Veteran Nigerian video helmer Tunde Kelani’s “Campus Queen” is a free-form African “School Daze” wherein club rivalries assume national significance and students, when not staging full-scale song-and-dance extravaganzas, engage in realpolitik capers that come off as anything but academic. Catchy hip-hop variations on traditional Yoruba songs, playfully ideological dance routines and a shifting moral axis that will keep auds reeling could graduate English-language musical to oddball cult status Stateside on indie cable and homevid.
Kelani, who virtually single-handedly has created a quality alternative to the lurid video tradition in Nigeria, has been the subject of recent retrospectives at the New York African and Rotterdam film festivals. His “Queen” proves a fascinating addition to an already eclectic oeuvre. Pic combines several genres — thriller, musical, teen flick, political satire — which somehow coexist in chaotic harmony.
Numerous stage-set musical production numbers are interspersed throughout, neither firmly placed within the narrative nor abstractly set against it. They provide indirect commentary via verse and synchronized body movements that appear to owe stylistic debts equally to Yoruba tribal theater, classic Greek choruses and rap. Kelani collaborated with university theater department students and faculty, who wrote, choreographed and performed the lion’s share of these impressive showstoppers.
Meanwhile, back at the plot, two rival college clubs, the Heavy Weights and the Silver Line Movement, vie for power. The beauteous Banke (Serah Mbaka) switches allegiance in protest when she’s sexually served up by the Heavies in exchange for money.
She manages to escape with the loot and her virginity intact, but soon her former clubmates want revenge and target her for a retaliatory rape. With the help of her new friends she foils the rape scheme, but she manages to attract the amorous attentions of the military governor.
In pic’s climate of ethical relativity, it’s often quite hard to tell the bad guys from the good: The Heavy Weights run protection rackets and plan gangbangs to protect the military status quo, while the Silver Liners collect blackmail and prostitute themselves for the sake of social justice.
Banke, who breathlessly admits she likes to live dangerously, fully enjoys the perks of being the military governor’s mistress while gathering evidence to topple his reign. She tools around in her government car, tips lavishly and fills the Silver Liners’ coffers with ill-gotten gains as they conspire to save the country from oppression.
Tech credits are ace for video, the sound quality particularly clear.