Wednesday, November 12

Little Children

I remember being a young kid, caught up in my first romance, when my love interest of the time would curse and I would, without disgust, but with a zealous assurance, let her know precisely where to dump those four-letter words (I'm talking about that great monster, the rubbish bin- before imaginations run too wild), all the while threatening to wash out her mouth with soap and hard water. She was two years older than me and already very "mature", introducing me to a few things that I only ever saw in the movies. Yes, the movies, a mother's scourge, that great bastion of obscenity and extreme liberalism. How many times did kids I know get accused of being spoilt by the nasty little box, menaced by its all-too-true isms? In portraying reality a bit more graphically than the naturally conservative ethos of parenting permits, the movies became a corrupting influence that was to be frowned upon.

Funny then, that children in movies and the arts in general are mostly deployed to the opposite effect. The movies I have watched most recently have used children to drape their otherwise noxious themes of violence and debauchery, bigotry and inhumanity in softer shades by emphasising this innocence that is much- treasured in children. As a theatrical facility, a child, firmer of belief and less morally dubious, can be an illuminating factor, clearing up the matters of good and evil, right and wrong without appearing didactic or corny were they to be viewed from an adult perspective. Even better for artistic eggheads, this facility does not need to be subtly utilised. The plot sub-text that expresses the child's impassioned defence of things we hold to be of moral value but are much too educationally liberated to acknowledge, does not need to be sophisticated when included in the storyline. Using children also invites us to scrutinise adult issues with tempered attitudes.

I had never heard of the 1996 title "Sleepers" by Barry Levinson until a friend lent it to me last month. It's a wonderful picture, none too subtle, but good all around. And it doesn't need to be subtle because the story revolves around children . The subject matter itself, sexual deviance, is one that will inspire disgust. The movie would probably have received harsher treatment (it was slapped with an 18 age certification) if the scenes of molestation and child violence were visited more visually. As it were, the story was told through the eyes of happy, frolicking kids having fun, albeit at the expense of others. It's a movie about boys in a young offenders' home, remanded because of a childish summer prank that turned sour and hospitalised a man. The slithering riddle in the underheath of this destroyed Eden of a movie is this: exactly how much brutality should be allowed behind the scenes in correctional (ahem) facilities? This is a question that can be applied just as aptly to adult prisons and jails and, on a larger scale, to places like Guantanamo Bay where the world turns a blind eye to savage injustices. And the idea that the world is turning a blind eye looks so much more wretched because the sufferers here are children labeled bad rather than desperate adults labeled terrorists.

"The Secret Life of Bees" is another surprise package which I just watched (I mean that in a good way since surprises are not always good as I found out a few frames into How To Lose Friends And Alienate People). The characters are pursued with skill and solidity and the story, though sappy at times, contains enough substance to convey the moving message of a lost child finally connecting with her roots, against a socially- charged background of racism in America's Deep South of the 60s. Dakota Fanning plays the child here with depth and poise, using her wise-beyond-her-years eyes to good effect in juxtaposition with a face just shedding baby fat. As a kid unsullied by the bigotry of the time, she is able to save her "coloured" nanny from certain death and to show a black family that love is complicated but still possible between races in spite of the prejudices of one to the other. Sophie Okonedo is also able to weave a bit of childish magic in her strong depiction of a child-like mentally- handicapped adult.

A lot of fantasy (movies, books etc) centres around this medium- the redemptive qualities of children, their ability to see past complications created by grown-up scheming, a salve in troubled times. This is possibly what causes many to see the story of Christ as fantasy, because he idealised children as the epitome of purity. The Chronicles of Narnia are loosely built around themes of Christ and Christianity and all the main protagonists are children. "Prince Caspian", the latest installment, is very warm, and better than the box office has accounted for. But it is the primary role of the children as saviours of a Narnia in the grip of usurpers and foreigners which is of interest to me. The secondary theme of foreign occupation is very much relevant in light of the US occupation of some parts of the Middle East. Where are Edmund and Lucy to tell the United States to back out and stop imposing their foreign rules on others? If only it were that simple.

The fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials (Phillip Pullman) which goes even further by examining an attempt to subdue this innocent power exclusive to children (through a sinister sounding process of "intercision") by the powers that be, so as to aid force-fed religiosity, has a pre-pubescent girl as the heroine. A girl whose main skill is lying. But this is blotted out by her innocence, that precious rambunctious gift that is lost forever once we cross into adulthood. Even JRR Tolkien makes his main hero (in LOTR) not the hardy- hearted and chivalrous Aragorn, but Frodo who is by and large an incarnation of a little boy. His confusion in choosing between good and evil sometimes can be blamed on the interfering emotions of adulthood, his sudden entry into the real world of Blake- esque experience.

Even in real life, children are an emblem for innocence and purity. Children accompany footballers into stadiums to symbolise fair play. Parents sense a shift in their world view once they have to raise a child. They find something worth fighting for because they see in the eyes of their little ones a promise that there's a bit of all right in the world. Sometimes the sight of a child will stop a mugging, or sometimes a murder. The movie "Children of Men" goes so far as to present a world set in the future without children. A covert mission is then assembled to aid the escape of the first baby born in several years, a sign of hope, safely to a holding house. These motifs are clear in what they are trying to tell us: children have souls that need protecting because their unsoiled, egoless enthusiasm can broaden that thin line between love and hate.

Ah, but back to my particular childhood. That girl, the one I mentioned earlier, she made me watch "Barb Wire", a 16 certificate movie, way before I was ready. "Barb Wire" features Pamela Anderson in leather-clad glory. That was the day i think I uttered my first expletive.


Wednesday, November 5

Audacity of Hope: The Movie

I have a Dream that one day in the no too distant future men and women of every creed and colour will sit down in a cinema and watch a biopic of the instant legend Barack Obama, purveyor of hope extraordinaire. This particular aspect of the dream does not require one to shut their eyes too tightly to imagine that it will indeed come to pass, with soft murmurings of "Impossible is Nothing". The rather more fantastic aspect of this Dream is my wish to be the director, the helmsman of such an ambitious project. Such is the inspirational effect of the Obama movement that I, an Igboman steeped in the traditions of Iweka Road, hub of the nonsense- fueled industry that is Nollywood, the Nigerian movie market, can aspire to the heights of actually shooting a picture about a man who has been making history since he spoke so eloquently at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Scratch that, since he was elected the first black president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

Anyway, one can but dream.

I saw a slideshow on the BET website listing possible actors for roles in a Barack Obama movie. As I had already been contemplating this possibility, I went off on a tangent and decided that I would put together this movie in my mind in readiness for that not-too-distant future when I might be called upon to call the shots on what could be, if voter turnouts on November 4th are anything to go by, the highest grossing film ever. If you want to see BET's picks for the characters, refer to and enjoy their take on events. I decided to go one step further and structure the entire movie with plot, setting, budget, the works based on today's market.

One must begin at the beginning though so I pondered on an apt title. A box office draw. Films like The Shawshank Redemption have been hampered at the box office by their overly cerebral, ponderous titles. At the same time, the Quantum of Solace set about demolishing box office records despite a name that is more tongue twister than cinema gold. The draw is in the brand and the Obama brand is strong. Moreover, the ever prepared Senator has already provided several possible titles strong enough to plug a movie charting his stride to the White House. Audacity of Hope, the title of his bestselling book, is a sure banker as is Hope. However, Dreams From My Father, which adorns the cover of his lesser known but equally bestselling memoirs does not, for me, capture the essence of the Presidential campaign. Yes We Can is too uppitty and rather more suited to a West End musical, as is Change We Can Believe In which would come off as didactic and synonymous with a BBC documentary.To give my movie the Nnamdi Awa-Kalu stamp of originality, I toyed with "The Colour of the White House"; I like the suggestive double entendre. For punch, one can never discount a straight- talking "Barack", but Obama is a lot more of a character than one line can convey so I finally settled on "40 Years Later" to reflect the context of the Civil Rights movement as well as the lifespan of the man.

