THE Ghana movie industry has grown over the years. It has made significant strides despite its many challenges. Currently, the industry boasts a new crop of actors who are going international. We all agree to give honour to whom honour is due, so there is the need to acknowledge the pacesetters in this industry. Acknowledgement could come in the form of awards, a pat on the back or even a callback of these pacesetters to teach the new generation some of the nitty-gritty of the industry or useful lessons. This piece, therefore, is first of all, a call for the return of our veterans onto our screens and, second, a clarion call for them to be honoured, for they deserve it.
An impressive list of actors and actresses
I grew up watching the likes of Regina Pornotey, Monica Quacopoome, Victor Lutterodt, Mac Jordan Amartey, Kofi Bucknor, Kofi Middenton-Mends, Professor Martin Owusu, Brew Riverson Jnr, Grace Nortey, Grace Omaboe (Maame Dokono), Omanza Shaw, David Dontoh, Akorfa Edjeani-Asiedu, Sheila Nortey, Edinam Atatsi, Mawuli Semevor, Mary Yirenkyi, Nat Banini, Eunice Banini, Adjoa Pieterson, Kojo Demanya, George Williams, Dzifa Gomashie, and Juliet Asante in African movies and TV theatres of local entertainment content. The list goes on and on.
I vividly recollect that in that era, African movies were a delight to watch as they were only shown to us during Easter, Christmas and at times on public holidays. In those days, families sat by their TV sets and those who did not have, joined families who had. Those were memorable family times! That was the era when cinemas were making money. My unfailing memory reminds me of the Picorna Cinema, Sid Theatre Cinemas, Orion Cinema, Gama Films, Vision 66 and many more.
For a movie lover like me and other viewers we were simply satisfied with the movie trailers running on our screens and that was enough to whet our appetite. We only prayed that a particular movie that delighted us would be among the ones selected to be aired during the Yuletide.
A sample of films of yesteryear
Back then we had exciting movies like Step Dad, Who Killed Nancy?, Harvest at 17, Suzzy, Ghost Tears, The Schemers, Twisted Fate, Jennifer, Child at 6:30pm, A Stab in the Dark and Baby Thief gracing our screens. Those movies created excitement in us and a level of pride as Ghanaians. We the children not only watched for the fun of it all but also watched out for exciting ?terms? that would later become accolades among ourselves.
There were times some of these movies were aired as late as 10:30 p.m., mainly after the late news. Of course GTV had monopoly at the time, thanks to GAMA Films. The movies were aired around that time to prevent children from watching as they either featured romantic or bloody scenes, which GTV classified as unwholesome for children.
I must confess that my curiosity led me to pretend to be asleep, not in the bedroom, but in the living room on one occasion and I chanced to watch what could be termed Ghana?s version of a horror movie. It was titled Matta: Our Missing Children.
If my memory serves me well, it featured Brew Riverson Jnr as the main character and Alexandra Duah of blessed memory. Was it bloody and scary! I could not sleep that night. Thus, in pretending to be asleep when I wasn?t, I had bitten off more than I could chew.
I also remember another one that was aired at night titled Sergent Abebrese. That also scared the hell out of me. One phrase I remember in that particular one was ?Aha ye abosom fie, yemfa mpaboa mma ha? (a Twi expression meaning, This is a shrine and sandals are not allowed here). This statement was made by Amanobea Dodoo, another wonderful actress (that is, if my memory serves me well). I vividly remember picking up lines like ?do you know your father is a criminal and your mother a trickster and your grandfather a ragamuffin rascal? ?I don?t trust you, the way your nose is shaking plierplier . . . like that,? from a scene in a movie. This became a popular saying among we the children who watched Nat Banini say this line.
In the old Ghanaian movie setting, I also vividly remember Victor Lutterodt playing the stereotype role of a daft husband after either molesting teenage girls or cheating on his wife. Grace Nortey and Maame Dokono played the roles of mother very well. The interesting part of their roles was that they always turned out as in-laws or co-tenants, who were always at each other?s throat.
Omanza Shaw, Wakefield Ackuaku and Kwame Sefa Kayi were always known for the playboy, rich young men who were always frolicking with the young girls. Fred Amugi played the loving father who mostly put his family in trouble. There is also old Mac Jordan Amartey, the quarrelsome landlord who was always ejecting people from his house.
Impeccable English speaking Doris Sackitey played a subtle role of the mother. The likes of Juliet Asante, Kalsoume Sinare, Akofa Edjeani-Asiedu and Sheila Nortey did not mince words executing the bad girl roles. These and many others whose names I can?t immediately remember were the stars the Ghana movie industry created to entertain us in the ?90s.
A change in direction
Growing from the ?90s, we started seeing movie trailers portraying Ghana-Nigeria collaborations. One of such that I remember quite well was aired in the Christmas season. I seem to remember these movies because I have always been interested in the arts right from adolescence. I kept these particular movie trailers and the times in mind.
To my surprise I watched the supposed ?Ghana-Nigeria collaborations? that featured Kalsoume Sinare, Monalisa Chinda and Tricia Esigbe. They were titled Marishika and the Visitor. In truth, I was infuriated after watching the movies as I felt they were over hyped and with no moral lessons. Both were movies about the underworld and the quest for power and money. For me this was the beginning of embracing the Ghana-Nigeria collaboration in the industry.
