Nollywood star Patience Ozokwor, aka Mama G, who is in Malawi for a series of performances alongside Rising Choreos Theatre Company, takes Albert Sharra through her career in movie production, her passion for serving Africa and who she really is when the cameras stop rolling.
Tell me about yourselfÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
I am Patience Ozokwor. I am a citizen of Enugu Ngwo in Enugu state of Nigeria. I was born on 14th September 1958 in a family of nine. I am a widow and I have eight children, four are my biological children and one is married. I adopted the other four.
I have moved through the corridors of many primary and secondary schools in Nigeria, but I obtained my highest qualification at Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) where I graduated with a diploma in graphics in 1982Ã‚Â and in 1999, I obtained a degree in mass communication at Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ENUST). Before that, I worked as a primary and secondary school teacher for about four years in Enugu and I quit to join acting.
Were you previously an actor or did you just decide to take a chance?
Yes, I was. I started acting during my early school days. In Nigeria, we have an annual national day where Art and Culture is celebrated. At the event, students from all schools showcase various talents and drama is one of the major events. The schools compete at zonal, district and regional level, then the best are chosen to represent their schools at the event.
I was involved in such competitions and learnt a lot through participating in them. However, all this talent originates from my church where I was an active evangelist drama actor. As a group, we used to perform in church and at various spiritual events in Enugu. My passion in acting grew strong at this time and I gave my all into all our group performances.
This is at community level; how did you break through into movie production?
My significant break-through dates back to the late 1990s after the release of a beautiful movie titled Ã¢â‚¬ËœAuthorityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ alongside other Nigerian actors. In the movie, I acted as the mother of the main character Amuche. The movie sold very well and people liked it. This motivated us and we began producing movies frequently. We also travelled across Nigeria to perform. We received a lot of support from the communities and slowly grew until movie production hit the jackpot in Nigeria and the industry was dubbed Nollywood. This is also when people began to know me better.
Who or what motivated you to work hard and take this as your career?
I owe my success to the love of God and my parents. Without these two, I would be nothing today. God infuses a talent or talents into every human being and I as I grew up, I knew I had the potential to succeed in acting, but there was no room to break through.
When I got a chance to feature in a movie, I took it seriously and worked very hard to impress the viewers. As an evangelist, I strongly believe in spreading the word of God through preaching. However, preaching is diverse and when I saw that chance coming to me to preach through drama and movie performances, I did not waste any time because I knew that movies would take my message country wide and even beyond. It is this passion that led me to play educative roles in most films I have featured.
You are popularly known for playing controversial roles. Is this by choice?
In movie production, you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t choose what role to play; you need to be versatile. But I believe my performances in my earliest movies influenced many producers to give me such parts in movies. However, I am proud of it because it complements my passion of preaching the Word of God against bad behaviour and poor traditions in Nigeria, Africa and the world as a whole. The secret of movie production is to play your roles to the best of your abilities. If they cast you as a prostitute, then play a convincing prostitute and you will succeed. This is what has put me where I am.
How did your children react to your Ã¢â‚¬ËœevilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ movie roles?
At first, it was a challenge and they used to ask me a lot of questions but now they are used to it and are proud of me. They love me as mother not an actor and are able to differentiate the two. Even my fans are now used to it because they know that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just acting and that I am very different in real life.
As an actor, what are some of the major challenges that you face?
People who have never met me think I am of that character and many people have given me various names because of the parts I take in most movies. In addition to this, most Nigerian communities have been unhappy with me for showing some dilapidated houses in the country and exposing some serious challenges people in the country face through my movies.
They say that I am disgracing the country. However, this has not stopped me from doing what I do because I believe in truth. I always want to tell something that is real and if possible, throw an educational aspect into it.
The other thing is that the industry is too involving and for you to succeed, you have to stop all your businesses or quit employment, which is risky. Getting over these challenges has been difficult, but I forged ahead because I knew that through playing these roles, I was reaching out to my fellow Nigerians and teaching them a thing or two. People have called me all sorts of names but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let that get to me. I have a passion for Africa and I want to serve the continent.
How do you look at the movie industry in Nigeria and in Africa?
I can say Nigeria is in top form at the moment and everyone is eager to join the industry right now. Nollywood took root because after acknowledging that there is gold in the film industry, everyone put their heart to it and I can tell you that the industry is growing every day.
For a long time, only retired professionals ventured into acting, but today, many youths are joining in. This is the passion I cannot see in most African countries despite having plenty of talent. In Nigeria, funding has been a setback but recently, our government decided to pump more funds into the industry, which will take it to another level.
In other countries, I feel there is a lot left to be desired.Ã‚Â Perhaps the governments do not support the film industry as much as it should and actors have no platform to succeed in their careers. The few who have succeeded in the industry suffer the painful blows of piracy.
Royalty is another great problem; people need to survive after retirement, but today, you can spend a lifetime in the industry and upon retiring, become poor again. This should not be the trend. We need to have a good platform for new talent, good funding, abolish piracy and set sustainable money savings systems that can help retired artists continue living a comfortable life.
You have featured in over 300 movies; do you have any awards on your shelves?
Definitely, yes! I have won many of them and I cannot remember them all, but the best ones are the Face of Nollywood and Zafa from London. I have also been recognised by the Women of Nigeria several times.
Who is Patience Ozokwor when cameras stop rolling and the curtains fall?
I am a Christian and a loving mother who likes spending time at home cooking. I am an easy-going woman and I like interacting with people or just chatting with my children and friends. I am a strong-minded person who wants to prosper in life.
What strengths do Nigerian women have that perhaps other nationalities can draw from?
Nigerian women have the passion to succeed in life and we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like to lag behind in activities we feel can develop the nation. We believe in utilisation of what God has given us and we take full advantage of any chance that we can get our hands on. Most Nigerian women are active and assertive. If women in all countries did this, I believe African nations would succeed tremendously.
In addition to being an actor, you also run a number of businesses. Are you not satisfied with Nollywood?
I am satisfied with Nollywood and I spend most of my daily hours working on movies. However, I also have a passion to assist the needy, which is why I have ventured into a few businesses such as fast food restaurants in Enugu. Through this, I would like to provide employment to the youth and give them a chance to change their future by either establishing themselves or paying for their education.
What do you look forward to doing in Malawi?
It is a pleasure to be in Malawi and I believe this will promote the working relationship between Malawian and Nigerian actors. This visit complements my ambition of helping develop young talent by featuring people from other countries in my movies and performing alongside other African groups.
You will perform in a movie titled The Return where you play a wicked woman. WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s your take on this?
I am very proud of the role because it is what has sold me to the world. Most Malawians know me for such roles and I am happy to play it on their land. I will do all my best to show everyone how we do it in Nigeria because I know this will impart courage and strong passion in some actors. I am ready for it!
Any future plans?
My only ambition is to see the film industry grow further in Africa. I believe this will help countries advance economically. Previously, Nigeria depended on oil and groundnut exportation, but today, movies are dominating. This is what I want to see Africa doing and I will do all I can to ensure that this comes to fruition.
I have the passion for Africa and I want to serve it. I devoted all my life to acting and my retirement will only come along with my death.