Award–winning moviemaker, Dickson Iroegbu, has continued to influence trends in Nollywood with blockbusters like Women’s Cot and Law 58, a movie dedicated to exposing the dangers of gay lifestyle.
After a seven-year sabbatical, Iroegbu is back and he is set to premiere his new movie, The Good Husband. In this chat, he talks about his film odyssey and how the late Dora Akunyili influenced him.
You’ve been in politics for a while and we thought you had dumped Nollywood for the soapbox, what’s happening?
I did not dump moviemaking. I was not active because I have been on sabbatical. I had to understudy our nation because the next phase of content I am churning out has to do with leadership challenges and how we can move Nigeria forward. Take a look at what Hollywood does with White House, that is the next phase of content I want to churn out. I am talking about movies that will discuss issues plaguing our country and our leadership challenges, and how we can be united.
Do you believe in a united Nigeria?
I believe in a united Nigeria, not the united Nigeria. The united Nigeria is not in existence but a united Nigeria is achievable, and it can only come from our taking deliberate steps to redeem our country. That is the reason I said the kind of movies I want to make now are movies that will discuss the issues as they are.
Tell us about your latest movie, The Good Husband?
I just made The Good Husband. I made the film while the campaign for the 2019 elections was going on. I am back with something riveting, something they could relate with, because I explored the family angle. I was away for seven years. I made my last film in 2013.
What sets this movie apart from your previous works?
This is my latest work and so it should be better than my previous. I have a personal attachment to the movie. Marriage is an important institution. I am not speaking from any religious or traditional premise, God himself made marriage; he made them husband and wife, male and female, and not man and man or woman and woman, and that can never be no matter what laws man makes, no matter how he wants to twist it. There is no way you can build a better society if the family unit is not stable hence the family unit is my focus. I have had my own fair share of conflicts in marriage. However, lessons have been learnt. Are there things I could teach people with my work? Yes, and that is the purpose of this film, that husband and wife can have conflicts but they must have an understanding for resolving issues, because once there is divorce, there is a crack in the fabric of society and this has consequences that go well beyond the marriage. So, to avoid the disturbing conflicts that exist in marriage, I made a film that would address those elements that create conflicts. What are the disadvantages of having a phone? What are the disadvantages of social media? All of these were captured in The Good Husband. I have Sam Dede, Monalisa Chinda-Coker, Francis Duru, Paul Sambo, Thelma Okoduwa and so many others in the film.
Could you give us a synopsis of the film?
The Good Husband is about a marriage counselor, who passionately believes that marriages work, but his own marriage is in a tailspin. It becomes an issue of ‘physician, heal thyself’. Marriage, whether of the rich or the poor, faces similar challenges. The teeth and tongue live together in the mouth but they still have conflicts, so there is no marriage that doesn’t have conflicts, and it is not all about money. The summary of the film is that tolerance is the antidote to conflicts in marriage.
Right now in Nollywood, romantic comedies are the only movies that break even…
It has always been there. I remember the days of Idumota, Iweka Road and Palm Road in Aba. The marketers used to tell us then that ‘it is romantic comedy that sells’. Even at that time, I never focused on what was reigning; you can’t cage my art. I love my liberty; let me express myself and have my audience decide whether it is good content or not.
So, it is wrong for the money making side of the industry to focus on a genre they think sells. Comedy is not just what sells. A good movie will also sell. That the cinema culture is repeating what Idumota and Iweka Road did in those days is wrong. Those of us who have not been on the scene should come back and correct this impression.
You have been away for seven years and during this period the industry witnessed massive growth. What is your take?
Those of us who were there from the beginning knew that Nollywood was the greatest export from this part of the world, and the world embraced it. I remember the first movie I made was shot with M900, a VHS camera, while Hollywood was shooting on celluloid. From VHS, we went to Pneumatic and then to Betas camera before the arrival of digital cameras. Nollywood has helped technology evolve. Therefore, the industry itself should evolve. I am excited that beyond the traders getting involved financially, we now have real entrepreneurs coming to invest. We haven’t seen enough yet; this is just the beginning. My point is that, it is exciting to see that this business we started with which some called us jesters and jokers, is not for loafers as time has proved. Unfortunately, government has not placed a premium value on it.
