Popular Nigerian actor Jim Iyke commonly known for his bad boy roles has been cast the lead role of Jack Zollo in the much anticipated Kenyan crime buster ‘MY LIFE IN CRIME’, an adaptation of John Kiriamiti’s book. It is a move however, that has not been taken well by Kenyan actors who feel shortchanged.
In a heated argument on the popular actors’ forum, actors.co.ke, scores of his fellow actors have given their two cents on the issue.
CAN A KENYAN ACTOR GET A LEAD ROLE?
Maina Wilfred, awarded best supporting actor in Nairobi Half Life, wrote: “Can a Kenyan actor get a lead role in Nollywood? Kenyans love Kiriamiti’s story that they would rather be left to read the book and visualize than to see it poorly executed.”
Actress Lizz Njagah posted: “I’m really amazed that Kenyans are pissed off that Jim Iyke has been cast as Jack Zollo, frankly I am too, but you know what? We caused it. We don’t watch our movies, because we believe we are not good enough. We flock to watch Nigerian movies. The next time you hear of a Kenyan movie in the cinemas, go watch it. Don’t just sit and whine about Kenyan actors not being given a chance.”
Bideen Ehmed’s trenchant view was: “In Kenya, even in the film industry there’s nepotism and tribalism. In Kenya, Actors are not given a chance; you are just chosen via corruption…I wonder why!!!!”
Nancie Rox’s concern was: “Let’s just hope he gets the accent right.SMH”
“NIGERIANS ARE STARS”
According Historia Films producer Alexander Konstantaras: “Yes there are some marketable names in Kenya but Nigerians are stars. Africans, including Kenyans, made them stars by watching Nollywood and ignoring their own. I don’t blame directors or producers who cast Nigerians like Rita Dominic or Jim Iyke in Kenyan movies hoping to get more audiences.
“Especially for My Life In Crime that naturally aims for international audiences (like the 1st grader). From the other hand you have One fine day films that cast Kenyans and still manage to make it abroad (at least with Nhl). The difference though is that the production money to one fine day films are coming in for that reason (to promote Kenyan talent) while in my life in crime they need to attract the sponsors with a big name.
“Same game, different rules. Nothing is right or wrong cause at the end of the day different producers aim for different things. But the common truth is that: If you want to spend money in a film you want to make it back. So you do what you think will bring your money back? Casting Jim Iyke or Ian Mbugua, Rita Dominic or Sarah Hassan?”
Kirina Productions owner Janet Kirina
“HOW ARE WE GOING TO GROW?”
Manasseh K. Nyagah waded in: “Messed up cast director!! (No offense) but how are we going to grow! You’ve seen Nairobi Half Life, it’s our own! We (Kenyans) own it like crazy!! We have enough projects that can answer the question; does Kenya have marketable actors? KENYA HAS MORE THAN THEY THINK!”
The movie, My Life in Crime is a production of Kirina Productions owned by actress Janet Kirina in collaboration with Lucy Chodota of Cthrough Productions, based in the Netherlands. It will be directed by international director Neil Sheil who has directed a series of other local productions as well including the NTV Series Higher Learning and Saints.
“KENYAN ACTORS LACK A GLOBAL APPEAL”
In defending the productions decision to have Jim Iyke as the lead actor, Neil had this to say:
“The decision to cast Jim Iyke was not taken lightly. The importance of this film being Kenyan was of utmost importance as was the importance of getting it seen by as many people in the world as possible.
If a film does not make money the production company will not be in business very long and part of making money with a movie is getting as many people to watch it as possible and pay for it too. This is an expensive film to make since it’s a period piece and we have to be true to that period. Because the budget is high we need to ensure that our investors have a strong business plan so they are secure in knowing they will get their money back +. Jim Iyke brings a huge audience with him from all of sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the international diaspora.
“But that was not the only reason for casting Jim. Jim loved the script and had to audition. He worked hard and hired an accent coach. He flew himself out to Nairobi from Abuja and auditioned in person. He demonstrated a very high work ethic and superb talent.
“Morgan Freeman played Nelson Mandela in Invictus. Daniel Day-Lewis played Abraham Lincoln. Jim Iyke will play Jack Zollo.
“I must add this as well, all of the Kenyan actors who will be playing roles around the Jack Zollo character will gain more exposure from having Jim play the lead role than they have ever had before. This puts Kenyan actors in a world-wide spotlight and helps us build the industry here with real celebrities. Kenya needs celebrities that are internationally known and recognized. It is severely lacking for many reasons but lacking nonetheless.
“This film will help to remedy that. The Kenyan actors in this movie will no longer travel around Nairobi in matatus. They will become celebrities in their own countries first and then beyond. That helps the movie industry here. That means you can say as a producer, “Melvin Alusa is cast in my film.” and investors will sit up and listen and start writing cheques.
“Jim Iyke is actually helping to build the Kenyan film industry by playing this lead role. He will do it justice and I am demanding that he does.
“There are many more Kenyan stories to be told with movies. I feel this movie will give the industry a leg up and break open the flood of stories that are just waiting to be told to the world.
“I hope I have shed some light on this for you. It was not an easy decision but a necessary one.”
JANET KIRINA OFF TO NOLLYWOOD?
Some players in the industry however allege that the move is meant to open doors for actress Janet Kirina in Nollywood. (Janet stars in the movie as Millie (Jack Zollo’s wife). “This is the opportune time for the likes of Melvin Alusa, Peter King or Olwenya to play Zollo and hit the jackpot. In my opinion, Jim is not a bankable brand but a guinea pig 4 Janet to tap Nollywood. Let Kenyans tell their stories”, said actor and film critic, Steve Anderson Wekesa.
According to one Njue Kelvin: “Personally I’m not complaining about whoever got cast in the lead role to play Jack Zollo in what I believe will be Kenya’s greatest piece ever, but allow me to echo one concern.
“I understand perfectly well the decision by the producers, but this was the one opening that would have finally given birth to a Kenyan A-list actor & celebrity. This one opportunity would have made a ‘Star’. He would have graced the red carpet all over Europe and America in Kenyan attire. He would have finally pulled our film and television industry to a level we so much desire.
“Yes, the decision might have the monetary appeal for the producers but it has deliberately delayed the development of our own industry in general.”
RITA DOMINIC CONTROVERSY
This will not be the first time an A-List Nigerian actor has been casted in a local film. Last year Rita Dominic was cast in the film Shattered by Dream House Productions and Kenyans reacted to her nomination in the 2012 Kalasha Awards in the coveted Best Lead Actress Category, which she later won, amidst the controversy.
Nollywood is big and has a much larger international audience compared to Kenya’s film industry which is still emerging. As much as this Kenya Forum correspondent is not against the inclusion of foreign actors in local films for this particular one, I echo Kelvin Njue’s sentiments; this is a missed opportunity to sell a talented Kenyan actor to the world and after the pace set by Nairobi Half Life, riding on the wave the film created on the local scene, and not forgetting that the book My Life In Crime was a best seller, the producers would have still achieved the international recognition they seek even without Iyke as the lead actor.
Jim Iyke could have still, in the producers words, “help to build the Kenyan film industry” in a supporting role to a lead Kenyan actor, after all Nairobi Half Life has proved that what the industry needs to appeal to the Kenyan audience, whose interest they aim to please and keep, is to tell an original Kenyan story from a Kenyan perspective.