Dateline was Saturday after sunset at the Jaekel House Mini Museum, located within the precinct of the Railway Compound in Ebute Metta, Lagos. Inside the place, few cars were parked on the outward space of its building. While on the other side, a few persons were already seated on the lawn. Among them were regular television faces – Gbenga Adeyinka, and a judge on the Maltina dance show, Muyiwa Oshinaike. They were chatting over drinks in a truly relaxed mood as other guests trickled in.
There was the fascination of refurbished relics that lie within the Railway premises. At the entrance, no legible sign informs you of the place except for the loose banners beside a pretty, busty lady, Toyosi, wearing a T-shirt with the inscription ‘Wakaflicks Entertainment that caters to you’. But the search was for an unforgettable actress that catered for Nigerians’ viewing pleasure. In this piece, Ferdinand Ekechukwu gives a picturesque narrative of his encounter with one of Nollywood’s finest and unforgettable actress, Anne Njemanze, better known as Domitilla
The film distribution and promotion company, Wakaflicks, run by Akin Kongi, had set up a mobile theatre showing Nigerian movies. Ojuju, one of the three movies shown, won the award for the Best Nigerian Movie at the Africa International Film Festival. The other movie, Green White Green, scheduled for that day was screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.
At the idyllic place, a pioneer Nollywood actress, famous for her character, and movie, Domitilla, (the exceptional character of a prostitute in the eponymous movie of the 1990’s would soon join in. She was one of the guests invited for the three-day movie picnic-themed event.
Enter Anne Njemanze aka Domitilla
Dressed in a sleeveless translucent blouse on a bump short and slippers, her appearance had excited her friend, Toyosi. She had looked forward to seeing the actress grace the event until the last day of the showcase when she eventually turned up. A lively conversation soon ensued.
The ambience, illuminated by the big screen, had taken form. At first, it seemed the awkward sound from a projector used for the movie viewing would drown the conversation.
As the chat went on, it was unmistakable that the air around her was simple, befitting of an everyday person. It is no surprise coming from one who has had a fair share of both worlds – the good and bad times.
She struck the image of a personality wary of the press. An impression she had left in the course of a week-long attempt to catch up with her; that which was more like a mirror image of her character ‘Inspector Sankay’ in the Mnet movie series, Tinsel – which has sort of assumed her yardstick for script roles to consider, thus casting on her a backseat shadow in mainstream Nollywood.
“What is it that we even want to talk about sef?” she said with a tone of resignation.
Such expression could possibly imply more than there is, as it would later appear the Visual Arts graduate of the University of Lagos believes everything about her is out in the know. But there is apparently more about this actress.
The story of Anne Njemanze is such that reads like a novel. Starting with her being recognised as a superstar at a relatively early age almost immediately after the movie ‘Domitilla’ shot her to stardom at the dawn of Nollywood. Then, she was beset with two failed marriages and a car accident that almost crashed her career and the attendant publicity that chaptered her life’s vicissitude. But all of these have passed on.
Her fault lines, as a human, she admits there are and not without as perceived as a single mother of two. Her daughter, Renny, she speaks of with a positive feeling of liking.
Almost done with university, the young Njemanze, she said, is just about 20 and very passionate about the arts: movie, photography and modelling. Aside that, she’s more interested in a whole lot of other things “that when I want to catch up with happenings outside Nigeria, I don’t have to watch TV; I just ask her.”
With her career spanning over two decades in Nollywood with quite a good number of movie appearances, acting is just a part of her features which has overshadowed her other skills like writing plays, singing and dancing. Notably a voice talent, her voice on product commercials and jingles on radio are peculiar.
But then, any actor can do voice-over for any product? To be sure, she would argue that anybody can do a voice-over but not everybody is a voice talent. That it takes special skills and oratorical prowess to lay a voice-over. She further explained in a professional manner with points that helped put the subject to rest.
Having started from the stage doing plays and drama, Anne isn’t someone who flipped into the industry. Armed with a diploma certificate in Theatre Arts from the University of Port Harcourt, her response tells much about her knowledge of acting. For the good artiste she is, the tools of her trade she knows and readily says, “Like I would tell someone, besides my body as a container”, with emphasis, “the two most important things to me are my facial muscle and my voice, because with them, I can express everything that I want to be.” She was privileged to hone her skills when she joined the Association of Voiceover Artistes.
