If you’re like me, you find the classic Nollywood film, the type marked by a melodramatic script, religious/spiritual overtones, and DIY production, hard to get into. You’re more attracted to the new crop of Nollywood films, the kind pioneered by the likes of Biyi Bandele (director of the expensive and beautifully produced Half of a Yellow Sun and one of my current favorites, Fifty) and continued by Izu Ojukwu, director of ’76, which just premiered with a flashy gala screening at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival.
’76 centers on a Nigerian soldier, Captain Joseph Dewa, played by Ramsey Nouah, who is wrongly accused of complicity in the 1976 coup and assassination of then-president General Murtala Mohammed. Picture this: your best friend tries to get you to join a movement that goes against your politics, and on top of that could devastate your country. That’s the situation Dewa finds himself in. Tragically, the harder he tries not only to distance himself from the coup attempt, but to also heroically alert the government, the deeper Dewa falls into danger.
Meanwhile, the captain has his hands full with his relationship with Suzy and their baby, who could be born at any minute. What’s interesting about Suzy and Dewa’s relationship is that they come from different tribes: Suzy is Igbo; we don’t find out explicitly where Dewa is from. The film shows the tension between the couple and Suzy’s father and brother, who take issue with the fact that they don’t know Dewa’s family, and illustrates Suzy’s own insecurity about Dewa’s secrecy about his relatives. The conflict comes to a head in a heated fight between Dewa and Suzy, which, as someone who knows intimately the importance of family unity in Igbo households, broke my heart. Just then, the military plot explodes, throwing the future of Dewa and Suzy’s relationship even further into doubt, and moreover, threatening their lives.
Despite its grave content, ’76 gives me that romantic feeling I get when I see Nigeria portrayed sleekly and authentically on the silver screen. Yes, I thought, listening to Suzy tease Dewa’s friend in playful pidgin and gazing at the afros and flowing dresses that the film’s female characters rocked–this is where I’m from. ’76 stylishly serves a passionate, difficult love story while introducing you to a chilling but important part of Nigerian history.