MAMI WATA: A Hidden Gem in The Vast of Nollywood Mid

Generally speaking, Nollywood movies often fall prey to a litany of pitfalls: formulaic plots, uninspired scripts, feeble dialogue, sloppy editing, and lacking cinematography, resulting in a sweeping sense of mediocrity. While there are admittedly many individuals who genuinely appreciate what the industry has to offer, it is important to note that the intention here is not to nitpick. However, it is fair to acknowledge that many productions in the Nigerian filmscape can feel unconvincing, devoid of narrative joy, and lacking depth. With the increasing involvement of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Showmax, one would hope that the era of underwhelming Nollywood films would be left behind. Unfortunately, these expectations have yet to be fully realized, as we still encounter average-quality movies that are only visually improved by using better cameras.

Nevertheless, it has become somewhat of a phenomenon that every few years (half a decade or so), a Nollywood film emerges seemingly out of the blue, captivating us with its remarkable storytelling prowess. A movie of Nigerian origin, either entirely or in part, boasting exceptional quality in crucial storytelling elements, capable of standing proudly among its international counterparts. 

Such a film is “Mami Wata,” a visually breathtaking fantasy thriller crafted by C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi. Released in 2023, this visually stunning fantasy thriller has garnered high praise from local and international critics. “Mami Wata” showcases an exceptionally skilled ensemble cast. Evelyne Ily Juhen brilliantly portrays the main roles as Prisca, Uzoamaka Aniunoh as Zinwe, and Emeka Amakeze as Jasper. They are joined by the talented Rita Edochie, who brings Mama Efe to life, and Kelechi Udegbe, who captivates as Jabi. Tough Bone portrays supporting characters as Ero, Tim Ebuka as Moussa, Sofiath Sanni as Alima, and David Avincin Oparaeke as Ajah. The cast also includes Hidaya Ibrahim, who adds depth to the narrative as Oli, among other exceptional performers who contribute to the film’s rich storytelling.

“Mami Wata” has been acclaimed for its profound exploration of the conflict between tradition and modernity, masterfully weaving fundamental yet complex themes within its enthralling musical composition. Garnering widespread recognition, “Mami Wata” has secured 11 nominations at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) 2024, closely trailing “Over the Bridge” which leads with 12 nominations. Among the accolades “Mami Wata” is vying for are categories such as Best Movie, Best Director for C. J. Fiery Obasi, Best Writing, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, and Best Lead Actress, among others. The AMVCA ceremony is set to take place on May 11, 2024.

Regrettably, despite receiving such positive acclaim, “Mami Wata” has largely gone unnoticed by Nigerian audiences, reminiscent of the proverbial notion that a prophet is not honored in their own town. The film remains relatively underrated or overlooked by its own people. Various reasons have been posited to explain the snub, such as inadequate promotion in cinemas and inconvenient showing times. Although Mami Water may not identify with popular movie genres that typically appeal to the average audience (resulting in limited local reactions), it is crucial to recognize its cultural significance. Despite not breaking box office records, this film holds immense value and deserves greater appreciation. Here are some compelling reasons why more people should watch Mami Wata.

Simple Is Good

You can read the full plot of “Mami Wata” here. The movie is divided into 10 chapters, each tying effortlessly into the next and building up to the finale: 

  • “Zinwe… make we go house…”
  • “She no get power again…”
  • “E fit be say she don answer”
  • “If say Iyi na my land, e fit be your land too.”
  • “No prayer fit change am.”
  • “MAMI WATA wey una never take una eye see before.”
  • “Me…I dey fear.”
  • “Blessing don die for Iyi.”
  • “Dem deceive everybody for Iyi.”
  • “Make you dey fear woman.”

“Mami Wata” employs a simplistic yet powerful plot that resonates deeply with its audience. The film’s narrative is rooted in the timeless conflict between tradition and modernity, a theme that mirrors the broader tale of Africa itself. The simplicity of the plot serves as a refreshing device because it strips away unnecessary complexity, focusing instead on the raw and universal human emotions at play. This approach keeps the narrative engaging and accessible, allowing the film to deliver its message with clarity and impact.

While some critics have pointed out the inconsistent pacing of “Mami Wata,” arguing that it sometimes feels lethargic, this aspect does not detract from the overall experience. The film’s deliberate pacing allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in the richly textured world of the village and its inhabitants. It’s not so much about the speed or lag of the narrative, but the depth and authenticity of the story being told. The pacing, this writer argues, heightens the emotional stakes and draws the viewer deeper into the film’s atmosphere.

Acting Chops

The cast of “Mami Wata” delivered performances that were as captivating as the film’s visual narrative, with particular praise for the actresses in the lead roles. Evelyne Ily Juhen as Prisca ws the highlight, an opinion shared by this writer and many others. She brought a nuanced depth to role, embodying the character’s relationship with tradition and modernity. Uzoamaka Aniunoh’s portrayal of Zinwe offered a compelling look at loyalty and skepticism within a changing cultural landscape. Rita Edochie as Mama Efe anchored the film with a profound presence, quiet yet powerful. The supporting cast also shone, each contributing to the rich tapestry of the story and ensuring that the film’s narrative was fully realized.

Admittedly, the use of Pidgin English in “Mami Wata” might get some getting used to but once viewers acclimate to the linguistic flow, the performances stand out, offering a genuine and immersive experience. 

Also, while the character of Jasper, played by Emeka Amakeze, may not be a villain on the scale of Thanos, his role fits the film’s narrative. “Mami Wata” thrives on its simplicity and portraying Jasper as a straightforward antagonist complements the story’s focus on the community and its traditions.