Ok we're getting tasty now. The maltesers sugar rush is building. I had to then decide on who to play the characters. BET picked Harry Lennix Jr., the actor who plays Monica's father in Love And Basketball to take the lead, and to be honest, though I have never seen him do anything masterful I am aware that actors like him can often reinvent themselves spectacularly for roles like this, especially in biopics (ask Forest Whitaker). I would personally prefer Don Cheadle, who, were he a couple of shades lighter would fit the bill perfectly. He can play Obama Sr. However, Will Smith is certifiable box office dynamite and a good actor to boot. He has the voice and delivery to step into Obama's dulcet-toned shoes, a suitable blend of the gray and black of the president- elect's hair colour, and above all, pointy ears. Anyone who has seen Pursuit of Happyness will also know that the man can act.

For the rest of the characters, sassy Regina King (voice of the Boondocks' Riley) as picked by BET, would make a terrific Michelle O (why didn't I think of it first) and not only because she has worked with Will Smith before (Enemy of the State) otherwise Sanaa Lathan or Kerry Washington can do it. Jeff Bridges can reprise his role as "the Dude" in Big Lebowski for the role of Bill Ayers in real hippy style, Jamie Foxx can play Martin Luther King as he's a great actor and the totally hilarious Kat Williams will assume the role of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright for real laugh-out-loud moments. As the other major players, nobody is taking Sarah Palin away from Tina Fey who sent her up on Saturday Night Live like nobody else could. And forget Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones has got be George Bush. John Travolta gets Bill Clinton (go watch Primary Colours) and The Weakest Link's Ann Robinson can learn an American accent and play Hillary. I cannot think of anyone to play McCain. Damn.

The movie itself will play out like this- starting out as the credits roll in with Obama's speech in New Hampshire where he brought the house down with his power of oration, Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come palying softly in the background as the scene shifts between Nashua and the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC where MLK delivered the I Have A Dream speech 40-odd years earlier. In the opening scene, Obama wakes up from a nightmare in his Chicago home on the eve of the 2004 Democratic Party Convention where he is billed to give the keynote address that will launch him into national consciousness. Michelle Obama soothes him through what appears to be a recurring dream- he keeps seeing MLK on the balcony, the bullet ripping through his ear, Jesse Jackson's arms flailing and MLK whispering something incoherent to him. Then the keynote address itself and Michelle Obama, pithy and supportive, murmuring "Don't screw it up, buddy" as Obama approaches the lectern. As the speech finishes and applause rings loud and long, with newsreaders' voices providing a voice over ("the junior senator from Illinois today confirmed himself a rising star of the Democratic party") that fades into the background, we see a young Obama (Jaden Smith) attending school in Indonesia, young and gleeful. The movie quickly speeds up to see a teenage Obama (played by Will Smith- that man can play any age from eighteen to fifty without need for makeup) playing basketball and then arguing with his grandparents about his heritage and eventually experimenting with drugs. In his college years, he will ask to be called Barack instead of Barry and one troublemaker will quip "So you think you're Muhammed Ali now huh, did any Vietcong call you n*****?". Young Barack, showing the signs of the calm statesman to come will retort "This is a change I believe in". And on the movie will go to cover his mother's death after which he starts to have dreams about his father prompting him to travel to Kenya to seek out his other family. It will feature one love scene where after a while under Michelle O's tutelage in a Chicago law firm, he finally seduces her and takes her home for one-on-one time (the scene just writes itself- Michelle O screaming Yes He Can and whatnot). And then thereafter, it's all political as Obama's career as a public servant takes off. The whole idea will be to present a humane side to the Christ-like Obama reported in the press. We'll see him argue with his wife and lose, suffer at housework, and worship in church where Kat Williams' take on the audaaaaaaaaaacity of hope will be riveting. He will be haunted by the MLK dream throughout the film but also comforted by dreams from his father, offering wise words he never experienced in real life. Don Cheadle will have a booming laugh and smoke a pipe in this role. It will of course climax at the Democratic Convention of August '08, 80,000 gathered in affirmation of Obama, and then peter out with handheld camera footage of a scene from the victory party in Grant Park, the crowd watching Obama's speech on a jumbotron as O promises Sasha and Malia a puppy. Yes I have given this a lot of thought.

Ah, but to dream.

I shall try to write a play or something once I can summon the courage. Until then I have to hope that this "movie" will be made an even greater watch by a strong first four years in office that deliver on all the promises of Obama's campaign. G-Obama!