Amvca For Movie Amina: The Reputable Route To Recognizing An Unshackled Perseverance Of Okey Ogunjiofor

This writeup gives recognition to the producer of the movie Amina, commending him and his crew for a job well done.

Saturday, May 14th, 2022 was set out in the football world for a FA cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool both of which are foremost football clubs in England. The final match was to begin at 4 pm Nigerian time on this day, and so it began and ended in stalemate in regular time. Extra time was given, and the two strongest football teams in Europe struggled it out to a no-score draw. Eventually, Liverpool Football Club for which I am a proudly ardent fan won the game on penalties, and the whole world was subsequently saved from excessive noise pollution that could have emanated from the agbero or thug-behaved fans of the Stamford Bridge, London-based team had they won it.

Elsewhere on the television screen channel about an hour before the final match in Wembley stadium began was the live show of Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards, AMVCA. AMVCA is an accolade presented every year by MultiChoice to recognize outstanding achievements in the television and film industry. And this year's award was its 8th edition. As it was the custom, a list of nominations was published before the day of the awards so that people can vote for the most suitable nominee from each of the award categories. And Amina, a movie that got first premiered on Netflix last year precisely on 4th November 2021, was among the list of nominations in different categories. These were: Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematographer, Best Lighting Design, Best Costume Designer, Best Movie Writer, Best Art Director, Best Sound Editor, Best Soundtrack, Best Movie Director, and Best Overall Movie.

But Amina is a movie that told the story of Queen Aminatu of Zazzau in the most authentic fashion. It wasn't for nothing that the movie got shot twenty years after painstakingly intensive research and then premiered five years after its production and post-production. Not for nothing! It was after his pioneering efforts in Nollywood with the release of over five home videos - Living in Bondage, Circle of Doom, Nneka the Pretty Serpent, Brotherhood of Darkness, etc - that the man who later came to be widely known as the Father of Nollywood, Mr. Okey Ogunjiofor began to feel that there was more the motion picture industry could do to deepen the acceptance of the phenomenon called Nollywood.

Back then in 1996, he felt that the world needs to be told our indigenous stories and that our stories should not only be for entertaining the growing global audience of Nollywood but to accurately research and carefully document the lives and times of our heroes and heroines past thereby re-writing the negative narratives against Africa in the global arena; and more so, to create the impetus upon which Africa's growing young population would stand and aspire for higher ideals. Therefore, having witnessed all the odds against women around the world, the trailblazer in filmmaking decided to do a story on the life and times of Queen Amina of Zazzau (Zazzau is the present-day Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria). And the idea to do this story of Amina was mainly to draw affirmative actions toward the plight of women and the girl-child.

As also told in the movie, little Amina got an interest in the political and military affairs and requested his father that she wants to train in the military to be able to fight in wars, and defend their kingdom. Her very strange request was reluctantly obliged. And so she trained and subsequently participated in many wars. She later became the Sarauniya or the Queen in a male-dominated society. She reigned for a period of 36 years between 1576 to 1610, that's around the 15th/16th century. Thus, Queen Amina became the first woman to rule the African Kingdom. A smart, brave, fearless, and talented warrior characteristically describes Queen Aminatu whose death only brought an end to her reign.

So, determined to present the inspiring story of Queen Amina in a film format, however in its authentic and factual method, Mr. Ogunjiofor wrote to the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria via the Center for Women Development requesting for the partnership to produce a gender based book and film specifically on the life of a Hausa warrior, Queen Amina. His idea was welcomed and he was asked to embark on research to get the authentic story of Amina. Even though the Presidency loved his idea, he wasn't given a kobo to kickstart. Mere words were given to him. This was in August of 1996. And the man who starred in his first movie as Paulo hit the ground for research running without question. He reached out to a female gender-based NGO, Masoma Africa Foundation for financial assistance. Mrs. Sylvia Bello and Mrs. Florence Adeyanju who was leading the NGO made contacts with their American partner and some funds were gotten from The Kennedy Center Washington with which Mr. Ogunjiofor enthusiastically embarked on the research.

