I really wanted to enjoy watching Jeta Amata’s movie Black November but like an errant step child, it kept rebuffing my love.
I had read scathing and devastating reviews from journals like the Hollywood Report, Variety, LA Weekly all of which eviscerated the movie and wanted to see it and review it, to show the world that Jeta Amata has done something worthwhile and impressive.
So, I went looking for it and found it.
Black November attempts to be many things all at once; it is both advocacy and propaganda, Nollywood and Hollywood but it fails woefully in becoming something of character and substance.
And the fault lies squarely with Mr. Amata who is a triple threat on this one; writer, producer and director. Scratch that, he is a quadruple threat actually as writer, producer and director and SONGWRITER. Yep!
This movie does not make Jeta Amata look good. This is the simple truth and a very kind way of putting it.
The movie has a fine story, one anyone familiar with the devastation and environmental degradation of the Niger Delta must be used to; a young girl, US educated thanks to a scholarship grant from an oil company returns home to a tragic incident which for want of a better word ‘radicalises’ her but her radicalisation is fraught with indecisions; she is a half-hearted revolutionary; wanting the oil company to pay yet not quite sure how to go about it.
In one scene, Ebiere Perema played by Mbong Amata in trying to convince Dede (played by Hakeem Kae-Kazim ) massacres the English Language when she says “We can do this without resourcing [sic] to violence.”
But then who would blame her and Jeta. Their thoughts must have been on resource control.
Moving on, I did say that the movie has a good story but then a story is different from a plot and here lies the problem. Many people mistake the story for the plot a problem Mr. Amata clearly has. The story, to use a simple analogy, is a journey while the plot is the means of getting there.
Black November is not an easy journey.
The first ten minutes in America are the best. Jeta, who must have dreamt of shooting an action thriller packs a wallop in those opening moments. There are guns, rippling muscles, big cars, car chases, road blocks and a hostage situation. All in ten minutes and then the movie hurtles downhill as we go to Nigeria.
The Nigerian scenes and even the picture quality are drab and very Third Worldly as if they dropped the hi-tech equipment in America and picked up antiquated ones here in Nigeria.
Mbong Amata, the star of the movie is a former beauty queen, Miss Akwa Ibom no less. She may be good in so many things but acting is obviously not one of them. She is stiff and wooden and is neither revolutionary nor matyr.
Imagine Funke Akindele or Omotola Jalade or Mercy Johnson in that role but no, love had to triumph which makes me wonder, when William Shakespeare wrote that every poet in love is a fool, did he mean Film Directors too?
Jeta wanted to give us a Joan of Arc of the creeks and the story starts right but not the actress. The movie is in many ways a love song to his wife whom he casts in the role of the protagonist but the tragedy is if Jeta had set out to please female viewers, he may well end up annoying them because Mbong does her gender a disservice.
What exactly is wrong with Black November? A lot.
The movie doesn’t cohere and the acting is bad. This movie is a good example of how so called A-listers can ruin a good movie.
Wyclef Jean and Akon do nothing in the movie but make melodramatic gestures while barking into the camera. Acting in a movie, they have discovered, is a different ball game from acting in a music video. Maybe Jeta should have called in extras with big booties for inspiration.
Hakeem Kae-Kazim, used to playing bad guys in Hollywood movies, does not really get into his character as Dede. There is some reticence, call it indecision in determining how bad to go as he becomes leader of a band of merry militants.
His growing affection and romance with Ebiere lacks sexual chemistry and is so poorly treated and executed that one is tempted to assume that the Director did not want an actor messing with his missus.
Then consider the foreign legion; Mickey Rourke for instance. He did not only look lost and expressionless (blame it on the botoxed face) but he was very poorly dressed for an oil company CEO especially in the Nigerian scenes. His cuffs were sticking out and his tie looked poorly knotted.
Kim Basinger looked old and out of it and only managed to ‘act’ in the last scene after Tamuno and his crew have been sold a dummy. Both of them, one time darlings of Hollywood seemed to have come aboard this movie just for the money.
Dede Mabiaku, usually an imposing presence and good actor is a dud here as Hassan. He is the very epitome of melodrama. His gestures are exaggerated and his acting is over-the-top.
Fred Amata shines as the sleek and reptilian Gideon White, the liaison between Western Oil and the community. He is greedy, grabbing and conniving and his only redeeming quality is his recognition of Ebiere’s incorrigibility.
“Which Nigerian does not accept bribes?” Mickey Rourke’s character asks and Fred Amata’s charcater answers “This one.”
O.C Ukeje shows up in Black November but he looks tacked-on, like they did in Half of a Yellow Sun. his character seemed like an after-thought, as if at some point in the movie someone whispered to Mr. Amata ‘there’s a hot new actor called O.C Ukeje, maybe he can save this movie.”
And O.C tries. He becomes the face of the struggle while Ebiere is out of the picture which leads one to ask, was he in the village all the while during the struggle? If he was, why didn’t he play a part?
Which then brings us to another puzzle in this conundrum of a movie; how many people played the part of Ebiere? Did Mbong Amata have a double or stand-in because in some scenes, Mbong looks young and almost skinny while in others she appears full cheeked and fleshed out. Two stand out moments; the scene where she mistakes resourcing for resorting and also in the scene where she visits Western oil offices.
And then Mr. Amata, who handled special effects for you? The explosions are so amateurish they almost made me cry. A call to the director of a Mile from Home would have sufficed.
The best part of the movie for me was the court scene which transported me back to my childhood when we used to watch The Assizes on NTA Benin. It was the stuff of nostalgia.
There are two other cameo appearances; Nse Ikpe who appears as a defence lawyer. Before her, we had seen Barbara Soki in a short appearance that showed why she was once queen of our TV screens.
Jeta Amata says at the end that the characters and incidents are fictitious yet the source material is clearly Saro Wiwa’s story. The tale of a foreign educated returnee becoming a leader of his people to the killing of the greedy chiefs and eventual trial for murder all mirror the travails of the Ogoni 9.
Jeta Amata has made what should have been a very important movie, one that brings to a wider audience and public the problems of the Niger Delta people, a movie that would have been much better than the Naomi Harris vehicle Blood and Oil but he totally mis-handles the opportunity. Which is a damn shame!
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