Mildred Okwo: Girl Uninterrupted
Interviewed by Uche Nworah
Author of The Long
Mildred Okwo is a
lawyer, artist, writer, movie director and producer. You
may just get away with it if you call her the new kid on
the Nollywood block. Her debut movie
30Days took Nollywood by storm in 2006 and opened to
rave reviews and critical acclaim. Not bad for this girl
next door who grew up in the coal city – Enugu. Mildred
says there are still more cinematic tricks up her
creative sleeves, judging from her first effort, we are
wont to believe her. In the midst of traveling around
the globe premiering the movie, she settled down for a
chat with Uche Nworah to talk about her life, Nollywood
and the next project from her Native Lingua Films
On growing Up
My parents are from
Nigeria. My father is from Nsukka, Enugu State and my
mum is from Mbaise, Imo State. As far as I can
remember, I spent a lot of time debating politics,
policies and issues with my father. I grew up in the
Coal City (Enugu). My family is diverse and more liberal
than most families. I have cousins, nieces, nephews, and
in-laws who are Hausa, Yoruba, Ashanti Caribbean and
American both black and white.
Her Day job
Any form of
entertainment related matter short of the chicken ranch
variety (lol). My dream is to create a viable world
class entertainment company so I have quit every other
pretender job I had.
What’s a lawyer like you doing
in the movie industry?
You say that like
it is an aberration. I would be happier if the question
was “what is a creative person like you doing in the
legal profession?” Anyway, for me it was only a natural
progression. I studied theatre in college and everything
artistic comes naturally. The practice of Law was just
an intellectual exercise for me. I have a BA in Creative
Arts from the University of Benin (Uniben).
When did you decide to make the
switch from law to making films?
I always knew I
would do this, it is law that I did not know I would
study. Once I watched Living in Bondage 10 years
ago, I was even more convinced that I was going back to
the Arts. After watching that home video, I knew I did
not have to mess with trying to make it in Hollywood.
Too many Africans spend so many years trying to make it
in Hollywood when we have such an opportunity back home.
What influenced your decision?
The need to tell
the African Story in my own way. As you can see Africa
is getting popular again with Hollywood. In the past 2
years, so many films have been based around Africa.
Those stories are not really our stories because they
are always centered on the Americans or the British with
Africans as “waka passes” in their own continent. I
would like to change that by giving our actors lead
roles in stories that are uniquely ours. Before you
know it, there will be a Hollywood film called
“Impeachment Fever” starring Leonardo Di Caprio as
Governor of some Nigerian state.
Which Nollywood actors have
impressed you the most?
I am impressed by
folks who nobody even recognizes. For example, I
watched Kingsley Ogoro’s movie Widow recently,
and I was impressed by an actor who only appeared in one
scene. That is how I cast Ekwi Onwuemene in my film. I
saw her in a small role in Promise me for ever. Gbenga
Richards impressed me a lot in
30 Days. People did not think he could pull of the
role as Mr. President because of his physical frame. He
proved them wrong by creating an unforgettable character
that is so different from his real life persona. I cast
30 Days because I saw him in a small role in
What’s the movie 30 Days about?
30 Days is actually a lot of things, action,
romance, politics and what have you. I suppose that ten
people would describe it in ten different ways.
Basically, a group called FRACA decides to rid the
country of corrupt politicians. Instead of doing it
like EFCC, they decide to kill them off. This obviously
pits the group against agents of the government. Caught
in the middle of all this is an economic refugee from
New York Kene Alumona who travels to Nigeria for a 30
Day vacation and falls in love with a Nigerian lady
involved with the group. Joke Silva, Segun Arinze are
agents of the government.
What was the experience like
working with Genevieve Nnaji?
Good. She plays
the character that Kene Alumona falls in love with. We
had a set full of talented actors so she was in good
company. Genevieve was on blacklist at the time of the
production. We were the only producers who worked with
her during the ban and I am so proud of Ego Boyo for not
even flinching when I told her I wanted to use Genevieve
for the lead role.
The ban actually
worked in our favour because it was easier to have
Genevieve focus on one project. I don’t know if she
would have had that level of focus otherwise. As you
know, prior to the blacklist, the demand for her
services was pretty high. In Nollywood, they tend to
shoot at least 2, to 3 films in one month and in my
humble opinion no actor alive can sustain that level of
work and still be very creative.
30 Days shows that Genevieve is not a one
dimensional actor. She pulls the role off as an action
How about the other actors in
the movie, how was their performance?
Like I said, we had
a star studded cast. We had veterans like Joke Silva who
never stops acting until you say cut, Segun Arinze,
Nobert Young, Ebele Okaro, Gbenga Richards, and Kunle
Coker. That is no joke man. They represented Nollywood
very well I must say. We also have up and coming actors
like Najite Dede, Iyabo Amoke and Nkiru Alinta who did
very well. CBA though new to Nollywood, has NY stage
productions on his resume.
Are there any other actors you
like to work with in the future?
Oh yes. I would
love to work with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Richard Mofe Damijo
(RMD), Angelina Jolie, Chika Okpala (AKA Zebrudaya),
Meryl Streep, Rita Dominic, Femi Branch, Bimbo Akintola,
Olu Jacobs, and Raz Adoti. I just saw this guy David
Oyewole in Shoot the Messenger, and I was
completely blown away. Nigerians are doing big things.
What other movie projects are
you currently working on?
I have a film
project which I don’t think will start till summer 2007.
I told my business partner that my dream cast for that
film would be RMD, Angelina Jolie, Olu Jacobs, Rita
Dominic and Raz Adoti. He laughed really hard. Before
the film, we have a television project that I am hoping
will do well. I am still signing up talent for that
project. Africans are very colorful people and I cannot
wait to tell our stories on an international platform.
What’s your experience been like
so far considering that you are a new person in
You know every
industry has its own ways and I am learning to adjust to
the Nigerian way but with an American twist. I have
lived half of my life in the US so that is bound to
happen. Nollywood is a tough arena for producers.
Nigerians want their money and they want it now. There
is nothing like backend deals so as a producer you have
to have real cash to get your movie done. Marketing and
distribution side has been challenging. It is almost
like we are writing a new script. There is no reliable
distribution structure in Nigeria after 15 years. There
are many films that have sold well but nobody can
produce a legitimate paper trail. Why would any bank
invest in you when you can’t even tell them how many
units you sold in Kaduna or in Lagos? So we are working
to create a paper trail in our own distribution process.
What’s the average cost of
producing a Nollywood movie?
I really don’t know
the true answer to this question because the Nigerian
film industry tends to be so close mouthed about their
business dealings. I have heard that it ranges between
one million and 10 million naira. But then again, a film
like Jeta Amata’s Amazing Grace cost so much more
than that. So your guess is as good as mine.
You seem to have gone overboard
in terms of quality in
30 Days, are you confident that you would
recover the costs?
standards, I guess you can say we went overboard. But
not even close by international standards. On post
production alone, if you witness what Hollywood does to
get these movies out, your head will spin. Maybe one
day, we will be disciplined enough to release films of
such quality. We still shot on DV like other Nollywood
It is the audience
that will decide whether we recover our costs. Film
making is not a quickie way of making money and I am
lucky I have Toyin Dawodu and Ego Boyo who believe in
quality first. They have invested a lot in
30 Days without drama. They understand how long
it takes to make a good movie and even then they know
that internationally, we are still considered a small
Native Lingua Films
is in this business for the long run. Do you know that
people still want to buy films like Violated and
Living in Bondage made years ago? Nollywood is
still growing so there will be new fans years from now
who will want to buy CBA’s first Nollywood film or
Genevieve’s old movies. We will be there ready to
oblige them hence the
What’s your advice for those
aspiring to come into the industry?
At the very least,
you must have a passion for it. It is sad to say that
there are many “fly by night” folks in our industry who
have no passion for the art form. We like to boast of
our capabilities when in fact we have a long way to go.
So my advice is this – remember whatever you do in film
is for posterity and it will have your name on it even
after you are dead and gone. As in everything, always
strive to be the very best.
What would you want to see the
government do to encourage Nigeria’s movie industry?
Exactly what they
should do for all spheres of life in Nigeria – provide
basic infrastructure for goodness sake instead of
parading around at hip hop concerts. We have been
unable to provide basic infrastructure in 46 years. We
have a scene in the movie where the Governor is in an
SUV Mercedes but has to maneuver through bad roads.
