MUBI Podcast

“Living in Bondage” Fast-Forwards the Nigerian Film Industry

June 24, 2021 MUBI Season 1 Episode 4
MUBI Podcast
“Living in Bondage” Fast-Forwards the Nigerian Film Industry
Show Notes Transcript

One of the world’s most prolific film industries was founded on the success of a direct-to-video film distributed on VHS cassettes.  Host Rico Gagliano learns the history of Living in Bondage — the indie project that launched Nigeria’s “Nollywood.”  Featuring interviews with the movie’s writer/producer Okey Ogunjiofor and director Chris Obi-Rapu.

Our first season, titled “Lost in Translation,” spotlights movies that were massive cultural phenomena in their home countries, but nowhere else. With episodes spanning nearly every continent, tune in weekly to discover unique film stories from around the globe.

Each episode, we publish a complementary piece in a new series called “MUBI Podcast Expanded.” This week, film critic and culture writer Derin Ajao expands on her commentary featured in the episode, examining this monumental film’s influence in the early days of Nollywood and its recent 2019 sequel Living in Bondage: Breaking Free. Read the article here.

MUBI is a global streaming service, production company and film distributor. A place to discover and watch beautiful, interesting, incredible films. A new hand-picked film arrives on MUBI, every single day. From iconic directors, to emerging auteurs. All carefully chosen by MUBI’s curators.

[Rico Gagliano] Heads up. This episode contains spoilers. [Men converse in Igbo] [Rico] Let me take you on a trip, back to 1992 and the town of Nsukka in southern Nigeria, where an American professor named Jonathan Haynes was teaching film and literature on a Fulbright grant. [Jonathan Haynes] I was interested in African cinema and was fairly newly arrived in the country and learning what I could about Nigerian cinema, which had pretty much completely collapsed. [Rico] Yeah, what he'd quickly learned about Nigerian cinema was that, in '92, it seemed like there wasn't any being made, which is why, one day that year, something caught his eye at a local music stall. [Jonathan Haynes] So, this was in the market in Nsukka, which is a university town. Then, it was like a big village. So, an open air market, just a stall made out of very rough wood selling music cassettes, mostly, but also some pirated films. [Rico] That wasn't the weird part - In Nigeria, movie piracy was an industry unto itself - but he remembers flipping through the hand-labelled, pirated VHS tapes and... [Jonathan Haynes] ..Finding this strange object. [Laidback guitar music] [Jonathan Haynes] A video cassette in a full-color jacket, with a cellophane wrapper of a Nigerian film. [Rico] It was a new, direct-to-video movie called Living in Bondage. The jacket said the movie was in Igbo, one of Nigeria's several languages and one in which, to Jonathan's knowledge, almost no films had ever been made. It had a professional looking color cover. The shop's pirated tapes didn't have covers at all. This little cassette was something totally new. [Jonathan Haynes] Then I was very interested in what that new thing was, and it turned into something very, very big. [Music continues] [Rico] I am Rico Gagliano and, from the curated streaming service MUBI, welcome back to the MUBI Podcast. MUBI's the best place to see beautiful, hand-picked cinema from around the globe. On this show, we tell you the stories behind those films and any other movies with stories worth telling. This first season we're calling Lost In Translation. Every week, we learn about a different international culture through the lens of a movie they love, specifically, a film that was a huge cultural phenomenon in just that one country. And there's maybe no more spectacular example than Living in Bondage. It couldn't have possibly had more humble beginnings, which