Stephnora Okere, is one of the earliest thespians in the Nigerian movie industry. She rose to stardom in the 90s with the movie, Blood of the Orphan, produced by Kenneth Nebu and has been featured in a number of prime movies as well as TV series. She is currently in the location for her new project, entitled, Roberta.
She speaks with Newton-Ray Ukwuoma of Tribune on her foray into the movie industry among other issues. Excerpts:
[Cuts in] I had already cut my teeth in the industry way before they came in. But while in the industry we did some jobs together. I started acting with people like Sandra Achums, Eucharia Anunobi, Liz Benson, Alex Lopez and Susan Patrick and a host of others.
Why did you join the movie industry at the time you did?
It was just the right time. I used to tell myself that I started acting from my mother’s womb. Other babies stayed nine months in the womb, me I stayed up to twelve. While there, I couldn’t have been doing nothing else but acting.That accounts for why I had a natural flair for it even as a child. But professionally, I started acting in Nollywood after my NYSC in 1995. I studied Dramatic Arts at the university. So, while in school I was involved in a lot of stage acting. I joined an acting troupe during my youth service.
Which producer first singled you out in the movie industry?
For the movie industry, Kenneth Nebu and Zik Zulu Okafor were the producers that saw what I saw in myself, but the producer that exposed me to the entertainment industry was Pius Oluwole of ‘Beyond Our Dreams’.
Beside equipment, what other thing was ailing the movie industry then?
Finance, basically. We weren’t working for the money anyway. I acted in a lot of films and I produced some myself. Most of them didn’t fetch us a lot of money, so we were just getting by, but we worked regardless. Most of the pictures we painted came from the much we could afford. I remember when I speak about Nollywood back then I would always hammer on support. When you have enough finance, you can get the best hands and equipment. With these, we can tell our stories better.
So the movie industry has support now?
Yes, we have had some support. But I am not happy that it is gradually drifting from shooting a good movie to an entitlement mentality that some actors have. They now want a lot.
Do you think they are demanding better pay instead?
It should be about the job first, then the pay. We need more dedicated practitioners.
Let’s talk about the cinema culture. It wasn’t quite a medium in the beginning. How much doors do you think it has opened to today’s movie industry?
Few factors caused the death of cinema in Nigeria in the 80s. And we thank God for Silverbird for starting when it did with the galleria. It gave a lot of opportunity for people to see movies at the cinemas. Now, we have FilmOne, Genesis Deluxe and Ozone. We are getting there. Back then, there was a drought. But re-emergence of the cinema has given the producer different platforms to express themselves. He can decide to shoot a straight to the video film, or a film for internet consumption or for the cinemas. Also, cinema has helped to upgrade the quality of our picture and sound.
You mentioned the internet earlier. One of the new introductions of the internets is the social media. This wasn’t part of the entertainment industry when you started. What did you lack without the social media in terms of publicity?
Nothing. Publicity on social media is the in-thing. And it has taken over just like cars took over from bicycle. Some people still ride bicycle anyway. What I am saying is that the media we had then was enough. We didn’t have to hire publicists. Media publicity for us was a mark of arrival. It was like your work had so well spoken for you that the media had taken notice. I am not saying that the use of social media for publicity is bad. But we did not miss it, because media awareness for us was something to be attained. Our fans liked us not because we were in their faces, but because our works were in their faces. But now, it is topsy-turvy. Then, you knew you had arrived when the media begin to follow you up and down.
Would you say that the social media has helped to celebrate less talented actors?
It’s an era. Social media has been a blessing to many talented people as well – both established and budding. A lot of talents have through social media gotten themselves out there. But what I think it celebrates more is in the department of shallow talents. Some artistes have become lazy as a result. Being popular before your act doesn’t give the same depth or bite that time tested artistes have. We have people who are more known on social media than on the screen. As a result, we have more social media celebrities than ever before. And when you are already popular before your act, you already set a high pedestal for yourself. But if you grew with the act, you would be immersed in it and by the time publicity comes you are grounded in what you’re doing. And people would come to appreciate the depth of your act. But taken the other way round, they can easily nip your career in the bud.