A disillusioned security guard haunted by dreams of ancestral spirits wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a purple masquerade, a traditional spirit-creature that stalks the streets of Lagos, in Abba Makama’s surrealist romp “The Lost Okoroshi.”
The follow-up to Makama’s kinetic, colorful feature debut, “Green White Green,” which marked him as one of the Nigerian film industry’s fast-rising stars, “The Lost Okoroshi” made its world premiere in the Discovery section of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival Sept. 6.
After playfully exploring Nigerian identity in his first film, Makama returns to look at the uneasy fit of his country’s traditional beliefs with the modern age. “We wanted to start a debate about cultural identity, and themes like Westernization and modernity,” he said. “I think it’s a question we’re even still wrapping our heads around.”
The vehicle to explore that question is the masquerade, a costumed creature that’s said to represent ancestral spirits. Makama recalled being absorbed by masquerades when visiting his mother’s village as a child, only to later discover there were flesh-and-bone human beings inside the costumes.
“That even fascinated me more. It just meant that the moment this guy puts on this mask, he’s now elevated to the status of a god, or a spiritual being,” said Makama. “Society chooses to believe that and they run with that narrative. That in itself is brilliant and powerful and really intriguing.”
Though the influence of Christianity and Islam has “demonized” the masquerade in contemporary Nigeria, said the director, “The Lost Okoroshi” explores how such traditional beliefs can still take root in modern, urban African life. For Makama, masquerades have the potential to answer deeper life questions and reveal new ways of being. “Each masquerade has its own story,” he said. “We’re sitting on something so amazing here.”