Much like its long-winded full title, “Green White Green: And All the Beautiful Colours In My Mosaic of Madness,” Abba T. Makama’s debut film is a shaggy, unruly work of art, passion and perseverance. In the spirit of the early films of Spike Lee, this cheeky, bright-eyed and often overzealous Nigerian film is at once endearing and unkempt. As enthusiastic and well-meaning as could be, it’s never without its bright spots. And yet, it never quite figures out what it’s trying to say, or for that matter, what it wants to be. The focus is disorganized at best, the overstuffed plot zigs and zags, and the low budget production values hinder far more than they help. It’s an amateurish and sloppy effort, presented in its current iteration with choppy editing, no stern rhythm and countless grammatical errors in its English subtitles. But in a way, that often adds to its endearing charm.
At its most simple, “Green White Green” is a coming-of-age drama centered around Uzoma (Ifeanyi Dike Jr.), a directionless teenager on the cusp of his university studies, and the journey through early adulthood he shares with his equally-underachieving friends (Samuel Robinson, Crystabel Goddy, Bimbo Manuel) when Baba (Jamal Ibrahim) yearns to make a short Nigerian war history film in his backyard. Makama’s first film is inspired by creativity, film and filmmaking, and that consistently bleeds into every frame. In many ways, the rough around the edges production brings you into the try-as-we-might mindset of our blooming young filmmakers. But that’s only when Makama chooses to focus on their filmmaking endeavors, and not on their personal struggles, family dynamics and broken relationship with their fractured culture — one that’s separated across three ethnic groups: Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba.
These subplots merge uncomfortably into the overall plot, with Makama (who co-wrote with Africa Ukoh) struggling to find a consistent tone and narrative. Beyond the artistic ambitions of its main protagonists, “Green White Green” is most interesting when it explores the growing influence of American culture in Nigeria, with women inspired by Kim Kardashian, while the men debate whether or not “The Avengers” is better than “The Matrix.” Even the on-screen production appears molded by Hollywood standards as if that’s the only way to make a movie. It’s a shame that these elements aren’t explored more thoroughly.
As it is noted at one point, great lengths are taken just to import toothpicks solely because they’re produced in the United States. Americanization is not a new idea, especially in film, but it’s given an interesting and entertaining take in this debut film — particularly in little moments when characters suggest American culture is somehow richer or more luxurious than their modest African uprising, even though it only introduces more superficiality in their young lives. Unfortunately, though, this commentary only periodically adds anything of depth to the overall scattershot narrative.
But no matter the shortcomings of the film, Makama’s eager and often talented cast often help gloss over the limited production. Their warm-faced, bright-eyed performances are genuine, gleaming and inspired, and though “Green White Green” is charming, sometimes funny, occasionally interesting, and textured, the movie never quite finds its balance. But like the best modest up-and-coming filmmakers, Makama leaves a lot of commitment and care on the screen.
As winning as it is clumsy, “Green White Green” is a misshapen debut, but it’s one with promise and heart in each step. Sometimes, that’s all you need. [B-/C+]