It is a tried and tested formula for smash-hit Hollywood cinema: Terrorists plotting mass destruction only to be foiled by a mixture of fate and law enforcement — with a good love story thrown in to boot.
Now Nollywood, Nigeria’s burgeoning film industry, has got in on the action, making the country’s Islamic extremist sect the subject of a new release, Boko Haram — The Movie.
The film follows the story of a young man who travels to Lagos with a secret mission to detonate a bomb that will kill 2,500 people. However, in an unlikely twist he meets a prostitute who prompts a rethink.
“It’s a film about a terrorist who finds love and has to challenge everything he has been taught,” said Pascal Amanfo, who wrote and directed the film. “We wanted to delve into the core of this issue, challenging people’s ideals and beliefs.
“I think we are pushing the limits of Nigerian films,” Amanfo added. “But ultimately we focused on a love story and trying to provoke some kind of sentiment in your average Nigerian viewer.”
The film, released earlier this year in Nigeria and soon to be released in Ghana, is not without controversy.
Amanfo said he had had to change the name from Boko Haram to Nation Under Siege for the film’s domestic release, owing to Nigerians’ heightened sensitivity on the topic.
“There has been so much controversy surrounding this movie,” Amanfo said. “My marketer in America backed down on marketing it — he said the very sight of the poster provokes too much strong feeling. I could not get cinema showings in Nigeria because of the reaction, and we had to be careful to avoid a backlash from the government.”
In Ghana, where the film is still called Boko Haram, critics said the poster — depicting the fair-skinned Ghanaian actor Majid Michel wearing a turban and holding an AK47 rifle — pandered to stereotypes about terrorism in the region.
“The poster looks like a guy in Arab garb with a gun. What does that have to do with Boko Haram?” said Kobina Graham, a lecturer and cultural critic in Ghana. “My understanding is that Boko Haram doesn’t have anything to do with Arab guys with guns. This says a lot more about our stereotypes than anything else.”
Industry insiders say that there is a growing trend for films that take on controversial topics in the news rather than traditional subjects such as love, black magic and family feuds.
Last year’s Last Flight to Abuja touched on the subject of air crashes, a delicate subject in Nigeria, where shortly after the film’s release a passenger plane crashed into a building in Lagos, killing 153 people.
“It is definitely a case of art imitating life,” said Zara Johns, “Nollywood evangelist” at Iroko TV, an on-demand film streaming service for Nollywood movies. “These things tend to resonate with Nigerians because they are really happening.”