All about Shanty Town
By Azuka Ogujiuba
Shanty Town is a 2023 Nigerian crime thriller created by Xavier Ighorodje and Chichi Nworah and produced by Ini Edo and Chi Chi Nworah, the six-part series was released to Netflix on 20 January 2023.
Shanty Town follows the story of a ruthless leader named Scar (played by Chidi Mokeme) who handles a lot of dirty business and is popularly regarded as the King of Shanty Town. Some of the Lagos hustlers who Scar and his associates have held captive has now decided to unite and wage war against him after it was discovered that captives that Scar supposedly sets free are always missing from existence.
Shanty Town is a town for drug dealers, prostitutes, and thugs. A town where crime has its throne. Inem’s life is briefly glossed over and replaced by the good things said about her by characters such as Jackie (Mercy Eke) and Mama T (Sola Sobowale), despite the fact that she is the core of the film, as intended by the prologue.
In this interview with Azuka Ogujiuba, Ini Edo and Chidi Mokeme who played Scar took me through Shanty town, especially Mokeme whose come back in the Nigerian movie scene was a big bang.
Are you a lover of mafia movies?
Ini : I love mafia movies
Which is your favorite mafia movie?
Ini: Queen of South
Why Queen of South?
Ini: The girl, Teresa Mendoza is such a smart woman. I mean she got into crime not because she wanted to get into crime but she found herself there, the drug whole cartel business was dominated by men and you know she was like a victim of circumstances but she turned around showed the guys how it is done and she finally hijacked the whole business from them.
I like the fact that she is fierce and fearless. I like the fact that she is stern and she is not the one killing anyone. She tries to avoid killings, she tries to avoid the crime itself but when you talk about running the business, she took over the business and somehow showed men that she can actually run the business. I am not encouraging that kind of business but I’m just saying that the way she ran the business without any blood stain, she equally kept running the business in the street.
There are a lot of male actors that could play the role of Scar in Shanty Town, why did you decide on Chidi Mokeme?
Ini: l believed he is a great actor, he has the look and he gave us the commitment. Chidi is a refined actor who understands diversity of any role he is given with different interpretations. I also know that he is very talented, a lot of people have not seen him play this kind of role until he played Scar, people were flabbergasted more at his delivery. They forgot he is a Surulere boy. I have known Chidi like forever. I knew him right from Surulere. I know that he has this street credibility in him that just comes really natural. I knew that he has that rough around edge sought of personality, then I love how he talks, how he slouch his words. I felt that, that would give Scar a unique personality.
Why did you picked the name Shanty town?
Ini: Chichi changed the name to Shanty town . She just said Shanty town and it was just perfect.
Which international actor would you love to be in a movie with?
Ini: Taraji any day, any time, I would really love to work with her. I love Jand I would love to work with Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep , Viola Davies
Was the karate scene in the Shanty town series real?
Ini: Absolutely real, before we started filming, we had a three weeks intensive training for just the fighting scenes. The fight choreography was all-real. We had to do the training for four weeks.
This project must have cost a fortune, tell us about the budget?
Ini: We built the set, talking about the money aspect, the money of course choked me. We didn’t have a budget at some point because we kept on exceeding the budget but then we just couldn’t stop.
What’s your advice to men who still think that violence against women is the best way to resolve any issue?
Ini : No one under any circumstances, has the right to lay his or her hands on anybody . We must completely cancel violence in our society. The way our society operates, we have women who even enable that kind of treatment all because of what people will say if they leave an abusive marriage or relationship. If you have a son, and you say, men don’t show their emotions, they are supposed to be strong and why are they behaving like a woman? Why are they crying like a woman, you have programmed the mindset of these boys, they are going to become abusive men, so it starts from the basics. Men or boys are equally allowed to show their emotions. A woman’s place is not in the kitchen, a woman’s place is not to take care of you and clean up the room, the woman’s place is not only in the other room. It is important to groom your boys from inception on how to respect and treat women right and if not we are just going to have monsters roaming everywhere as men. There is no reason for any form of violence.
Do you think marriage validates a woman?
Ini: I don’t think marriage validates even a man, not just a woman.
Are you a lover of Mafia movies?
Chidi: Yeah. Everybody loves Mafia movies and then my favorite would have to be Scarface. Godfather 1,2 and 3 but Shanty town is quite iconic, the first of its kind in the history of Nollywood.
You have been out of the scene for a very long time, the moment you were contacted for this role, how did you feel?
Chidi : For an actor, the role is always around the square, you have to fit in and in which way you know once you get your script, first and foremost, the script was nice.
