Nollywood and the Need for Cultural Re-Orientation
Chukwuma ANYANWU, PhD
Department of Mass Communication
Faculty of Social Science
Delta State University, Abraka
The Nigerian video-film industry (Nollywood), has come a long way since the late 1980s when it evolved. But its evolution was founded on the efforts of the practitioners in the cine film era. From origin, it was hoped that the industry would champion the interest of Africa in particular and the concerns of the black race in general. Frank Ukadike sets the tone, stating that, “It is here that the quintessential African cinema originates, that is, through depictions debunking the mythical presentation of Africa a la Hollywood films, the fantastical fragmentation of identities, or, the subject’s lack of cultural identity found in Western racist writings.” The industry was however, beset with much negative criticism (and rightly so), in all aspects of its production process. This paper x-rays the cultural elements in the industry, how they have been handled so far and concluded that there is indeed need for cultural re-orientation, both in the industry and all it portends and in the practitioners in their general attitude to culture and their portrayal of same. It recommends that the provisions of the film policy for Nigeria on culture should be followed and that the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), should be more proactive in treating movies submitted for vetting since it is the official gate-keeper of the nation on movies, among others,
Keywords: Culture, Movie, Nollywood, Cultural Re-orientation, Industry, Videography.
When Nigerian filmmakers of the first generation were faced with a big dilemma of the fate of the Nigerian film industry in the face of rising cost of processing film abroad among other challenges, it was as though all hope was lost. And it was so for some of them who felt ashamed to “demean” their profession by dabbling into videography. The absence of a body to see to their needs did not help issues. However in the manner of Warner Brothers’ escape and subsequent foray into dialogue in film in the bid to salvage their ailing company, even so a few of the filmmakers delved into videography. The upshot of the adventure and hard headed business venture was the arrival of Nollywood the Nigerian film and video industry. The advent of Nollywood was naturally steeped in both scepticism and controversy as the name did not go down well with some of the practitioners. However, even before the name was given, the industry as it was in the early days was roundly beset with negative criticism in all the phases of its production experience. Beginning with the story which was usually accused of being contrived, padded and without suspense, to acting which was seen as stagey, to technical finish and direction no part of it was spared.
Notwithstanding the many critical bludgeons the industry has endured however, it has risen to be the second largest (in production volume) industry in the world. It must be recalled that the founders of the African film had hoped that it would help to refocus Africa by being her mouth piece in all aspects of her life as well as correct the negative impressions she had suffered film the West (1995 Ukadike) among other such expectations. The Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood, is therefore expected to toe this line of African film. In the light of the above, it has become germane to revisit how this objective has been met or not met and to proffer the way forward where necessary. This provides a justification for this paper.
Definition of Concepts
The concepts to be defined here, however briefly include film, culture and cultural re-orientation however, one would not dwell much on many definitions as one or two of each concept would be sufficient for our purpose. The Film Policy for Nigeria (3) in its introduction began with what may pass for a definition of film.
Film is a unique means of communication. Its visual bias gives it the most universal appeal and impact. It is a means of education and entertainment, socialization, information and mobilization. More than any other means of mass communication, film can be used as s tool to promote positive social transformation as well as to consolidate and build a new relationship between culture and national development. As an aspect of culture, film is both an art and an industry.
Film has a relationship with culture and is also part of culture. The foregoing definition of film is explicit on the way film can be employed in building relationships between culture and national development as well as to achieve social transformation. It is equally an art and an industry. Film is a ready-made tool for the growth and development of culture. On the other hand, culture encompasses the entirety of man’s overall existence from birth to death. It has been said that culture was evolved by man for the purpose of development of the mind and soul of man. A cultured person is an enlightened person, Acholonu continues (6).
Where so ever there is man, there is culture. Culture is man’s second name. Culture is what defines our humanity; we wouldn’t be human without culture. This is why the culture discipline is called the humanities. Acholonu goes further to show how culture comes into existence. “Culture is created through living examples set by leaders before their people or through borrowing of customs. Culture is however, formulated and entrenched through the art of story-telling” (emphasis included) (Acholonu 8). The last bit of information here is insightful: that culture is formulated and entrenched through the art of story-telling. This is particularly interesting as it has been posited that film is a means of communication which can be used to do just about anything. The movie achieves all that have been attributed to it via story-telling and this is why it is significant.
We now turn to cultural re-orientation. Perhaps, we should examine briefly the word, “orientation” and then apply it to culture. “Literally, orientation means alignment with the east or the orient which in popular belief and mythology is the source of light, wisdom, knowledge and civilization just as the morning sun which dispels the darkness of the night issues from the east” (Afigbo 82). From this we infer that cultural orientation would be an alignment, a movement of culture towards values, norms, and ways of life which may be considered good for the well-being of a people. Pursuant to this view cultural re-orientation would then mean, changing the direction of culture, refocusing it and re-directing it to where it would be of greater and richer benefit to the needs of the people. It would mean re-aligning the people’s view, attitude, manners and methods; it would mean refocusing the people as it were in all they believe, in all they are because culture is man and man is culture. It simply means giving man a new focus bringing about a turn-about to what was, the status quo. And the instrument chosen to actualize this objective is the Nigerian home movie which now goes by the industrial name of Nollywood (James 3).
