Seeing that Black November appears cut out for a more international audience (many American characters), the director probably deemed it fit to include a fact-file at the movie’s introduction. The catch? A probably intended shocker: how 90% of Nigerians live on less than $2 a day; and how the continuous oil spills make Nigeria the most environmentally devastated land in the world (how factual are these, though). It’s a no-brainer that the audience would immediately assume that this movie is going to be about poverty and its cause(s) in Nigeria, and it sure kinda is.
One thing’s certain about Black November: it is generally thematically focused; utterly focused, even. However, when dealing with an international audience (especially American), focus and intention in one area alone is never enough, and I’ll show you how in my usual grading fashion.
I’ve never seen a Nollywood movie that obviously underwent deep research methodologies as this. The clarity of message passed in this movie cannot be over-emphasized. This, right here, is a SATIRE. It’s a truly beautiful movie that every individual can learn something from.
Apart from the major themes, it very well explores a number of others: Love, Man’s Inhumanity to Man, Abuse of Power, Oppression, Rebellion, Self Exile, Passion for a Cause, and so much more. Wow! I’m unable to get over the messages in this movie, and I bet majority of people who have seen Black November can’t either.
The true beauty of this movie is its ending—essentially thematic, and sends a message across. Regular drama/action/thriller movies would have your protagonist prevail, but this isn’t your regular movie, and the protagonist is allowed to die, despite all efforts to avert it. I’d call this a documentary movie; an offset of the life and death of a famous activist in the Niger Delta, Ken Saro-Wiwa; to educate people about what it’s like to be an activist against a delicate, recalcitrant, and incorrigible government. 9/10
Despite the many interesting occurrences in this movie, other things and the non-existence of viable sub-plots inevitably mark this aspect of the movie low. Sub plots actually do carry a lot of weight, and proper ones would have helped give this major aspect of the movie a better face lift.
First and foremost, there are no previous indications that the rebels are having a tough time nailing Tom Hudson (CEO Western Oil) at home, office, or at any of his hangouts in America. He doesn’t even move around with security (or enough security). This method this film-maker chooses of trapping Hudson in a tunnel along a busy road seems more like the film-maker’s whims to put up a show to attract the police, and generally make a scene. Why would the rebels need the police around even, especially when they already have what they need: the journalist and her cameraman to stream this on live TV.
This area appears to be a kind of deliberate kind of action sequence, with screeching cars, bashed bumpers, and proof of defensive driving skills—wouldn’t have minded if it went all out to include somersaulting cars as well. As beautiful as all these appear, they are completely unnecessary and clichéd; we’ve seen American police come around a crime scene in this exact manner one too many times. We’ve also seen their news report delivery, as flooded in this movie, countless times.
These rebels are even villagers in Nigeria that have no cars or proof of the ability to drive, so how come they all of a sudden become so pro in America?! Also, this action sequence makes the movie appear to be in the genre of action movies, when a huge part of the movie suggests that, it’s, in fact, not. I remember receiving a comment on one of my old drafts where the reviewer said I failed to identify the movie’s genre because of my writing style. Seeing this action sequence in Black November, I now totally understand what he meant. However, I’d like to give credit for a perfect simulation of it and the news reports.
Why the hell is Hosanna, Dede’s sister, being made to appear relevant in this movie? What does her father leaving her a house and her seemingly useless husband have to do with the major plot? If this is an attempt at sub-plot, then it fails. A sub-plot must be relevant and stay connected to the major story, always. Also, doing a grand burial for her takes away the flare of the next burial, which actually is a more important burial; that of Dede’s. All the ceremony that should have been done for our beloveth Dede is wasted on Hosanna. At the point of Dede’s burial, the audience should come to a realization of his death and some should start shedding tears already, but that isn’t properly allowed to happen because it has already been watered down by Hosanna’s burial.
On the sex scene, which sadly didn’t exist, there could easily have been one. Dede turns out to be quite the charmer “along the line”; impressive and displaying traits that are “loverboyish” and admirable. It would be nice for the audience to see how he makes love to the woman he loves. His body language and facial expressions whenever he sees Ebiere is priceless, and it would be nice for that to creatively pay off. This could also add some flesh to his character development, as nothing else really does, not even a little lovers fun and play on the beach—Dede was always so serious.
