By Ogova Ondego
Published September 14, 2013
PRAISING THE LORD PLUS ONE. That is the title of the film by Ghanaian director Kwaw Paintsil Ansah that makes its African premiere in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, in the evening of September 15, 2013.
Trailers of PRAISING THE LORD PLUS ONE online present it as a movie about a false prophet who deceives a couple who is desperate to escape ridicule from society for their inability to have a child and rapes the woman telling her “it is the Holy spirit who has visited her.” The trailers show the extent to which cunning ‘men-of-cloth’ go to exploit vulnerable followers whose trust and faith in the ‘men of God’ make them suspend their thinking for themselves so that God may do God’s work in their lives.
Though some—like Nana Akosua Hanson of Citi FM Online whose article is headlined ‘Kwaw Ansah wages war against Christian preachers in latest film’—see it as a confrontation between director Ansah, he of LOVE BREWED IN THE AFRICAN POT (1980) and HERITAGE AFRICA (1989) fame, and the church in a continent whose people are described as being ‘notoriously religious’ and who attach religious significance to everything in their lives, the filmmaker says he is not out to stoke any controversy.
“I was born to make a contribution [to humanity] and that’s what I am doing. I am not going to be here forever,” he tells BBC’s Sammy Darko in a broadcast aired on September 13, 2013.
This veteran of Ghanaian cinema says there are genuine pastors and also impostors who masquerade as angels of light in order to devour the less discerning humans. He challenges genuine pastors to stand aside from their phony counterparts, arguing that there should be a difference between religion and business.
But how can one draw a line between what’s ‘godly’ and what isn’t on a continent that sees ‘God’ in everything it does? A continent on which churches are mega commercial enterprises raking in tonnes of tax-free money (most Governments I know in Africa treat churches as charities and don’t impose any tax on their earnings!) for their owners variously known as ‘bishop’, ‘arch-bishop’, ‘apostle’, ‘prophet’, ‘seer’? I reckon there is ‘God’ in the ‘religion’ and also in that ‘business’ Ansah wants us to separate to the extent that both the genuine clergy and the charlatan could argue they are both serving ‘God’. In their own way.
“In places like Ghana and Nigeria,” BBC reports, “the church is also big business and the wealth raked in by many pastors makes it difficult to keep opportunists away from the pulpits.”
John S Mbiti, a Switzerland-based theologian, academic and philosopher originally from Kenya who is regarded as one of the leading experts in the world on religion in Africa, wrote, in his landmark 1969 publication, African Religions and Philosophy: “Africans are notoriously religious, and each people has its own religious system with a set of beliefs and practices. Religion permeates into all the departments of life so it is not easy or possible to isolate it.”
All African cultures and societies, both traditional and contemporary, Mbiti stresses, are deeply religious. I wouldn’t be surprised if even those who may have been taken advantage of by the numerous fake ‘apostles’ strutting across Africa spring to their defence.
Ansah contends that Pastors are making people much more illiterate than they already are when the latter surrender their thinking to the former. It is wrong for one to be dependent on the advice of the ‘Man-of-God’ to run one’s life, he says.
People in need, the director tells Peace Fm Online, “tend to be vulnerable and rely on people who claim to have solutions to their problems.”
Appealing to the members of the public to encourage people who are vulnerable instead of ridiculing them, Ansah stresses that “Pastors are humans like me and you.”
“A story that unearths the horrendous tricks and hypocrisy of charlatan preachers who seem to be increasing at a rapid rate in our society, “Nana Akosua Hanson writes, “PRAISING THE LORD PLUS ONE would definitely ruffle a lot of feathers.”
Hanson continues, “Kwaw Ansah probes us to a search deeper into what praising and worshiping God really means. Is it about using the Lord’s name in vain to prey on the vulnerability of people or is it about Conscience? Prophet Apostle Gabriel (played by Ekow Smith Asante) seems to think it’s the former and makes a lucrative business out of selling God and miracles to unsuspecting vulnerable families in search of God’s intervention. Prophet Apostle Gabriel seems to have all the ‘God-given’ prescriptions and proceeds to ignore his conscience and live a life of sin using God as a front. He sets out to destroy families and swindle money under the cloak of a holy man of God. Will he be stopped? Will his devoted followers break the blinkers from their eyes?”
Peace Fm Online describes the 120-minute PRAISING THE LORD PLUS ONE as being “based on the existence of false prophets in our society.”
The film starres some of the leading Ghanaian screen personalities such as Ecow Smith-Asante, Ama K Abebrese, Eddie Nartey, Nii Addo Kwei Moffat, Martin Owusu and Adjetey Anang.
PRAISING THE LORD PLUS ONE presents Ecow Smith-Asante as Prophet Apostle Gabriel, the man of God who takes advantage of unsuspecting victims and Eddie Nartey as Apostle Joshua, Prophet Apostle Gabriel’s accomplice. In the film, the Prophet Apostle Gabriel appears rapes Rebecca Commey (played by Ama K Abebrese), a ‘barren’ woman who seriously needs a baby to appease her in-laws.
Describing PRAISING THE LORD PLUS ONE as a must-watch movie, Ansah tells Peace Fm Online that his intention is “not to undermine the clergy but to bring the topic of ‘sheep in wolves’ clothing’ for public discussion and education.”
Ama K Abebrese tells Citi FM Online that pastors deceive people in Ghana every day. “It’s unfortunate some people would choose to use religion which pulls so much at our heartstrings to deceive people. This movie is going to raise conversation; it’s going to raise the topics. People will be uncomfortable but ultimately, it’s a story that has to be told. It’s an artistic reflection of something that is really happening.”
On his part, Ecow Smith Asante, the man who plays the deceptive Prophet Apostle Gabriel, is quoted by Nana Akosua Hanson as saying, “Those pastors we’re trying to portray may try to victimize me but I’m doing the work of the Lord. I’m doing my profession too. The pastors are so flamboyant these days; they are taking all the money from the people. We’re being brainwashed and we need to tell the stories. It’s getting too much. I think some Ghanaians would love me for this role, some would hate me. There is only one God. If you speak to him anywhere he’ll hear you, so don’t put all your trust in just one pastor who might not save you.”
So why did it take so long for Ansah to release another major film after his landmark LOVE BREWED IN THE AFRICAN POT that tackled love across the class divide and HERITAGE AFRICA that deals with the damage of colonialism on the African psyche?
A shortage of resources–not creative but financial–makes it difficult for him to create, he tells BBC. “At one time I was forced to use my father-in-law’s house as collateral in order to secure a loan to make films,” he says. Later, he says he fell ill and was in hospital for a while. “I thought I wouldn’t make any more films.”
But that his latest film, PRAISING THE LORD PLUS ONE, is being screened for the first time at 3.30pm and 6.30pm at the National Theatre in Accra, Ghana, on September 15, 2013, is a testimony that Kwaw Paintsil Ansah–the man born to make a contribution [to humanity]–is still in the harness.