HERITAGE (2003, Nigeria, 90 min.), directed by Ladi Ladebo; produced by Irene Kehinde Ladebo screenplay by Ladi Ladebo; cinematography by Armand Marco; sound by Peter Hodges; edited by Gary Sims; with Femi Fatoba (Professor Fatu), Kunle Bamtefa (his brother Fajobi), Anthony Ofoegbu (David/Dada), Wale Ojo (Yomi), Bimbo Akintola (Kofo), Remi Abiola (Madam Fajobi), Yemi Adeyemi (Ifa High Priest), Segun Arinze (Interrogator). In English and in Yoruba with English subtitles.
Though dead in flesh, our spirits live on. We come to festivals by invocation to direct the lives of the living. We intervene for peace in their lives, we intervene for plenitude in their lives. Colonizers came, they took away the muscle of our race, enshackled men and women by subterfuge, deceit, and cunning. They converted our royal scepter to kitchen knives and trampled our sacred groves with leprous feet and stole away the metaphor that was our art, which supported the cohesion of our race. By subterfuge, deceit, and cunning, they keep recurring and recurring. Greedily, they blackmail, maim, and kill, to get the best in our art as showcase in their pallid museums. But they said it was not art, they said it was primitive, they said it was crude, they said it was fetish. Yet they continued to maim and kill for it. --Prologue to Heritage
What we are doing now is
in the direction of some of our past efforts which is showcasing the beauty and
intrinsic qualities of the African culture. But more than that, we are moving
into another phase of the epic battle; and this is the phase of retrieval. Many
of our totems and artifacts have been plundered by invading foreigners who came
under different guises. But more disturbing is the fact that many of our
leaders often collude in this obnoxious rape of their people. Heritage
therefore is a serious film which in the words of Ayi
Kwei Armah in Two
Thousand Seasons, seeks to find the Way;
last decade, Nigerian filmmaking has exploded with a dynamic filmmaking
movement that has recently come to be known as “Nollywood”
(a takeoff on “Bollywood,” the popular Indian films
of the films that are shown abroad in festivals such as the Cascade Festival of
African Films, Nollywood films are not really made
for export. Their target audience is a
mass African audience. They tend to be
entertainment pure and simple, with occasional messages thrown in. They are generally sentimental,
unsophisticated in style, melodramatic, illogical, and poorly acted. The common plot elements include adultery,
wives who cannot conceive (which leads to the ever-intrusive mothers-in-law to
urge her son to take a second wife), curses, magic, and incredible
coincidences. But they can also be very
funny, full of life, and unpretentious in their devotion to their view of
Ladi Ladebo has resisted this trend, preferring to make his movies on film when possible. He too makes most of his films primarily for a Nigerian audience, but he tries to make films whose purpose is raise the consciousness of his viewers in some way, using entertainment as a means of social critique. Heritage fits into this mold. Viewers will recognize in it elements that are not that different from Nollywood’s, but his technique is far superior, the film is much more thoroughly prepared, the acting is better, and the message—though at times a little lost in the melodrama—is an important one.
The film follows David (or Dada, as he comes to be called), a young man of mixed parentage and heritage (his father was Nigerian, his mother white American, he was adopted and raised by a British couple in the U.K., and went to graduate school at the University of Texas). He comes to do research at the University of Ibadan, drawn in part by his friendship with a young woman named Kofo, who had been a fellow student in Austin; however, as we will learn, he comes for other reasons as well—his dogged research on the fate of the missing sacred bronze chest of Oduduwa, the mythical progenitor of the Yoruba people, and his own mysterious, personal reasons.
Kofo, who now runs a community education center, introduces him to a local art specialist of approximately his age, Yomi, who shares David interest in the way that Yoruba culture has been compromised by the ongoing looting of spiritual artifacts for sale to the West. Yomi tells David that Nigerian complicity in this looting has led to the present lack of balance and ethical integrity: “Little wonder our world around here is upside down. In our mad rush to be part of our global this and global that, we’ve lost focus as to who we really are. Our culture has been decimated, almost consciously. The same goes for our values and our virtues, I might add.” Yomi, who is a member of the Ife clan, known for its traditional spirituality and magical power, facilitates David’s meeting with the film’s key figure: Professor Fatu, who has been imprisoned for the last fifteen years, and repeatedly tortured, for his refusal to reveal to the authorities the location of the Oduduwa artifacts that they will surely sell to the highest bidder.
This meeting leads the way to
David’s integration into the professor’s family (in various ways), and a
discovery of his place in the larger community.
He commits to struggling to protect the artifacts that he now
understands are very much part of his own heritage. It is a struggle that will ultimately put his own life at risk—and, in Nollywood
fashion, is accompanied by a danger and near-death from an unexpected,
surprising source. In the end, though,
the power of the
* * *
Now in his
early sixties, Raymond Olasubomi Oladipupo
Ladebo (who goes by the name Ladi
Ladebo) began his work in film in the 1970s. He came to film via the world of advertising.
After receiving his secondary education in
All his films have been made under
the auspices of his own production company, Ladi Ladebo Productions, with his wife, Irene Kehinde Ladebo serving as line
producer). His most recent feature-length films are The Throne (1998), Baba Zak (2000), and Heritage
(2003). Heritage was shot on Super 16mm film and released on DVD. His work in
--Notes by Michael Dembrow
RETURN to CFAF16 Notes & Resources
RETURN to CFAF16 Notes & Resources