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"Do the African People Speak English?"

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By Sola Osofisan (2008 interview moved back to the forum)

This interview with Tony Cooper, an African American introducing African movies to the black African community in the US through his Georgia store, Unique Kings & Queens African Movie World, was conducted by Sola Osofisan for NollywoodNOW!

Sola Osofisan : How did you develop an interest in Nigerian and African movies?

Tony Cooper: I was walking on Jamaica Avenue one day and they were selling African movies. But they were bootleg movies. So, it caught my interest to see all these movies, and I picked up one. Me and my wife we took it home and it happened to be “Baby Police”. We started watching ‘em, and from that movie alone, we were hooked. And then we watched a movie with Patience (Ozokwor) in it, and then the Two Rats. From there, we couldn’t put ‘em down. That’s how I started watching ‘em.

Sola Osofisan : There must have been something specific you could connect with in the movies that grabbed you. What is it?

Tony Cooper: The professional and original acting they were doing…We got a good laugh from the movies. Its something like we’ve never seen here. And that’s what caught us.

Sola Osofisan : And from that moment, it has developed into what is now a big business?

Tony Cooper: We were so inspired by the movies, we decided we gotta let the African American people see those movies. So, me and my wife sat down and said we gonna open up a store so that anybody can get a chance to see this movies cos its something that needs to be seen. We opened up the store in Atlanta, Georgia, The Unique Kings and Queens African Movie World. And that’s what we’re doing now. Anybody that walks into the store, we treat them like kings and queens and we want them to see some good movies, other than all that violence that American movies be making.

Sola Osofisan : Talking about American movies, I know it is a tough task to get many African Americans right now to watch African American movies, buy African American products, patronize African American businesses. Why do you think they will be interested in African movies when reports and statistics show they are not spending on their own businesses as it is. The money is going to other places.

Tony Cooper: Because it is something different. Its bringing something different to the community. We’ve always been stereotyped. To me, with the African American movies, it seems like they’re always portraying us as hustlers, pimps, dope dealers and prostitutes. We’re tired of seeing things like that. We are good actors, period, and to me, the African movies are more real with their acting.

Again, to stereotype us as just pimps and drug dealers…Take Denzel Washington. He won the Academy Award for a movie he played as a gangster, and again he’s in (nominated in) another movie, American Gangsters. If that’s all you can see us as…Instead of giving him an award for playing Malcolm X. He should have won the Academy Award for that. We’re just tired of that…We need to get away from all that.

Sola Osofisan : Do you also see African Americans identifying with Africa and their African roots through watching these movies?

Tony Cooper: Its something that touches my blood. Its something I feel. I belong there. I’m not here through choice. I was telling people I’m African, just born here in America. That’s why I travel back to Africa. I’ve been to seven different African countries. I wanted to go and touch the earth in the Motherland. It was a good feeling. I was blessed to take my wife and my son. And now my son is planning on going back just to get married in Africa. So, I love Africa.

Sola Osofisan : Thank you. I’m sure Africa loves you too. Who are your clients now? Who are the people patronizing you right now?

Tony Cooper: Basically, its just a few Nigerians and people that I’ve ,et while opening up the store. They will come in and say oh, this is a wonderful place and they’re glad to see the place there. But my main thing is to open up the doors for the African American people to come into the store and just start watching the movies. And once they see it and get involved, they will see its something that’s excellent, something the whole family can watch.

Sola Osofisan : What has your experience been trying to sell these movies to the African American community so far?

Tony Cooper: Just that the first thing they will come and see all these black faces – cos my front window is full of posters with different movies on it – and the first thing they will ask me is “do the African people speak English?” I say of course they speak English. Why don’t you come in and see? Once they come in, the movie catches their attention so fast and they end up buying the movie. So that’s my goal – to open up big doors – and whatever I can do, I’m here to do it to make this happen.

Sola Osofisan : You are aware of the current battle African movies are waging with piracy in the United States. What are your thoughts on this? What kind of movies do you have in your store and how do you hope to get around the issues of piracy?

Tony Cooper: I’m not for bootlegging of movies and taking away from the artists. I think they deserve more than what they are getting. When someone sells a movie for like $2, I think it hurts the artists real bad and this is something you shouldn’t do. I’m not for that and I don’t sell any bootleg. If we can all pass the word around… What makes the person selling bootleg any different from the person that’s buying? We hope that people will stay away from those type of movies and help support the (people) making these movies.

Sola Osofisan : So, you have seen all the movies you sell and that’s why its easier to recommend them?

Tony Cooper: Yes sir. My wife and I, we sit down and can’t get enough of watching these movies. We’re really ahead on the movies that we have watched. That’s why it was so easy for me to open up the store too, cos I know the titles. I can recommend them to anybody that comes in the store. We have a big collection at our home. Anything we have in the store, we have at home.

Sola Osofisan : What’s the long term goal for your business?

Tony Cooper: To cross over to where you take a few American people that will star in a Nigerian movie…Like a Denzel Washington and just ask him to give his time, so he can open up doors to the people here. Even a Will Smith. Once we get those people to donate the time, there might be a cross over right there. Its what we need.

Sola Osofisan : Obviously you’ve committed a lot of money to getting African Movies out here in the United States. Has it all been worth it?

Tony Cooper: Yes, because in the long run, I’m not really in it for the Dollar itself. I just want people to actually open up there doors and see these movies. It’s a good thing for the people. There’s always something in the movies that will teach them something. Maybe I can help raise the standards. In African tradition, it says it takes the whole village to raise the child. That’s what we need to do.

Sola Osofisan : In conclusion, and as an aside, you have a DVD player in the front seat of your car. Are you telling me you also watch movies on the road?

Tony Cooper: Yes. I am actually hooked on these movies. I get a message from the movies all the time. It may be Christianity, Islam or whatever. I get a message. Like in the old African tradition years ago, you always respect your elders. In the movies, I love it when they go to the elders to get information. That’s something we got away from here and we need to bring back…Cos nobody can tell a story like an elder tell it.
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