you're gonna learn about later. It was shot for less than a lot of people pay for a used car but it was such a hit it spawned the modern Nigerian film industry, which today is one of the most prolific on the planet. [Obi Rapu] What happened was that Living in Bondage became that breaking point. Every town now, there are millions of people who are making their livelihood from the industry. And that is what Living in Bondage brought. [Rico] That is Chris Obi Rapu. He directed the movie and I spoke to him, the movies co-writer/producer, and African film scholars and critics to learn how this little project ended up creating what is now generically known as Nollywood. So, listen up, because we're about to translate Living in Bondage. [Music continues] [Music concludes, resonates] [Rico] The story of this movie begins in the mid 1970s with a small town kid from eastern Nigeria named Okechukwu Ogunjiofor. Though, these days, he likes to go by his nickname. [Okey Ogunjiofor] My name is Okey Ogunjiofor and I really didn't get to watch a lot of films while we were growing up. I'm from a very humble family. Down there in the east, cinema culture wasn't very encouraging to the young folks. [Rico] That all changed in 1975. Okey was 10 and his family took a trip two hours north, [Okey Ogunjiofor] My cousin that I went to visit decided to take me to the cinema, just to give me a little bit of an entertainment. The film that was showing that day was - and I remember very clearly - was a Charlie Chaplin film. [Projector clicks, whirs] [Rico] He doesn't remember which Charlie Chaplin film exactly, but from the way he describes it, probably one of Chaplin's early flickering silents. [Okey Ogunjiofor] It didn't really have a lot of dialogue, but to see moving pictures made so much impact because, before that time, I've never really seen motion pictures. Even television was not an everyday thing. And subsequently, as I was growing up, it became part of me to go to cinema to see how these things were done. [Rico] And the '70s in Nigeria were feeling to him like a pretty good time to see how moving pictures were done. [Clamour, frenzied music] Director Ola Balogun was leading a small charge of home-grown Nigerian film-making and he was getting some international attention. His movie Black Goddess was an epic-looking co-production with Brazil. [Man speaks Portuguese] There were also lots of movie theaters, showing Hollywood, Bollywood and Chinese films. [Clamouring] [Rico] Okey says Bruce Lee was the talk of his village. [Blows land, man exclaims] [Rico] And, maybe most importantly, a Nigerian oil boom meant people had cash to spend on seeing films, and the government had cash to fund the arts, especially the giant, state-run TV network NTA which trained and employed tons of visual artists and technicians. Add it all up and Okey had a real sense of optimism about the future of the film and TV industry. [Okey Ogunjiofor] The Nigerian cinema culture was very, very well organized and it was booming. So, because of that, we all went to school. [Rico] Specifically, Okey and many of his friends went to film school, at the NTA's own Television College. And by the time they graduated, in 1987... [Projector stops, winds down] ..there was no work for any of them. How did that happen? How did Nigeria's industry go from optimism to near bust in just over a decade? Lots of ways, but let's start with a series of military dictatorships, culminating in one led by this deceptively soft spoken guy. [Ibrahim Babangida] I'm pleased to take this opportunity to declare once again that this administration attaches the greatest importance to constructive and helpful criticisms, as well as the freedom of the press. [Jonathan Haynes] The Babangida military dictatorship, from 1985, was the most predatory that the country had ever seen. [Rico] Professor Jonathan Haynes, again.

