Rutgers University Professor, George Davis, Reviews Two New Nigerian Movies ‘Doctor Bello’ and ‘Black November’

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George Davis a professor at Rutgers university who wrote the novels Coming Home (Random House) and the bestselling non-fiction book, Black Life in Corporate America (Doubleday) saw two new Nigerian movies (Doctor Bello and Black November) recently that presented him with a new view of Nigerian movies and moved him to sort of review them.

Prof. Davis whom in the late 60′s worked as a journalist with the Washington PostNew York TimesEssence and Black Enterprise is obviously no newbie to the materials that come out of majority of the Nigerian movies released as he highlights the absence of some of the intricate elements ever present in those movies “contains no violence, no gratuitous sex, no spewing forth of hatred of one black person for others, or against anyone.” Read on to find out what he thinks about the movies which were recently screened in the US.

Last week I saw the most refreshing film I’ve ever seen about Africans, African Americans, and Africa. The film “Doctor Bello” contains no violence, no gratuitous sex, no spewing forth of hatred of one black person for others, or against anyone. It has none of the almost obligatory negative expressions of human nature for which Africa and people of African descent have become metaphors.

It is a rare film about the relationship between blackness and light, blackness and innocence, blackness and the joy of being. It is as if the metaphor in Dark Light Consciousness, by Dr. Edward Bruce Bynum, had come to life in a story written and then filmed by Nigerian-born producer/director/screenwriter Tony Abulu.

This is a new breed of film for which Nollywood (Nigerian Hollywood) hopes to capture a world-wide audience. Although Nigeria produces the second highest number of films in the world, after India, the films have miniscule budgets compared to films from Hollywood. “Doctor Bello” is different. It benefited from a $200 million fund that the Nigeriangovernment set aside to upgrade the production values in Nollywood films.

After the premiere of the film at the Kennedy Center in Washington on the 27th of September, 2012, I asked Mr. Abulu had he read Dark Light Consciousness.  He said he had not. So he had come upon the same truth independently and had dramatized it in perfect accord with the ideas in Bynum’s work.

The tag line for the film is” The Cure for Cancer has been Found. . .In the Sky Mountains of Africa.” The film dramatizes a spiritual truth that, like many other such truths, is supported by the scientific arguments we are making in this series: “Biochemically Connected to God,”  based on Bynum’s research.

By creating departments of complementary medicine, many of the best hospitals in the world are acknowledging that spiritual cures do sometimes work. Typical of these hospitals is The University of Maryland Medical Center whose claim is:

“In most healing traditions and through generations of healers in the early beginnings of Western medicine, concerns of the body and spirit were intertwined. But with the coming of the scientific revolution and the enlightenment, these considerations were removed from the medical system. Today, however, a growing number of studies reveal that spirituality may play a bigger role in the healing process than the medical community previously thought.”

In the film a New York City boy is saved at the last moment from dying of cancer by an African “tribal healer,” an immigrant living in Brooklyn.  The boy’s Ivy-League trained African American primary doctor thinks the healer used a magico-religious elixir. Of course the right thing to do is to go off to Africa, find the elixir, patent it, bring its healing potential to the world, and thereby earn billions of dollars.

The Ivy-trained doctor heads for Africa. He is never told if there is actually a patentable potion or not. On his journey he is constantly reminded that “not everything is about money.” Instead he is ushered deeper and deeper into the spirit of joy that exists in Africa as nowhere else.   Perhaps it was not a potion that made the cancer tumor disappear in the boy.  Perhaps it was the power of the healer’s spirit.

We’ve seen films with Swiss mountain villages where one feels that one can get away from the evils of civilization and live in peace forever; but no film has shown that the prototype for such villages exists in Africa.

In the 1960s I lived for a summer in Akugbene, one of these villages, on the flood plains of the Niger River. Even the crocodile were at peace with the little boys who played in the river. In the film there is an elder who is so close to nature that he has joy-filled conversations with plants.

In the mountains there is an Eden-like “garden of life” where, after initiation, the doctor goes and gets in touch with the sense that life is eternal. The spirits of dead loved ones are there to visit with. This is a wonderful film that makes you feel good about human nature and the human condition.

The doctor finds an Edenic innocence that is totally missing from present-day depictions of African people and Africa, an innocence that is in dwindling supply in general since humankind began the migration “Out of Africa” over 125,000 years ago.

Certainly to depict Africa as Edenic belies the turmoil that engulfs it because of exploitation by those who come back to Africa to rape the land and people again for  money. It belies the turmoil created by ignorance, genocidal tribal conflict, superstition, and the corruption of Africans themselves.

But Abulu’s film is the only film I’ve seen that dramatize the innocence that I felt in 1960 in the little village along the Niger River, a river which is now so polluted by predatory pumping and oil spills that the lush land that once surrounded the village is dotted with puddles of crude oil.

This spoilage is shown in horrifying detail in another big Nollywood film, “Black November” that is vying to reach a world wide audience. This film is by, Jeta Amata, born in the 1970s, a few miles from where I spent my Nigerian summer in 1960. “Black November” is filled with horrors that make the present exploitation of Africa for oil (and other mineral wealth) as deadly and barbaric as was the exploitation of Africa for slaves 400 years ago. It shows The Shell Oil Company and other Western oil interests to be as indifferent to human suffering as the worst slave traders.

Wild food plants that once grew in the marshy lowlands around Akugbene are dead, along with the shrimp, crab and other fish in the river itself.  No more do palm trees produce palm wine. Birds and small game are gone. Once the river supplied clean drinking water! Now a mother bathing a child in the river is likely to bring the child up cover with oil.  This is a powerful film that gives a graphic picture of what greed can do to the human condition.

Both films are world-class, created by both Nollywood and Hollywood stars and crew. The two films together make us wonder if innocence is the most important remaining spiritual quality that has to be effectively subverted if African nations are to defend themselves and become equal participants in the global economy. Audiences come face to face with a paradox: money may not be the right reason for finding a potion but without the pursuit of money Africa cannot be saved.

The paradox is deeper than that. In an interview in The New York Times Abulu said of his film: “I don’t look at it as entertainment. . .I look at it as a means of survival for Africans.”  We need films like this one to help aspects of Africa’s primal innocence to survive in all of us, even as we give up that innocence in order to survive, personally and culturally.

We need films like “Black November,” Jeta Amata’s statement about the violence that beset the truly innocent. Taken together the two films test our faith that primal innocence can and should survive. What will all of us do if it disappears?

Source: Psychology Today

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Mistah Cole

Mistah Cole

is a Nigerian-born Music critic and movie blogger

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