Having dispensed with these formalities of definition, we can now look at the major concerns of this paper.
The Nigerian Movie Industry (Nollywood) Then, and Now
Mr. Ademola James, the pioneer chief executive officer of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), while giving a lecture organized by Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in Oyo state posed the question which captures the topic of the lecture: “if the film/video industry/business is “doing so well,” why the need for a new direction?” We can rephrase the question to read, if the Nigerian movie industry Nollywood is doing very well culturally, why is there need for cultural reorientation? The need for cultural reorientation is urgent and more demanding now than ever before. The reason is that there is a widespread false opinion or deliberate attempt by the whites to continue their domination of the black race. While writing on the need for Nigerian movie makers to be more alive and proactively conscious of their culture, Isola gives several instances of why it is necessary to do so.
Having quoted BBC news of 18 October, 2007, where a noble laureate for physics Dr. James Watson said in a press conference in London that whites are definitely more intelligent than blacks. Isola continues, “I am giving this evidence just to let you know what the white calls you even today, and that in our films, we should not give the impression that we are behaving “to type” (Isola 10). In furthering his argument on the need for a conscious and even deliberate effort on the pact of Nigerian movie makers to choose images which are culturally ennobling, morally and spiritually enlightening, he says:
The worry about the Nigerian film industry therefore is that many film makers seem not to care about the necessity to struggle against the economic, cultural and psychological exploitation of Africa by the west in conjunction with the oppressors at home. An objective look at the type of stories we tell, the language we use, the appearance of the characters – costume, hair-do and make-up, tends to indicate that many film makers are mindless copycats and shameless imitators (Isola 12).
The foregoing indicates that the Nigerian movie maker has wandered far afield, culturally and needs a refocus.
This is more so because from the moment Living in Bondage made its appearance with a celebration of easy way to make money, it seemed Nigerian movie makers took leave of creativity. Nobody seems to focus on the ability of our people to overcome difficult travails; the necessity for hard work: the need to grow through apprenticeship; the fact that difficulties are not the end of life and that success is the reward for hard work. Very few movies seem to toe this line but the majority appears to recycle the theme of Living in Bondage. Such movies as, Billionaires Club, Blood Money among others; continue to focus on the get rich quick syndrome of Living in Bondage.
Again, some others either in the romance genre or comedy, tend to negate the fact that Nigerians and by implication. Africans are not stagnant and still in motion, yet such films as, World Apart, Osuofia in London, appear to continue to see nothing progressive about Africa. What is disturbing about these movies above anything else is the indeterminate nature of their setting. For instance, in World Apart, one wonders the period the movie maker was referring to or portraying when he makes the young girl throw away her earthen water pot at the mere sound of an aero plane over head?! Or which African or Nigerian prince goes about carrying red carpet just to step on while alighting from a car? Yet Nigeria has so many kingdoms with Kings (Eze, Oba, Obi, Emir, etc.) whose daily routines are well known and familiar to us. It makes one to wonder which African King and or Prince goes carrying rug about just to step on while alighting from a vehicle!
Then Osuofia in London went about showing what an African would have done in London in say, 1920. But he over played it again, because the Igbo man of that period would have given the world to see that the corpse of his brother was brought home for burial. But Osuofia failed to tell us the period even in his narrative fiction when such event that is stranger than fiction would have taken place.
All these negate the whole essence of black cinema and what Nollywood should address. Some people, like Brown would have us believe that, “Nollywood, on the other hand, survives only on its ability to sell Africans those images for which they are willing to pay.” By so saying, Brown like others is saying that images of Nollywood movies are true representative of Nigeria and or Africa. May be or maybe not. But that also is the reason why movie makers should take stock and look again. They, like their audience, have become too accustomed to what they are to the point that they now forget how others see them.
As Brown rightly observes, “the ways that non-dominant minorities see themselves are mediated through the ways that dominant society sees them. Even when the dominant gaze is imagined, it nonetheless affects self-consciousness.” The implication of the above is quite clear. The African has continued to see himself with and from the lens of the white man. For example, which African, Nigerian, even the black race, in general has tried to counter the image of the devil as black? The question then is: Did God, the Creator, take anything from Satan when he drove him out? Satan was portrayed as the most beautiful angel and since all the angels are white and Satan was the most beautiful of them, and God took nothing away from him, at what point did he become black? Again, Brown quotes Adell in her analysis of Dubois’s black consciousness.
As such, black cultural production in a largely non-black society, whether music, food or home videos, cannot be understood only as it is seen by black consumers of culture, but as it might be seen by non-black society, which furthermore, also constitutes a part of black culture (Brown 59).
In other words, since non-blacks are also consumers of Nollywood fare, extra care should be taken to package them so as to look good before them.
Nobody presents the kind of food he eats everyday to a special guest. But he takes care and goes the extra mile in order to impress the guest. In our case, there is no harm if our movie makers engage in research and come up with movies that show the noble aspects of our culture. Even suppose we take the theory of movies reflecting the society, what percentage of the black man is involved in human rituals, of our girls in prostitution, of the youth in militancy, kidnapping, etc.? Must the movie makers show the dreg and what is demeaning as the example of our society? Is our nation and society bereft of noble qualities that can make a good story for film? What is the real function of the artist in the society?