Your artistic prowess was displayed in the movie, it gave us that bad-boy vibe, did you put in extra work or it came out effortlessly?
Chidi: I read the script. I knew that I could not let it go, so haven’t been around for a long time. I have read thousands and thousands of scripts, you know, it is not all the times that you open a script and you don’t put it down till you get to the last page, this is exactly what happened with Shanty town. I read it till about 4.a.m and called Ini back and said to her “Are you ready to do this because it’s huge? She said “We are ready, and I said let’s do it. It was a good script so I think that was a first catch for me. The fact that it was a good script and then it had this ensemble cast, I said okay who do you have here, she reeled out the names, and I said okay it’s done.
Chidi, was your role in Shanty town easy to adapt and effortless ?
Chidi: Nothing comes out effortlessly, it is a lot of work to try to be somebody else, you know with different personality and different character. It is a lot of work to play someone else. You know acting is a job, you have to go home and do your homework, do your research, find a little bit of one or two things , it then helps you fix things together especially for your character. When you are sure you have cooked the soup properly, then you serve the soup as e dey hot. It was not easy but it was hardwork you know , it took some time, like weeks to fully get into that character to a place where I was comfortable playing the role confidently.
How long were you on set for?
Chidi: l was on set for about six weeks plus pre-production, then there was choreography, there was a scene for the fight choreography and all that.
Al Pacino in the God father movie influence your character in Shanty town?
Chidi: Not really, I mean because their society and ours is a totally different society, totally different way of operating, totally different language style. The only similarity in both movie is just bad guys against good guys but don’t forget too that Shanty town is a series. The street lifestyle in Lagos is different from street lifestyle in Napoli or anywhere else in the world. There is really no similarities in the two movies other than the bad and good guys part.
Which actors in the world would you love to be featured with in a movie?
Chidi: I think for the longest time I have fantasize is playing alongside Will Smith , in a movie with a storyline like lam his long lost twin in Africa. I think I fantasize about playing alongside or opposite Will Smith. I would be the bad guy, he will be the good guy, so I can beat him up. I think aside that he is fantastic actor, although the first person on my mind right now would be Denzel Washington. I just want to seat there and just be looking at his mouth as his is ‘chopping’ the lines. I want to work with Will Smith. I want to work alongside Denzel Washington and then Fast and Furious, just want to do something there with Vin Diesel, and with the Rock but give me Denzel, give me Will Smith I think I would like to be in that space.
And Ini who would you love to be in movie with?
Ini: Taraji P. Henson any day any time, I would really love to work with her. I love Meryl Streep, Viola Davies and I would love to work with Julia Roberts, l love her.
Chidi to lni : And you would love to work with Chidi Mokeme ?
Ini : I mean of course give me Scar any day anytime, I am alright .
Tell us about the karate scene in the Shanty town, was it real for you?
Ini : Absolutely real, before we started filming , we had a three weeks intensive training for just the fighting scenes. The fight choreography we had to do the training for about 3 to 4 weeks, it was an intensive training. The fight choreographer that trained me personally also trained Chidi. We didn’t have doubles at all but for me I did 90% of the stunts myself.
I mean how long did it take you to put this together , you have not done anything major for a very long time and we didn’t see this coming?
Chidi : No, no , let me rephrase it , this series has placed her on the table with a permanent seat, you like it Ini?
Ini : I like, I love it, you know people always forget that I haven’t done anything major in a while but the kind of movie maker l have always wanted to be is that l have always strived to be one with a difference, trying to do something different, try to go where people dare not go . I believe that nollywood storytelling can actually be upgraded to the next level. I feel like we have dance around the circle for too long. I have always felt that every movie we churn out is towards trying to give nollywood a stronger face in terms of what we do. If you are talking about talent we have it. We just don’t have the production skills. We need to take our technicality and our stories to the next level. I feel like every time I put a step forward I must achieve something. I remember about seven .eight, ten years ago, we brought in a choreographer from outside the country, because then there wasn’t any skilled ones in the country, if I’m not mistaken l know that the first film that Bryan Okpara was featured . I did that and then I produced the Weekend Getaway right after that. I always try to improve on my next project. Shanty town was not just because I wanted to make a movie, I wanted to make an impact in a way that If l tell my story, we will be heard . The kind of film maker I am trying to be or that I think l want to be is the one that would always do a film that would make a difference in the world. I believe if we can push in the narratives especially now with the Netflix platform, there’s no reason why our stories cannot be recognized internationally, there is no reason why we should not be competing in the global stage. I mean we have the platforms now so my own contribution or my own quota to the industry would be that every time I come out to make a film I would make a bold statement that can announce nollywood to the world that we are ready. We are here to stay and we are ready to compete in the global market.
