Oliver O. Mbamara is a bona fide master griot who is determined to carry on the mission of sustaining African history, traditions, and culture for the present and future generations. A judge, attorney, filmmaker, writer, and poet, Mbamara’s latest book, African Tales Under the Moonlight, is a collection of African fables and stories offering insightful principles dealing with life and family importance.
As a child, Mbamara grew up in Nigeria listening to folklore and stories told at gatherings to children from the elders and family members about their ancestors. He was inspired to write African Tales so that younger generations could also experience the positive and lasting effects these stories had on his upbringing.
Mbamara is a graduate from the New York Film Academy, and author of several poetry books, plays, African themed essays, and producer of many African films. He started writing and acting while pursuing a legal career in Nigeria before moving to the United States. Here, he became a state administrative judge and has served in this position for twenty one years. A long-standing member of the Nigerian Lawyers Association (USA), Mbamara has served in various capacities for the association, including as chairman of the board of directors.
Besides being a producer and director, Mbamara has acted in leading roles in several African feature films that include This America, Slave Warrior, On the Run Again, and the Spade Movies Series. His latest work, Cultures, is the creation of a pioneer African Diaspora TV series. He is the current president of the Nollywood Producers Guild, USA, and he intends to take the Nollywood industry in Nigeria and the Diaspora into the next phase of its development. This includes technological advancement and the expanding structures of content production as well as worldwide distribution. Mbamara believes, “We have a responsibility to keep our stories alive for the future generations.”
The creative is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the award-winning online magazine www.AfricanEvents.com that launched in 2004. Over the years, Mbamara has received numerous awards and recognitions for his countless accomplishments in film, writing, and community work, including the 2018 African Community Service Award and the U.S. African Eye Man of the Year 2018.
Here Mbamara shares with 50BOLD his passion for storytelling, vision for sustaining African culture, challenges encountered, and why he thinks it’s crucial to continue to tell our own stories.
50BOLD: You have a great love for storytelling. Can you explain what it was like for you as a youth listening to family and, in particular, the elders, telling stories of folklore passed on from the ancestors? Is this what helped to inspire you to write African Tales Under the Moonlight?
Oliver: Since the typical community in my country was mostly made up of a series of immediate and extended families, people interacted more closely with each other. I grew up around many other children from immediate and extended families.
We shared errands and labor. We went to the stream to fetch water in groups. We all entered the bushes and farms to gather firewood or hunt for edible plants. It was therefore natural that at nighttime, we listened together to the elders as they told us fables and stories passed down from ancestors–sometimes under the moonlight, and sometimes by our bedsides. We looked up to such moments, and the memories stayed with us not only because they were fun times but because we learned something new from each story we listened to.
The desire to have our younger generation experience and share from such memories helped inspire me to write African Tales Under the Moonlight.
50BOLD: What message would you like your readers to come away with after reading African Tales?
Mbamara: Africans have so many didactic stories that contain embedded principles such as discipline, patience, tolerance, responsibility, wisdom, forgiveness, fairness, charity, kindness, etc. These stories can help shape children’s upbringing in very positive ways so they can become more responsible adults, leading to a better society.
50BOLD: You’ve mentioned how African stories illustrate morals/values and how yours and previous generations have had the experience of hearing rich ones. Can you elaborate on why you feel it’s important that African stories be told and sustained for future generations?
Mbamara: The identity and character of a people are reflected in the stories told and passed on by such people’s ancestors. Stories contain tenets and principles that mold the individuals’ character, which, by extension, make up society’s character. These tenets and principles come in handy in dealing with the challenges of life.
Today western cultures seem to be overshadowing African cultures, and the dwindling of such African settings like gatherings under the moonlight and past times at the village squares leads to the gradual abandonment of the art of African storytelling. Modern trends like the internet and social media have become an easy source of information and education for the upcoming generation. As a result, telling African stories is gradually being abandoned and relegated to the bin of diminishing traditions.
Consequently, more and more Africans are caught up in a cultural vacuum. A sort of dilemma could otherwise be avoided if our coming generations are exposed to more African cultures and encouraged to embrace them; this highlights the need for African cultures’ sustenance, which includes a rich history of storytelling.
