“Let’s celebrate East meeting West.” These soothing words from Emeka to Jumoke appear to be the heart of the narrative in ‘Light in the Dark’ – like a lot of other stories of inter-regional love pairings in Nollywood. It is actually the skin of the story, which Ekene Mekwunye, the movie director, uses in the trailer to pique interest. The filmmaker succeeds in achieving a run-through with the inviting 2-minute clip that bears hints: the two characters are a pair in love, parents from both sides disapprove of this love, their love is the rebellious kind, and it is put through a tough test.
Emeka (Kalu Ikeagwu) and Jumoke (Rita Dominic), despite facing opposition from both families due to their ethnic differences, are in the 11th year of their marriage. They have a 10-year-old daughter in a near perfect nuclear family setting. Near perfect, as they are yet to bear a son – which is the overbearing wish of Emeka’s mother. Tragedy strikes when a gang attacks their home, leaving Emeka with a lose-lose decision on his hands – have your wife raped or your daughter killed. This encounter, as you may have guessed, is the beginning of the volcanic tear on the fabric of their marriage, as their world seems to fall apart.
Performance wise, there is little room for disappointment as the elite class of actors from Joke Silva, to Ngozi Nwosu, Kalu Ikeagwu, Rita Dominic, and Saheed Balogun – embody their characters effectively. Nonso Odogwu, who has been off our screens for a few years, is also a delightful addition to the cast.
It would not be surprising to learn that Ekene envisioned the story with these particular actors in mind. I can imagine the thought process as follows: “Joke Silva is perfect for the cultured and educated older woman ‘Mama Jumoke.’ Patience Ozonkwor will nail the tough and grouchy Igbo mother-in-law but Ngozi Nwosu will too. Jumoke could be Zainab Balogun or Adesua but Rita Dominic’s experience in playing roles of a deeply emotional woman in her prime will be perfect.” Even Saheed Balogun who might appear new to his role of a rapist and a gang leader, isn’t – it is from a similar role he earned the nickname Walahta. Clearly, I think Light in the Dark appears free from any obvious flaws in the casting.
The difference between filmmakers like Ed Wood who believed “…filmmaking is not about the tiny details. It is about the big picture” and filmmakers like Ekene is a difference of perspective. Unlike the former who focused on creating grand moments and bogus scenes, the latter keeps his eye on details like tribal traits and class differences. This manifests in the manner with which Emeka portrays an average Yoruba mother-in-law and her Igbo counterpart. While Mama Jumoke is presented as the type that whispers her disapproval of inter-tribal marriage to her daughter, Mama Emeka is the kind to shout it at her son, and even confront her daughter-in-law with it.
Ekene’s critiquing of the Nigerian society might seem subtle but it is expansive, beyond just the issue of tribal differences. The discordance resulting from the gap between social classes, the greater damage of rape beyond physical hurt, the flaws of the legal system are other social subjects brought to fore in the movie. The sad reality that a female lawyer will twist the law to protect a man who violates women like herself, or that a man will ask a fellow to choose either the rape of his wife or the death of his kid, suggests that the world is missing the point focusing solely mostly on gender wars. That, we have a more serious problem, which is a core human problem. That more and more, we are bombarded with news stories detailing the depravity of human existence, and these stories appear the most attractive to the media.
More than just the value of social consciousness in the story and beyond the brilliance in the directing, the poetic elements infused into the dialogue and the well-done sound selection, enriches the emotive texture of Light in the Dark. The patience in her accent and the faithless tone Jumoke used in delivering the lines, “Was it your skin that he touched? Was it your hair that he pulled? Was it your body that he violated? ”, creates such a lingering effect.
In an overview, the real quality of Light in the Dark is in the power of its narrative, and the progression of the moods and feelings of its characters. A number of social subjects are traceable in the plot but what you’d find at the heart of the story is that “the world is a more complex environment than flowers and sunshine, there is a lot of darkness and evil that folks have to navigate. And sometimes ‘this evil’ is all people can see around them.”