Film on Boko Haram hits the screen and censors hit back

Updated 29 January 2014
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Film on Boko Haram hits the screen and censors hit back

Avicious would-be suicide bomber is heading for Nigeria’s vast metropolis of Lagos and only a down-on-her-luck prostitute can stop a horrific attack.
This ominous fiction forms part of “Boko Haram,” a new film by Ghanaian-Nigeria director Pascal Amanfo, which has been banned by censors in Ghana and shunned by cinema owners in Nigeria.
A movie inspired by the very real and brutal militant group active in Nigeria was potentially so inflammatory that it was released in the country with the title “Nation Under Siege” to avoid a backlash.
“Boko Haram,” loosely translated, means “Western education is forbidden” and the group has said it is fighting to impose a strict religeous state in northern Nigeria.
Amanfo admits his film raises uncomfortable questions about the Boko Haram conflict, which has left thousands dead in northern Nigeria since 2009 — including the 40 students massacred in their sleep at the Yobe State College of Agriculture on September 29.
“I want to provoke people to see these things,” he said.
But he was not expecting to see it banned.
For weeks after its March release, the film made brisk sales in Accra, where DVDs are sold on the street from shipping container store fronts or off makeshift wooden shelves for a couple of dollars.
But when the Ghanaian film control board found out about “Boko Haram,” it ordered all the promotional posters torn down, saying the film was released without authorization, while police swooped down on vendors at a busy bus station in the capital and confiscated the copies they were selling.
Its producer was also arrested and only freed after paying a 2,000 cedi ($920, 680 euro) fine.
“We would not allow a film with the title ‘Boko Haram’ to be released in Ghana,” said Ken Addy of the Ghana Cinematographic Exhibition Board of Control. “We realized this was a film we had to be careful about so as not to antagonize a neighboring country.”
Some scenes depict defenseless villagers being gunned down and children murdered by gunmen, evoking the style of attack Boko Haram has used during its uprising.
Some aspects of the plot are inspired by popular but unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, including claims that senior Nigerian politicians are behind the bloodshed.
In one contentious incident in the film, an extremist discusses a safe house in Lagos financed by a lawmaker sympathetic to Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan said last year he believed Boko Haram backers were in his government, but later distanced himself from that remark. No politician or official has ever been concretely tied to the insurgency.
The Ghana film board chief Addy declined to comment on its content beyond saying that “Boko Haram” would not get approval for sale in Ghana without a name change and the removal of certain gruesome scenes.
Mustapha Adams, head of Ghana’s Film Distributors Association, speculated that some were concerned the film sought to arouse sympathy for Boko Haram, or even that finance had potentially been raised among supporters of the extremist group.
“There were a lot of questions,” he told AFP.
For Adams, the paramount issue is ensuring that Ghana and Nigeria, which are both trying to develop their cultural sectors, do not crack down on free artistic expression.
He described the response to “Boko Haram” by Ghanaian officials as an overreaction, saying: “What is there to hide?“
In Nigeria, the film was released on DVD but Amanfo said many cinema owners recoiled when approached about screening the movie, which cost roughly $18,000 to make.
One theater manager in the capital Abuja said he could not imagine showing it in the city where Boko Haram blew up a United Nations building in 2011, killing at least 25 people.
Nollywood, as Nigeria’s film industry is known, is the third largest in the world, churning out hundreds of typically low-budget films each year, sometimes involving witchcraft or divine intervention with a little sexual promiscuity thrown in.
Ghana’s much smaller industry (“Ghollywood“) generally mimics the Nollywood formula, which has generated films with massive popularity across Africa, even if their reach outside the continent has been limited.
But some of the region’s directors have been trying to change both style and themes, seeking to explore contemporary issues like Islamic extremism or political corruption while moving away from traditional tales driven by magic and mysticism.
“Boko Haram” — in which a radical Islamist bomber has a life-altering conversation with a commercial sex worker — may not be a study in gritty realism.
But Amanfo said the reaction has been frustrating because he believed his film was targeted simply for trying to achieve a filmmaker’s core mission: to probe current and relevant issues.
“If we can’t tell the stories of our society then we have failed as artists.”


Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets a top award for comedy

Updated 22 October 2018
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Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets a top award for comedy

  • Louis-Dreyfus is the 21st Mark Twain recipient, joining a list that includes Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Carol Burnett

WASHINGTON: After a 35-year acting career and with two iconic television characters to her name — Elaine Benes of “Seinfeld” and foul-mouthed Vice President Selina Meyer — Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been honored with the Mark Twain Prize for lifetime achievement in comedy.
On Sunday night at Washington’s Kennedy Center, the 57-year-old actress received a stream of testimonials from celebrities including Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert and 2010 Mark Twain recipient Tina Fey, touching on the multiple aspects of her career.
“We both started comedy in Chicago,” said Fey, paying tribute by tracking the similarities between their lives.
“We both moved on to ‘Saturday Night Live.’ We both lost our virginity to Brad Hall,” referring to Louis-Dreyfus’ husband and former SNL cast mate, sitting next to the honoree. Fey praised the “secret precision” of her comedy and her willingness to make her Seinfeld character so flawed.
“Julia let Elaine be selfish and petty and sarcastic and a terrible, terrible dancer,” Fey said. “Julia’s never been afraid to be unlikable — not on screen and not in person.”
Louis-Dreyfus is the 21st Mark Twain recipient, joining a list that includes Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Carol Burnett. Bill Cosby, the winner in 2009, had his award rescinded earlier this year after he was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault.
During last year’s ceremony to honor David Letterman, Cosby’s name was never mentioned. But this year, two of the performers felt comfortable making Cosby jokes. Late night host Stephen Colbert displayed a sign proclaiming, “167 days since the last Un-Twaining.”
With his fingers crossed, he told Louis-Dreyfus, “I think you’ll be OK.”
Later Keegan-Michael Key come onstage, dressed as Mark Twain himself and proceeded to roast many of the previous award recipients. When a picture of Cosby was briefly shown, Michael-Key quickly moved things along and said, “It’s OK, he’s not watching,” then added that he doubted PBS was a popular channel “in the penitentiary.”
Seinfeld, while on the red carpet before the ceremony, recalled first meeting Louis-Dreyfus during an informal audition. His iconic sitcom, “Seinfeld,” was still in the planning stages and producer Larry David knew Louis-Dreyfus from their time together on “Saturday Night Live.”
“We had just two short pages of script, and we sat down to read the dialogue together,” Seinfeld said. “As soon as she opened her mouth, I knew she was the one.”
Seinfeld also credited Louis-Dreyfus for having the confidence and strength of personality to hold her own on what he called “a very male show.”
That confidence was evident very early for Louis-Dreyfus, who said she knew as a young child that she had a gift for comedy.
“The first time I really knew was when I stuffed raisins in my nose and my mother laughed. I ended up in the emergency room because they wouldn’t come out!” Louis-Dreyfus said before the ceremony.
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani grew up in Pakistan and never saw an episode of “Seinfeld” until he immigrated to the USas an adult.
“But I became a huge fan as soon as I moved here,” he said.
The co-writer of the movie “The Big Sick” recalled her iconic, slightly convulsive “Elaine Benes dance” on the show, which he credits to Louis-Dreyfus’ gift for physical comedy.
“There are some comedians who think physical comedy is beneath them,” he said. “But she was just fearless and ego-less.”
At the end of the night, Louis-Dreyfus accepted her award with an extended comedic bit and a few shots at new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The veteran comedic actress first drew laughs by repeatedly referencing her true life’s ambition to be a respected dramatic actress_stopping in mid-speech to deliver a monologue from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.”
A native of the Washington suburbs in Maryland, Louis-Dreyfus is a graduate of the elite Holton-Arms school, alma mater of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of assault.
Louis-Dreyfus make a veiled but unmistakable reference to Ford’s testimony_framing it around her performance in high school of the play “Serendipity.”
“I can remember every single aspect of that play that night, so much so that I would testify under oath about it,” she said, to a round of laughter and applause. “But I can’t remember who drove me there or who drove me home.”
Louis-Dreyfus emerged from Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe before joining the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” After her nine-year run on “Seinfeld,” her turn as Vice President Selina Meyer on “Veep” earned her six consecutive Emmy Awards.
The upcoming seventh and final season of “Veep” was delayed as Louis-Dreyfus received treatment for breast cancer. That season is currently in production.
PBS will air the Twain event on Nov. 19.