When Buhari came to power, the government set up a MOPICOM committee. What became of that committee?
When the Minister of Information told Nollywood practitioners about his plans for MOPICOM, they thought that the man was going to run with it. It was to enable the industry to have structures. Our expectation was to have an umbrella body that would regulate the industry, but unfortunately, like any other project of this government, it failed. They don’t discuss it anymore. But I will say to my colleagues, just like we invented this business out of nothing, all we can do is go back and reactivate the purpose of how and why we started. (Former President) Jonathan did well for Nollywood but there were mistakes made. When they wanted to discuss Nollywood, they sat with superstars thinking it was Nollywood. That’s not Nollywood! Nollywood did not start with stars, so why focus on stars when you want to discuss the industry; this must be corrected. The need to engage the behind-the-camera people cannot be overemphasized. The star business is to just come, sit down and be given scripts, and be directed to achieve the vision of the director, but after the film comes out and succeeds, they give it to the stars and celebrate them. But when it fails, they start looking for the producer. My take is that there is a need for the behind-the-camera people’s value to be reactivated and brought back to the table, and corporate establishments and governments should sit down and discuss with them. Ignoring Nollywood is to the peril of our country. On MOPICOM bill, practitioners should take their faith in their own hands and run to the National Assembly. I pray God will give me the wherewithal to champion that.
It’s been some years Dora Akunyili passed on and you were very close to her. How did she impact you?
I saw a passionate woman, a woman who loved Nigeria and ready to stake everything for a better society. I saw a woman who had love for the (movie) industry, a woman who mixed with us like she was one of us. Along the line, she started rebranding Nigeria and I saw her running with it, so I joined her. You know, I used to have dreadlocks back then and that was also when a black man became the American president. My interest for politics was activated and I saw an opportunity to mingle with these people and appreciate them better, and tell the story.
Dora Akunyili influenced part of my decision to make a Rasta man shave his dreadlocks. I had to shave my dreadlocks because I wanted to be in the midst of these people without being considered a loafer. When you have dreadlocks in our society, they label you ‘ganja man’. And one thing I will never forget is what Dora Akunyili did for Nigeria. Maybe, as time goes on and I narrate the stories, she would be one of them. She was phenomenal. You cannot discuss Nigeria without mentioning Dora Akunyili. She is proof that women can do better than they are doing now. Despite being a minister, she still served and cooked for her husband.
What was the greatest advice Dora Akunyili gave you?
She said to me: ‘this your hair, are you sure you are not going to shave it to rebrand Nigeria?’ However, I think she also saw the passion for Nigeria in me, because that was when I started the Child Soldier Project.
You were the first to shoot a movie on the gay lifestyle entitled, Law 58, in 2006. What is your take on Bobrisky and the rise of gay movement?
It is unfortunate that social media has created a platform for such nuisance to thrive. As far as I am concerned, Bobrinsky is a bad influence! It is a terrible mistake he is making. People like Bobrisky thrive when society is sick. That we can tolerate such nonsense is tragic! His family ought to throw him away. How can we allow this? Is it because he is making money? What money? Unfortunately, we are living in a society where once money is in your pocket, whatever ill around you is ignored. I made Law 58 in 2006 to create awareness about the dangers of gay lifestyle. We can’t pretend that this thing does not exist. But my point is, whatever you do in your closet remains in your closet. You can’t bring your private life to the public domain, attempting to make it legal and acceptable, and that is where I have an issue. If you are gay, do it in your house. Don’t bring it to the public square. It is your personal life and you will answer to your creator. But if you bring it to the public domain, then I will react because your right ends where my own begins. My point is that it is a demonic thing. Nobody can justify that lifestyle. The law America made is just human; it can’t change nature. And that is why I will keep making films that discuss these topical issues, and if I have opportunity to make a movie against same sex practices, I will do it over and over again. That was the reason I disconnected with (former) President Obama as soon as he approved gay rights. He was one of those that influenced me to shave my dreadlocks. But I was so disappointed in him.