I’ve struggled to write this. I’ve struggled to write anything for quite a long time now. I thought perhaps my writer’s block was something that could be fixed by moving apartments. And so I did. I moved apartments. I even moved countries. To fresh new walls so tall and white filled with this fresh new air that’s quick to chill the warm expanse of my chest first thing every morning. And as I slowly felt the tell-tale tickle behind my throat, I thought with glee that perhaps this was it. This was how it would start. I’d be able to write again!
It’s a Saturday night. I’m seated on a dreadfully cold floor in front of my computer (a day after I’d promised to file my piece to the editor), trying to conjure the feelings Nollywood films brought up in me as a child. Hemingway said the best way to communicate a feeling is to write the events down as they happened
So here goes
It was always cold when we were children. Perhaps us always being cold was birthed from our mothers bundling us up like stuffed penguins in sweaters and jackets and boshoris, and socks and socks and socks, from the moment they brought us home from the hospital so that even when the sun was out we would shiver. If there was ever a viscerally millennial memory, it would be this one. That and the terrifying catalogue of Nollywood films stacked in the living room tv cabinet.
Our parents would pop the tapes into the VCR player (once considered marvels of technology, now relics of a distant past) on sleepy Saturday nights such as this during sleepovers with cousins and friends. We’d be draped over sofas, floors, and stools, covered under mountains of blankets and shukas as the old tv glimmered with junky early 2000s film effects.
The film’s main attraction was always the villain, brought forth in the form of a lascivious witch who could turn people into unseemly creatures or an adorable baby rescued from the roadside who was actually a rat (but like an ingenious evil rat from hell). In most of the films, however, the villain was a deceptively doting mother-in-law who secretly dabbled in witchcraft and didn’t particularly like the short skirt worn on the first meeting or just the general look of her son’s new wife. And so she and her cohorts of bloodthirsty nightmares would unleash utter terror on the protagonist for hours (sometimes depicted in years in the film) until finally you think, “They’ve had enough, surely. Mercy!” Then at the tail end of the feeling, when you are feeling absolutely drained with the exhaustion of fear, the villain would finally be defeated.
The Power of the Bible
The tool of choice by the victor was the Bible, wielded forth like a leather-bound sword. Somewhat successfully, these movies managed to juxtapose traditional superstitions of witches and shape-shifters with biblical lore to create the stuff of nightmares. By the end of the two-tape four-hour film, our heads would be swimming with baubles of manic exhilaration and the dizziness of fear. The screen would then fade to black, those five little words flashing before us in white, “To God Be The Glory. “
Being way past late, we would slink off to bed where we would whisper rehearsed prayers under the covers. As young as we were, we chose to believe that the evil lady from tv would not come for a huddled mass of children murmuring the lord’s prayer in their sleep so we’d doze off soundly in the safety of numbers.
I do think that Nollywood movies from the early 2000s meant so much to us because the people looked like us, believed in much of the same things we did, and in a sea of Western films full of foreign stories, the Nollywood horror genre was so unlike anything else that was out there at the time that it succeeded in cementing itself into the hall of African classics across the continent. We were all watching them. And not all alone in the guise of darkness with the curtains drawn.
A family affair
Nollywood films of the Aughts weren’t considered horror films at the time either, and I doubt our parents would consider them as such today. They were Christian stories, they’d say, with a message at the end.
Well, so was The Exorcist, Mum.
However, what these films did, as experimental as they were in the beginning, was eventually create what we would now know as Nollywood cult classics, marvelous in their ridiculousness and awe-inspiring in their finesse of religious and traditional superstitions. They put the fear of god in us, quite literally, one jump scare after another. And they established today’s legends of the African stage.