Are you the tenant or the landlord of your life?

Actor Lucky Ejim stars in Shine Your Eye by Binyavanga Wainana. He also plays the lead role in the critically acclaimed film The Tenant. Click above to watch the trailer for the film.

By Lucky Ejim

I recently played the lead role in The Tenant, a film that tells the story of Obinna; a Nigerian refugee in Canada, who has thirty days to leave the country or face deportation. Timothy, his terminally ill Caucasian landlord makes him a proposition: if Obinna can get his estranged daughter to make peace with him before he dies, he will intervene in his deportation as a former immigration officer. As the clock ticks on, Obinna has to do the impossible and find Timothy’s daughter and convince her to return home. In less than 30 days, he has to turn hate into love.

The Tenant was born as an answer to the many questions that many displaced Africans like myself have been carrying. Where is my place in the larger scheme of things? Why am I an immigrant in the world I live in? And in making sense of these intricate questions, an overarching question is revealed: Are you the tenant or the landlord of your life?

Creating The Africa Trilogy has also raised different aspects of this question:
Where is Africa coming from? Where is she at the moment? Where is she heading? These questions are the beginning of our dialogue between the continent and the West. Three entirely different plays with similar goals and recurring themes, each searching for answers to the same questions.

In Shine Your Eye, I play the role of Tambari – the head of a “Telecom Company”, based in Lagos, Nigeria. It is a name befitting a company that is into scamming, as the scam involves telecommunications. It is better known as a 419 scam – an operation that blasts thousands of emails hoping to lure greedy and gullible Westerners into transferring large sums of money. This operation presents no moral dilemma for Tambari -for him, all he is doing is bringing back money that in his opinion is constantly being stolen from Nigeria and has been so since colonialism.

Lucky Ejim performs in a staged reading of Shine Your Eye. Photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard

My experience portraying this man has been quite a challenge because it has forced me to examine my own morality as an African and a Nigerian. You can agree that it behooves me to promote a good image of the continent and portraying a scammer who truly believes what he is doing is right, is not necessarily the ideal way to foster greater good for my motherland. But in the words of my father, please “temper justice with mercy” because I am only a storyteller – the bearer of the message. So please consider the message of the story and not the character who brings you this message.

Shine Your Eye places a microscopic lens on the issue of fraud in both Africa and the West. It seeks to ask the question: Who is scamming who and at what cost? It proposes that if Africa properly channels her human and natural resources, a better and wiser Africa can emerge. It also says to the West: “It is time to wake up to the fact that Africa is not just a jungle that needs “help”, but a huge continent whose resources can no longer be abused and trivialized.

As we rehearse Shine Your Eye, the character of Tambari keeps saying to me, “Lucky, I am the landlord of my life and not the tenant.” Tambari is struggling to make a space where things work for him and his people from Ogoni land in the Niger Delta in Nigeria. This is a place where more than two million barrels of crude oil is taken from everyday, by foreign oil companies, including Shell, while much less is put in to developing the country and its resources.

Big thank you to Volcano Theatre for presenting me with the opportunity to be a part of this amazing journey and to the entire Africa Trilogy family for being so hospitable. Much love and luck to you all.

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~ by volcanotheatre on June 7, 2010.

One Response to “Are you the tenant or the landlord of your life?”

  1. […] Leader Deborah Pearson on the challenges of making socially relevant theatre, Lucky Ejim on being an actor who tells African stories in the West, and Mark Sealy on the contemporary representation of Africa through visual […]

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