Today, there is a dearth of historical dramas amongst contemporary Nollywood output, but this hasn’t always been the case. One of the first epics of the industry, Ogbori Elemosho, released in the 80s, which starred Lere Paimo, opened a pathway to what a sprinkle of fiction could do to a historical figure and their story. Tunde Kelani’s adaptation of Akinwunmi Ishola’s novel, Efunsetan Aniwura (2005), more recent, better made, became an instant classic upon release; an efficient psychological breakdown on the infamous Iyalode of Ibadan. And even more recently is Kunle Afolayan’s October 1st, a historical thriller woven around the Nigerian independence nuptials. And today, under the Netflix auspice, Izu Ojukwu’s historical thriller, ’76, released in 2016, has been revived.
Captain Joseph Dewa (Ramsey Nouah), a soldier in the Nigerian army, has found himself in the middle of a military plot. The newly appointed, public-beloved Head of State, Muritala Muhammed, has been marked to be assassinated by top military officials, retired military officials, and civilian politicians. Captain Dewa has recently been assigned back to the barracks with his pregnant wife, Suzy (Rita Dominic). He is quickly coveted by his longtime friend, Gomos (Chidi Mokeme), to be recruited into the sinister plot against the Head of State. Captain Dewa refuses to the disappointment of his friend and the coup plotters. As we know, death visits the Head of State violently, and in its aftermath is a great military investigative ruckus. By affiliation with members of the coup plotters, Captain Dewa is promptly arrested as his wife delivers her baby. The crux of the film becomes the race to exonerate Captain Dewa or he gets executed with the coup plotters.
The point of narratives like ’76 is to revisit and contemplate history, tasks that can only be properly done in retrospect. We are a people who have deliberately starved ourselves of history because we are uncomfortable with what we have kept in the past, because there is the deliberate need to erase a certain not-too-long-ago chapter of our history. A part of our history that Izu Ojukwu’s film isn’t temporally far from. Amongst the few contemporary Nollywood historical dramas is Biyi Bandele’s 2013 adaptation of the exceptional Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, which bears the same title as the book. The movie adaptation has been promptly forgotten, but it has been said that it went through censorship hell, that numerous politically charged, war scenes had to be cut from it to evade censorship. The eventual result was a sappy, glorified love film that reflects nothing of the point in the history it depicts. This is where Izu Ojukwu’s film should be praised.
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Period films are difficult to make. Attention must be paid to costume, props, music, even speech inflection. The costuming for ’76 is stunning, although the bulk of the job is procuring military apparels, there are specific dress ups that catch the eye; bright, expressive colours which speak to both character and period. One such example is the flamboyant Ikenna, played by Nelly Ekwereogo. His colour combos in his arrest scene and the loud purple and white attire he wears in the final scene are fine examples. The gruff Captain Dewa is dressed for the most part in his military uniform, but when he does wear mufti, the colour is usually numbed grey colours, save for the scene the coup plotters attempt to initiate him. Angelina (Memry Savanhu) the hippy wife of Major Noel (Debo Oguns) would have looked excellent in loud clothings as well. The lighting speaks complementary language to the costume, especially in scenes like the opener. The costume department, heralded by Pat Egwurube and the properties manager, Chima Adighije, did excellently in their offices. These are departments that are rarely praised, but in films like this, they are usually standout performers. Except you choose to mute all colours like Spielberg in Schindler’s List.
We must know what to expect from the acting when Ramsey Nouah and Rita Dominic (La Femme Anjola) lead the pack. It did feel like some lines were recorded in post, however, it’s almost imperceptible. Ramsey is the star of the show as the stoic, disciplined Captain Dewa, a true reflection of the quintessential military man. For the most part of the movie, Ramsey plays the stoic impressively, but the intrigue of his performance are the points when he must soften around his wife, Suzy. Their chemistry is so synchronized that the improvisations go unnoticed. This is what is expected of good acting. The cherry of their performance is the entirety of the film’s third act, when Ramsey steps backstage and Rita takes charge. It was delightful watching the duo perform. Rita Dominic applies a serious tinge to her performance in The Meeting and Ramsey Noah presents a mature version of his character from Dangerous Twins. What was previously great becomes near perfect in ’76.
As expected of almost any military film, there are some blood-pumping scenes, almost always physical. Although ’76 has few of those, the film’s action scenes aren’t properly choreographed, which means some parts had to be sped up to increase tempo. An example, perhaps the only one, is the chase scene in the W.A.S.A crowd. But these are things you barely notice because the film is visually pleasing and because, in a circuitous way, it deals with our history. The radio announcements sound original enough, very close to Obasanjo’s voice, if not the actual voice of the former Head of State. And one can’t help but have a sense of place in that history being presented. Perhaps, someday soon, a filmmaker will have the temerity to make a good film about the civil war. Now that will be some historical drama.
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- I do find it difficult to believe that through courtship until marriage, Captain Dewa mentioned nothing of his family to Suzy and she let it go. A Nigerian woman of that time who must have thought family—in-laws especially important— would have found a way, must have asked Gomos, Dewa’s C.O, anyone. Especially since her family opposed the union.
- Needless to point out that the long takes are beautiful. The night and daytime shots, especially the night shots where the light flooded from yonder onto the scene. The cinematography on a general note was quite stunning to watch.
’76 is currently streaming on Netflix.