What are the challenges you encountered on this project?
Ini: We did have financial challenges when we started. We started with a mindset of a small budget although we knew that from what we wanted to achieve that budget wouldn’t work but we started anyway, we had a lot of unforeseen issues the budget kept expanding, that’s the thing with production. You have to have excess money because anything can happen. We got a little frustrated at times but one thing we did not do is that in spite of all that frustration we didn’t compromise on anything and I think that’s the excellence that is Shanty town today. A lot of times we would have cut corners just to make things easier by reducing the pressure and you know that would show in the film eventually.
Who did the casting and styling of the movie?
Ini : I did,l played quite a significant role in picking the cast and of course my partner and the director too. l make clothes, my label is called Secret of April. We made some of the costumes, Medlin Boss did one or two things, Tiannah Empire did a lot, we scouted outfits for the series everywhere.
Scarface costumes and effects was another big highlight of the production?
Ini: We needed a quality production and for you to succeed to that level you just need the right professionals who are really good at what they do, you have to ensure that every department is putting in their best. The team was really solid, they gave us such a seamless set. Everybody just knew what to do. They had this hunger and passion to work. I think what happened was immediately everybody got their script people just fell in love with the storyline. When you love something, you put in your everything into it because you love it, then you also believe in it. All they kept saying is can you provide us with all we need as long as you give us all we need we will give you an amazing delivery. There is not one single department that you would look at and be like this one didn’t live up to expectations, everybody came through.
The way the series ended it means there’s going to be season two, are we expecting a season two?
Chidi: Hello Netflix are we expecting a season two?
Ini: Hello Netflix, okay so I’m calling from Azuka’s show and she is asking to know if there’s going to be a season two, hello did you just hang up. They say they want to see more, more.
The Shanty town series saw a lot of the women experiencing violent and ill treatment from the men, conspicuously showing that women don’t have a voice or can take charge of their destiny?
Chidi: I think we are coming to that era where a lot of women are taking their own destiny in their hands boldly, the society is more of a patriarchal society, you know the men are sought of running it like that. We need that change unfortunately for now you can look at women fighting for 30% affirmation in government and in every corporate environment. Let us have representation of women in every aspect of development in the world. The women are nation builders, it is a big deal, let’s start by getting women in the place of authority to influence policies that affect them, even appoint them in parastatals run by men in Nigeria. The women need to stand up and change that completely. It is happening already, violence against women is a big crime and a no, no.
Besides patriarchy and insurgency, what are the other lessons from the movie Shanty town that you think the world needs know?
Ini : I think that basically one of the thing that I can take out in the Shanty town series, is before we started filming I had to go to some of the Shanty areas in Lagos to study the lifestyle of the people, just to see how this women live their lives . I spoke to some of them to understand where they are coming from and you realize that what Shanty town is not so far fetched from the lifestyle of most of these girls . A lot of these girls are living that lifestyle because of survival, most of them are helpless, stripped and brought into that kind of lifestyles, most of them are there because their parents can’t take care of them , most of them are trafficked , most of them are sold, like it is modern day slavery, some of them their mothers are at home thinking their childrenn are working as waiters in Lagos not knowing that they are prostitutes. They are threatened, never to say anything to their parents. There are a lot of things going on. One of the lessons from Shanty town is that I wanted Nigerian parents to be aware and to understand that you just don’t allow your children to go somewhere because they are in search of greener pastures . A lot of times people who go looking for greener pastures, they don’t return back to their families, most of them their body parts have been mutilated, sometimes people disappear, you don’t get to hear from them or have idea of their whereabouts. There is a ring of human part, human organs dealers, organ harvesting is the new business, this business is striving in Nigeria today. These are all the little things that Shanty town is trying to expose. I just feel that if people are aware this kind of things are happening it would help people be more careful, people will be more cautious of where they go to, who they talk to and what they do because this line of business is up and running. People are disappearing every day and nobody can attest to where they are that’s just. Shanty town also shed light on this business the fact that this ills are going on in our society and nobody is doing anything about it is actually sad.
What advice do you have for men who think or feel violence is the best way to send a message across to their women?
