By Hazeez Balogun
Nollywood dwarf actors Aki and Pawpaw, pictured here with superstar actress Funke Akindele in
the film Jetfighter, are fixtures in the Nigerian film industry.
Verne Troyer, Peter Dinklage and Jordan Prentice are fairly popular Hollywood actors. They have money, influence and fame. But there is one thing that distinguishes these actors from their peers—they are dwarves.
Dwarves have always been an integral part of the movie industry worldwide. In Nigeria, there have been dwarf actors like the popular Ik_eregbe from the 80s hit TV show, New Masquerade. Today's diminutive acting stars include Osita Iheme and Chinedu Ikedieze, better known as Aki and Pawpaw, who together have featured in scores of Nollywood films.
There is also another group of dwarf actors in the Nigerian film industry. Inspite of the glitz that comes with being in movies, these actors are not popular for their acting prowess but for being on the streets selling their works. You will see them on major streets of Lagos, Port Hacourt, Asaba and many other cities across the country. They approach your car and put up a video CD for you to see. They expect you to recognise their face from the cover of the CD. “Oga buy my film. Na me act am. Shey you no recognise me? I don act plenty film,” they'll usually say in pidgin with the intent of getting you to buy their films.
If you buy one of these films, you will find that they, like other Nollywood movies, are low budget productions. But if ‘small people’ humour is your thing, you might find them quite interesting. Their plots are often similar, all the actors are dwarves and if there is a person of normal height on the cast, that person will most likely be an object of ridicule in the story.
Dwarf movies are usually shot in Lagos or Asaba by the Nollywood Dwarves Association (NDA). Unfortunately, this association is not formally registered and does not have any ties to the Actors Guild of Nigeria(AGN). In fact, dwarf actors in the NDA never get roles in mainstream films. They get no recognitions, no awards, no concessions, no formal training in movie making, nothing. What they have created is a mere cottage industry which keeps their members employed. After production, the films do not go to the mainstream marketers in Alaba, Idumota or Aba. Instead, they are distributed among members of the association who hit the streets to sell them directly to the public. The proceeds are later divided among those who helped to make the films.
James is one of the NDA members who sell his films around Falomo, Ikoyi in Lagos. After catching up with him, like all actors, he seems very proud of his trade. He brags about every film he has acted in. He even said he was on the verge of shooting his second film, but that he is still trying to put funds together. According to him, with ?800,000 (less than $5,000), he can wrap up his film in a matter of days. “The idea is already in my head, I have the whole film up here. I know the sequence I will shoot, the actors I will use and the people I will rent the camera from. All I just need now is the money.” James kept on bragging about his film making skills until he almost seemed to be on the level of Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg. But his ego shrank when asked about selling his films on the street. “It is not something we like to do. We are actors and we would prefer to just be actors. But we have to sell our films urselves. In Nigeria, everybody does their things from start to finish. If we take the film to the marketer they will reject it and will not market it for us. We cannot just leave the film like that after putting so much effort. We have to go on the street to market it ourselves.”
He also agrees that it is not a thing of pride for him and his colleagues to go on the streets selling films and it is more of a survival strategy that comes from their love for making films. “What can we do? We need to make money. We cannot steal and we cannot beg for money. It will look like we are begging because of our size. We are not handicaps and we are not beggars. We have to do something with ourselves in order to make ends meet.”
Monsurat Balogun, a marketer in Idumota, pities the dwarf actors. But even more, she admires their enterprise. “I respect those people. They do not get money from anyone to make their films. They record it themselves, edit it with their money, package it with their money, and they will still sell it themselves. I really respect them,” said Monsura. So why does she not market their films? “You know that their films are not like other films. They are the only ones in their film and sometimes they do not record it very well. I am not saying that their film is not good, but you know our business depends on quick sale, and their films are not like the normal films and might take time to sell,” she said.
What these dwarf actors need more that anything at the moment is proper training. They also need to look more into incorporating themselves into mainstream movies just like Aki and Pawpaw. Many people when asked, said they would not watch a film that has only dwarves as actors.
James accepts that he lacks proper training in film making and he plans to go to a film school in the future, but for now, he continues to prowl the streets of Lagos trying to sell his ‘masterpiece’.