Top Nigerian Movie Stars Blacklisted For one Year


Genevieve, Jim, Omotola, RMD, Ramsey, other Top Nigerian Movie Stars Blacklisted
Posted by Muritala Sule (New Age) on Oct 11, 2004,

What might turn out to be the biggest coup d'etat in Nollywood's history to date is brewing right now. It's the overthrow of the current box office lords and ladies fancifully called the Big Five or G5 or G6 - the handful of actors and actresses whose faces adorn the movie posters that litter the public space and video cassette or cd sleeves.

And the coup planners are the movie marketers who have proved with time to be the ones who dictate the pulse of Nigeria's increasingly popular film industry.

What's the stars' offence? Marketers think they are growing too big for their shoes. On the surface, the issue concerns the fee per picture which the actors ask and which producers consider too high. The figures are also going higher by the day.
Just May this year we published in Nollywood the pay per picture commanded by the highest-paid actresses which ranged between N.5m and N1million, depending on who a producer needed among top selling Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Stephanie Okereke, Stella Damasus-Aboderin and Rita Dominic (collectively called the Big Five Girls). But now the fee of each of these actresses has gone up, with the least paid commanding N1m while the highest asks N3m per picture. The fees of their male colleagues too - Richard Mofe Damijo, Nkem Owoh, Ramsey Nouah, Jr, Emeka Ike, Jim Iyke and Desmond Elliot - have reportedly been going up.
Naturally, producers detest this because of the implications for films' budgets and the demand higher budgets place on marketers as well as producers in other to make profit.

Commenting once on the girls, producer Ralph Nwadike, the boss of Finnu International Limited, said, "I keep away from the Big Five. They ask for half a million or more. There's no way I'm going to pay any actor that when I'm not even sure I can make a million (Naira) from a film." This was last May. He'd probably not even mention their names when planning his productions now that they ask more fees.

Nwadike isn't the only one grumbling as the marketers' current reaction shows. But, many filmmakers say the film marketers are themselves the trouble with the industry.

Foremost producer Eddie Ugbomah says of the big actors, "They are the monsters created by the marketers!" Distribution of video cassettes and VCD's/DVD's is key to the success of films or at least an essential function in the business.

This is the area controlled by marketers, most of whom are now producers themselves. Ugbomah's monster metaphor refers to the tendency of marketers to insist to a producer seeking a distributive network that unless a particular actor or actress or a combination of them was in a movie, such a movie wasn't ready for marketing; such attitudes have frequently led producers to compromising their films by imposing certain actors who they might not have needed in the first place on films. The trend is most noticeable in Yoruba language films where marketers believe that comedians sell movies. Therefore, they sometimes insist that a producer who has already finished his film should find a way to add scenes including say, Baba Suwe (Babatunde Omidina) to give the movie a good box office chance.

A producer might thus feel compelled to shoot a couple of hasty scenes with the named star and patch it hastily on his movie. Baba Suwe need not even understand the plot of the film; he merely engages one of the lead players in an unrelated banter that supposedly amuses his fans who such scenes are reputed to draw to the film. The bad patching job often shows, but who cares if the cash register rings ceaselessly!

The Baba Suwe equivalents in English language and Igbo movies are Nkem Owoh, and the Aki na Ukwa pair of midgets who command considerable international followership.

But it isn't the comedians alone who enjoy this privilege. Any of the G5 or G6 (the men) could cause a producer similar headache. It was such that they grew so big they became producers' nightmare. "Producers beg them with scripts," Remmy Ohajianya once remarked. "For every film they appeared in is in high demand, and, on location, they even give producers and directors condition before they begin to interpret roles." However, Ohajianya a producer who is also Chairman, Lagos Chapter of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) doesn't begrudge the stars. Indeed, he considers them a blessing to the trade. "Producers know that no matter the amount of money paid to them (the actors) they (producers) would recover it when the film is released. If it means paying Stephanie Okereke N5million, for instance," Ohajianya says "I will willingly pay."

Nwadike further explains Ugbomah's monster reference, "Marketers (who are also producers) hike up artistes fees. They say something like 'Hey, if so-and-so is paying N500,000, I'll pay you six so that they could get the actor to use first. It was a matter of outpricing the other guy."

This situation is said to have made the stars so arrogant they dictate how many days they can allow to work with a producer. Most don't last on a film set longer than a couple of weeks, others a few days, say, four or five. It accounts partly for why Nollywood productions are often hurried and shoddy. But the attitude seems to be, 'Who cares if the cash register keeps ringing?"

Ugbomah notes that because of this situation, Genevieve Nnaji has featured in twelve films already this year, earning N2million per picture. A few days back, the news was that her fee had gone up to N3million.

Ordinarily, this isn't a strange phenomenon in film business the world over. Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Slyvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others have gone through a similar phase. And studios (producers/marketers) worry similarly about their rising profiles. What is doubtful is whether the system in Hollywood permits the sort of solution Nollywood's marketers are adopting: a blacklisting of the stars! A killing of talent from narrow interests!

A marketers' representative let out a statement that might be more crucial to the decision to "deal with" the so-called stars. "We learn that Omotola (Jolade-Ekeinde) posted on her website that anyone with less than one million (Naira) shouldn't come near her. And these people go about calling marketers all kinds of derogatory names, illiterates and so on. We shall show them that we make them. We're going to bring up a new set of stars."

Yes, the stars have frequently been accused of intolerable immodesty if the marketers/producers succeed with their threat to clip their wings, it would have been this factor much more than the high fee per picture that did them in.
But where will that leave their fans?