Interview: Aurelien Henry Obama, on making martial arts films in Cameroon; shooting for an international audience -- Waka-waka Man [Lost Brother]
David KnightView all articles by David Knight
Aurelien Henry Obama from Cameroon, Africa, has seen some dreams not come to pass while others have begun to do so. He is currently combining his interests in the martial arts and in martial arts films to create his own feature film which he hopes will be competitive internationally. He has seen the world and now the world will see what he creates. Some dreams die, while others thrive, perhaps to prosper. His current film project certainly looks to prosper.
When he was young, Aurelien first developed an interest taekwondo. As he grew, he learned other systems of martial arts, such as Shotokan Karate. After being disillusioned with closed, bigoted nature of national karate teams that he tried to join while in Eastern Europe, he returned to his origin, Cameroon. On that return he was disheartened by what he saw as tribalism that owed too much to past rivalries and stood in the way of the present and the future. He wanted there to be a greater sense of community than what he saw. Part of his efforts to proactively address those problems, was the creation of the online martial arts magazine, Shiai Magazine. His editorial ideology was to encourage acceptance of all practitioners, no matter their tribal history, no matter their nation, martial arts for all. Today, his magazine regularly features not only champion level martial artists and action film stars of Africa, but the world.
After some years of success with Shiai Magazine it became clear what the step should be. Somebody needed to add more to the film industry, namely viable martial arts films. Since no one was doing as much for the genre as needed to be done, Aurelien stepped up to that challenge with the support of many of the martial artists that had supported him and that he in turn had supported with his magazine's coverage.
Aurelien's first vision was a short film called Waka-waka Man [Lost Brother] which ran approximately 14 minutes. It was essentially his first lead role, and was intended to get something out there to generate interest in larger projects, such as a full length version of Waka-Waka Man. It is viewable on youtube, and even for a first try one can clearly see the genesis of a bigger idea, a bigger creative mission: it gives credence to the expression 'a diamond in the rough' because there is certainly something there. There is heart and sincerity. Most positive has been the response to the authenticity of the fights in the film. In these days when a crazy amount of money may be spent on a ninja movie starring an actor that knows little martial arts at all and everything is done with Computer Generated Imaging/Effects like a video game cartoon, a return to 'the real thing' in martial arts films is what a lot of martial arts practitioners, and serious martial arts film fans wish to see. Some are backing that desire with their encouragement and various levels of involvement with the full length version of Waka-Waka Man.
Aurelien Henry Obama is producer, writer and the lead actor of the forthcoming feature film. African-American karate, kickboxing, and Taekwondo champion, Robert Parham will be playing the villain of the film. African-American kickboxing champion, Jason "Phenom" Sterling will also co-star in the film as a friend of Aurelien's character.
The most recent news at the film's official website is that Art Camacho is now a part of the project as an executive producer. This looks very good for the film because Camacho has done fight choreography, stunt work, directing, writing, and acting on many films, at first with PM Productions during the rental / cable-feature boom of the late 80s and 90s, and then onto theatrical releases. He has worked with Don "The Dragon" Wilson on the Ring Of Fire trilogy (co-writing / co-directing the third), and on many in his Bloodfist film series. He has worked on films with Cynthia Rothrock, Gary Daniels, and Matthias Hues. He was second unit director on Half Past Dead starring Steven Seagal, and director of Half Past Dead 2 starring Goldberg and Kurupt.
Photo of Aurelien Henry Obama. Used with the kind Permission of Mr. Obama.
Knight: Aurelien, you are a practitioner of Shotokan Karate, also famously practiced by African-American action film stars Wesley Snipes and Michael Jai White, but also you are learned in kickboxing and taekwando. What benefits do you see to each martial art you practice?
Obama: Karate Shotokan is the simplest and most effective martial arts which can exist. It is very popular and even common across the world. Everybody can practice it. You don't need to be very strong or flexible. There are punch, leg, sweep and projection techniques. It is due to my Karate Shotokan experience I was able to adapt with training of Taekwondo, which puts more efforts on kicks. Taekwondo improved a lot of my flexibility, my agility with my legs. Studying kickboxing made me to be more agressive and support hard blows. I also trained at sambo (a Russian style) which taught me how to fight on the ground, how to wrestle. I also flirted for a short while with Aikido which taught me self defense movements, seizing and grabbing of the wrist. I also had chance to encounter wushu which brought grace to my movements. Now, I train once a week with a jeet kune do instructor who helps me to apply all these martial arts experiences when I'm fighting with him. I enjoy his training. I combine every movement I've studied while I fight with him which may be contrary with other martial artists; I'm not obliged to fight in a single style. Jean Claude Van Damme also did Shotokan Karate.
Knight: When you were watching martial arts and action films growing up, were you inspired by any films with African-American stars like Jim Kelly, Ron Van Clief, or Fred Williamson?
Obama: As a black African child from Cameroon growing up in the USA and in Canada, I was looking for action and martial arts role models. I was fascinated with Jim Kelly and all the black heroes in the movies. I admired very much Michael Woods who acted with Donnie Yen (Tiger Cage, In The Line Of Duty 4, Tiger cage II, Crystal Hunt, Cheetah On Fire, and Ballistic Kiss). Also, Steve James in the American Ninja series. Wesley Snipes and Michael Jai White also had big influences on me also. No African man will say that these people did not contribute to the promotion of martial arts across the world. It is for me a privilege to continue in that direction.