It was a good innovation: Ghana is collaborating with Nigeria. Why not? But little did we know that the competition was going to come with many challenges for the industry. First, for some interesting reason, Nigerian movie producers relocated to Ghana ? the likes of Jake Aernam relocated to Ghana. I kept wondering, Why the relocation? (Was it to hit the jackpot from an industry that was young and vibrant?)
Next, they encouraged collaborations, perhaps a ploy adopted to get the Nigerian movies aired on national television. Then came the blast; they started airing Nigerian movie trailers on our screen and the sale of movies on VHS increased, a venture that our then movie industry could not utilize to their benefit as VHS was a preserve of the rich. The young Ghanaian industry aired their movies continually at the cinemas, making money for them. The movies were aired till everyone got a feel of the movies. Then the movies made their way unto VHS and were later handed over to GTV to air to us the ?unreached? viewers.
So now the sale of VHS became what I would call the big deal. Gradually for the affluent who could afford VHS, they preferred the buying of VHS to watching at cinemas. This development eventually became one of the factors that hindered our cinema watching experience, not to talk of what the Nigerian collaborations did to our young and vibrant industry. Anybody who closely watched the development from afar would agree with me that for the then producers in the industry, movies were not principally about money, but more about telling the African story the Ghanaian way.
These and many other reasons I will surely highlight in my subsequent write-up on the collapse of the once-vibrant cinemas in Ghana which have now given way to movie houses.
The multi-million-dollar question
Now to the all-important question that prompted the writing of this article: Where are all these gorgeous, smart, intelligent actors and actresses who graced our screens in the ?80s and ?90s? One could well answer that death has snatched some away. Yes, indeed, some have passed away. But what has become of those alive? Just where are they now? For me it?s an eyesore and, with all due respect, an insult seeing the likes of Jackie Appiah or Yvonne Nelson playing the role of a mother, not to talk about the role of grandmum. What a struggle the new crop of actors have playing the role of a father! Lest this be misconstrued, I?m not saying they cannot play the role, but if for nothing at all, just watch and learn how the likes of Patience Ozorkwor, Joke Silva, Olu Jacob, Alex Usifo execute their motherly and fatherly roles with ease and a touch of class.
In my research, I once interviewed Roger Quartey of RQ Productions and posed this question as to where the veterans in the industry are. His response? ?They are there but difficult to contact because their numbers are not readily available. Second, my colleague producers want to use faces that will sell their movies. Lastly, you would be surprised to know that the older generation does not charge as much as the younger ones do.
Roger Quartey?s response got me wondering, Do these old faces really need a lot of PR work done for them or is it a case of a nation failing to honour and recognize their efforts? As I wondered if there was a better way of helping them build their PR, my thoughts faded off. I wondered how come David Dontoh, Akofa Edjeani-Aseidu, Doris Sackitey, Kofi Bucknor, Omar Hunter and Fred Amugi have enjoyed some movie presence in recent times? In the long run, then, it is not about the veterans not doing their work well or not keeping in contact with the current crop of producers.
In my search for answers, one thing crystallized: Whereas the veterans would scrutinize a script thoroughly and would not entertain nude scenes, this young crop of actors would readily accept any script and embrace even nude scenes. So here lies the difference!
Let?s honour them now
About a year ago, veteran Grace Nortey complained bitterly about how she had been neglected by the industry. I last read a report on old Mac Jordan Amartey and Amanobea Dodoo who until recently had been involved in lots of movies with the younger generation, to the effect that they have both been ill and bedridden. Now the others like Regina Pornotey, Monica Quarcopoome, Omanza Shaw, Victor Lutterodt, Brew Riverson Jnr, Edinam Atatsi, Mawuli Semevor, Diana Gbartey, Agnes Dapaah, Prof. Martin Owusu, Grace Omaboe and the many others whose names I can?t remember, where are they now and what will it take to have them back on our screens?
It is said that a nation that does not honour its heroes is not worth dying for. Believe it or not, these veterans are our heroes and heroines in the industry. Most of us grew up watching and admiring them. Even the new generation would attest to this fact.
I was one of those who applauded the introduction of the Ghana Movie Awards into the industry. My reason is simple: Such a move was long overdue. For reasons I would rather keep to myself, I would not even want to delve into the categories or the awards.
My major concern here is why the event organizers decided to honour Nigerians when we have these veteran actors with us here in Ghana. Do we want them to die before we confer posthumous awards on them? Please let?s get serious. This write-up reminds me of a ?free? piece of advice I gave to one of the organizers of the Ghana Movie awards. I said: ?So won?t you guys honour Mac Jordan, Kofi Bucknor, Omar Hunter and the others before we lose them? The response was, ?Oooo yea, you are right and that is true.?
As someone who has a deep interest in the arts, I keenly followed last year?s awards only to realize that my advice had not been heeded. True to what we Ghanaians are best known for, the organizers conferred a posthumous award on the late Prof. Kofi Awoonor. Did he have to die before getting honoured? Have we sat down to think about how the veterans feel now? Putting ourselves in their shoes might best answer that question.
I would end this piece with a quote from the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. He said: ?Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.? Need I explain further? How do we intend sustaining this industry if its founders or heroes (for want of a better word) are not honoured?
Let?s face it, these veterans set the tone and the foundation for what we proudly boast of in the Ghana movie industry. What will it take to make them feel honoured? I would end with a call on movie producers and stakeholders who are concerned about movies to try and bring, if not all, at least a few of these faces back into the industry and see if the industry will not bounce in remarkable strides in terms of acting, language, script-writing, sanity and poise.
By Eyra Doe