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Nollywood, Mythic Primitivisation and the Neo-Primitivism of Kelani and the Wachowski Brothers


Dept. of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

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Nollywood is prodigious in productive capacity and contemptuously underrated globally for gross technological deficiency and emotive submergence in ‘tradition.’ The act and process of aesthetic stifling of the Nigerian home-video genre by banal and reductively sensational culturalism, especially mythology, by its producers, is hereby identified as mythic primitivisation. While this retrogressive ideological treatment of mythology has been majorly condemned in the practice of Nollywood by a myriad of the industry’s critics, the assessment has, majorly, been deprived of concrete alternative ideologies capable of repositioning it on a culturally comparative platform with other cinema industries. This paper, therefore, responds to this gap by proposing the neo-primitive attitude to the creative appropriation of mythology in Nigeria’s filmic art. The theory of postmodernism is critical to the paper’s conceptualization of neo-primitivism, a counter-theory to Nollywood practitioners’ pervasive ‘primitive mytho-cultural intellect.’ But this is even more greatly encouraged by the possibility of having recourse to existing creativity for the formulation of literary theories as successfully demonstrated by Aristotle in classical literary theorization. Thus, a critical reading of select myth-inclined films by Tunde Kelani and The Matrix (1999) by Andy and Lana Wachowski shall be undertaken. This will be balanced with an interrogation of select samples of Nollywood home videos that project the unconstructive primitivisation of mythic materials. Culture is an instrument of national integration and inter-national diplomatic negotiations. The filmic art is a veritable platform for this cultural presentation and diplomacy. Tunde Kelani represents a minor category of Nigerian film practitioners who have refused to be overwhelmed by the prevailing unmediated approach to the utilization of culture by deliberatively opting for an objective and constructive appropriation of tradition in his filmic imaginary. Both Nollywood and Hollywood may be independent cinema cultures, but the latter has triumphed over the huddle of primitive evocation of culture through mythological mediation by means of advanced cinematographic technology. This has been exemplarily demonstrated by the Wachowski Brothers in The Matrix – one of the numerous Hollywood films citable as example. While myth and esotericism are, therefore, scientifically synthesized in Hollywood, mythography is still reductively sensationalized in Nollywood. Situating a comparative dialogue between the two film industries, especially in the domain of approaches to cultural materials, is capable of facilitating an associative cinematic and aesthetic development in Nollywood. Kelani’s approach is the nativist mythic reformative and restorative philosophical attitude, while the Wachowski Brothers adopt the scientific-fictional technological approach, to the mediation of mythology in cinematic creativity. A combination of these two mythic appropriative slants are then prescribed for Nollywood‘s counter-aesthetic adoption of retrogressive esotericism through which the Nigerian national culture is often derogatively primitivized on the international screen.


‘Tunde Awosanmi, PhD teaches Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan. He specializes in dramatic theory and criticism, cultural aesthetics and philosophy and theatre directing with additional research interests in slavery, performative and Soyinkaresque studies. He is a Collaborative Researcher with the Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.