Contrary to popular
belief, the American government does not invest money in
Hollywood. What they have done is provide infrastructure
so that you don’t have to experience 15 blackouts in one
hour while shooting a movie. You don’t have to stop
recording night scenes because you are worried about the
safety of your cast and crew. US governments over the
years have enacted laws which enable the movie industry
to thrive but that is also because the various relevant
organizations lobbied for it. No government will hand
you anything, you have to come up with creative
solutions for your problems and then sell it to the
has been quite progressive about Nollywood. He has
appointed smart folks to leadership positions in the
regulatory agencies and it is left for them to perform.
I hope that we elect a President in 2007 that
understands how much more valuable Nollywood can be to
our economy. During production,
30 Days alone hired close to 1,000 people and we put
in millions of naira in the economy.
What are your plans for the
I have so many
things going through my head right now but I have to see
30 Days through. I hope to continue making movies
and working on innovative projects. A lot of folks may
not understand what I am doing but it will be clearer 10
years from now. The future is bright for Nollywood if
we can do the right thing. When you think of it, just
2-3 years ago, most of our major stars had never stepped
foot outside Nigeria. Now they are celebrated by
Africans all over the world. Nollywood has made this
possible and it can be so much more.
Are you in touch with other
Nollywood directors and producers?
(LOL) Knowing you,
that question is deeper than it sounds. We have to be
careful about that Nollywood label because there are
some directors and producers who don’t consider
themselves Nollywood. I know a few and I am sure I will
get to know more when I finally move back in a few
weeks. For now, I am in touch with Kingsley Ogoro,
Amaka Igwe, Don Pedro Obaseki (Uniben alumni) Emem Isong
Kola Munis and Jeta Amata. I have met Peace Fibresema
who runs the respected AMMA awards, Reemy Jes, Aquilla
Njamah, Steve Gukas who directed Keeping Faith
and Ekenna Igwe. I am in touch almost on a daily basis
with my Co-producer Ego Boyo.
How are you hoping to combat
piracy in the Diaspora?
It’s sad to say,
but most Nigerian movies sold abroad are pirated. Yes,
some of the neighbourhood African stores engage in
piracy and so do some of the over 40 internet based
sellers. There are illegal internet sites streaming
films for free and earning hundreds of thousands of
dollars yearly from advertising.
One of the major
differences between us and other companies is that we
are based in US Nigeria and Europe. We intend to
actively protect our copyrights with the help of our
lawyers, distributors, retailers, customers and the
FBI. We are providing adequate marketing and a decent
profit margin to our retailers so there should be no
reason for them to risk their freedom and/or reputation
for a few dollars.
difference is that our customers can buy our movie
online. There are many customers who want to support
Nollywood but our marketers have not devised meaningful
ways to market to them. For example, it will cost them
only a couple of thousand dollars to develop a website
and offer their products online instead of letting these
folks steal from them. We have a comprehensive list of
websites and retailers in Europe and US. I must thank
our subscribers who have emailed the names and addresses
of their local retailers around the world.
What would you say is the major
difference between your film and other Nollywood flicks?
Well one always
wants to believe that ones creativity is different from
others regardless of whether it is Hollywood, Bollywood
or Nollywood. Apart from the storyline, I believe the
first thing fans will notice is the relative quiet in
terms of the audio quality compared to others. When I
was in pre-production, Joke Silva encouraged me to pay
special attention to sound and I am glad I did. The
greatest compliment someone paid us was when he said he
never felt like there was a camera, or like the actors
were acting. In other words, it felt so real to him and
that is because we spent time getting enough shot
coverage to achieve that goal.
30 Days is out now on general release. January 2007.
posted 23 January 2007
* * *
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Hopes and Prospects
By Noam Chomsky
In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky
surveys the dangers and prospects of our
early twenty-first century. Exploring
challenges such as the growing gap
between North and South, American
exceptionalism (including under
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Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli
assault on Gaza, and the recent
financial bailouts, he also sees hope
for the future and a way to move
forward—in the democratic wave in Latin
America and in the global solidarity
movements that suggest "real progress
toward freedom and justice."
Prospects is essential reading for
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human race. "This is a classic Chomsky
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is an enduring inspiration all over the
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on an epic scale. I salute him." —John
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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
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creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
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Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
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together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
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The White Masters
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The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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