Soundtrack and Sound Editing

The sound editing in “Mami Wata” is a testament to the film’s high production values. In many Nollywood films, especially those shot near the ocean, the dialogue can be marred by the intrusive sound of the sea breeze. Yet, “Mami Wata” skillfully avoids this common pitfall, maintaining a perfect balance between the ambient sounds of the waves and the clarity of the characters’ conversations. This attention to auditory detail might go unnoticed by some, but for a viewer well-acquainted with the frustrations of poor sound editing, it’s a highly appreciated feature.

The film also distinguishes itself with its musical selections, featuring classic Nigerian highlife tracks like “Joromi” and “GiodoGiodo” by the iconic Sir Victor Uwaifo, as well as “Dougou Badia” by Amadou & Mariam featuring Santigold, which plays during the credits. These songs infuse the film with a sense of warmth and nostalgia, evoking memories of leisurely weekend afternoons spent with family listening to beloved tunes.

Equally noteworthy is Tunde Jegede’s vibrant score for “Mami Wata,” which adeptly transitions from upbeat contemporary dance numbers to ominous, tension-building marches that underscore the film’s most dramatic moments. His composition adds a dynamic layer to the narrative, enhancing the emotional resonance of each scene.

Noir: A Master’s Tool in Storytelling

“Mami Wata” is a visual masterpiece; much of the credit goes to the talented cinematographer Lílis Soares. Her ability to capture the essence of each scene with such clarity and depth is reminiscent of the hyperrealistic artwork of the ridiculously talented artist – Arinze Stanley Egbengwu. Each frame of the movie is a meticulous composition, where the monochromatic tones serve not just as a backdrop but as a canvas that brings the characters and their stories to life. The stark contrast and interplay of light and shadow in Soares’ cinematography make the visuals leap off the screen, seducing the viewer into the film’s narrative world.

Critics have been effusive in their praise for “Mami Wata,” particularly highlighting the film’s high-contrast black-and-white imagery which is celebrated for its lustrous quality. Such expert cinematography was not just a technical achievement but an artistic one, enhancing the storytelling and giving the film a haunting, otherworldly quality that lingered with audiences long after the credits rolled. It’s a testament to Soares’ skill that the film maintained this high level of visual storytelling throughout its duration, never once compromising on the quality or impact of its imagery.

Moreover, Soares’ cinematography elevated the already stunning costume design, particularly the signature face paintings, beads, cowries, and garb of the Iyi people. The monochromatic palette brought out the textures and patterns of the costumes, making them pop against the screen’s backdrop. The intricate details of the adornments and the boldness of the face paintings were captured with such precision that they almost became characters in their own right, contributing to the rich tapestry of the film’s narrative. The synergy between the visual elements and the storytelling made “Mami Wata” not just a film to watch but an experience to be absorbed, a feat that is all too rare in mainstream Nigerian cinema today.

Thematic Wealth

“Mami Wata” serves as both a commentary on colonialism and a catalyst for the audience to contemplate the trade-off between modernity and indigenous worship. The movie’s plot prompts viewers to question whether the benefits of civilization, such as hospitals, schools, roads, and electricity, outweigh the negative consequences of increased conflict, strife, wars, and guns.

One of the thought-provoking lessons conveyed through the narrative is the juxtaposition of cultural preservation and modernization. The film portrays a village that clings to its traditional beliefs and ways of life, showcasing the tension between preserving cultural heritage and embracing modern advancements. By doing so, it encourages viewers to reflect on the significance of traditions and the impact that modernity has on the fabric of community life.

Another theme explored in “Mami Wata” is matriarchy and power dynamics. The story unfolds within a matriarchal society, where Mama Efe, the village’s spiritual leader, holds a central role. Through her character, the plot delves into the complexities of power and leadership, raising pertinent questions about authority, respect for elders, and the inherent challenges that accompany positions of influence.

“Mami Wata” also explores the theme of faith and skepticism. The villagers’ unwavering belief in the water goddess, “Mami Wata”, and their spiritual leader is put to the test when modern problems and challenges arise. This aspect of the film encourages audiences to contemplate the role of faith in times of crisis and the delicate balance between belief and skepticism. It prompts viewers to reflect on how individuals navigate their faith in the face of adversity and uncertainty.

We Need More!

“Mami Wata” is not just a film; it’s a masterclass in storytelling that Nollywood can learn from. It demonstrates that the essence of cinema lies not in the size of its budget but in the authenticity of its narrative. Nollywood doesn’t need to chase the allure of big-budget productions to make an impact. Instead, it can focus on crafting original stories that resonate deeply with African audiences, stories that are compelling in their simplicity and rich in cultural authenticity.

Sadly, high-end Nollywood productions, or what this writer calls “Netflix Nollywood”, has often prioritized style over substance, focusing on themes of luxury and wealth that tends to overlook indigenous culture. This approach has led to a slew of films that, while glossy, lack the narrative strength and cultural resonance that make for truly memorable cinema and sometimes distract from the narrative entirely. On the other end of the spectrum, the more culturally focused films, often referred to as Asaba Nollywood, while rich in tradition, have been criticized for their lower production quality and less polished dialogue. 

“Mami Wata” stands out as a beacon of hope, showcasing that it is possible to create a film that is deeply rooted in African values, lore, and dogma, with a compelling plot and exceptional production quality, setting a new benchmark for Nollywood.

Nollywood stands on the cusp of global recognition, poised to claim its spot in the limelight of international cinema. The key to this ascent lies in nurturing a new wave of filmmakers—those who blend a fervent zeal for original storytelling with the technical prowess to produce films of exceptional quality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *