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Finding a place in the stars

It was an ink-black night, humid with a whiff of sea breeze. On the 7th of November, 2014 the Landmark Centre, Victoria Island annex was abuzz with activities for the international premiere of the movie A Place in the Stars. The hall was well packed with actors, star-gazers, and media. They were all tingling with anticipation. For one, it’s been years anyone saw a movie with Dejumo Lewis(actor and producer of the tv soap The New Village Headmaster), or Segun Arinze( erstwhile president, Actors Guild of Nigeria, a veteran actor renowned for his flawless portrayal of affluent rogue types).George Kallis composed the score for A Place in the Stars, leading a 90-man orchestra to deliver. The writer and producer Steve Gukas has an eye for the details, so the movie has taken over 5 years to make.

At the premiere, Jeremiah Giang performed the theme song live. The song, and parts of the story were inspired by Dr. Dora Akunyili, who shot into the national limelight as director-general of NAFDAC, Nigeria’s drug quality control agency, and ended her career as Minister of Information and Communications. It is no longer news that Nollywood is the third biggest movie industry, behind Hollywood and Bollywood.One can not forget the pioneering work of the theatre houses in ancient kings’ palaces, in great ancient kingdoms. I recall a more recent performing group( in the seventies and eighties) led by Oloye Hubert Ogunde, and called the Ogunde Concert Party . Hubert Ogunde pioneered and popularized the themes for theatre and movies, especially in Yoruba movies. 

Producer Steve Gurkas speaking about the movie at the premiere of A Place in the Stars

Back to A Place in the Stars-the title rocks. Gideon Eche-Okeke is the suave lead actor, and has been nominated as Best Actor in the African Magic Viewers’ Choice Award. The movie received nominations in ten categories, which include for Best Movie; for Best Supporting Actor ( Segun Arinze, remember him?he was Black Arrow in the 1996 Nollywood movie Silent Night; and for Best Director( Steve Gukas). As a recent orphan, I have this feeling that my parents are watching over me, from somewhere. Call me superstitious, but I can explain it away with an ever-present awareness of their mindset whenever I am making important life decisions. It’s like they are omnipresent ghosts. Maybe the tale at the beginning of A Place In the Stars points out where they are. The stunts in the movie are not its strongest selling points, though it does not pretend to be an action flick, anyway. The soundtrack and musical score have been well thought out.

 The movie celebrates Dora Akunyili, in a society where all our heroes and role models seem to have died maybe a hundred years or more ago. Ok, let’s watch the scripting and conversations, the little cues that infer, and create ‘feel’. That baboon of a president( the character of Segun Arinze makes a puny jab at one of Nigeria’s more colorful past presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo, who appointed Dora Akunyili) somehow gets remembered like a sore thumb sticking out. In real life, the son of the man who wanted Akunyili dead( twisted into the weave of the story of the movie) was a classmate of the writer in Federal Government College, Okigwe. We met again in the University of Nigeria Nsukka in the early nineties where he was studying Pharmacy. Aboy, which was his alias then, was a fabulously wealthy student who drove various posh cars and dated the hottest babes on campus. He was not that brilliant in secondary school, to have been admitted to university for the course. He was later implicated in the plot to kill Dora Akunyili. Dejumo Lewis plays Kim’s( Gideon Echelon-Okeke) father. Dejumo’s character is a principled man who believes in the reward for hard work and integrity, but his son has gone awry, and does not mind bending the rules for the love of money. Kim contrasts his younger sister, who shares her dad’s moral values. She is a graduate with a master’s degree. Her story is a familiar one in Nigeria, where there are very few jobs for the many young graduates being churned out by the local universities. For want of a better job, she is a teacher in a nursery school. Another issue the movie deals with is corruption in a major company and the bribing of elders, a familiar problem especially common in Niger-Delta communities in Nigeria, happening among the oil companies, and the village leaders. The script swings through with the major theme of the proliferation of adulterated drugs, and secondarily the sales of substandard goods. The movie have many lessons. Nicely, Black Arrow( Segun Arinze) makes a powerful comeback as the antagonist Chief Okonkwo. He has not lost the forceful portrayal of a power broker who must amass wealth by all means. Kim grew up too, to become a monster from the little innocent boy who had wanted a place in the stars  at the beginning of the movie. His elder brother was executed after being convicted for a crime. Kim held the father somewhat responsible for the death. Dejumo’s character could have influenced the judge’s decision, Kim felt.

Now on fake drugs, my grandfather was lucky to have his son bring in insulin from the US to help control his diabetes. He lived and managed the disease for about forty years, and died at the age of a hundred and four years old. The movie is a call for Nigerians to reach beyond themselves to a higher, greater good. To seek a place of honor, not just in this life, but in the hereafter, that one be remembered for the good works he left behind. And for reward? You get a place in, or more appropriately, among the stars.Maybe we will recall the goodness of those who have gone before us-the labor of our heroes past, as the national anthem goes, and follow in their steps. The thought of writing this came right after watching the movie premiere, and realizing the messages and quality of the content on the movie. I was struck also by watching Segun Arinze’s character, a blend of violent brawn, brash gangster swag and dark humor. After the curtains call, Segun dashed into their car with his wife, and a group of area boys in hot pursuit, hailing the Black Arrow. Jumping gruffly into the back of the steering wheel, he slammed the door shot and ignored all the boys. They all come in crowds, he said( talking about whenever they see him, wherever) he has had experiences where they broke into fights over the money he doled out to them. At other times they would even get aggressive and abusive over the money he gave them. So he frequently ignores them. Can you ever please the crowd? Occasionally, among the hundred movies or so produced weekly in Nollywood, one comes across a winner, one that will make you stop and think-a worthy movie like A Place In The Stars.

Voting in the Amstel Malta sponsored African Magic Viewers Choice Awards 2015, click on this link-

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