Mother in Nollywood ( Mrs Patience Uzokwor )
Mrs Patience Uzokwor is a popular actress who plays the role of a wicked woman so well. In fact, many people find it difficult to separate her role in drama from her actions in real life.
Besides, when Uzokwor is not playing one of her negative roles, she is likely playing that of an old Mama Youngy - the type she played in the movie, Old School, which eventually earned her the name Mama Gee.
A proud and caring mother of four, Uzokwor's first son is an engineer while the last is a footballer with Rangers International of Enugu.
Although she lost her husband a few years ago to a terminal disease, Uzokwor was full of joy and gratitude to God for her achievements in the entertainment world. The actress recalled her days as a teacher, broadcaster and owner of a fashion institute before she went into acting by accident or better still, as fate would have it.
I come from a humble family here in Ngwo. My village is Amaobo. I attended Abimbola Gibson Memorial School, Lagos. I gained admission into Methodist Girls, Yaba but it was in the heat of the political crisis that later culminated into the civil war, so we had to relocate to Enugu.
My father insisted that I was too young to be in the secondary school and that I should go back to Elementary five. I obeyed him and went two steps backwards in my education and later re-wrote the Common Entrance Examinations that I had earlier passed in Lagos. I got admitted to Girls Secondary School, Ngwo, where I had my entire secondary education and on completion, my result was not good. I took the private G.C.E and passed all my papers. I got married immediately afterwards.
Later on, I attended Teachers Training College in Afikpo from where I proceeded to IMT Enugu where I studied Fine and Applied Arts, specialising in Graphics. But I never practiced for one day. Initially, I never had the intention of joining the film industry. I did not even know anything about the industry. I was a teacher by training and I taught for about four years before venturing into broadcasting. I was employed as an announcer with FRCN Enugu and was later retrenched when they closed down all the medium wave band stations. I went into business.
During my teacher training days in Afikpo, I had a competent Literature teacher who made us present a play each term. When it was the turn of my set to present a play, I was given the Role of Hamlet in William Shakespeare's play of the same title and the production came out fine. Other schools that offered Hamlet as a subject paid to watch our production. In fact, we were invited to stage the play in so many other places in Eastern Nigeria. I was very popular then and everywhere I went people were calling me Hamlet. But after the teachers' training, I forgot everything about drama until I went into Radio Nigeria.
I was really angry when I was retrenched because I was enjoying my job. I even tried to go back there, not because of the salary but because I found fulfillment doing the things that I was doing on radio. People knew me then as Madam Social because whenever anyone was on transfer, I would be the one to organise the send forth and also to prepare food for fellow staff members. My appointment was terminated under General Buhari on January 4, 1985 and there was no way I would ever forget that date because it was a date that I felt that I was unduly robbed of something that I really cherished.
How Zebrudaya discovered me
It was Chika Okpala (Chief Zebrudaya of New Masquarades) that invited me to take part in a commercial in which I played the wife of Pete Eneh. The commercial was a mass orientation promo by the Anambra State Government to encourage her citizens to acquire education before venturing into trading.
After the promo was shot, there was this positive reaction from the people, and Chief Zebrudaya himself was so impressed that he said, 'what have you been doing with yourself, where are you, I am so impressed.' He later confessed he never knew that he was doing the right thing by inviting me for the commercial. When Pete Eneh had the opportunity of shooting a serial (Someone Cares) for a television station, he gave me the lead role. During the shooting of the serial, many of the established faces that saw me commended me. They urged me not to light the candle and keep it under the table.
But as a member of the Scripture Union, I just felt that coming into Nollywood would give me an unnecessary exposure and secondly I was very shy. But those of them that wanted me on board were adamant until they succeeded in pulling me in and I was pleasantly surprised the way I rose in the industry.
After my first movie in 1998, I was already being recognised by people. But when I did Authority (1999), the movie became very popular and it really shot me into limelight. After Authority, I have been moving from one movie set to the another by the grace of God.
Mother in Nollywood
For a long time now people have started calling me Mother Africa. I have played the role of a mother to almost every prominent actor in Nollywood. I usually joke with Olu Jacobs. I tell him, ' It is only you and Pete Edochie that have refused to let me play your mother'.
Playing bad roles
When I play the role of a bad woman, I see myself at that instance as a mirror through which I want society to see and appreciate the fact that it is not good to be bad. This is the reason I do it with so much passion that it becomes almost believable and by extention, I also see such roles as an opportunity to minister to lost and wicked souls that jealousy, hatred, envy and all the likes can only bring one to ruins.
