Omotola Jalade Ekeinde – who is no stranger to NAW readers – is celebrating 25 years in the film and music industries. In this interview with Adaora Oramah, the popular actress ruminates on her celebrated career, her next chapter, and the cracks in Nollywood and how to fix them. Mindful of the impact the on-going Coronavirus pandemic will have on the continent’s future – Omotola Jalade Ekeinde is pensively guarded as she discusses prospects for Africa’s entertainment industry post the pandemic. But her optimism is resolute when she talks about her nascent project – The Entertainment Fair and Festival (TEFFEST), which she set up last year, to help fortify the structures and business models of African entertainment and creative entities, by focusing on investment procurement and empowering talented Africans in the entertainment and creative industries. Depending on how the Coronavirus pandemic evolves, TEFFEST is currently still scheduled to take place in Lagos this November.
Here are excerpts of the interview…
You have been in the entertainment industry for 25 years this year, appearing in over 300 movies. How do you think Nollywood has changed since your start in the industry?
When most of us were just starting out, there was not much knowledge about where we were really going. We were just working because we loved to act, and we were earning a living from it. Today Nollywood is a full-blown industry, which supports a lot of families, and the art has changed. [For example], instead of straight to video, today there are other forms of distribution, including online spaces and budgets are getting bigger. Some us in the industry have also gone international.
From your own experience and knowledge, what are the most prevalent problems in the Nigerian entertainment industry?
Structure? There is just no structure from the lowest to the highest level. We don’t even have big studios or big sets. Sometimes we shoot movies in people’s homes! Yet, Nollywood is a major business. We have grown to this point, and we are capable of having these things if we organize ourselves.
Secondly, one thing that should be a good landing place for people entering the industry is a good guild. But there is a big problem here. In Nigeria we have guilds, but they are not doing as well as they ought to. Let’s say for example, who looks into insurance policies and contracts, for people on set? Who takes care of production teams? Who looks into their privileges, royalties, and back-ends, for example?
This is my 25th year in the industry. I’ve been in over 300 movies, and yet, I don’t have a dime coming back to me in royalties. Virtually every movie that I have done, I’ve had contracts for backends written into them, but I’m not being paid any backends. I put them in the contract because I have to. But I have lost jobs because some producers have refused to even put that as a clause in the contract. These are issues your guild protects you with.
When one looks at America as an example, being a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is such an honourable thing and a big deal. Not only is the process to become a member rigorous, but also its benefits are vast. They do something for you, and you give back to the guild in return. It’s a well-oiled ring. But Nigerian guilds don’t really exist for that purpose. We are constantly fighting. Now I have come to a point where I have realized that I can’t go on fighting for better standards, as just Omotola, single-handedly anymore. It is time to take this fight onto a platform where everybody can come together.
You have set up The Entertainment Fair and Festival (TEFFEST festival. What motivated you and what do you intend to achieve with it?
My goal with TEFFEST is to help sanitize the industry by helping those in the profession, to understand the business better, and ensure that we have structure and infrastructure that helps us to be at par with our international counterparts. And to do so, we need to start to work together, and collectively understand what exactly needs to be done. And for that to happen, there needs to be a platform. Unfortunately, although we have guilds, they are not doing very well, and I believe that TEFFEST provide that platform and hopefully galvanize the industry into further action.
Part of my motivation came from my own children, two of whom are in the film and entertainment industries. It’s not like prior to this, I wasn’t worried or bothered about where the industry was going. But with my kids now in this industry, which seemingly is doing well on the surface, but I know can drown you, I started asking myself: What can I do to leave a better industry for those coming after me? What would my legacy be?
I therefore felt like there was something special I could do. But to succeed, I knew I couldn’t do so alone, and I told myself I will need to collaborate with people at all different levels to make TEFFEST a successful platform.
So, what is the strategy with TEFFEST? And how will it benefit everyone involved in it?
TEFFEST is about the business of entertainment. It is are not a film or music festival. Our strategy is based on three key principles: Dialogue, Training, and Trade – DTT.
Dialogue is for the TEFFEST seminars. For us to move from point A to point B we need to begin to understand, all the different moving parts in our industry. For example, we need to understand the difference between a manager and an agency. We need to understand how to pay managers and agents as well as how to pay taxes. We want to create opportunities and possibilities in the business of entertainment, as well as a healthy and thriving industry. We want the industry to make more money and how to grow.
In terms of Training, we are setting up a school called OFEAL: Omotola Field Entertainment and Lifestyle School, which will encompass pretty much everything that we discuss in the seminars. Entertainment is about lifestyle, but unfortunately, we don’t really understand how to manage our lifestyle. You cannot separate lifestyle from business. So this will be a very unique school.
In terms of the third principle – Trade – we have to practice what we preach. We have designed the festival in such a way that it is not just seminars, dialogues and talk, but there is actual business going on. The fair is therefore where businesses can see what we do as entertainers.
This year, the event is slated for November, under the theme, “Women and Entertainment”? Why is it important to centre it on women? And how do you think empowering and engaging more women creative can contribute to developing Africa’s economy?
I have worked on so many initiatives that advocate for women’s rights. This therefore, is a very familiar terrain to me. And one issue that I get asked to comment on is how our industry advocates for women’s rights. My view is that women are actually doing very well in my industry. Nollywood has probably been one of the few industries in the world where women’s rights are not as bad as in other industries. In my opinion, women in Nollywood are actually doing better than men. Women actually run Nollywood. But how can we strengthen that? This year we are saying, no woman should be left behind. Despite the fact that women are doing well in Nollywood, there are some women who are being left behind.
Therefore, focusing on women this year is my own way of saying, let’s start with where we are strong at, and make impact. After launching TEFFEST last year, it was a no brainer for me that this year should be more about women.
At the Creative Africa Exchange (CAX) in Kigali early this year, you discussed the importance of developing and protecting autonomous local creative infrastructures, to avoid foreign entities “recolonising” us. Why do you hold this view?
The problem is we are not very structured. Unfortunately because we have always lagged behind we risk having other people come in here, dangle money around and take everything that we have, because we are not developing our own [industry] or people don’t understand how it works. For example, I don’t even know if the country understands that it is the job of the government to sponsor a movie for the Oscars. The governments of some countries decide on one movie and they back it up. It’s a lot of money to push that movie to the international level.
South Korea is doing it. Mexico has been doing it, that’s why Roma could win. All these other countries are sponsoring their films. South Africa and Kenya have also been sponsoring movies. Nigeria is the second largest producer of films in the world; we cannot be behind on things like this at this point. A lot of people don’t even understand how those things work. We need everyone to begin to talk about it, and have a platform where we can all discuss these things. Bring people who know about it, who are doing it already, to explain to us how it’s done. So by knowledge sharing we can forge forward and maybe for once be ahead instead of being behind.
We are at a point where we are international enough for people to take notice of us and to see all the good that we have in our culture, language, population and content, but we are not international enough to take charge of it and use it for ourselves. So these guys are going to come in, take it and pick whatever they want out of it and use it for their own benefit.
What other projects are you currently working on that we should be looking forward to?
I’ve established Red Hot Productions. We are going to start doing our own movies very soon as a production house. I personally don’t like producing movies, but I’m a good director. Right now we are also in the process of finishing our school, but we are going to have to rethink a lot of things in terms of operations given the current global health situation. There are other things that I can’t talk about now, but there are so many projects in the pipeline. Hopefully TEFFEST will still be running in November, but we are monitoring the situation, but it will take place from November 20th – 22nd in Lagos, Nigeria.
This interview was done by ADAORA ORAMA