In 2016, he wrote the book, Nollywood:

The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres. [Jonathan Haynes] The word kleptocracy was invented to describe regimes like this, which were basically just organized to pillage the country. That's what they were about. [Rico] The regime was already predisposed to keep all that oil money for itself. [Ibrahim Babangida] And I trust that we will be able to count on the goodwill of your countries and organizations on this issue. [Rico] And then, the next year, came along something Haynes feels made things way worse. [Jonathan Haynes] The Babangida regime was kind of forced, by the World Bank and the IMF, into the structural adjustment programs, which were being forced on to countries across Africa and other places. The idea was state delivery of services. Anything from universities to healthcare were inefficient and bad, and everything should be turned over to the free market. And it's hard to exaggerate what a disaster they were. [Laidback instrumental music] [Rico] Especially for people like Okey Ogunjiofor. [Derin Ajao] There was inflation, there was a rise in the cost of imports and all of this affected many things, not just in terms of the economy, but also people's social lives and, of course, people who were working in the entertainment industry. [Music continues] [Rico] That's Derin Ajao. She is a culture writer and reporter in Lagos and she says, between the regime and fallout from the structural adjustment program, the entertainment sector was decimated. TV funding shrank, there was a hiring freeze... [Derin Ajao] And for those who were making films in celluloid, it became really, really expensive to import film stock, meaning fewer films were being made. And, actually, by 1992, there were no films being made in celluloid and by then most of the cinemas had also closed. [Rico] Not just because there were so few movies to screen but because when the economy tanked, the crime rate soared. [Derin Ajao] There was a rise in armed robbery cases. There were also rumors of kidnappings, for example, and people being murdered or killed. It was also a time under military rule. You never knew who could have been picked up for some crime against the government, for example, so less and less people went out, except it was absolutely necessary. So, many people stopped going to the cinemas to see the few films that were still showing. [Rico] So, the economy nosedives, everybody loses their jobs, some people turn to crime. On top of that, you've got a military that might just pick you up off the street and it just becomes safer for people and easier to stay in. [Derin Ajao] Yeah, it was safer and cheaper. [Rico] And Okey Ogunjiofor and his fellow Film School students graduated into that world. [Music concludes, resonates] [Okey Ogunjiofor] So, we were all not employed and we didn't have any other thing to do since all we learned in school was film-making. We were all wallowing in self pity. Why did we go to school at all in the first place? We were regretting that we went to school, but, for some of us, we learnt how to make things properly and I thought to myself that there must be a way that I can turn around that practice into something new. [Rico] And around that time is when Okey says he dreamt up the basic idea for a movie that he could shoot for cheap - not on expensive celluloid but on VHS. A movie that would be watched not in a theater but on cassette, in the safety of people's living rooms. And with a story that would speak to Nigerians who felt like they were huddled at home getting less and less, while dark forces seemed to be taking more and more. [Upbeat synthesizer music] [Derin Ajao] Okay, so, Living in Bondage is a two-part film. The central character is Andy Okeke, who is the husband to Merit, a very, very devoted, almost saintly wife. He sees himself as someone who is not at the level that he should be. And he believes something should be done about that. [Rico] Andy's always in and out of jobs. When the story begins, he's trying and failing to be a trader. And he's constantly almost comically bemoaning the fact that he doesn't have a fancy car, like some of his friends. Specifically, a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. [Man speaks Igbo] [Rico] Merit, on the other hand, tells Andy he should be happy with what he's got. [Woman speaks Igbo] [Rico] Like, for instance, her undying love, [Derin Ajao] But he can't get his eyes off objects of immense wealth. So, he runs into an old friend, Paul, who he sees is living the life. [Lively music, man speaks Igbo] [Derin Ajao] And he attends a party with Paul. It's the birthday party for Ichie Million, who is also actually the boss of his wife. [Rico] Now, Andy's heard rumors about Ichie