Why ‘Omo Ghetto’ defied the COVID-19 pandemic

A scene in Funke Akindele's Omo Ghetto
A scene in Funke Akindele’s Omo Ghetto

By Anita Eboigbe

There are a lot of things that make a good film and these factors will constantly be debated based on creative biases and artistic differences. However, when it comes to money, it is simply that and there is little room for arguments.

Money is money and Nollywood has been starving of it lately, no thanks to the pandemic. Cinemas were closed for the longest time and resumed to the shuffling and stifling of showtimes by desperate filmmakers who needed to get the cash before 2020 ended.

In the race to hit some box office grosses, there have been epic fails, near misses and fair shots but one film has been on everyone’s mouth. Not only did the film find a way to swim, but it also gave hope to others that perhaps the cinemas still have some worth left anyway.

Opening with 124 million naira, a sum that most high-profile films were lucky to even finish their cinema run with pre-pandemic, ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’ has inspired several hot takes. Did it just save the cinemas from the pandemic? What did it do that others didn’t? Is this the new bandwagon to jump on?

Funke Akindele: Omo Ghetto: The Saga

In the midst of all the excitement, there are questions. Funke Akindele-Bello is no stranger to the industry. From her days as a young actress and steady transformation into a studio boss, she has held on to her niche and improved it.

While others continued to experiment with several genres and subgenres, Akindele-Bello began curating and cementing her film community with the series ‘Jenifa’, the titular character which she plays and other works that she has tailored along similar direction.

She does not do pretty and her audience is made up of people who are fully aware of the fact. This is exactly the first thing that hits you about ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’. It is not a pretty film.

It is not constantly checking itself in the camera or mirror wondering if its edges are laid or lipstick is in place. It does not leave you guessing who the filmmaker is or her intentions. Everything is laid bare for you to see and do with what you want.

This does not make the film ugly. Far from it. ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’ might not be the ‘international reputation market fit’ that most Nigerian filmmakers are consumed with making but it recognises its audiences and duly respects it. To be honest, the film had more detailed efforts than most pseudo-elitist films from the industry.

Apart from the stark reality the film slaps you with, ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’ is the first Nollywood film that has really shown that they want people to return to the cinemas. A good business person understands the times and develops products when a market needs it.

Akindele-Bello did not take any chances from the moment she announced that a sequel to the fan-favourite film was coming. There was an audience for this and she knew she had to honour them, a hard feat for some as one can see what a studio recently did with a remade classic.

‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’ had details, stars that actually played characters in their cameos, distinct roles and actors who transformed in their roles. Also, the film does not shy away from its subject and background.

These artistic factors were coupled with the business decisions taken by the filmmaker. The first being a convergence of markets, which was done by introducing actors across several industry subsets. This formula is popular in Nollywood but it was tastefully done here because one could see clear reasons why particular actors were picked for their roles. They did not just stand there like artefacts to be seen, photographed and moved around, they acted.

Secondly, market forces played a factor. The film opened on Christmas day right after people were tired of the other films and showtimes were created to fully accommodate it, kicking others to the curb for at least a week.

Again, this is not a new formula and it is clear that it is not one that works alone. A bad film on Christmas day might fool people the first day or the second but that is it. ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’, however, is very easy to recommend and has re-watch value.

It is clear that people who have seen it will take more people the next day just to see the film and not really because a movie or Instagram star will be waiting at the cinema to greet them. Nothing really beats referrals and the film has perfectly recruited its audience as marketers.

Is it a perfect film? No. Is it a real money-spinner? Yes. This is no different from how Marvel/Disney curates elements in films to provide euphoria to an audience it has groomed through several channels and needs to keep.

A filmmaker is expected to make a film that is very audience-specific or a fan favourite. With Akindele-Bello, one sees clear intention.
Nigeria might never submit ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’ for an Oscar and she could be perfectly fine with it. For her, real loss would be empty cinema halls from unsold tickets and poor return on investment.

There are different kinds of films and filmmakers have different intentions. It is best to define these things with investors and stick to your goals. There will always be audience favourites, critics’ favourites, festival favourites and so on.

To win favour across the board, extra work has to be put in. Usually, filmmakers make films they love with little or no consideration about how the audience will take to it and expect magic. Seeing as the filmmaker is human and flawed, chances are that he/she has poor taste. Camera angles cannot hide bad taste – everything shows.

There are far too many films with poor focus. A filmmaker is expected to make a film that is very audience-specific or a fan favourite. With Akindele-Bello, one sees clear intention.

Nigeria might never submit ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’ for an Oscar and she could be perfectly fine with it. For her, real loss would be empty cinema halls from unsold tickets and poor return on investment.

To achieve success, filmmakers need to define their own meaning of success and make a great film regardless that fits into their spectrum of success.

There is a craze for international recognition plus box office records plus critics’ approval and it is coming from people who do strenuous lazy work. One film might make it to the foreign market to be watched by people who do not realise that your actor speaks terrible pidgin or misrepresents characters with their forced accents and other unnecessary hang-on.

Another film might be a local champion that reels in all the cash possible but is too localised and unstructured that it does not resonate with another demographic and cannot cross the border. In the end, audiences see intention and flow with it but if you are unsure what the audience really wants, check here.

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