The love-making could also help the audience begin to see him in a bright new light afterwards, even as he continues prancing along in the movie. His death, most especially, could also have been felt a little bit more; right now, the audience can’t truly picture what could be going on in Ebiere’s mind as she watches her lover die — I imagine that the way he reacts to sexual pleasure might be the same for death pains?
The balloon “pop” was a beautiful moment. This is the plot point where drastic decisions were made and great men were lost on both camps (police and rebels). This is the climax of the movie and there’s an interesting blend of banal realities and violence. Exquisite! Even the film-maker makes sure the audience doesn’t miss this by establishing it in slow motion.
Back to reality, that Inspector guy in the police is the most annoying character yet. A good thing he gets killed off too. 4/10
Speaking of “along the line” for Dede, why do the audience have to wait to see he’s so cool along the line? I remember how reclusive he is at the start of the movie, then, like a random selection, he emerges as the winner who would take the role of assistant lead character. If the film-maker thinks Dede’s introduction in the beginning, where he tells his wife not to go to the spillage, and his dismay at the dead fish in the river, is character development, then I’d have to clarify it here that it is not enough, and those things, somehow, make him appear like a random dude. Especially as rebellious Tamuno appears as the lead actor at the start of the movie.
Tamuno, on the other hand, comes off too reserved during the movie, so it’s a little unsatisfying seeing that he’s the same person leading the team that brings a whole busy road in the United States down. But this is forgivable as we know he was in the police; once a soldier, always a soldier, eh? But how much of a soldier was he really? Especially as the only time we see him at work, his hands are “tied”. Also, there are no intimate moments between he and Ebiere existing in the movie to justify his level of passion for her justice; this may also be because this role should have been reserved for the assistant lead character, who is already dead. Does Tamuno feel guilty for being a part of the reason Ebiere is sentenced to death? Because the movie kinda briefly shows that he has a hand in it; this presumable feeling of guilt is not hinted in the movie. Then again, it’s quite comical how Tamuno shifts camp from police to rebel, so more surprises should probably be expected from him by the audience.
Later on in the movie, as if the film-maker didn’t know what to do with the already existing truck-load of characters, he introduces more characters to the story. This is not how characterization works in screenwriting; all active characters should be introduced by 20 minutes into a movie to allow for some space to develop these characters in the remaining time. The chief’s son, Victor, could have easily been a friend to the militants who, by peer pressure, became one of them, undermining his father being one of the oil beneficiaries. That could have easily been a veritable, tension-filled and conflict-based sub-plot, but no, it isn’t.
Another is Ebiere’s lawyer (Nse Ikpe-Etim) who is given important lines to say. Why didn’t we ever see her in the mix all along? I thought Akon and Wyclef were the star characters meant to be given executive minor roles; I guess the norm’s the other way around with this movie.
All the possible sub-stories and developments for this movie seem to not have been given a thought, which is sad, because this tale has no proper sub-plot. This invariably makes all characters, apart from Ebiere and Dede, pawns; quick fixes; presumable afterthoughts, as they lack depth and most times unnecessarily pad the script . Don’t get me started on that irrelevant lady (Elohor) who keeps gasping, and then keeps hugging Ebiere towards the end of the movie.
Akon and Wyclef were just forced into Black November; unnecessarily given names and lines to say, and thrown into the gig. They didn’t really need to open their mouths to speak though (especially Akon), as what they say make them appear smaller than they really are, and they could have mysteriously and preferably been in the militancy as members in cameo.
Akon sounds like a Fulani-Senegalese. Wyclef, on the other hand, makes very good Nigerian accents. But is the movie really about showcasing how international celebrities can fit in the Nigerian setting? When will Nollywood realize that celebrity inclusion can’t cover up weak characterization? Don’t tell me I’m the only one who notices how goofy Wyclef looks in his act during and after the village raid, and the rape of a girl who doesn’t matter to the story at all.