50BOLD: You have produced several films that you have written. I saw Slave Warrior at a screening years ago, and it was amazing. Is On the Run Again a continuation of Slave Warrior? Is it a true story?
Mbamara: On the Run Again is not the sequel to Slave Warrior. Whereas Slave Warrior tells the story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade from the African perspective, On the Run Again is a feature film that continues to recount the experiences of an African immigrant in the United States. It is the sequel to the first feature film I wrote and co-produced in the United States titled This America. Yes, Slave Warrior is a trilogy inspired by true-life events, but I am yet to produce the second and third installments (The Rescue and The Return) due to a lack of funds.
50BOLD: What motivated you to become a filmmaker?
Mbamara: While growing up, I loved listening to stories, so it was natural that I would love telling them. There is, however, a kind of satisfaction that is enjoyed when one creates a story and sees it come alive on stage as a theatric performance or on-screen as a motion picture. I grew up realizing the importance of stories and how useful they could be in sharing and passing life lessons. Yet, more importantly, I also came to realize there are so many of our stories that could be told, and the veracity of our stories is sustained when we tell them ourselves.
It is my understanding that any society or people would be better understood if their stories are known. That, in turn, would help diffuse the growing political and religious tensions around the globe. Films allow us to serve as such.
50BOLD: Are there any particular filmmakers or writers that influenced or inspired you?
Mbamara: I fell in love with films at a tender age, and like many children, I admired many actors in most of the foreign films we saw on TV and at cinemas. When I saw a Nigerian named Eddie Ugboma in a foreign film, I was pleased that a Nigerian could be in a movie or even make a film; this enabled me to imagine the possibility of starring in movies or even making films. In cinema, I was inspired by the film Shaft, starring Richard Roundtree, and the James Bond 007 series, mainly when Sean Connery and Roger Moore portrayed the character.
As far as comics, I enjoyed the Adventures of Lance Spearman. In comedy, I was thrilled by the Nigerian comedy series Masquerade starring Chika Okpala (Chief Zebrudaya), which inspired my creation of the comedy series Cultures and Africanish, chronicling the adventures of a funny Nigerian immigrant in America named Ozobio (unreleased).
As a writer, I was inspired by Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart), Ghana’s Ayi Kwei Armah (The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born), Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiongo (Weep not Child). Other writers I enjoy include Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka, Elechi Amadi, and of course, Shakespeare, among others.
50BOLD: Tell us about your latest work of the pioneer African Diaspora TV series called Cultures; will it be available in the U.S.?
Mbamara: Cultures is a comedy series that chronicles an African immigrant in America named Ozobio. It explores the challenges faced by the generation of Africans who depart Africa to settle in the Diaspora (in this case, America). It is often overlooked how every African immigrant abroad has a story, a reason for leaving their homeland to settle abroad.
One thing that cuts across each African immigrant’s story is that they would be better understood if others could glimpse into their world. I try to show this in my Cultures series, but it is presented comically so that the viewer gains insight without feeling they are being preached to. The Cultures pilot has up to 20 episodes available for interested producers and investors while we continue to seek funding for a full-blown production of it.
50BOLD: For years, I have been a great fan of African movies produced by Nollywood. Now African films are being shown on Netflix, which is excellent. You are currently the President of Nollywood Producers Guild, USA. Can you tell us about your affiliation with Nollywood and some of your films and other projects that have been or will be producing?
Mbamara: The Nollywood Producers Guild, USA (NPGUSA) is an association of African and mostly Nigerian film producers who have come together to create, promote, and protect African content in the Diaspora, especially in the North Americas. The idea is to speak with one voice for most African filmmakers in the USA. We recently came together to produce the feature film tentatively titled Black Roses, which is post-production even though each producer continues to create their work.
50BOLD: What are some of your challenges regarding African filmmaking in the Diaspora?
Mbamara: The biggest concern is that we (African producers in the Diaspora) do not have the necessary funding to produce quality films. So, we engage in regular 9-to-5 day jobs to make ends meet and save enough to produce the many movies we want to make. The result is that we do not tell those stories we have to tell, and we spend a lot of time working 9-to-5 regular jobs when we ought to be working on our films.
When we manage to shoot a movie, we do not have enough funds for promotion, and we may not even have time off from our regular jobs to attend film festivals or do film promotion when it is released. Actors like me also miss out on movie roles because of our full-time jobs.
