Fespaco Forum Debates 2023/16: CJ “Fiery” Obasi talks about Mami Wata | africultures

The Nigerian director presented his film in official competition at Fespaco 2023 Mami Wata, who received the African Critics Prize, as well as the prizes for the best image and the best decor. A village lives there away from the outside world, under the tutelage of the healer Mama Efe, the intermediary between them and Mami Wata. His daughter Zinwe and her protege Prisca have a different view of the village’s survival. They will be overtaken by the violence of the world but will react. CJ “Fiery” Obasi was invited to talk about it with the press and professionals after the press session and during a debate-forum. Summary transcript.

Why a black and white film?

For many reasons! I only saw it in black and white. I had to understand why. Initially, in 2016, I physically saw the last scene in black and white. The young woman was advancing towards Mami Wata, there were not yet the villagers. As a child, I saw black and white films on television. They marked me. And then black and white is very special: unlike color, it is political, spiritual. It matches black bodies perfectly. So I did some directing tests which turned out to be conclusive.

How did you develop the story from this vision?

I wondered who this woman was. She sent me back to my dead sisters. I spent five years developing the screenplay. I wanted a message but one that was not slapped, in accordance with my conception of politics. And then I love genre films, and therefore draw on this type of story. It is while trying to save the young woman that we arrive at Mami Wata. Without her, no child, no survival.

What was your inspiration for the make-up, the costumes?

I base my imagination on the reality of West African culture. We tell stories but the beauty is missing. It was my project. I was wondering how to highlight the woman with her powers. Brazil inspired me a lot, and of course the Nigerian culture. I wanted the film to express my love for African culture as much as for black skin. Aesthetics is political. I wanted it semi-organic, inspired by African tales. With the director of photography Lílis Soares, we took a personal journey. The politics, the people emerge behind the myth and the belief, so that the whole film takes on a political status. It is a reflection on African History, colonialism, religion against traditional spirituality.

You are indeed mixing various themes.

Yes, the black community, the strength of women, the thirst for power… Mami Wata is a legend common to all African peoples. When Zinwe and Prisca find themselves on the beach, it is the question of the destiny of Africa that is manifested: will it achieve its unity? Another world is possible. Whether Mami Wata is real or not doesn’t matter. The young woman sees in Mami Wata her reflection in the sea. She is Mami Wata, as we are God in the Bible.

How do you relate to tradition and modernity?

There should be a balance. Prisca is very modern but she believes in tradition. The God we see is ourselves. If the totem (which represents identity, destiny) was synonymous with power, Zinwe could use it. It is a symbol. We put the thing in the objects but that’s not what will save us.

The music carries the film.

Yes, Tunde Jegede composed the original music, inspired by the griots of Senegambia. The final song isAmadou and Mariam. Their music seems to me to correspond to Prisca’s attitude towards people. This is the sound of West Africa! From 2016, the song was chosen! It is federal. Likewise, the pidgin spoken in the film is understood by everyone. Everything is in harmony. When are we going to show Africans as Gods?

Fespaco Forum Debates 2023/16: CJ “Fiery” Obasi talks about Mami Wata | africultures