“When I became a member of AVOA it was like some honour was bestowed on me. It was there I got the training that I needed. I got the exposure that I needed as far as voicing is concerned,” she said.
It sure would not be out of place to describe Anne as a pack of art. Whatever it is she does has always revolved around the arts. Fortunately for the Owerri, Imo State-born actress, what she’s doing now for a living happens to be a hobby and part of the things that appeal to her.
Owing to this, her father had insisted she study Theatre Arts otherwise she would have studied Law. When she’s not doing a voice-over or acting, she keeps herself going by blogging.
At the National Troupe of Nigeria, a parastatal under the Ministry of Information and Culture, where she has worked for almost 10 years now, she holds forth in various but related capacities, helping to showcase and promote the Nigerian culture.
“Courtesy of the fact that I’m what I am here on the outside, an actor and all, you tend to fill in on so many capacities there,” she admits, looking every inch a cultural ambassador.
Away from work and acting, karaoke is a good way she loosens up to relax within her quiet space. Coincidentally, she would be doing Karaoke that night.
At her spare time, community-related services and charitable works are things she occasionally gets involved in, but to be seen talked about them, to her it is weird and unnecessary.
She is involved in women and girl-child empowerment activities which might be quite understandable owing to her personal experience in life. Her perspective about it is that it is a very sensitive area of our life – an aspect of Nigeria’s culture women hold thin to exploit.
“So I don’t think twice when it has to do with women. I don’t think twice when it has to do with the girl child but that’s the most I can do. I cannot tell you I have been in that programme or this programme,” the actress confessed.
As the conversation continued there was an intermittent noise from a moving train. There was a momentary break in the chat as the fleeing train noisily passed by. As its clanging sound drowned out into the distance, the gist with Anne filled the air again.
Her knowledge of the industry, she would admit that as much as there is still room for improvement, Nollywood by major assessments have really grown. To put her point in perspective, she paced back to some early days of the industry before she inclined towards the present stories being told, the new crop of artistes, the artisans, and the import of technology into the industry, amongst other things, as the way forward for Nollywood.
As she spoke, there was a silhouette of an uncertain future that formed on her face: she fears that the impact of those things making the movie industry to advance could be the death knell for stage plays.
As much as she loves writing and with just two movie scripts in her folder, the thespian reveals her growing interest to want to call the shots at locations; maybe as an assistant director and try to impart in actors what she thinks it is in her mind playing through that role and watch them interpret it to the best effect when she gets round to producing a movie.
Twenty-one years after the movie that brought her fame, the theme about prostitution remains topical and that still sticks out like sore thumb.
By Nollywood standard, the movie, Domitilla 1 and 2, produced by Zeb Ejiro, was a masterpiece such that she still sees the movie as a model to addressing the issue of prostitution in present-day Nigeria. The story talks about the problems of prostitution and gives one a resolve to tackle them. The relevance of the story she connects to the government and the parents.
Still being sought after in movies, Anne craves many more years in the industry. The legendary Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett remains a source of inspiration to her. Very well opinionated, the narrative of the old and the new Nollywood, Anne describes as sham and myopic.
From her point of view of one who has been in the industry for long, classifying Nollywood as old and new is unfair to the early practitioners who paved way for others that followed.
Of how much reward has she earned acting? She first retorted, “What is reward to me? Reward for me right now is doing a job you are doing well and seeing that it is accepted by the public and appreciated. Yes the monetary value is necessary. And being in front of this four corner thing (television) and people seeing your face, it opens doors.”
Does she think she’s living the life befitting of a star? It has always been for her a simple, normal life. She would hitherto prefer to live the path with the basic things of life rather than compromise the superfluous lifestyle expected of a star by the public.
Almost at the twilight of the conversation, a familiar topic was broached. Apparently, she didn’t see it coming as it got her mirthful when she had to talk about her relationship with men at the moment. And quite frankly, she put it that being a woman naturally attracts men; and being a celebrity in the public eyes, attracts a lot of men.
But to choose a love life as an actress becomes difficult for certain reasons men are known for. But to just keep praying to get the right one is it for her, if she’s sure he loves her, only then she can confidently give marriage anoth