For lovers of Nigerian movies, it would be near impossible to miss the buzz on social media about Netflix’s latest Nigerian crime thriller, Shanty Town, and particularly the performance of Nollywood veteran actor, Chidi Mokeme, as the imposing character “Scar.” Chidi has received wide spread plaudits for his breathtaking embodiment of the role in the series, even from his colleagues and industry heavyweights.
However, the question that’s been on people’s minds and social media pages is “Where has he been?”
In this episode of Rubbin’ Minds, the actor shares his extraordinary story of recovery from coming down with Bell’s Palsy, how he made do, being lucky enough to be mentally strong, focusing on his other businesses while he sought help, losing his loved ones, his unwavering faith in God, the humbling support he has received for his role in Shanty Town, and lots more.
Here are 5 things we learned about him in this interview:
On how he’s stayed relevant over the years:
I think it’s just taking my job seriously. I take this as a job. This is a job. This is all I have done all of my life, you know, so it’s the only thing I have done. I have never gone out and worked in any office or anyone’s office apart from mine. So I take my job seriously. When I wake up in the morning and go to work, I know that I am going to work. So that’s it; it’s just commitment to the craft.
On his break from acting:
I was off the scene for a while. After we did the promotional tour for 76 you know and we went to Toronto international film festival, but I will say something that I haven’t actually said anywhere else because after that, we were preparing to go on a trip to UK for the British International Film Festival. I came down with something called Bell’s Palsy. So if you know Bell’s Palsy, it was the first time I was hearing it. Bell’s Palsy is something that comes like a stroke and it affects one side of your face and sort of gives you a droop. And this was something that the doctor said was incurable, they had no cure because they didn’t know what causes it so they didn’t know how to treat it. So for an actor, if you come down with something that affects your face, you know, you can imagine what I must have been going through at the time.
On the comments people have been making about his work:
Honestly, as far as the reception for Shanty Town is concerned, it’s overwhelming. You know, in a good kind of way. It’s been humbling. I am coming from where I am coming from in the last four, five years. I am still trying to take it in, but remember that in the last four, five years, like I said, there’s been a hunger. I could see things happening, and there was nothing I could do about it. So my conversation with God was that, “God, if you try me and put me in front of a screen, I will show you that the talent you put inside of me will be used to bless you. Just try me now and put me in front of a screen. That was my conversation with God. I could see the inflow, all of the streamers coming in, Netflix was doing well, and I thought to myself, “Man, we built this.” I have done nothing else for 30 plus years, and this is the time you know to get your flowers, and I said, “God willing, try me! Try me and let me give you glory, and this is God’s glory right here.
How Nollywood can build on its current successes:
First and foremost, drum rolls for Nollywood. This was totally built on the back of private equity and private sweat. People dug in with no government support by way of policy or otherwise so the fact that the world is taking notice and scrambling to come into Nollywood, it’s a big deal. I said to somebody yesterday, I said, mark my words, the Nollywood film industry is going to recolonize the world the way the Afro beats industry of our Nigerian music industry is recolonizing the world. All we need is for them to take notice. Once they take notice, they can’t stop biting. It’s a black thing. Once you go black, you can’t go back.
How we can ensure that Nollywood safeguards itself from exploitation:
Nobody is thinking about it now. I had this conversation with a few of my colleagues. Nobody is thinking about it now. It’s like they are dangling the carrot right now in front of us, but we need to look beyond the carrot at the stick and who is holding the stick and what the real intent or intention is. Because it’s so easy to get caught up in the hype, until these people come in and suck everything out, and we’re back to square one. First and foremost, it’s time for all the guilds to prepare their structures. Make sure that you have a solid, professional structure on the ground. So that when people from outside decide it’s too expensive to bring so and so person to shoot here, why don’t we base this production in Nigeria? They will find the right talent and the right kind of crew to give them the professional work that they deserve. That’s what has been holding us back. One of the things holding us back that you find is that we go to South Africa all the time to shoot musical videos and commercials. From Nigeria, do we go to South Africa to shoot commercials? Why? There’s only one reason for that. People don’t trust the quality of the talent, and people don’t trust the quality of the technical expertise that is on the ground. But we can see that Shanty Town is a game changer, and we can see that the talents that we want and the technical expertise that we need are all available. It all can be done here. Now, let us have a proper structure that will help us see what we do as a business.
Watch the full interview here.