Million, namely that he's part of a cult. Another rich guy at the party, Chief Omego, some say he killed his own mother and used her blood in a ritual to bring him wealth. Still, these guys are enviably wealthy, and it's a pretty swinging party, so... [Derin Ajao] It's at the party that Andy decides, "Oh, yeah, I want to be like these guys. I want to have the business they have, "I want to hang with the woman that they hang out with, "I want to drink the wine that they drink." So, it's actually there that Andy's convinced to join the occult. [Ominous synth music] [Derin Ajao] And then he's taken to his initiation ceremony, where he is told that for him to become a full-fledged member, he has to sacrifice the blood of the person he loves the most. And the person he loves the most happens to be Merit. [Rico] Andy tries to back out of the cult, tells Paul, he never knew this was going to be the deal. To which Paul says... [Man speaks Igbo] [Rico] "Shut up. I told you. Didn't you want to be rich at all costs?" [Derin Ajao] So, Andy sacrifices his wife, Merit, in his bid to become rich. And, when he has all that wealth, she of course comes back to haunt him... [Merit] Andy... [Derin Ajao] ..And to make his life a living hell. [Woman speaks Igbo] [Rico] So, Living in Bondage's story is a wild mix of genres, part soap opera, part morality play, part horror movie. But Jonathan Haynes says, amazingly, that story was actually kind of based on real events. [Jonathan Haynes] This theme of so-called money rituals was very much in the news. I mean, you can not believe that this kind of magic works, but it's very hard to disbelieve that people weren't trying it. The newspapers, you know, all the time, had stories about the police investigating cases of bodies turning up missing parts and stuff like that. [Rico] So, this isn't just kind of a horror movie trope, this was, in a way, ripped from the headlines? [Jonathan Haynes] Yes, absolutely. And people lived in real fear of this. [Derin Ajao] There were always reports that you would find a body, maybe by the road, they could have plucked out the eyes. Of course, it could have been vultures that did that. So, there were always those stories. They were really, really rampant. And, just like you would see in the film itself, there were always people who, in, like, neighborhoods, you're wondering, "Oh, this person just became rich overnight. "What did he do and he doesn't have any obvious source of income." [Rico] And Haynes chalks that up less to magic rituals, and more to Nigeria's equally enigmatic oil economy. [Light instrumental music] [Jonathan Haynes] Wealth had always been closely associated with work, because, basically, these had been agricultural societies, where how much wealth you had depended, in a very direct way, about how hard you worked, out in the hot sun. But suddenly, there was all unimaginable quantities of money that came from oil, not from doing anything, just from the licenses. And that whole system was completely corrupt and opaque. Nobody could understand how this all worked. It was just these invisible groups of people doing each other these favors. So, the idea of the money ritual, where you had a secret cult that became rich as individuals, but also as a group, this kind of rhymed with an actual structure of the economy, [Rico] Living in Bondage's story, in other words, tapped into a zeitgeist. [Derin Ajao] Rarely had any film before then really talked about ritual killing for money-making. The fact that Living in Bondage presented this, where the central character was kind of like an everyman character that you could all relate to, it was bound to be a hit. [Music fades, traffic nearby] Of course, that would come later. In 1987, Okey Ogunjiofor says he was still wandering around, unemployed, with this movie idea, and its projected budget in his head. [Okey Ogunjiofor] So, within that period, I said to myself, "Let me make a film. "It will cost me..." from my own calculation, all I needed was 150,000 naira. "If I can get 150,000, I will make films." [Rico] That was around $10,000 US. To scare it up, he started hawking women's cosmetics by a roadside in Lagos. [Okey Ogunjiofor] It was something I thought I was gonna do for a few months, and then make 150,000 and then make a movie, and then die happily after. But then it didn't work out that way. I find myself, for four years, on the streets, under the harsh weather. [Vehicles pass] [Rico] But in his spare time, he started hanging out at the Nigerian National Theatre, talking movies with other underemployed artists, and, one day, he offered some direction to a group of actors rehearsing a play. [Okey Ogunjiofor] So, they said, "Why are you hawking if you are this learned?" And I said to them, "I am hawking