"MY LIFE IN CRIME WILL FLOP IF JIM IYKE PLAYS THE LEAD" SAYS FILM CRITIC
After the successful production of Nairobi Half Life (2012), it seems like the local film industry is prepared for yet another crime thriller by the celebrated Canadian producer and director Neil Schell who has over the last few years become a household name within the Kenyan TV and film fraternity. A pregnant cloud of ambition and expectations has recently rented the Kenyan film airwaves starting with the successful shoot of a movie titled House of Lungula by Historia Films which promises to bring Kenyan bedroom scenes and drama to your screens, to now talk of the city adaptation of John Kiriamiti’s crime series Jack Zollo- My Life in Crime; a production that is set to cost well over Kshs. 300M.
Many questions have been raised as to whether the producers of this film will deliver in making the movie as real and captivating as the novel is, whether or not the movie will glorify crime and celebrate criminals and finally whether or not the cast will meet the expectations of the anticipating audiences. For fear of not being a prophet of doom, I will not comment on any of the aforementioned questions, but of course I will wait and see the final production; in the meantime, I will fast and pray for Niel and his team not to disappoint.
Now, much has already been said about the role of John Kiriamiti (Jack Zollo being played by Nigerian actor, producer and musician Jim Iyke. As a passionate film enthusiast and a Kenyan patriot who believes in my fellow actors’ ability to be molded in to any role, that fact is still hitting me hard like labour pains. I am certain that Kenyan actors whose bread and butter is being in front of a camera feel the same way. The major reason for this growing and careless trend is in the hope that Jim Iyke will give the film an international and regional appeal (according to its producers). REALLY?
First Grader terribly failed in creating believability when Naomie Harris played the role of a local teacher Jane. This is due to the fact that she would not connect with her environment and certainly she had no idea of how a typical Kenyan community interacts.
I can confidently say the same about Rita Dominic who acted as Keziah in “Shattered” directed by Gilbert Lukalia.
With the hope of giving a film an international or regional look and appeal, all these films have failed compared to Nairobi Half Life whose purely local talent gave it an authenticity that no other film has ever achieved. I am yet to know how much “Shattered” grossed in sales but I can bet it is nothing close to what NHL has.
In my opinion, not only is it unethical and disrespectful to hire a “foreigner” to play the role of one of the most popular Kenyan “criminals,” I find it absurd that Jim Iyke is this foreigner. This can only be compared to Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, a German official ordered to assassinate Hitler in Valkryie (2008). It is argued that even Stauffenberg's son couldn't believe this casting choice. Not only is Jim Iyke an overrated “bad boy” but I strongly believe he is not any better an actor than our own Peter King, Ainea Ojiambo, Maina Olwenya, Mwaura Bilal, Melvin Alusa, Makbul Mohammed or “Master Sugu” (the thug in Tausi). I am of a strong opinion that he will not deliver just like he has failed to in many other Nigerian movies that I have watched. Apart from the fact that he is not always as believable in his body language, his Black American accent will be a major factor in his failure if he decides not to shed it and speak like John Kiriamiti. The directors have to work extremely hard to deliver on Jim’s acting.
Watch Jim Iyke in action in the movie below titled "Love my way"
With this growing trend of foreigners being featured as principal casts in Kenyan movies, what then are the roles of Kenya Film and Television Professionals Association (KFTPA) and Actors Guild? Among the main objectives of these two bodies is to see to it that Kenyan actors and the film industry grow. I believe this growth monster is through exposing Kenyan actors and actresses to well funded movies that will raise their profiles. As much as producers have the final decision to choose who to hire, isn’t it rather disappointing that they do not have faith in our own talents? As if this is not enough, these foreigners will by design win the most coveted titles at the expense of Kenyans like was the case in Kalasha 2012 where Rita Dominic won the Best Actress Award. How then will Kenya boast of having bankable actors and actresses? All in all, I wish to see the final film meet the hype that it has so far created in the local industry. I have so much respect and admiration for the author of this book as well as for Neil.
By Steven Anderson Wekesa
The writer is a film critic and lecturer at the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology in Kenyatta University with a passion for Cinematography and Theatre & Film Criticism.