I woke up on Tuesday morning to extremely sad news, the kind that you want to erase by shaking your head.
The kind that does not go away no matter how many shakes of the head it gets.
When I met this woman, something happened to me. After validating my screenwriting abilities (which was a big deal because this was Amaka Igwe, you understand?), she asked me why I wanted to be a director. I was already directing reality TV, but I wanted to do film and television proper: drama, thriller, action, that sort of thing.
Mrs. Igwe wanted to know why. I was kind of stumped there. “Must there be a deep reason? I just want to interpret my own work. I want to be an artist – make films that don’t have to make money but will be recognised as art.”
“You want to make art for art’s sake”. She clapped for me. You know that kind of applause that might as well be a round of well-placed knocks on one’s head?
Not that she had a big problem with auteurs. But I had basically come to the wrong place to learn, she told me. And this was because Amaka Igwe was an unapologetic commercial-film maker. That’s how she described herself a lot of the time.
This didn’t mean she wasn’t locking down the artistic side of things. No need to write out her ‘CV’ here, I’m sure you can find it all on Google. The woman was an icon, no less.
Her work was art that made sense and made money at the same time. When she told us that she wrote Checkmate whilst doing her day job (or was it even two jobs at the time? Memory fails me), I was gobsmacked. You know how you think you’re a hard worker then you meet someone that makes you shut up and sit down? That was Amaka Igwe.
Amaka Igwe helped me discover what kind of director I could be. She helped me focus. She didn’t want me not to experiment with all kinds of genres but she made me see that there was nothing wrong with loving drama and wanting to do drama and making money out of it. Heck, there was everything right with making money out of everything artistic that you do. Truckloads of money. “Otherwise, why are you wasting your time? What are you telling the ones coming after you? That filmmaking is not a viable business?” She would almost get offended at the thought that you came into filmmaking just for the heck of it, ‘to play around’.
If you are a Nigerian filmmaker and you have attended BoBTV you’ll get an idea of what I mean when I say her passion was palpable and she didn’t hesitate to translate it to a phenomenon that would spread knowledge. Knowledge that would eventually become important to a lot of us youngsters. Knowledge that if we wanted to, we could turn into gold.
Even newcomers to the business will tell you that in one way or the other she touched their lives. She was one of those who paved the way. Audiences feel the pain too because they are aware that when it came to quality, she gave it all. Checkmate. Rattlesnake. Violated. Fuji House of Commotion…
And she was not ashamed of the name “Nollywood”. She took pride in it in fact and always had the time to have a bit of a laugh at Nigerian filmmakers who looked down on Nollywood and thought they were ‘better’, had more to offer, but who more often than not ended up being even worse. “You cannot change an industry from the outside”.
I remember something she used to say during our classes. Patrick Ugele, do you remember when she would tell us that people needed to be trained because she wasn’t going to be around forever? She wanted to train as many people as possible so that she could pass her filmmaking values to us and we would run with the right vision. I thought her course-fees were ridiculously low but it made sense because the lower the fees, the more people would be encouraged to come and learn. The more we learned, the more there was the possibility of thousands of Amaka Igwes running around the place, being proud Nollywood filmmakers, putting Nigeria on the map by shooting films that would impact audiences AND the Nigerian economy…
That was Amaka Igwe.
She knew her stuff. She knew her worth and she gave all of herself to the business that she died doing. She gave all of herself to us and we are grateful.
I am a bit envious of people like Chris Ihidero who spent more physical time with her, because her spirit was the kind of spirit I loved to associate with. It was a huge, warm spirit that was slightly urgent. “Let’s not talk it to death, let’s do it”. That sort of spirit that wanted to get things done and beautifully done too. I am grateful for having crossed paths with such greatness.
I pray that her soul will rest well and that her family gets the needed strength to bear this loss, and when I say her family, I include those of us related to her by film and TV.
Adieu Amaka Igwe, this is one goodbye that truly hurts. Rest in peace.
Nkiru Njoku is a TV writer and director.
She Tweets: @nkirunjoku