because I want to make money "so I can tell a story on a film." So, one of the ladies on that particular set took me aside and said to me, "I can connect you to somebody who will give you money to make a film." [Rico] His name was Kenneth Nnebue. [Upbeat instrumental music] [Jonathan Haynes] Kenneth Nnebue was, I think, the most powerful player in the market for pirated American and Indian and Chinese films. [Rico] Jonathan Haynes spoke Nnebue for his book. The guy sounds like a... serious businessman. [Laidback instrumental music] [Jonathan Haynes] Taciturn, you know, hard bitten, started selling things in the Onitsha Market, which, according to some people, is the largest market in Africa. It's a huge, huge, huge emporium. He came up through these markets. The people who succeed there are very tough and they're very smart. And he saw the potential for making Nigerian films on video and releasing them as video cassettes. [Rico] That's right, Kenneth Nnebue had the same vision as Okey. In fact, Nnebue had actually already financed some direct-to-video movies, in the Yoruba language. Actually, they were more like film plays, some shot in a couple of hours. They'd made good money. Okey's pal at the National Theatre wrote him a letter of introduction to Nnebue. He wasted zero time. [Music continues] [Okey Ogunjiofor] So, she gave me the note and I ran to Kenneth's office that afternoon, from my workplace. I was still wearing my knicker, my boots for hawking. So, I went to him looking haggard. So when I went in and he looked at me, from head to toe, he couldn't reconcile the person who gave me the note from the person standing before him. [Rico chuckles] [Rico] It's like, "Who is this guy?" [Okey Ogunjiofor] And then, so, he sighed and said, "Are you the person?" I said, "Yes." He just said, "If you are the person, "all I want to see is your certificates. Go and get me your certificate." He wanted to dismiss me with that, thinking I didn't go to school. [Rico] He was saying that he wanted to see your school certificate, that you had some proof that you were actually a film-maker? [Okey Ogunjiofor] Yes, yes, yes. So... But, you know, that is where he got it all wrong. Within the next one hour, I was back with all my certificates. His countenance changed. He looked at me and said, "Are you this person?" I said, "Yes. He said, "Okay. So, what do you want?" I said, "I need a VHS camera." [Music continues] He said, "What type of VHS camera? I said, "Super VHS camera." And that's how my meeting with him sparked what you can consider Nollywood. [Rico] The rest of that story and its bitter end, coming up in just a minute. Stay with us. [Music concludes, resonates] [Rico] MUBI is a curated streaming service, production company and film distributor, a place to discover, discuss and celebrate beautiful cinema. Every day, MUBI premieres a new film, each one thoughtfully hand-picked by our team of curators. From brand-new work by emerging film-makers to masterpieces by cinema's greatest icons, there is always some thing new to uncover on this platform. And throughout this first season of the podcast, our online film magazine Notebook is publishing a complementary piece alongside each episode, in a series called MUBI Podcast Expanded. This week, we have an article by film critic and culture writer Derin Ajao, building on her commentary, featured in this episode, about Living in Bondage and the Nigerian film industry. So, finish this episode, then check out Derin Ajao's article on the Notebook at MUBI.com/notebook. And, of course, to stream the best of cinema, simply head over to MUBI.com to start watching. [Laidback instrumental music] All right, so it was the early '90s. Living in Bondage was about to be shot, thanks to Kenneth Nnebue and Okey Ogunjiofor, two guys who saw the potential in direct-to-VHS movie-making. Their next order of business... [Music stops] ..was to take on a third true believer. [Obi Rapu] My name is Chris Obi Rapu. I see myself as a film-maker and I believe, as a good director, you must be a good storyteller, which I am. [Rico] That confidence is justified. Chris started in the Nigerian entertainment biz as a child TV actor in the '60s, was an assistant to respected to director Ola Balogun on his film The Musik Man in the '70s and when he came aboard for Living in Bondage, he was a pro TV director, under contract with the state-run broadcaster NTA. And he says he didn't just agree to direct Living in Bondage for the paycheck. Instead, at a time when making movies seemed out of reach to most Nigerians... [Obi Rapu] It was a conscious effort to demystify film-making, that it's not, can not only be in the purview of people with big-time money and big-time equipment, that you can still make a movie with