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By Gbenga Awomodu

So everyone has been talking about Ije: The Journey. With at least seven awards under its belt, I was convinced I would enjoy, and I sure did… both times!

Ije: The Journey is a story of two sisters, Anya (Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde) and Chioma (Genevieve Nnaji). Growing up in Oku Village on the hilly countryside, they learn to fight and watch each other’s back. Anya loves to sing and years down the line, she leaves Nigeria in pursuit of fame, glory, and riches in Los Angeles, refusing to heed warnings from her father and her younger sister. But then, life deals her an ugly blow. She is held in custody for allegedly killing her producer husband, Michael Michino, and two other men. It is Chioma who receives the call and comes in to save her only sister. “Don’t let Papa know about my troubles… he was right…,” she tells Chioma who turns to Jalen Turner (Ulriche Que) a young unproven attorney who has just lost a high profile murder case.

Ije brings to the fore some important themes in today’s world, including love, racism, culture, stigma and life as an immigrant in a foreign country. Chioma is irked and embarrassed as the immigration officer at the point of entry into the US asks her “Madam can I see your passport … bag please.” Later on she admits, “They say America is the gateway to heaven; how many see the other side?” She also displays some occasional bouts of stupidity when she visits Anya in the prison. There she is so excited and begins to speak to Anya across the glass partitioning, oblivious of the telephone device she needs to communicate… But Nigerians are a tough breed, we are smart and can survive anywhere in the world. After wrestling her bag during a mugging attempt on her, she educates the Asian inn keeper “You think these streets are tough, come to Lagos, wa riran!”

This movie also highlights the culture of shame and silence and the stigma attached to rape and rape victims. Indeed a clash of two cultures, social attitudes towards rape and rape victims in the Nigerian society threaten to banish Anya to the American prison for the rest of her life. Chioma acknowledges, “Once a woman is raped, nobody wants to touch her again…”She admonishes Anya: “Stand and face your fears tomorrow, just like you did for me the other day…”

Ije showcases brilliant cinematography. The perfectly timed sound effects arouse one’s sensitivity with no excesses. The acting is exquisite and the cast did an excellent job of interpreting their script. The two girls who acted young Anya and Chioma, and the international cast including Hispanic sensation, Odalys Garcia, Ulrich Que, Jeff Swarthout, Odalys Garcia, Kenny Joh, Diana Yekinni, Russia Hardy and Anahit Setian Que, put on a convincing show.

The costume design, though not overly elaborate, was just adequate in celebrating and representing Nigeria’s rich culture. The Nigerian cast don colorful and beautifully made Ankara gowns and skirts. Jalen Turner, seeing Chioma in a patterned blue, red and yellow gown alongside the matching circle of red beads says: “So this is what Nigeria wears to dinner… I have to visit your country.”

Ije is also not bereft of punchlines and occasional philosophical sayings that are hard-to-find in most Nollywood movies. When Rachel, a little girl from the Michino neighbourhood asks Chioma, “Why is your hat so big?” she appeals to the curious, innocent mind: “Because I keep all my ideas underneath it.” When the girl later sees her without her turban-esque Ankara scarf, she quizzes again, “Where is your hat?” “I guess I’m running out of ideas… Maybe you can help me out,” she replies. In another instance, when Turner comes back to find his otherwise rough and disorganised apartment neatly arranged, Chioma tells the surprised lawyer, “Everything is still in place… The difference is that you can actually see it now…” She claims her banking job makes keeping track of information her business. “I have to do something, I have to help somehow.” Perhaps, this underscores how a (Nigerian) woman often brings order into a man’s life. Even when Turner says, “there was nothing that could have been done until this morning,” she quips, “I could have worried.”

So, are there any flaws in the movie? I actually went all out to enjoy the movie so I could hardly spot any. But I remember a friend with whom I watched it the first time pointed out at the scene where Chioma and her lawyer go for dinner that the lady performing  live music was lip-synching. The sound and the movement of her lips were some milliseconds apart. I liked the way the movie ended though, and I was convinced it indeed was a good movie when the full-capacity audience rose in applause twice at the Ozone Cinemas in Yaba, Lagos where I watched it! In homage to the movie’s insight and wit, I leave you with my favourite quote by Anya Michino (Omotola):

“This man says I would have gone back home and lived like a queen… In Nigeria, there are no queens, only kings… A woman is given to him by her family and herself… He becomes her protector… Husbands are not fathers; mine was not even a man.”

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