In the company of a researcher, Mr. Sola Ojewusi, he traversed the length and breadth of the thirteen Emirates of Northern Nigeria in search of the authentic story of Queen Amina. They didn't succeed in the first attempt of getting the authentic story. Their journey was marred with obstacles, frustrations, and so many depressing moments. A man of little faith could have questioned himself if the project is worth being pursued and or abandoned the project immediately after experiencing such moments of depression and frustrations, but Okey whose ọgụ ejị ọfọ anụ or fight is engaged with ọfọ persevered with the vision and continued to pursue the research. Two years later in August 1998, the Presidency pulled out of the partnership as a result of a change in government and wished both Mr. Ogunjiofor and Mr. Ojewusi well. Still, the award-winning movie producer continued researching the project - the authentic Queen Amina story. 

Armed with his briefcase and his research, they went from Arewa House to University libraries, from Museums to Professors of History, from traditional historians to Emirs, traversing Zaria, Kaduna, Bauchi, Dass, Abuja, Suleja, Kano, Turunku, Jos, Taraba, Kogi, Ilorin till enough information was gotten to produce the historical perspective of Amina in a book format before a movie. With the research compendium ready, he now embarked alone in search of funds to make the movie. And like the biblical parable of 'knock and the door shall be opened, he went to knock on doors for the fund and wasn't so lucky. Doors were closed before him, indirectly telling him to go to hell. Nevertheless, the man who changed forever the Nigerian motion picture industry with the introduction of his first-ever movie Living in Bondage was not daunted. He remained firmly steadfast in search of the fund until 2015 when Project Act Nollywood, Ford Foundation offered him grants, then a loan from the Bank of Industry to begin the Amina film project after which other investors started bringing funds for sponsorship. 

With funds now available for making the film, he got enveloped with the audacity of passion plus determination and journeyed back to the north precisely Jos, the capital of Plateau State with 86 southern crew members to recreate the ancient palaces and cities of Zazzau. On arrival in Jos, he recruited over 1000 northern artists and began to work on the epic film. However, the idea of choosing Jos as the location was because of its beautiful filmic topography. The recruited northern artists were camped for three months. They got trained on how to ride horses and trained also how to fight on horseback with the use of swords after which the shooting proper began. 

Meanwhile, there was no place he and his crew could find a semblance of Queen Amina's palace of the olden era that wouldn't have the trappings of modernity. As a result of this, they had to build, from scratch, majestic medieval palaces of mud and stone, dusty hovels of the desperately poor, the tense intrigues of age-old royal courts, and 15th-century horse-sweat soaked battlegrounds! The production and post-production of the movie Amina lasted five solid years after twenty years of research plus raising funds. Interestingly, the collaboration for the production and post-production of the gripping tale movie spanned three continents of the world viz Africa (Nigeria), Europe (Germany), and America (the US and Canada). Yet, after the movie was released by Netflix original last year, many people who had fed themselves with the many versions of Amina's story negatively criticized the movie, expressing disappointment while also blabbing that the story portrayed in the film was not the historical story of Amina.

If only they knew the brazen efforts - time, money, risks - invested by the producer in making the film. If only they knew how many years it had taken the producer to research before shooting the movie. If only they knew the emotional trauma experienced by the producer in his attempt to actualize the film project. But they don't know. What they know is offering destructive criticism. For a locally themed movie to get thirteen (13) nominations in different award categories proves that its story is the verified authenticity and that the film was created with the authentic exotic set, costume, and props design. A globally relevant narrative! And again, it wasn't for nothing that the man who derives joy in attempting to do the things others find so difficult to do spent two and half decades to produce Amina that got crowned by African Magic Viewers with the most prestigious award as the "Best Overall Movie." Amina film also went home on Saturday 14th May 2022 from the award stage of AMVCA in Lagos with three other awards such as the Best Art Director (Tunji Afolayan), Best Costume Designer (Millicent T. Jack), and Best Sound Editor (Jim Lively, James Nelson). To conclude, for the producer who went through excruciating pains to see the authentic story of Amina narrated on the television screen, the African Magic Awards is only a reputable route to more honors to come. Congratulations!

By Chukwudịmma Aaron-Okonkwọ

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