the new machines that came out. That was the VHS that came out at that time. [Rico] You kind of wanted to prove it. You wanted to prove that this could be done. [Obi Rapu] Yes. [Rico] And he pulled it off. Though he admits it wasn't easy without the professional crew he was used to. Some of the cast were well-known soap opera actors, but otherwise... [Obi Rapu] It was like I was running a tutorial. The other actors were taught on the set as we were going on, the same thing with continuity. They cameraman had not done any major work. That was his first major work. The lighting person had never seen a movie done before. [Rico] The seams definitely show. The lighting in Living in Bondage is soap opera bright, the sound... [Muffled dialogue in Igbo] ..variable and the sets...basic. The scenes in Andy Okeke's house were shot in a corner of Nnebue's office. [Man speaks Igbo] [Rico] And the cult's creepy sacrificial temple? That's a whole story. [Ominous synthesizer music] Chris says, for those scenes, Nnebue trucked the crew out for a location shoot at was supposed to be some kind of cool-looking space used by a Yoruba traveling theater troupe. [Obi Rapu] So, when we got there, it was a little shrine by the corner of a house. Then I said, "If this is what we came all the way from Lagos "to come and shoot, then you could have told me, "I could have set it up in your backyard, in Lagos." [Rico] Chris eventually did do a version of that, erecting the cult set outdoors. [Obi Rapu] The cult scene, some people believe that it was done inside. It was not done inside the house. I did it outside the house. I set it up outside the house, and we set it up and shot through the night. [Rico] That actually led to another problem, though. Remember, this was a time when rumors of real life money rituals were swirling. No-one had ever seen one, but here was what looked like one actually happening, right outside a house. [Men speak in Igbo] [Rico] Chris says Nnebue feared repercussions. [Obi Rapu] The guy was scared. The executive producer was scared. He was scared. He said, "I don't know what you're doing. "Don't put me in trouble." I said, "Look," I said, "Relax, man. Relax!" [Okey Ogunjiofor] Very true, because nobody had seen this before. And you can't tell them you are actually shooting a movie. Nobody will believe you. So, people got afraid. [Rico] Okey Ogunjiofor actually acted in the ritual scenes himself. He played Paul, the guy who lures Andy into the cult. [Okey Ogunjiofor] All through the time we were shooting the movie, people were afraid. At a point, some of us who were in the movie, we were afraid because we knew what we were exposing would bring a lot of attack upon us. [Rico] I mean, basically, you were afraid that people might attack you, because they thought that you were doing a real money ritual. They thought that people would... [Okey Ogunjiofor] Of course. Of course. But, you know, they say, "He who is down needs fear no fall." I was already down, so, even if I needed to die to make a statement in the career I've chosen, I will do that. [Rico] Turns out...that wasn't necessary. [Music continues] There was no premiere for Living in Bondage, no previews. Nnebue just leveraged his pirate distribution network to flood Nigeria with VHS cassettes of the movie. Starting with regions where people spoke the language the film was shot in, Igbo. [Music continues] [Jonathan Haynes] One of the things that was unusual about it was it was in the Igbo language. And in fact, when I first saw it, it was in Igbo only, with no subtitles, and I don't understand Igbo, which was a problem. A subtitled version would come out the next year, but it was really the first movie in Igbo. There had been a celluloid feature film, but that never got much traction. So, that was part of the sensation of Living in Bondage was this cultural pride that the Igbos now had their own thing. [Rico] And the other sensation was the video's splashy full-color cover. Living in Bondage wasn't Nigeria's first direct-to-VHS movie, but it was the first that was packaged like a pirated Hollywood movie. Nnebue was symbolically announcing a new kind of home-grown storytelling had arrived, equal to Hollywood. And people ate it up. [Jonathan Haynes] It was a huge deal. In my book, I relay a story told by a well known Nigerian actor who describes walking through Port Harcourt. He could hear, just as he walked down the street, the soundtrack of the movie coming at him from all directions. Like, everybody was watching this film. [Rico] A young Derin Ajao was one of them. [Derin Ajao] We had borrowed the VHS from some of our family friends, but, like, as soon as it was over, I knew I would be relaying it to my classmates the next day, because it was a thing we used to