Chidi: it is unacceptable. There is no room for domestic violence under any situation or any circumstance or otherwise. There is no reason for anybody to lay their hands on anybody especially on the women, this is a rampant problem with the men folk. I mean it goes both ways, there are women who are abusive too. There are women who hit their partners or their spouses on a daily bases. The men might not be coming out to say their experiences like the women. I think it’s a bigger problem that needs constant addressing, it’s not an easy thing to fix , you know it’s a deep rooted problem, like I said again the way our society operates does not help the situation either. The society that we live also contribute to this, that is the reason why every mother should endeavor to teach their sons why it is wrong to beat up a woman. They should teach their sons how to be show emotions, let them be vulnerable too. They should stop telling their son’s things like men don’t cry, men don’t show their emotions. Men are supposed to be strong. Why are you behaving like a woman? Why are you crying like a woman, all of these things are programming the mindset of the boy and this boy is going to become an abusive mean man. The training of the boy child starts from the basics and let him also that a woman’s place is not in the kitchen alone, a woman’s place is not to take care of you, clean up the room or the woman place is not only in the other room, so if a woman has a place in the other room a man should also have a place in the other room too. All these things are all interlinked one way or the other. And then you cannot give what you don’t have, so the boys have to be grown to be men otherwise, we are just going to have all of these monsters roaming around the place.
If a guy hits you then come back to you and offers you a Bentley and pleads for forgiveness, will you take the guy back?
Ini: what about I take the Bentley and don’t go back because once a man beats you, he will always do it again. I could take the Bentley and then tomorrow I don’t pick your call. The truth is I don’t attract gangsters but to be honest I don’t and I can’t stand irresponsible men. I have nothing to do with them.
Who is a complete woman?
Ini : A complete woman? Who is even complete woman? I think how you feel completes you as a human being, if you have the conviction in your heart that you have achieved or you have gotten to the peak of your career, maybe life journey or if you feel your life is beautiful and you think that it is complete then it is complete. I don’t think there is anything that measures who is complete, it is relative.
Chidi: I think you don’t have to achieve anything materialistic for you to feel complete. A lot of times contentment makes you feel complete and happy with life.
Ini : Yeah, Chidi is right, some people are very contented with where they are, whether they have achieved or not they are just good, you know it is relative especially when you have peace of mind.
Chidi: Be comfortable in your skin, know yourself and who you are.
Do you both think marriage validates a woman?
Ini : I don’t think marriage validates even the man not just the woman
Chidi : l think again that takes us back to the society that we are in . The society places marriage on that level of importance, it also treats women very unfair with the impression that the women place are in the kitchen. A lot of women gets desperate to become wives because they feel that’s the only way they can feel fullfilled about life. Marriage is overrated over rated and it never validates anyone.
Ini: I mean we are all happy for those who find joy and are genuinely happy in their marriages. We are happy for them.
Ini : Your piece of mind and happiness is all that matters, is not really about what anybody feel or think of you, it is about how you feel about yourself. I mean for me my own happiness is the most important thing to me anytime.
Chidi: So if the guy start sounds like Femi Fernandez and ends up like Scar, pack your bags and run.
The movie Shanty town has scenes where people were unjustly oppressed, I can see the trait of Chief Fernandez in a lot of real life scenarios, what are your advice to somebody in similar situation how is this person meant to project himself from subsequent oppression at all. What do you think?
Ini Edo: I’m not going to dim my light for you to shine I’m not going to I’m not going to lower my standards for you to shine you know it’s a level playing ground man if you feel we’re in a court room everybody as their time to shine just put out you best foot I put out my best foot to ever way it’s certain but I’m not going to lower my standards to anybody else and I’m not going to dim my light for anyone else to shine
Chidi Mokeme: people generally should want better you know you should always want better for yourself advance yourself develop yourself you know so nobody is going to do it for you so it’s doesn’t matter what level you are in the society. First tell yourself that I want better for myself then if I want better for myself what does better mean you know once’s you define better for yourself then you know exactly what you’re looking for because I can’t tell you what better is you know what better is for you. So once’s you define what better is for you then you know exactly what you are looking for. I know what better is for myself I go after it on a daily, you know so you should do the same forget the oppressors they need to keep you oppressed so that you can hang in on to them and then they can grow you while you keep suffering you need to want for yourself and one of the ways to do that go get PVC ooo my brother so that you know go get PVC so if somebody is telling you singing songs to you you know that suit what you want for your Life you go and use your PVC and approve that ehm person you know
Ini Edo: absolutely for me I just think that for Nigerians especially where we are today it’s so important all those people that feel they want to sit on the fence they don’t think they want to identify anyone I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. But it is important because that is the right that you have to criticize the government. if you do not vote you do not have a right to say the government is bad that that card that PVC and that vote gives you that stamp of authority to demand for things to change and demand answers to questions or to demand the country be runnings anywhere but without that you don’t have any right to complain so that one vote is all you have make it loud and make the best decision theirs so much noise going on on the streets don’t be distracted vote wisely.