Regardless of the challenges presented, we continue to push on. We try to do the best we can in hopes that whatever effort we make will help lay the foundation for future generations of African content creators and performers.
50BOLD: I read that you are currently working on several books and other projects that focus on “sustaining African history and cultures while building a stronger structure for Nollywood and African creative entertainment.” This is an important goal that you are accomplishing. Can you discuss further why this significant undertaking is essential to you and what you hope to achieve?
Mbamara: As I mentioned previously, knowing our stories and our cultures is knowing who we are. We could bequeath our strength and legacies to our younger ones who may not have had the same privileges we learned from African histories and cultures practiced when we were young. We cannot merely sit idly by and let these legacies that were bequeathed to us dissipate and end with our generation. We have to tell our stories! Without identity, there is no core, no backbone.
50BOLD: Besides being a filmmaker, judge, lawyer, and writer, you are also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the award-winning online magazine www.AfricanEvents.com. Can you tell us about the mission of this magazine and how long it’s been in existence?
Mbamara: The African Events Magazine has been in existence since 2004. I created it as an outlet to share the good memories and traditions of Africans, as seen at African events around the globe. It did a good job meeting that objective over two decades. With the advent of smartphones and Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Snap, and other social media outlets that grab the attention of internet users, we are working on adjusting our content acquisition and distribution approach and modalities.
50BOLD: You are a motivational speaker and commentator on “life and living.” This is a very engaging topic. What are some of the issues you address when speaking?
Mbamara: As the phrase connotes, my speeches, articles, papers, poems, and even films seek to raise issues of “life and living” so the reader or viewer finds something to take away and think about. I aim to make the individual ask questions rather than accept every event in life just on its face, hook line, and sinker. I hope that people come away with answers that are best for them towards getting to the next level in their journey of life.
50BOLD: You have even spoken at the United Nations. What concerns did you address there?
Mbamara: I addressed concerns that bothered African culture, improvement in leadership, and entertainment, including film production and content creation that encourage the telling of African stories by Africans.
50BOLD: Over the last 20 years, you have received numerous awards and recognitions for your many accomplishments in film, writing, and community work. These awards include the 2018 African Community Service Award, the U.S. African Eye Man of the Year 2018, and many others. What would you say has been your most outstanding achievement?
Mbamara: My most outstanding achievement is reaching individuals who found something useful in my works, whether poetry, films, or papers.
50BOLD: There is a treasure of wealth and a rich legacy in African history and African-American history. What insights can you share concerning knowing and studying history for people of color and all people?
Mbamara: It is notable that African History and African-American History (or Black man’s history) have suffered and continues to suffer abandonment and adulteration that suits the narrative of the non-African historian or theorist with a purpose. Unless Africans take up the mantle and tell their stories and express the histories that were passed on to them by their forefathers, the vacuum may continue to exist, or the wrong impression may continue to dominate the remnants of literature available today about the Black man or the African history, origin, cultures, and traditions.
As I stated in the intro of the movie Slave Warrior, the present is the most critical moment, yet the present is the outcome of the past present, for it is in the present that we mold what the future may become.
50BOLD: You are a judge, filmmaker, writer, poet, lawyer, husband, father, and community leader. How do you juggle everything? How do you remain humble? What motivates you to keep going?
Mbamara: I would say that I am only able to do all I do by the grace of God. I contribute my little quota by having little sleep, no vacations, making myself available, and allowing myself to be driven by my love and passion for expressing creativity.
50BOLD: What advice can you give to aspiring writers, filmmakers, or those aiming to achieve their goals in general?
Mbamara: Be humble and driven by the love and passion to express creativity; this will keep you going even when you seem exhausted, have no sleep, no rest, or no resources. It will keep you afloat when you get those rejections, criticisms, and challenges you must overcome to reach your goal.
50BOLD: How can your latest book African Tales Under the Moonlight, be purchased?
Oliver: African Tales is available on Amazon and at www.AfricanTalesOnline.com.
50BOLD: How can people view your films or purchase the DVDs? Are they available on YouTube or other media platforms? How can people get in touch with you for more information?
Mbamara: Some of my works are available at www.NollywoodMovies.com or www.OliverMbamara.com.
Below are my social media platform links: