In the past month, I’ve been looking to delve into the annals of Ghanaian high art and popular cinema. Kwa Ansah’s much-acclaimed Heritage Africa with other cinematic products such as Nana King’s Beast Within and A. Hackman’s Not Without, come off as noticeable landmarks in our cinematic history and oh, so will Kumasi’s gift to African cinema, Kumawood. While the former films are concerned with the emancipation of the colonized intellectual and seek to restore authentic roots, Kumawood is basically concert party meets Efiewura. Kumawood as an industry produces a lot of movies each year and I was wondering, for such a standout phenomenon on the local scene, what substantial role has Kumawood played in our entertainment land scape.On the surface they appear to be a huge industry producing an absurd amount of movies but are they really doing anything significant for the industry?
Late last year, Ekow Smith-Asante said something along the lines of Kumawood movies being nothing to write home about, this coming from the guy who starred in Who Owns Da City I might add. He called them inferior and generally bemoaned their overall production quality from the acting to the technical and needless to say I agree with him. I feel like the folks in charge up there treat the Kumawood movies as extensions of the Key Soap Concert Party and the output shows. Laughable scripts, egregious special effects, indigent production sets and the non-existent direction that allows the likes of Liwin and Agya Koo to spew out unconstrained, slapstick, illogical performances although it’s important to appreciate which end of the exploitation film spectrum they fall under.
The only Kumawood movie I saw last year in its entirety was The Evangelist starring Liwin of course and I will admit it was a movie with a solid idea and would have been well suited to walking the path of satire but no, it descends it a fanfare of uninteresting body humour that some people seem to love and I just hate. It begs the question, is Kumawood just about comedy? Everything from that industry seems to be geared towards laughs. Even their attempts at horror and, it pains me to say this, Sci-Fi are so laughable because of the eventual end product but for an industry that has comedy as its spine it seems to have little understanding of the genre.
Now back to the industries role in the national entertainment landscape, from a financial stand point are they making any inroads? It doesn’t look like it. For one, the actors aren’t making that much money and here I’m referring to the household names like Liwin and Agya Koo. Agya Koo who was taking about 5000 per movie was the highest average pay per movie among his fellow Kumawood actors. That doesn’t measure up to their Ghallywood counterparts. The movies don’t gross much thanks to the system and bootleggers and they don’t do anything to back up their home base financially either so I ask, what’s the point if the industry isn’t a viable business.
From a critical standpoint though, it’s a massive thumbs down for the industry. The problems of the Ghanaian movie scene appear to be amplified here. The poor overall production is evident, the films are devoid of any form artistic depth and worryingly for me there seems no attempt add a minuscule of quality and even more worryingly everyone seems okay with it. I feel like directors do not start out with a story to tell or any substantive ideas to underlie their work and these are plain fundamentals. People jump to the defence of the industry when their relevance is downplayed but is clear to all with half a brain to see that the movies produced there are woefully subpar without any understanding of film.
That being said I think there is massive opportunity and potential in the Kumasi based industry. Kumawood is a comic goldmine with actors of sufficient comic nous. Comedy in Akan always seems twice as funny despite the lack of cinematic value of films produced. I will point to writers and that much needed essence they may have to supply if their potential is to be realised and with the right decisions we could see the herald of a proficient comic institution. It is clear the industry also enjoys making a spoof movie with every major happening, no matter how incomprehensible, being parodied through three or four movies. Again most of them, okay all of them aren’t good but some talented writers with a decent script may just be able to pull a solid one out of the drawer.
Come to think of it, do the actors even use scripts? For the most part I doubt it. The actors there, especially the prominent ones are just given a plot and with the director’s vision across, the rest is all a lesson in unmanageable adlib. The directors do not appear to have any control over the actors and one feels the actors even run the show. A director who knows his craft should impose himself on the production and keep the actors grounded. The world is getting smaller and exposure to better quality comedy is all too easy. I would love it if we had our own Monty Python or SNL and it is possible. I for one like to relate to my comedy and I feel Kumawood may be the best bet for that. I believe humour in the local dialect has an exceptional flow to it and allows for expert timing which is of course one of the keys to good comedy. Do I think that will happen? Probably not but who knows, we may get a “Shirley” to give us something ground breaking on the Ghanaian comedy scene.