and not only in the movie industry but in many other establishments out there.

Can you give a quick rundown of some of the film you have produced?
I produced Cyclo which was directed by Aquilla Njamah, Temiko, a film on HIV/AID titled Love the Cure and the latest one titled Orun-Gbeja, that is Heaven Vindicates.