Wilfred Okiche is one of the most influential Nigerian film critics. He’s worked for The Continent, The Africa Report, The Filmkrant, IndieWire, and RottenTomatoes.
He also participated in critic academies in Lagos, Durban, Rotterdam, and Stockholm.
If you want to learn about the best Nigerian movies and artists, this is your chance!
Wilfred and I discussed recommendations, his journey, how to embrace writing challenges, and the Nigerian cultural sector.
Wilfred Okiche grew up in Lagos, Nigeria.
After high school, he went to Nnamdi Azikiwe University and studied medicine. Unfortunately, he failed pediatry and had to retake the entire year to repeat this course. It was a blessing in disguise.
Wilfred decided to move back to Lagos and found an internship at a magazine called YNaija. Okiche already had a habit of publishing book- and movie notes on Facebook, and a friend felt he should continue this habit more professionally.
His friend introduced him to YNaija’s publisher, Chude Jideonwo, and Wilfred landed an internship. He became responsible for writing about movies, music, and culture.
He had found a new career path.
Wilfred once said: “My work is hard and thankless, but work that means plenty to me.” To explain this phrase, let me give you a brief background on the Nigerian movie industry.
In the 60s and 70s, Nigeria had a flourishing movie sector. Lagos had several theaters, and people would leave their homes to visit the cinemas. In 1979, the Iranian Revolution, followed by Iraq invading Iran, decreased the oil supply worldwide. As a response, other countries produced more oil, which led to an oversupply around the globe. The prices dropped, and Nigeria, with oil being responsible for 87% of its exports, delved into an economic crisis.
Crises usually hit the cultural sector first, and this case was no exception, so all movie theaters were closed down. Nollywood – currently the 2nd biggest movie industry after India – came to the rescue. Instead of movie theaters, they focused on television. Their strategy was to create cheap and fast productions and reach people in their homes. The plan worked, and Nollywood quickly gained popularity.
In the early 2000s, the Nigerian economy improved, and movie theaters reopened. The cinema scene remained small, though, because the younger generations didn’t grow up with a theater culture. Given the industry’s size, it’s impossible to make a living as a movie critic. It’s also a complex role because the general audience doesn’t understand critics, and movie directors dislike them for their criticism. Given the challenging environment, Wilfred decided to look abroad for opportunities.
Okiche wanted more international exposure and applied for several movie programs. In 2017, the Durban International Film Festival accepted him as part of the talent program. His second festival was the International Film Festival Rotterdam. These opportunities were essential in building Okiche’s career.
Wilfred said it wasn’t an easy decision to travel. It’s expensive, especially coming from Nigeria. He explained that it was a chicken or egg dilemma: you need money to make money. Luckily, the talent programs tend to offer a small salary or scholarship.
He’s currently working as a freelancer on several projects. An exciting one is joining the program team for Film Africa Festival in London. He’s also an editorial fellow with Documentary Magazine, published by the International Documentary Association.
So now that we know Wilfred, what movies would he recommend?
I remember as a kid that I didn’t have a favorite color. Why did the other kids force me to pick one and dismiss all the others as inferior?
Wilfred Okiche feels similarly about movies. Despite not having a favorite film, he was happy to suggest several interesting ones. The result are the five films below.
I decided to probe a little more. Now that I had access to a movie expert, I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to find more movies.
Wilfred added three more African movie recommendations.
After getting Okiche’s recommendations, I got curious about his selection process and technique for analyzing movies.
I was expecting Okiche to show me a complicated framework. I rate movies based on how I like them, but a film critic sure has a more sophisticated way, right?
It turns out that it’s not that different.
Wilfred answered that “criticism is mostly an opinion.” Previously, critics tried to be objective but soon realized that it was impossible.
Nowadays, critics like Okiche embrace that every review is a journalist’s relationship to the movie. Also, reviews are for the general public, so why would you make them overly complicated?
Writing is probably the most challenging part of running a blog. During my interviews, I’m always looking for a magic bullet. Have other authors cracked the code?
I asked Wilfred the same thing: “What’s your process? Do you have a routine, or do you write when inspiration strikes?”
He answered: “If I only write when I feel inspired, I’d be broke.” I’m still fairly broke now, he says jokingly, but he made his point.
He continued saying that his writing process fluctuates. When he attends movie festivals, he watches movies followed by coffee-fulled long-nighters to produce the requested articles. If there’s a clear deadline, you have to finish your work whatever it takes.
When there’s no deadline, he admits that it’s more challenging. Sometimes he spends weeks pondering an article. Other times, he’s done quickly.
If he’d have to give any advice, it would be to: “just sit down and write while accepting that the process is messy. Not every day will be perfect, and that’s fine.”
Wilfred continued, “the most fun of my job is actually watching the movies.”
Wilfred loves books and music just as much as movies, but for some unknown reason, his work primarily focuses on films.
Because he mostly reads for work, he has little time for novels. He does have plenty of time for music and was happy to recommend some Nigerian musicians.
ASA: a french-Nigerian singer with pop and indie songs.
Brymo: a unique Nigerian artist. He’s a true artist who experiments with incorporating different music genres.
Afrobeat Pioneer Fela Kuti: the founder of Afrobeats. He has already passed away, but his kids are also musicians.Check out Seun and Femi Kuti.
Obongjayar: a Nigerian afrobeat artist based in London. Check out his album “Some Nights I Dream of Doors.”
Vict0ny: a popular Nigerian hip-hop artist.
J’odie: a young soulful Nigerian singer with a fresh sound. Check out her album “African Woman.”
Lindsay Abudei: born to musical parents, Abudei became a neo-soul singer and songwriter. Listen to her album “…and the Bass Is Queen.”
Yinka Davies: she’s a judge on Nigerian Idol, a dancer, and a singer of jazz and afrobeat songs. Have a look at her album “Black Chiffon.”
Gyakie: she’s a young Ghanaian afrobeat singer. Her music is more commercial, but you can hear that she can achieve anything she wants musically.
I created a Spotify playlist with these artists to make your life easier. I also added some songs from a famous Nigerian artist I love: Burna Boy.
As a final question, I asked Wilfred what his dreams are.
In the greater scheme of things, Okiche wishes that people would consider film less as content and more as art. “Making money is essential, but bottom-line revenues often trump the work itself.”
A side-effect of this focus on money is that movie directors don’t take enough time to understand the local context. “They don’t know the local actors or local habits. This lack of knowledge frequently leads to misrepresentation of the culture.”
Wilfred’s dream is to help fix this problem.
He’d love to work with festivals, studios, or streaming services to support filmmakers, especially in a local context, and help them tap into the local network.