do then. You would watch a film, come to school the next day, tell someone about it. It's, like, "Oh, have you seen this film? You should see this film. And there were those who had seen it, who didn't even remember the title, not knowing that that was what they had seen. [Rico] And Chris Obi Rapu? He was under a strict contract at NTA, So, he had to use a pseudonym in the movie's credits, which made it weird when all anyone wanted to talk about at NTA meetings... was Living in Bondage. [Obi Rapu] You know, it was funny, because somebody came out in the meeting and said, "Come and see what these boys are doing. "They're going to send us out of business." I was laughing. They didn't know I was the guy who shot it. [Rico] So, wait a minute, am I understanding this correctly? So, like, people, you're working at the TV station, people are saying, "Oh, my God, "this video movie is doing incredible. They're going to eat our lunch." And... [Obi Rapu] Yes. [Rico] ..and you're, like, you couldn't tell them that that was you that had made the film? [Obi Rapu] No, no. If I did that, they would fire me. [Obi Rapu laughs] [Music stops] [Rico] Obi Rapu who may not have had his name on the movie, but he had definitely made the point he had taken the job to make. Living in Bondage proved a no-budget, VHS film could find a huge audience. And soon, sure enough... everyone started making them. [Jonathan Haynes] Suddenly, there was this new organ of cultural expression. It was an industry, it was exciting. Suddenly, lots and lots of people are trying to get into this business. And it grew and grew and grew, you know, in the most staggering and impressive fashion. [Rico] How fast did an industry spring up around this movie, basically? [Jonathan Haynes] it was really fast. You know, within seven or eight years, Nigeria was producing more than 2,000 films a year, [Rico] Which, put that in context for us. Like, how many does...? [Jonathan Haynes] 2,000 films is equivalent to the total number of celluloid films the African continent had produced to date. [Rico] More movies in a few years than the entire continent had put out ever? [Jonathan Haynes] Yes, yes. And, you know, these days, when anybody with a cellphone can make some kind of movie, it's kind of hard to recall how different things were when Living in Bondage came out. For Black people, anywhere, to be able to express themselves on this scale was really a new thing. It was truly revolutionary. [Rico] But meanwhile, the partnership that launched that revolution... hadn't lasted. [Laidback instrumental music] No-one knows exactly how many copies of the original Living in Bondage eventually ended up in the world. Ironically, Nnebue, who'd been running a pirate video operation, saw his own film get pirated all over the place. But easily tens of thousands of units were sold. And the proceeds? Okey and Chris say they barely got a dime, [Okey Ogunjiofor] I got 1,500 naira, my transport allowance during the production and, after the production, because it was a hectic job for 21 days of non-stop, I was working without sleeping I broke down. I'm a human being. The hospital treated me and the bill was another 2,000. I sent a message to Kenneth to say, "Please, give me some money so I can get out of hospital." That 2,000 plus transport allowance is what I have for Living in Bondage till today that I'm speaking with you. [Jonathan Haynes] Nnebue said he made essentially nothing because it was pirated immediately. A lot of people don't believe that, because he seemed to have a lot more money and he moved into fancier offices and he had a lot of money to advertise the second part, which was made a year later. [Rico] Yeah, there was a Living in Bondage Part 2 in 1993. Okey and Chris weren't involved. On the video copy I saw, that includes both parts, Okey only gets a producer credit, even though he says he outlined the whole story with Nnebue and that it's based on his own experiences. Nnebue claims he was the sole screenwriter. And the truth? [Jonathan Haynes] It was a real collaboration, but it blew up with a lot of bad feelings, and then the film, nobody really knew what this was going to turn into. And, you know, in retrospect, of course, everybody wants to claim a major hand in creating it. But, in this case, I think all three men. Chris Obi Rapu also brought important elements to it. [Rico] It's all something Chris tries to be sanguine about. [Obi Rapu] What I directed has made a lot of people rich and I did not gain out of it. But my happiness is that it has given jobs to 1,000s of people, all over Africa, because something they did not know that was possible, have become a possibility now. [Music continues] [Music concludes, resonates] [Rico] For many years, a lot of those people