Nollywood Studies Centre
Funke Akindele: Promoting Values Through Film
The desire to promote good values as well as the need to give back to the society and make a difference are the driving forces for Ms. Funke Akindele. Speaking at the April 2014 edition of the Filmmakers’ Forum of the Nollywood Studies Centre, Ms. Akindele stated, “Before I take up any role, I think about the message I’ll be passing.” She went on to add that her choices of roles as an actress were guided by the framework of the Nigerian culture and its value system. She emphasised the importance of promoting good values, especially with respect to the protection of children. This, in addition to the protection of her personal brand, has sometimes led her to request that certain aspects of a screenplay be toned down in order for her to accept the offered role.
Earlier, at the start of the Forum, Ms. Akindele narrated how she began her acting career. She had always wanted to act, she said, and she had the full support of her mother. After obtaining an Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in Mass Communication from the Ogun State Polytechnic, in 1995, she decided to study Theatre Arts. However, her father insisted on her studying Law, and she got a place in the University of Lagos to do just that. But this did not stop her from attending auditions and seeking an entry point into the film industry.
Her first role came in 1997 in Opa Williams’ Naked Wire, and she also got minor roles in a couple of other movies. Her big break, however, came with the television series, I Need to Know, which was directed by Lloyd Weaver and produced by his outfit, Swift Studios. It was a big break in more than one sense because she seized the opportunity to learn the ropes of production. But this still did not open the doors of the English filmmaking sector to her. She had better luck with Yoruba films, which she turned to on the advice of others. Ms. Akindele seized the opportunity to emphasise the importance of determination and self-confidence for the thespian. It will always be a tough struggle, she said, and encouraged budding actors to always hold on to their dreams.
In 2004, she decided to bring into play all that she had learnt about production on the set of I Need to Know, and she made her first film, Ojoketala (The Thirteenth Day). Her delving into production, according to Ms. Akindele, was facilitated by her curiosity and interest in learning about the different aspects of filmmaking. “When I make films, I oversee every aspect closely such that a cinematographer once asked me with irritation whether I am a camerawoman.” Ojoketala was followed by other films such as Itanu and Taiwo Taiwo. But the film that has made her well known, and which provided one of her major roles, was Jenifa.
The decision to make Jenifa arose from the desire to make an impact by passing a message on moral norms aimed at parents and their daughters. In this case, she was concerned about prostitution on the university campus. However, the realisation that similar stories had already been told in other films underlined the need to tell the story differently so as to make the message register, hence the use of humour.
“Producing Jenifa was difficult,” Ms Akindele noted, due largely to the challenges faced in raising the funds. She had not intended to play the lead role but, after three days of fruitless auditioning, she was forced to take it on. She created the character around the idea of a “wannabe village girl” and imbued her with different mannerisms that she had observed in different persons. “I carried out a lot of research for the character and travelled as far as Oshogbo, Ilorin and Ibadan to get the dialect right.” Her efforts paid off, and the film was very successful. Following another success with the sequel, Jenifa Returns, she now plans to produce a television series based on the same character.
Speaking passionately about the need to give back to society, Ms. Akindele said that the Jenifa Foundation had been set up to achieve this end. The Foundation aims to help people nurture their talent by training them. As such, workshops and other activities are organised on that platform. The areas of training include fashion design, make up, hairdressing, bead making and drama. The Scene One School of Drama has also been set up to contribute towards the needed manpower development in the film industry.
The Forum ended with a question and answer session during which Ms. Akindele slipped into the Jenifacharacter in various moments to the pleasure of the audience.