Our antagonist, Tom Hudson, is not fully developed. Yes, Hudson plays an important role—as an obstacle—but we don’t see much about him that says anything but an opponent. A few figure heads, who are also underdeveloped pawns rally around him. Also, we do not see anything about him that is significantly classy or expensive to certify that he’s indeed a tycoon, and to justify the millions he “throws up in the air” . The one time we see him with his daughter in the beginning, the audience only are informed that he’s tensed whenever he’s about to come to Nigeria. That’s all about him really. He speaks well and, because of this, happens to be a well loved antagonist. It would be nice to see more about his personal life, and what motivates his choices. 2/10
A number of times, Black November tells what’s happening, instead of showing, but the many action occurrences allow this to go unnoticed and be easily forgivable. Yes, talking heads, but also forgivable. Repetitive details, but can be left to slide because of the richness in conflict that overflow in this movie.
Generally, the dialogue in Black November is too on-the-nose, and heavily dangerous, especially in this case. The issues dialogued in this movie are very controversial and delicate, and so must be relayed subtly, and by this, I mean with connotations; figurative language—this is another top rule in screenwriting. In as much as one is trying to pass a message across, one must be mindful of not stepping on toes or inciting any form of hate or rebellion amongst one’s audience. The dialogue in this movie can be rightly described as preachy and propagandist in nature, despite the fact that the issues discussed are basically historical, even if Nigerians are still living the history till date—see what I mean?
“One out of every five Americans uses Nigerian oil” in proper Nigerian accent, was a particularly hilarious statement thuggishly expressed by the world star, Wyclef. Although, unrecommendably too straightforward, its humorous and lean nature allows it to be a proper movie dialogue. One statement that isn’t is “we export crude oil to you people, only to import refined oil, why? because Western Oil and our corrupt government won’t allow our refineries to work!” Apart from the fact that this statement could be “leaner” and “meaner”, it could also be subtly represented like “Y’all’d be damned if our refineries were in top shape, wouldn’t you?” or better still, as Africans and Nigerians, make use of a clear coined proverb.
Vivica A. Fox’s detective character asking about the militants and saying “we should have seen this coming” doesn’t quite cut it, as this statement is over-flogged and has become clichéd in action movies. Also, the movie never states clearly that the American police and Western Oil work hand in hand, apart from the militants’ insinuations, and so, that statement shouldn’t have come up, and this American police department in Black November should have been left to do their jobs.
Moreover, there seems to be a lot of top American police officials asking questions about who the rebels are, like the audience will later see what they do with the information, when in fact, just one detective in the office would be enough. Why go that elaborate if the movie isn’t gonna stick with it? Thankfully, the other stories in Nigeria do cover up.
On a lighter note, a few times, Black November showcases language that sort of make a human connection for Nigerians. The Nigerian speaking in the crew, saying something like “you think say today na Christmas?” or whatever that guy says, feels truly Niger Deltan; the tone and tune are just perfect. Another would be when Ebiere’s mother screams in vernacular at the fuel spillage point “fetch this fuwel! Fetch fuwel!”, and almost loses her voice doing so; this reminds me of how some people in the South-South villages would scream in frustration or excitement even.
Also, all the songs delivered in the dialogue and as background music do, thankfully, progress the story. Quite impressive. However, it also seems the film-maker gets over-excited and engrossed in this technique that he overdoes it. The burial songs, Akon’s Rise Up; too many times. Yes, the songs bring the pictures alive, and the tunes are learnable by this movie’s presentation, they later appear to lengthen the movie, especially as the audience already understand what is going on, and don’t need the scenes to stay any longer. 5/10
The many details in this movie help with the pacing. The audience do not get bored apart from the instances where they have to wait for the many burial songs to end, and the unnecessarily prolonged court hearings.
The uprising attacks by the militants and the women’s rally were peppered with Akon’s bubbly background music, and as if in tune with the movements, the music keeps them going. One thing I’m particularly grateful for is the few rallies that the women performed; brief and to the point! Beautiful.
The too many characters allowed to speak in Black November tend to break the speed at which the audience follow the story, as they are taken aback to make sense of the introduction of a new character always, but thankfully, the movie ends well and everyone in Nigeria feels satisfied. 8/10
Ebiere is a fantastic character, with a body-build that, surprisingly, kinda complements the kind of protest she runs—or is it just her passion? The way she flings her arms and legs at the rallies in that dogged manner just beats me. This character surely is suited to Mbong Amata. 28/50
Isedehi Aigbogun, also known as ISD, is a staunch academic, holding a B.A., M.A., and PhD (in view) in English Language.
She’s a Screenwriter, Screenplay Analyst, Consultant, and Film Scriptic.