made movies that were clearly in Living in Bondage's image. [Derin Ajao] So, following the success of Living in Bondage, there were a lot of other films that tried to copy its themes and its specific genre, which early Nollywood scholars termed, like, the occult melodrama or the ritual dramas. So, it spawned a lot of films that dealt with rituals, that dealt with get rich quick schemes that had to do with people who were drawn to the occult in order to make money. [Rico] And even today, with Nigerian cinema lightyears more technically sophisticated than back in '92, the original story has staying power. [Man exclaims; Reverberation] [Man] I can see you love your cars. [Man 2] Good afternoon, sir. Um... I've always loved cars, since I was a child, sir. [Man] You wanna drive? [Rico] This is a scene from Living in Bondage: Breaking Free, a slick and actually pretty gripping 2019 sequel to the original. Set in the present day, the hero of the story is Andy Okeke's son. [Engine revs] [Man] Let me show you how to drop the top, yeah? What I really like about this, there's something about it so exotic. [Derin Ajao] That one was made in 2019. And you're looking at 26 years after Living in Bondage and to still find that elements of it continue to resonate in Nigerian society today, it shows that they got something right with the films. [Rico] What were those? What are the elements that still resonate? [Derin Ajao] The endless lust for wealth acquisition, because in the first two installments, Andy is lusting after a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. That was the reigning car in '92, '93. His son is lusting after a G Wagon, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. [Man] Faster! [Rico] So, it's like the greed never ebbs and it's just the object of what they lust after just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. [Derin Ajao] Exactly. [Rico] Once you get the E-Class, you're gonna need the G-Class. [They laugh] [Derin Ajao] Most likely. [Man] Step on it. [Engine revs]

[Rico] Living in Bondage:

Breaking Free was a huge hit, just like its ancestor. [Hip-hop music] And, in a way, you could almost read the sequel as Nollywood reminding itself not to get obsessed with gadgetry, Derin Ajao says it's a more professional industry now with a wider variety of genres and far higher budgets. [Derin Ajao] But on the other hand, of course, you find that, yes, fine, maybe you have great equipment and you have good funding, but...there's no story. Many people will agree that the stories from earlier Nollywood actually stand up better than some of the stories that you have now. [Rico] It actually reminds me of something Jonathan Haynes told me about his time in Nsukka, buying VHS tapes in those early days of Nollywood. [Jonathan Haynes] Nigerian films were always slightly more expensive than the pirated American films or Indian films. You know, American blockbusters that had cost $200 million to make, you could actually buy more cheaply than Living in Bondage, which had a budget of $12,000. Which... [Rico] Why is that? [Jonathan Haynes] Because people were really interested in this story. Yeah, the interest of the story and the self recognition. I heard this over and over again, you know, "Nollywood tells our stories," and Nigerian audiences have been willing to overlook all kinds of technical flaws or rudimentary aesthetics, you know, all kinds of problems, because this other thing means so much to them. [Laidback instrumental music] [Rico] That's the MUBI Podcast for this week. Follow us to hear more deep dives into movies that were singular hits in a single place. Next week, the Mexican film that's barely remembered in Mexico. [Ignacio Sanchez Prado] I own, I kid you not, 2,000 original DVDs of Mexican film and I have never seen this one before. [Rico] ..That became an all-time smash in a country on the opposite side of the planet. Tune in, it's a fun one. Meanwhile, this episode was hosted, written and cut by me, Rico Gagliano. Jackson Musker is our booking producer. Our engineer was Andy Carson. Mastering by Steven Coln. Martin Austwick composed and performed all the music. The show's executive produced by me, along with Jon Barrenechea, Efe Cakarel, Daniel Kasman and Michael Tacca for MUBI. If you're digging the show, please, leave us a five-star review wherever you listen. It'll make it easier for others to find us. We would love you to e-mail us personally with your thoughts, ideas for future episodes, or just random movie trivia. Our e-mail is [email protected] And, for an ever-changing collection of carefully hand-picked films from iconic directors to emerging auteurs, subscribe to MUBI at MUBI.com Till next week, it's a big world, watch globally. [Music continues] [Music concludes]