I recently picked up studying for the GMAT the past two weeks to apply for business school. I think I spent about four hours studying when I decided to give myself a break and shift gears towards what I will write for 36 STATES. My process usually begins by browsing through a series of websites and using GOOGLE to find the latest and interesting stories out of the Nigerian art and entertainment industry. Once in a while I come across a movie that I was previously unaware of and on this particular day, I came across the movie Fifty.
Whenever I hear about a movie, apart from my interest in the visuals, I want to know how much the movie made, who produced and what the return on investment was on the film. From my research, typical Nollywood films generate a return on investment of N30M, but Fifty was able to generate N400M in ROI. This is unprecedented in the industry and it is attributed to the private screenings, sold out shows and Netflix picking up the broadcasting on its website. The ROI got me intrigued and I wanted to understand why it was so successful and if this can be repeated.
Fifty is a movie following the life of four women in the middle of their careers living in Lagos City, Nigeria. It is produced by the Ebony Life TV and directed by the Biyi Bankole, who also directed the movie Half of a Yellow Sun. There are four primary characters which are Tola, the popular reality star, Elizabeth, the Obstetrician, Maria, the construction executive and Kate, the event coordinator.
One of my strongest points against Nollywood and the Nigerian Film Industry is the lack of visually displaying everyday struggles in the movies that are made. Over the past 20 years of observing the film industry in the country, there is a weak story telling ability that has left the industry stagnant. The way the issues are discussed address the issues of the common man but it is never real. I still come across movies that the protagonist is looking for money to live a lavish life. I believe there is a place for movies such as this, but the focus should be on better story telling on love, family and culture. Prior to watching Fifty, I had a feeling that the movie may finally tell a story about the lives of Nigerian in way that was never previously done in Nollywood. Thankfully, my prediction was correct. This is the first time I came across a movie about Nigerian inhabitants that dealt with issues that I think are relevant and also makes for good character development throughout the movie.
The movie follows the life of four women by the names of Tola, Elizabeth, Maria and Kate. Tola is a reality TV star who is married but has a deep dark secret about sexual abuse as a young child. Sexual abuse of children happens in the country but it is a topic that is too easily swept away by families to maintain a façade about stability. This movie tackles that issue and Nollywood needs to follow suit in dealing with such serious topics through their visuals. There is also Elizabeth, the aging spinster, who is 50 and has an interest in dating younger men. The cougar phenomenon is something I often associated with North American culture and found the scenes quite hilarious while watching the interaction between Elizabeth and the young man. The movie also delves into the issue of pregnancy and fertility as well as religion through the characters of Maria and Kate. Fifty, is a coming of age story of sort for feminism and its application to the Nigerian culture. I think the movie highlights areas of the culture that would be deemed as taboo but through the direction and writing of Bisi Bankole, and the screenplay by Bola Agbaje and Kemi Adesoye, they have ushered in story telling that has impact and resonates with the audience.
The movie also does a great job by incorporating music from the culture with appearances by King Sunny Ade and Femi Kuti, as well as, Tiwa Savage and Waje to close out the performances throughout the movie. Moreoever, as a Yoruba, I found the drops of Yoruba in the dialogue very entertaining as I was able to relate to that form of conversation through my interactions with other Nigerians. It was a perfect blend of showing the ability of the women to be able to engage both the domestic culture and imported language of English. The running theme of the movie is that life is full of paradoxes and the movie itself can be considered a paradox because it is unlike any movie out of Nollywood and may just be the start of great film making in the industry.
Overall I give this movie a B+ and highly recommend it if you are interested in exploring Nigeria through the experiences of four women at the height of their career.