Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes
Mary McCarthy once said, ‘Old money is fully as moronic as new money, but it has inherited an appearance of cultivation‘. I’m sure there’s a gem of wokeness laying somewhere in that quote, but all I can point out right now is that they may both be moronic, but they both have money.
If you live in Lagos, the glaring contrast of old-money, new-money and no-money is one that is bound to greet you on a daily. As a friend once put it, ‘in Lagos, people are constantly in the rat race to move between these three cadres. There are blurred lines sometimes but the lines are definitely there.‘ And while we have seen a lot of depictions of the lives of Lagosians in the different class brackets on-screen, I was very interested to see Bolanle Austen-Peters, a person that comfortably fits the role of old-money in Lagos, make her directorial debut narrating life in a circle she’s very familiar with.
The following questions arise though; does her authentic experience as a 1% of the 1% elevate The Bling Lagosians, or does her vantage point make it more difficult to tell a balanced tale which appeals to people across the three isles. Does her reputation as a doyen of the theater space in Nigeria translate well to film making? Or do none of the foregoing matter in the quest to make just another commercially successful Nollywood movie?
At the heart of the story is the case of the Holloways – a nuclear family that touts itself as premium 1% of the 1%. One that is loud, flashy and with no inhibitions to showing off their wealth. But this house of cards is about to be blown to smithereens due to certain business actions that could reduce the Holloway empire from a force to reckon with, to the glory of the past.
Notwithstanding the impending doom, the dear Mopelola Holloway (Elvina Ibru) is determined to keep appearances and throw herself the lavishest 51st birthday party. How else can she prove to the world that she’s still the top dog in Lagos’ socialite circles. She has termed it the year’s biggest society event, and even though she’s aware of the family’s troubles, she obviously doesn’t think much of her ability to make any positive impact or doesn’t care to. Her husband’s declaration that he has it all handled is enough to keep her in her bubble. In fact, his request for the family to ‘maintain a low profile’ is seen more as an abomination than precaution in their trying times – the request definitely is an inconvenience to her grand plans.
The conversation around advancement in Nollywood has moved a lot from simple calls for the improvement in picture quality and the presentation on screen to a demand for diversity – a demand for works that raise the bar with telling our stories. And Bolanle Austen-Peters’ personality as a daring creative did raise a lot of expectation about her choice for her directorial debut film – a culture-shifting project perhaps. This is not the case. And while credit needs to be given to her for presenting a more cohesive story than most of the films we have seen on this scale, we can’t help but notice the ‘commercial Nollywood tripe’ of gathering numerous celebrity acts on a journey to a celebration of some sorts. The depiction / focus on parties in Nollywood films of this magnitude is one that still takes preeminence over character development and building a satisfying story arc. It has worked for Mo Abudu and Ayo Makun repeatedly in scoring commercial successes – and after the over NGN100million The Bling Lagosians has made thus far, one may argue that it worked here as well.
In the acting area, there are a few good surprises. How is it that the best performances come from the likes of Winihin Jemide, a public speaker by day, and Denola Grey whose fashion voice is his first business? Elvina Ibru is a very expressive actor, and this works really well on stage where she plys her trade on the regular. The question though is, ‘is she too expressive for screen?’ I would like to think that Mopelola could have been a tad less dramatic, but I realize that this in itself may just be a ploy to satisfy the presumed need for dramatic female characters that filmmakers believe Nigerian audiences desire. On a related note, can we stop with this hiring of comedians to be unnecessary extras in our Nollywood films? It’s gone overused and uninspired which makes Broda Shaggy and Helen Paul’s characters utterly pedestrian to watch.
The touch of theater brilliance is evident in the quality of the dialogue – the strong sarcasm flying around, the wowing word plays, and the fine ironies that enriched the poetic element of the line. In one of the scenes, Baba Eko (Jide Kosoko) boasts about sexually dominating his mistress, Iris (Bamike Olawumi), saying “wa fe ku laleyi” (which translates to “I will kill you tonight”), only to end up in a casket, described as a “faithful husband” at his funeral. The song selection is also pretty impressive. It is not as though it is new, it’s just that Mrs Austen-Peters who is known to have a rich taste in choosing music for her works does well here too.
So much was said and done to announce the coming of this film. It was met with almost matching excitement in the industry. Bolanle Austen-Peters took a bit of what she knows and borrows an existing industry formula in her quest for box-office success mostly. This formula worked for The Wedding Party, Chief Daddy, and majority of what will be touted as the successes of the industry, and has helped The Bling Lagosians announce itself as the only film in 2019 (so far) to generate NGN100million in box office receipts. And as previously mentioned, the movie does have a more cohesively put together narrative than many of these successful films. But it fails to really separate itself from the Nollywood stereotype – which I don’t think it tried hard to anyways.
Oluwatobi Ibironke is a writer with interest in conversations about entertainment, politics and all that shapes the Nigerian society. He is particular about the power of story-telling, he lets it reflect in his style of writing. His works have been published on reputable platforms including ThisDayLive, The Nation Newspaper, TheSunNewspaper.