Have you ever seen a movie that spoke to you? You identified with the storyline, characters and message of the film so much so that you felt like you were a part of it. The type of film that if it was based on actual events, you were eager to learn more about the inspiration behind it once the film was done. A film that’s so powerful and innovative that when it ends, it leaves you wanting more.
Proclaimed Nigerian filmmaker, Jeta Amata sat down with Parlé Magazine to discuss his latest film, Black November and it’s true to life inspirations that brought such a horrible tragedy, in what many would consider a forgotten nation, to the attention of Western culture and the Hollywood screen.
Parlé Magazine: For those who may not know much about Jeta Amata, do you mind giving them some quick insight into your career?
Jeta Amata: I’m a Nigerian filmmaker. I’m one of the first guys that started and developed the Nollywood (Nigerian film industry). I made my first film at the age of 21 and ever since then I’ve had good luck with being able to tell a story and captivate audiences. I’m in the United States now trying to bridge the gap between African cinema and Hollywood. It’s very important for us to tell our own stories to the West so that we have a voice as to the way our stories are told, which is what I’m doing with my movies.
Parlé: Thank you for taking the time out to do this interview. Let’s get right into talking about your new film. First of all, why did you title the film, Black November?
Amata: I wanted to call the film Black Gold at first but I wanted to go for a title with a deeper meaning instead of one that just talking about oil, so I went with Black November.
Parlé: Can you tell us a little what Black November is about?
Amata: Black November tells the true life struggle of the people in the Niger Delta area’s struggle against oil companies and corrupt politicians who have destroyed the environment for financial gain.
Parlé: What inspired you to write, Black November?
Amata: The execution of one of the most prominent Nigerian activists Ken Saro-Wiwa of that time. He was killed in November and it was a black November for me and a lot people from the Niger River Delta areas. I was at university when he was executed and he was such an inspiration to so many people that I felt like I knew Ken so well. When he was executed it was such a dark cloud for us in Nigeria during that time.
Parlé: The film focuses on the oil of the land and the trials and tribulations the people of the area go through. Was that a pretty factual look at what people in that part of Nigeria deal with?
Amata: A lot of people do not know that Nigeria has a large export of oil. 20% of the United States’ oil for the past 30 years comes from Nigeria. The part of Nigeria that has the oil is known as Niger River Delta, it’s a very underdeveloped area yet it is exploited for other nations’ wealth not only from the oil companies, but corrupt government officials. This oil that means nothing to our people there has ended up killing our people through oil explosions, pipeline explosions, health risks and it has destroyed our land because we cannot fish or farm where the oil has spilled. I wanted to tell the story of the people from Niger Delta without any political agenda because it is all our responsibility.
Parlé: You have quite a few familiar faces in the film. Akon, Wyclef, Vivica A. Fox and more. How did they get involved with the film?
Amata: Vivica was through a casting director. Through a friend of a friend Akon and I met him and being that we are both African, he had heard about me making this film and wanted to be a part of it to help spread this message. Akon even signed on as an executive producer. Wyclef was the same way, we met through a friend of a friend and once we started talking about this he too wanted to be a part of this movie to help spread its message. Persia White who is an amazing actress, we met at the African-American Black Film Festival. I was receiving an award for best screenplay and she got one for best actress. We exchanged contact information several years ago. When I spoke to her about this film I was doing she was happy to be a part of it. It feels like it was meant to be because the more people I met, the more people wanted to be a part of this movie.
Parlé: What was the experience like on directing, Black November and how do you feel about the outcome?
Amata: A director would never feel too good about the outcome of a film because we’re always working to make it better. As long as the message gets to you and it hits you hard, the outcome is good. I wanted to make sure Hollywood knew what I was going for and wouldn’t change it too much because the overall message of the film is what’s important to me. As soon as they tried to cut the message of the film, a lot of the actors especially the white half (Kim Basigner, Mickey Rourke and etc…) voiced their concerns about the movie and I was allowed to keep it in there. Transitioning my style so that it speaks more to a Western audience was probably the hardest thing.
Parlé: We appreciate the film and we thoroughly enjoyed it. So thanks for that. For future viewers and fans, how can you be reached on social media?
Amata: Twitter: @JetaAmata and Facebook www.facebook.com/jeta.amata
Our review of Black November: here.
Reporting by Jamie Jones