Taiwo Ajai-Lycett is as agile and passionate about the arts as she was when she gained global fame decades ago. The actress and educationist wears many hats and also does not mince words on how she wants her country to be positioned. She speaks with SAMUEL ABULUDE on her experiences on the sets and what needs to be done in the movie industry.
At your age, how does it feel to be active in a place like Nigeria?
It is a good time to be around, it’s a good time to be alive and it’s a good time to have acquired some experience, body of experience actually. I think it’s for somebody like me who can survive relatively easily here because you’ve lived a life. You know a little bit better what kind of life you want and you know that you can get what you want.
The youth may not know so they are desperate, in despair and frustrated but when you have gone through a period of living, then you know that there is nothing impossible and that if you have determination, you can do whatever you want. You also know that fear is the enemy so you just get up and go and know that it is your attitude that is important. And you know that it is important to have enthusiasm and optimism, so if you have a combination of these, you are okay. At this age, if you can keep hold of your optimism and your hope for the future, you should be fine.
You are aging gracefully?
Thank you, it is the grace of God. I don’t bother myself over issues and don’t keep a grudge and relate with people well. That’s my secret.
Oloibiri, a film in which you featured, is one of the best work out there at the moment. But apart from the significance of the location represented by that name in Nigerian history, what attracted you to the script of the film?
It was simply because theoretically, you would think that having discovered black gold as far back as the 1950s, everything would be alright and that we would have money to play with. And with money in your hand, there is a great possibility that you would be able to transform your life and make your dreams come true. Essentially, this would translate to more hospitals, better roads and all the good things of life but then you find that 50 or 60 years down the line, nothing has happened sadly.
And it is so bad that you can even see the suffering and the effect of wrong decisions being taken, of wrong choices being made still and Oloibiri being a metaphor for Nigeria, made me excited about doing the film in a way to add to the discourse. By just having a look at where we went wrong to make us see how we can go right; we cannot go back to the past but we can learn from the past and plan for the future and do the right thing at the moment. I am always interested in current affairs and about actual social themes that can elevate our lives and inspire us and I thought, Oloibiri would do that.
I still think it will when it is more generally released for more people to see, maybe we can all agree that discovering crude oil has not translated into anything good and begin to have a rethink about how we should go about our national life.
What did you take away from shooting the movie in the Niger Delta, especially upon coming face-to-face with the level of degradation out there?
It was a very depressing experience and I was hoping that with people seeing the movie, it would prick our conscience and help focus attention on the beautiful people of that terrain. The young people languishing away around there with no future, who have little or no infrastructural facilities for their use, much less enjoyment and I was hoping that film would make politicians do something about the state of things. It is so bad that we do have politicians in that part of the world in government and nothing really happens to them and that is a mystery.
I was going to say criminal even, because they are there with their own people and they do not see that they can do something to help. So, the problem is ours; it is a real one and it’s about intellectual bankruptcy, lack of vision and personal greed – of just wanting to improve your own condition and not thinking about the collective good, which is always the more important part as it would rub off on you also. What’s the point of making yourself the big gun, using the money to build houses that you are not going to live in, fixing only the roads to your place and putting money away in soak-away. It is absolutely stupid, dumbest thing adults can be seen to be doing and it doesn’t show any sort of intelligence at all.
In a country where we don’t have constant electricity, what electricity do we have when we can’t industrialise and can’t manufacture even the most basic of items. In a country where we have almost 24-7 sunlight and we don’t have the resources and will power to tap it properly into solar energy even and people are calling themselves rich and importing Ferraris and Bentleys and everything! That is a country of very dumb, stupid, idiotic and downright insane people because you cannot have a crude mind and live like that. Or does anyone still argue about how rich we are? If we are not rich, then can they tell us from where they are getting all those billions they are stealing?
What is your perception on Nollywood presently?
The industry is moving forward but producer/directors are still not taking care of the very important details; I always say the devil is in the detail. You know we are so arrogant about these things; you cannot re-invent the wheel; these things already exist and all you need to do is collaborate with other people and make great movies while thinking through your ideas to the last detail. But we are not doing that yet, it’s too superficial for me. There is the gloss and everything, when you look at our films, even the ones making the mega bucks that people are screaming about now, some people still say they lack substance.
That is sad but because they are making money, everybody would say they are great as that is the main criterion in our own assessment of the film industry and process but we need to achieve a level of quality. Yes, I’d agree we are making progress, we are going ahead but we are not looking at the details. We are going for glamour, noise over substance and that means we are not ideological enough. Glamour is fine but we need to start making movies that are ideological about our situations instead of shooting movies that mirror Hollywood films, that’s not success as far as I am concerned because the film of a particular region has to focus on and project the issues, culture, problems and triumphs of that location.
How did you find working with celebrated cinematographer, Tunde Kelani, on the advocacy movie, Dazzling Mirage?
He is a sweetheart, and that’s one of the kinds of movies we should be doing. It is another film I am not seeing around but many people should be made to see it because it speaks to people. It is like the Ebola movie, 93 Days. Ebola was tragic, we lost a great, brave woman, lion-hearted woman to it, who saw danger to her family and the teeming population and confronted it to guard the population.
That woman has not been lauded enough in my opinion, you only need to take time to go through her profile, especially when measured against the immeasurable danger she averted to realise she was an incredible and angelic medical professional, who saved millions of us from a potentially grave situation. But while Ebola is a one-off, the issue that Dazzling Mirage focuses on the sickle cell anaemia, is something a lot of people are living with daily and it is another film I would like many people to see so as to get familiar with and begin to show understanding and compassion for people living with that disorder.
What other projects do you have lined up?
I am presently in a couple of productions. What I’m trying to do is to start coaching, not just about the arts but about the philosophy of the arts. What is our function and role in the society? It is not just customer feel. It has always been said that Africa does not have the luxury of art for art’s sake but as things are now, no country has the luxury of that on account of the changes going on in the world right now and with the speed at which they are going on. What I want to start is to try teaching on the social media and others and whoever is interested can come and train and we will eventually do master classes.
That is one of the things I want to do. Another project has to do with the TAL In Concert, which is another project at hand, with Prof Segun Ojewuyi and others involved. I have also featured in Kemi Adetiba’s King Women talk series, which gives women a voice to share their experiences and pains. I have enjoyed talking about my involvement in the arts and how my late husband played a major role in this.
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