Growing up in Nigeria, I took a strong interest in the history of Nigeria and the events that have shaped the landscape of the political system. The recent independence day celebration made me reflect on the film “76” that was screened during Tiff in Toronto. “76” is a drama set against the backdrop of a failed attempted 1976 military coup against Murtala Mohammed. Nollywood actors: Ramsey Nouah, Rita Dominic, and Chidi Mokeme star in the film directed by Izu Ojukwu. The assassinations and military coups that infected the country’s ability to progress are a constant reminder of the fragility of the country. One of the most important chapters of the post-independence period was the failed coup of Murtala Mohammed in 1976. Ojukwu, the director, tells the story through the primary them of love.
Ojukwu starts off the film with the most recognizable form of love the audience can comprehend – the man and wife. Joseph and Suzy live in one of the country’s barracks located in the southwest region of Nigeria. Joseph is an army captain, and his wife, Suzy, is in the later stages of her pregnancy. Nightly, the sounds of disco music pierce through the bedroom walls. It keeps them both awake and it has been going on for a few days. “My wife cannot sleep, turn down the music” – Joseph states to his neighbor who happens to be his senior in the army ranks. The army senior ignores the aggressive stance by Joseph, however, this moment would set the stage for the type of relationship the Dewa’s share throughout the film. In the 2 hours plus of screening, the couple’s love is tested through different contexts including intercultural differences, family and propaganda.
Who loves their country more? Is it the soldier who fights blindly for a corrupt government or is it a soldier that uses manipulation and treason to topple a government he deems is corrupt? In short, the lines can get very blurred and Ojukwu presents this in the film. Joseph Dewa is a conflicted soldier in the film, given that he knows of the plan to assassinate the military government of Murtala Mohammed but he also does not agree with the decision making of the government. His love for his country led him back to serve and fight for the independence of his country, and wants to ensure that he does it with the highest of ethical values. In contrast, Joseph’s colleagues want to topple the government, albeit with unethical tactics but there is no denying that their idealist agenda of what Nigeria should be was founded in love for the country.
One of the objectives for Ojukwu in the film was to highlight the plight of the military wives throughout the film. These women are left to defend and lead the family if ever their husbands fail to return home due to death in battle. 76 is the first film I watched that delved into the psychology of these women and how they maintain their resolve in loss and uncertainty. During the military coup of 1976, many soldiers were captured and interrogated to determine the extent of their involvement in the coup. The wives and their families are shamed and many of the other army families isolate themselves from the wives of soldiers captured. Ojukwu captured the fight in these women through Suzy who continued to fight for her husband’s innocence even while engulfed in an environment of uncertainty and danger.
76 surpassed my expectations for a historical film that infused the right form of fiction while channeling the spirit of the period. The acting provided a lens into life in the barracks, while the fashion and scoring in the film led to a better comprehension of life in the 70’s in Nigeria. The film was well researched with the team obtaining archived documents through the BBC and speaking to former military men and their wives to obtain first-hand account of the real experience. Nigeria celebrated its 56th year on October 1, 2016 and films such as “76” are needed to document the stories that have shaped the country.