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An Ace Up Her Sleeves

02 Dec 2012

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Kemi Afolabi


Yinka Olatunbosun
Although some fans may be silent about it, the regular faces in the moves have become over-used. Some actors appear in almost every movie on African Magic, billboards along the roads and on some products. Still, few actors make brief but significant appearances on screen and for reasons best known to them, remain on the sidelines in anticipation of the best time to give a striking shot. Kemi Afolabi, an actress who made her entrant in the movie industry with her lead role in Alagbara is a classic example.

Trained as a lawyer, Kemi’s acting skills are innate. Despite being Funke Akindele’s classmate at University of Lagos, Kemi would not have thought of pursuing an acting career just when she was close to becoming a lawyer. But an encounter changed her life for good. While relaxing under the Senate building of the university, a Yoruba movie producer, Oladele Martins thought she had a “Nollywood face”. 

He soon discovered that it was more than just a pretty face and landed her a lead role in her first movie. In the movie, she played the role of a lawyer and found out that her professional background was relevant in providing logistics support to the interpretation of the story.  In a recent chat with THISDAY, she spoke at length on the movie industry and her renewed effort to make a change after her short break in movie appearances to raise a family in the United Kingdom.

“All the years that I was in the UK, there was no day I didn’t think of acting. Although acting wasn’t what I set out to do, I developed the passion for it. When I saw the seriousness of the actors at locations, especially in the way they enter the character being played, I knew that acting was no child’s play. After that movie, I started getting other jobs. I was thrilled that people were impressed. I felt fulfilled, loved and appreciated. It spurned me on to do more.”

Though happy with the remarkable change that the industry has made over the years, she, now a movie producer, expressed her concern on the problem of piracy.

“More Nigerians movies are being screened at the cinemas. Before, Hollywood films dominated our cinemas. The industry has earned more respect. The prejudice against the acting profession in Nigeria has also waned. Some fail to distinguish an actor’s character from the real self. Just because someone plays a character does not mean that is how the person is in real life. Piracy is a major challenge for the industry. It is really sad. One person will just duplicate a movie into several copies or worse still makes copies of about ten movies on a disc. It is heart-breaking. Also, if there are some infrastructural provisions from the government, the pressure will be less on the producer while making a movie.”

Speaking on the stereotypical casting that is common in the movie industry, Kemi, who acted in Jenifa 1 as the student who lent Jenifa her UK clothes revealed that although she had always been given the “posh role” she would not want to be boxed in the same character.
“I was in Super Story. I was playing someone’s wife. No doubt, everyone one has unique skills. I believe before a producer or director can approach me to act in a movie, there must be something in me.  I interprete any given role very well. Playing the same role kills an actor professionally. In the industry, if you have done one particular role very well, they will keep on calling you to do similar role in other movies. I just left Said Balogun’s set. I know a lot of people will be surprised to see me play the role that I did.”

Kemi Algbara, as she is popularly called, didn’t want to reveal her selling point but explained why most producers make the same kind of movies and shy away from experimenting with movie content.
“The industry is deeper than what people think.  The problem of doing something different lies in the marketability of the movie. The marketer tells you that it is the movie where women reveal more flesh that people buy. You may find that hard to reconcile that the same people who complain that the Nigerian girls are careless in their dressing and still the ones demanding for such movies.

“On paying attention to details, I see my movies to the post-production stage. I want the best always.  The mistakes you have noticed in movies are often directorial. The director should have pointed it out where an actor is putting on a wrong costume.  When a director has little funding and he has to take on the role of the production manager, continuity manager, costumier and wants to play the lead role, and all that, he will miss some important things. When there is sufficient funding for the movie, you can take the load off.”

The question of the vulnerability of the young female actresses in the movie industry was also raised. Thankfully, Kemi gives opportunities to fresh faces in her movies. She however advised girls to be educated before taking to the acting profession.

“If you are too naïve or too desperate, you will be used. Look at my example, I wasn’t even interested in the first place. I was persuaded. There was no way someone would want me to trade sexual favours for a role. Individuals are different. If you are the type that gives the director the green light, he will obviously take the cue and tell you what you don’t want to hear. I recruit fresh faces. I try to encourage the green uns.”

She said she favoured scripted drama for the industry, adding that the use of language cannot be under estimated.
Kemi Afolabi has acted in scores of movies including Jenifa, Ere, Si Gbogbo Obirin, Omo Pupa, Maku, Oju Apa Temi which is a self- produced 2011 movie. She is set to launch her next production Ajilo’ da in 2013.

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