Nigerian by birth but born in London, Nosa Igbindinion has entered unchartered ground with the creation of Rise Of The Orishas-an African superhero film.
While there have been comic book heroes and heroines of black origin like the lesser known Tyroc part of the DC Comic range or of course the Marvel character, Black Panther, they are creations for the most part based on Western ideologies and ideas of what a ‘black’ super hero should or would be.
Igbindenion’s creation uses a basis of African mythology to create characters who are quintessentially African with (we hope) a real basis in African ideologies.
Superheroes like Superman and Captain America are of course more than flights of creative fantasy by an illustrator. They can and do make cultural, socio-political and occasional moralistic statements on the world we live in through the conduits of these super beings blessed with superpowers. An African superhero/heroine can in turn (we assume) open the world to a different medium which explores African perspectives on the world and of course Africa itself.
What is the interest with super heroes and the notion of super beings?
I believe as human beings we are blessed with the ability to create. All humans are natural creators. There is a power in that ability but it’s a power that is rarely used. I think superheroes (and archetypes and gods) are a reminder of our inherent power. They are that little voice that whispers to us about our potential greatness, our ability to overcome odds because deep down we are as powerful as they are.
How do Western ideas and African ideas of super heroes differ?
I don’t think there are Western ideas or African ideas. Ideas are the seeds the universes plant in our mind. What we have are perspectives, these perspectives are the soil which those aforementioned seeds grow in. The Depression in the USA gave birth to Batman or no win the 21st century Nigeria has given birth to Rise of the Orisha. Superheroes, in my opinion, are just a continuation of archetypes we can trace back in history (gods of war, gods of love) and these archetypes seems to be quite similar across cultures, what changes is how they are represented. There is an inherent view that ‘African’ culture or West African culture is a static thing because it’s ancient and that Western culture is progressive. To see African culture as static is dis-empowering to our ability to change it and reshape it, which is truly our responsibility.
You are credibly the first person to create an African Superhero movie-why?
I was surprised that I was the first to do it because it is such a no brainer but I know that in the past film-making was a much more expensive endeavour. So I can understand why it may not have been done in the past. Now, though, there is no excuse for us not to be creating the images we want to see. The reason why this has happened can probably be attributed to the colonisers describing Africans as non-technical and incapable of learning, these stereotypes have persisted.
Super heroes and comic books are about more than beings with super powers they can be telling avenues for social commentary-below the surface what are you talking about in Rise Of the Orishas?
Rise of the Orisha is a universe of stories within which the pantheon of deities known as the Orishas are represented as superheroes. Each story will have their own issues which are commented upon, for instance Yemoja Rise of the Orisha is about the clash of Ancient Nigerian religion and the Christian doctrine brought in. The feature film in development deals with the meaning of human connection in times of hyper connection. I want the overarching idea to speak about the rise in people power that I feel is surging now.
From a social standpoint is it important that Africa has a superhero?
I think it’s important that Africa has many superheros. Remember Africa is a diverse landmass comprised of many different cultures, traditions and histories. So I think it is important that Superheroes are tweaked for the particular nuances in different cultures in Africa. I think that it is important for Africa to have these narratives for a few reasons.
And why is it important for Africa to have superheroes?
Africa is sometimes seen as helpless, as inert and unable to self-govern and self-determine. Superheroes are standard bearers for ideologies and to say that there are no African heroes is to reinforce the idea that Africa is inert and cannot help itself. Superheroes are great carriers of culture. See how Superman wears the red and blue of America spreading the idea of American nobility around the world post world war. For African nations to rise they must take on the responsibility and ownership for their cultural capital. As the world becomes more information based it’s even more important that Africa is forthright in the war of ideas.
Has the persistence of old stereotypes been an obstacle to the creation of African super heroes for Western consumption?
The idea that colonisers told people that Africans had; dull and slow minds, lacked imagination, lacked intelligence and couldn’t be expected to learn or master technology persists today. When I first announced that I was going to do Rise of the Orisha a few years back at a film festival the reaction of the audience (of all races) was priceless-everyone burst into laughter. The idea of non-technical Africans making a highly technical film genre was laughable. They had the images of those funny YouTube videos of Nigerians doing slapdash video in their heads. I think we need to smash that idea that Africans are non-technical or ill equipped to utilise technology and we need to smash that idea continuously.
It is rather brilliant how you create this super hero tale on the background of real African mythology- how and why was that effective indeed does it make it more believable?
Superheroes are modern mythology and these modern mythologies have their roots in ancient archetypes which have been told by all cultures: Orisha are one of the oldest of those archetypes. The fit between Orisha and superhero was very natural and intuitive: for instance every Orisha has a colour that they relate to and abilities related to them, much in the same way as superheroes. Orisha existed thousands of years before the word ‘superhero’ was uttered, so rather than basing African mythology on superheroes, I am bringing superheroes back to its roots, African mythology.
Western super heroes are built on the unsaid notion that these people are not real it is fantasy-Orishas are part of African culture-more real in essence.
Orisha followers, who come from all over the world have shown me nothing but love and they have been very supportive of the project. I have been very careful and respectful in my treatment of the material-I have also researched deeply. I was raised on some of these stories (being Nigerian myself) so this is not a reduction of a great culture but a celebration of it. Stories about the Orisha have been told throughout the ages, within Candomble, Ifa, Lucumi and their versions of stories can vary but they always remain true to the core energy of the Orisha whose story is being told. I see myself as the follow up in this long line of storytellers. The only difference is they were telling stories orally, through praise, song, through sigils, whereas I am using cameras and computers but the core essence remains and that is what is most important.
Is it too much to think that an African super hero film can help to be the catalyst for an awakening of Africa?
I don’t know about awakening Africa-I don’t understand what awakening is. Africa could be the richest continent on the earth (monetarily) but still be asleep. I do think that it is clear that the continent isn’t maximising its potential, something is going/has gone wrong. When things go wrong, all I can suggest is new ideas and what I do know is that ideas change the world. Capitalism, money, the stock market, they are just ideas realised. I aim for my films to carry ideas of change and what better stage for these ideas than a superhero film? If ideas in my work help inspire change in the world then I would have done my job as an artist.
On another deep level is the fact that a black person has created a film genre normally policed, controlled by the west a powerful message and indeed why is it powerful-indeed maybe you are like some super hero yourself?
I am not sure if it is powerful per se, to say it is powerful is to imagine that there is something stopping anyone, black or white, to go out and make the movie that they want to see. It overestimates the power of someone to stop you making good work and putting it out there. I prefer to see it as exciting. If no-one has created a black superhero movie I don’t see that it’s going to be hard to make the movie (newsflash, it’s hard to make any ‘good’ movie) I just see it as freaking exciting because it hasn’t been done before, let’s go out and do it.