Entering into character
Surprisingly, I am very lazy at reading scripts over and over again. As soon as a script is given to me, I get into the character as soon as I read a few lines from any scene in the script and to tell you the truth, it baffles even me that I can perform such near magical acts.
I give all the glory to God because I think it is part of the special gift he has deposited in me. A few glances at the script easily exposes me to my character and once I discover this, I would proceed to getting the lines into my head and of course, adding some other things that would make my role stand out. The way I memorise lines baffles me and once I get the lines in, it takes a long time for me to forget them.
I have lost count of how many movies I have taken part in. Initially, I tried to keep the records because sometimes you run from one production to the other that you may not even give an accurate date or month of the year, let alone keeping records of the movies one has been involved in. But I can say that I have done more than 200 movies to date.
Banning of artistes
I have always begged marketers to lift the ban. This is because in my own estimations, the marketers have made their case and have probably proved that they hold the ace. But most often, the same marketers claimed they did not ban anybody, and that I find difficult to believe because I know that some people have not featured in movies for quite a while now.
Strangely too, the few of those purportedly banned that I have spoken to said nobody has banned them and so it is quite difficult for me as a person to even know how to intervene.
But whatever is the case, I would still want to use this opportunity to beg all the parties concerned to sheath their sword and allow the show to go on. This industry is fun and I think the more we are together the happier we shall be.
Don't ever go into anything because someone else is making name from it. Go into something because you have a talent in it. We must try and discover our own talents - that is the only way to move forward in life.
Prostitution in Nollywood
It is really very painful that some ladies give out the most treasured part of themselves easily for no reason. I usually scold them but I end up falling out with them. However, once in a while, an innocent girl would walk up to me to ask if she must sleep with a producer or director before she could get a role in a movie.
I would tell such a lady; no! I would say that during my own time, I used to arrive audition venues very early and wrote my name on a piece of paper for me to be called in on time.
Except if physically or mentally impaired, any artiste who arrives early must be auditioned and if the artiste is good, he or she would be taken. So I always urge them to adopt my style of going early and that one does not need to sell oneself to become a star.
Piracy is killing us, killing the industry and the producers. I know how much I should be earning by now. When our counterparts abroad are getting up to $25,000,000 to feature in one movie, we are still struggling to have between N300, 000 and N400, 000 per movie here. This is really killing us and many of us are not getting younger, we are in fact getting older. I just pray that something positive is going to be done by the government to stop this monster called piracy.
The last time some of us were in Abuja, we visited the DG of the Nigerian Copyright Commission who told us that curbing piracy is one of the major things he hopes to tackle during his tenure. Recently too a great discovery was made that is likely going to change the face of the industry. We have been able to identify some airlines that help video-rats to fly in pirated copies of yet-to-be-released Nigerian movies from Asia.
The way forward
If we have more than 120 million Nigerians, then, selling 5,000,000 copies of any movie should not be a problem. If the marketers get their act right and coupled with the number of video rental outlets in the country, one should expect marketers to embark on direct sales and if that is done, I believe that things will pick up in the industry. Some of the marketers borrowed money to produce the movies and it is unfair that they are not getting returns for their investment. The Censorship Board too is wrong to have registered video rental outlets without due consultation with the producers who should enjoy absolute rights over their works.
I want to thank my fans for the interest they have shown in me and for the movies I have featured in. They have made me what I am today, because if they don't like me, no producers would give me important roles to play.
I want to encourage some of them that see me as their role model to join the industry. They should come in with the talents God has given them and discover themselves the more.
I also encourage all my fans to keep being there for me. I will continue, by the grace of God, to improve on every new movie that I do and I will always keep them happy.
Women around me always feel my impact. A lot of girls here do run into trouble and when they come to me, I always give my support. A lady in the movie industry who lost her parents got pregnant and when I discovered, I threatened her that if she aborted the baby, I would hand her over to the police.
Later, I took her to my house and took care of her until she delivered a baby girl. I am still taking care of the baby girl right now while the mother is back to her career. I do such for girls and I also advice them not to have sex outside marriage. I hate abortion with a passion so if any girl should get careless and get pregnant, let her come to Mama Gee and I will shelter her so that she does not destroy God's special gift.
In addition, I help widows and other women to create job opportunities for themselves and sometimes for their sons and daughters. I think they feel the impact and are happy with me that I am a woman like them. I always tell women to be faithful to their husbands and they should stop behaving like widows while their husbands are still alive.
Building in my husband's name
Most widows in this town are really encouraged by my story because I was able to build a house on my late husband's ancestral land. He could not build one in his lifetime but I really thank God that through acting, I (a poor widow) was able to build a roof over my children's head.
I want to be remembered for helping humanity, I want to touch any life that crosses my way, no matter how small the impact is.