Early on in the much-anticipated film Citation, the leads Moremi and Professor N’Dyare stroll through a gate as they laugh, make an adorable inversion of the phrase “rebel without a cause” and chant the names of African revolutionaries. The camera sweeps up to envelop us in the beautiful scenery, the music rises and the audience inadvertently hopes that this is the start of something beautiful.
However, Citation does not deliver fully on the promise of its premise. Perhaps given that the film is helmed by true cognoscenti of Nigerian cinema, who possesses the talent, heritage, understanding, and resources to have created something truly transcendent, the expectations for this viewer were higher than the norm. This is not an accusation. Citation is a fine film, with a timely theme, and a crew that has honed their sense of uniformity through multiple collaborations. What Citation is not, is the second coming of Mr. Afolayan, after an unfortunate slate of average releases over the past years, following the greatness of his debuts.
The film’s strengths unsurprisingly lie in its visuals. Like a lot of Nollywood fare, the cinematography consumes. Shot in Nigeria, Senegal, and Cape Verde by Jonathan Kovel, the film moves with a stunning fluidity, the kind best appreciated on the biggest and crispiest screen one can find. Pat Nebo, another cognoscenti shines with the art direction particularly evidenced in the campus scenes where the mundanity of Nigerian student life portrayed is refreshing to an almost radical degree. In a country with such rampant institutional failures and no end to the tales of woe in higher learning, it is a true kindness to get a sense of students doing normal student things.
The story is a necessary one. The director has publicly stated that the film’s aim is to encourage people to speak up about sexual assault and Citation fulfills that purpose. It will make an excellent companion to the acclaimed BBC Eye documentary by Emmy Nominee Kiki Mordi about sexual assault on campus. Mr. Afolayan wisely takes a respectful approach to the trigger heavy narrative. Kudos especially to his sense of integrating the senate committee, a nod to the possibility that sometimes, institutional capacity is possible. In a time when trust has been completely eroded in many formal Nigerian structures, Citation shows that sometimes leaders do the right thing. The film also grounds the narrative with the use of an effective flashback. However, some of the value is tainted especially within the third act with the necessary but nonetheless disappointing deus ex machina which the story had spent no time building towards. Tunde Babalola’s screenplay is apt and his talent is best displayed in the dialogues between Moremi and N’Dyare.
While Temi Otedola is lovely to watch and does a fair job of carrying the film on her back, her performances felt more flat than inspirational the longer the film lasted. A welcome addition to the Nollywood pantheon of ingenues she bears some potential, but much of it remains yet to be realized in her performance of Moremi. Her strengths lay in her ability to maintain French, Yoruba, and English dialogues. Gabriel Afolayan as a love interest is adequate. Kwesi (Adjetey Anang) and Gloria (Ini Edo) also mostly serve to extend the adequateness of the film’s general performances. It brings to question the directorial style of Nigerians. Are Nollywood directors more actor directors, writer-directors, cinematographer directors, or otherwise? Were the performers mostly given carte balance or were they micromanaged?
Audiences of Nollywood have come a long way but still remain prone to tricks like glossy visuals enchanting music, and newsy narratives. One of the hallmarks of great cinema is to push the needle forward on the discourse of film as a creative art. For all the progress audiences of Nollywood have made there is still an insistence on infantilizing filmmakers and viewing their work with negatively adjusted expectations. The disease of “they tried.” Credit should be given to the team as it is difficult to produce any decent work of art in a place like Nigeria, but it should not justify lowering the quality of discussions to be had around the work, especially not one with a clear political message as this. Overall, Citation will do what it set out to do which is to continue the necessary discourse of holding sexual assaulters to account. It will provide a relatable foil and a frame of reference for many young women. But as a contribution to Nigerian cinema, it will likely not live beyond the moment it was made for.