The tearful widow, the lover boy, the wicked mother -in-law, the scorned girl friend, the village lay about, the rich man/ king and the bad boy, your guess is as good as mine which actors/actresses fit into these ever so replicated profiles. Our shared knowledge of this is the basis of my musings in this edition and I will try to understand why certain actors have gotten stuck acting the same roles and even more importantly why almost twenty years down the line the industry is still producing basically the same stories.

The account of how the Nigerian movie industry came into existence is no longer news; this generation has been privy to the rise of what has now become an industry that cannot be held in by walls or expectations. Nollywood is now a national export which engenders both extreme ends of the emotional continuum in the Nigerian people; you either hate it or love it. The industry has grown even beyond the expectations of any of its stakeholders and continues to grow even more. Though constantly growing in players and stakeholders, Nollywood has been critically flawed from inception, while many of its problems can be ascribed to a general lack of sufficient funding; a more pervasive problem has evolved with this industry. Over the years, secrets of the Nollywood trade have been leaked to public knowledge, how the actors adlib their lines and just go with the flow, and instead of a dolly, a wheel chair was used to pan cameras, pointing to the fact that not much importance was placed on the quality of what was being produced. Today, very few producers care about the output, majority focus mainly on the money they stand to make from churning out movie after movie; resultant are the half baked and mediocre films which abound the film markets and cyber space.

One of such practices which prove irksome to me is the level of typecasting which occurs in the Nigerian movie industry, majority of our top actors/actresses have settled into particular roles which they end up playing all the time. Highly acclaimed Olu Jacobs is ‘The Igwe’, Patience Ozokwor is ‘The wicked mother-in-law’, Ramsey Nouah is ‘The Lover boy’ and of course Stella Damasus is ‘The Tearful Widow’. When movie after movie we see the same people playing the same roles, it begs to question where versatility and quality come in. How will an actor or actress achieve his or her full potential, how will he or she harness inherent skills and test their limits when they have been boxed into a particular role since their debut? They really never will. Fortunately most actors today realize this and try to fight against being typecast, but really how much of a say can you have when those hair brained scripts are all that are coming your way, man must chop right? A good number however know that they have been typecast but really don’t mind. I was stunned to find out that veteran actor Olu Jacobs granted an interview and in it disclosed that he was alright with his playing Igwe in over thirty movies. His reasoning was that since he had schooled abroad and also practiced in England before returning home, he knew his range and so is fine with portraying the culture of our people. Good for Mr. Jacobs, but the truth is that for other actors in the industry who have had no such training, being typecast is the beginning of their failure in their chosen careers. They may make the bucket loads of cash and gather all the acclaim, but the truth is that they would have spent their entire careers doing the same thing and would have recorded no personal milestones.

Sad as this may be for our Nollywood actors, they are not alone in this bothersome practice. The world over, actors fall into the trap of being typecast and then find it hard to break the jinx, try imagining Eddie Murphy or Jim Carrey taking up serious dramatic roles, the whole audience would be so caught up in trying to adjust to the actors not being silly that little attention would be paid to the movie. If you think typecasting in itself isn’t bad enough, just expand your view a bit as I let you into some insights I have had concerning this practice as it affects our movie industry here in Nigeria. First, a movie industry with the same actors playing the same kinds of roles means there has been no growth, concept wise. You really don’t have to dig too deeply to see that not a lot of thought goes into a lot of our story lines, sad as it is to admit, it is the truth. There is a need for higher standards to be set in the industry, starting with the kind of productions we put out. Stop with the half thought out story lines, and the incredible re-telling of already told stories. Ours is a culture and a people that abound with many stories of old, we also have numerous talented authors with great pieces that can be adapted for screen. Enact the stories of Jaja of Opobo, Princess Moremi, Queen Amina, Queen Idia, even our political terrain presents an endless source of inspiration for screen writers.

Second, typecasting actors here in Nigeria has led to what I like to call ‘overexposure’ of these artistes, since they are constantly playing the same roles in all the movies, it goes without saying that they are constantly on our screens. Take a minute and think about it, if you are an avid Nigerian movie watcher, there are some faces that you see on the regular and have been seeing for over a decade. I for one am tired of Desmond Elliot, and everybody’s favorite Genny, I’m sorry, but I think they should give it a rest. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman, but you and I both know that even if they both came to this world ten times over, they still would not have acted in as many movies as Genevieve Nnaji. Apart from turning a good number of would be supporters of the industry off, overexposure of these Nollywood stars also serve to diminish any hope for new faces. Think again with me, we’ve established that there are some faces who have occupied top spot in movies for over ten years, now count how many new acts have surfaced in the same period, very few, simply because there is no space for them. The one that gets me the most is when Rita Dominic decides to play the school girl, seriously, do they really think their audience is that stupid? Really I think the rallying cry now should be “move over old ladies and give the younger ones a chance!! ”.

My last and final rant that is indirectly connected with this overexposure thing is the plight of new would be entrants into the acting industry, the way it looks from the outside in, getting into the industry seems to be an impossible feat. Rumors of having to do all sorts with a producer or director to get a movie part abound and quite frankly just the thought of this is frightening. Ok so direct entry into the industry is a no go area, so how about through talent shows? First disappointing fact about this is that out of the numerous talent shows that clog up our TV screens, only one is directed mainly at discovering and molding actors. The second disappointing fact about them is that out of the three or so talents that have been found so far I only know one of their names and that’s just by chance and I’m sure that I’m even better than most. The truth is, after their brand sponsored movie they fade into obscurity, which takes us back to square one. So do we make do with the usual faces or hope for change vis-à-vis growth?