But before we begin to attempt an answer to that question, let us look at other issues. We know that culture is dynamic, yet its principal relevance lies in preservation. In effect those aspects of our culture which have become part of us, which have become significant parts of our meaning system should not be discarded just because culture is dynamic. For instance, all over Africa, the movie makers have made up their minds that all traditional modes of worship and native doctors/priests are fetish and evil. We know that this is not true. Yet, wherever they are pitched in movies especially against other religions, mostly Christianity, they are seen to be the devil incarnate. They are seen as greedy, ineffectual, false, and pandering to the wind blown by whiffs of money and ready to kill, maim, or whatever, on that account.
In reality, some native doctors would never lift a hand to do evil. In some movies, like Ofo na Ogu, the film maker appears quite ignorant of the essence of Ofo na Ogu in Igbo world view for instance. This is because he goes about using them to perpetuate evil thereby contradicting and misinterpreting the ancient symbol of innocence, which the innocent invoke as a last resort in the search for justice. This is quite disturbing to say the least.
In a reverse tendency, traditional spirituality conveys a false sense of power which merely sets one up for detection and shame. First, it is a reflection of popular belief among segments of the population that evil is synonymous with traditional spirituality and good with Islam or Christianity (Sutherland-Addy 272-273).
No doubt, such belief is the product of the proliferation of churches and pastors who see nothing good in traditional African belief. It is so bad that in some communities, there is nothing left of their cultural dances of all sorts. Not even the general gathering of women to welcome and rejoice with one of theirs who put to bed. Such ancient practices are frowned upon and condemned as evil by some Pastors. Yet, reality has shown that neither the Pastors nor their Churches are any better.
The question then is, why should the filmmaker who should know better continue to uphold these culturally damaging views? Again, the issue of language in the movies is another problem. However, it is not general. Nearly every other culture which features in Nollywood produces movies in their languages – Yoruba, Hausa, Edo, Urhobo, Efik, etc., without code-switching, except the Igbo movie maker. He is either imposing English words in his movie or using English titles for Igbo movies. These days, straight Igbo language movies are hardly made.
Then, on the issue of costume, there is the eruption of all kinds of unhealthy fashion ‘ably’ projected on screen by such actors as, Jim Iyke, easily the kingpin of low waist or sagging, Mercy Johnson, Cossy Orjiakor and Tonto Dike, queens of near-nudity, and others, who seem to believe that the exposure of a woman’s values, especially their cleavages is the key to attraction and the essence of womanhood. Now, where does the filmmaker come in and why does he need cultural re-orientation?
Nollywood Filmmakers and the Need for Cultural Re-orientation
Charles Nnolim gives insight on why this is necessary when he addresses the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL):
The epoch marked by the 50s and 60s saw the full flowering in Nigeria, of what has been identified as cultural nationalism or cultural reaffirmation which, according to Obiechina, was aimed at reassuring the “African personality”, at regaining the cultural initiative, at rehabilitating African culture in order to give our people “a new vision of life, to rescue them from the trauma of cultural confusion in which they have been left as a result of European acculturation, to provide them with new values, new outlooks and new spiritual bearing with their base in the African culture and psychology” (Nnolim 69).
Having noted that the arts make for order, for discipline, for refinement, for unity, Nnolim then posits: “Our folk-lore, our manner of dressing, our customs – all have permeated world culture through the collective endeavours of our artists” (70).
Need we then say that the movie maker being a visual and performing artist has more, even a greater responsibility to place Africa, positively on the global market of cultures than any other artist or writer? This is quite necessary because every society looks to the artist, movie maker inclusive, to provide the much needed direction and focus. This is significant at this period because “Nigeria is in anomie because the moral force, the discipline, the order, the refinement which the era of the arts imposed before the civil war, are gone” (Nnolim 75). This cultural re-orientation is necessary now because our youths are at a cultural cross road, facing a spiritual dilemma, unable to know or distinguish what is culturally permissible from what is “Churchously” allowed. It is equally in pursuant to this line of reasoning that Ola Rotimi admonishes the Third World theatre scholars when he says:
…pause and ponder on our past so as to enable us to confront the present and the future on a more informed footing. For a culture long harried by the buffetings from colonial subjugation, the call to pause and ponder seems appropriate, particularly in the present techno-economic lapse into “consumer” sub-world. For our younger generation giddy with the “identity-crisis” arising from Euro-American cultural radiations, the call to pause and ponder over what we watch and what we read and what we are told, seems compelling, (Anyanwu 37).
Once more, Nnolim provides reasons for the necessity of this cultural re-alignment of our movie makers. His submission further substantiates Rotimi’s call to pause and ponder; which is another way of saying that there was need for self re-assessment, also for cultural re-orientation and a need to re-evaluate our culture against the backdrop of the foreign ones which we consume.
A people who have no culture of their own cannot have a technology of their own… To develop our nation, therefore, the very first consideration is our culture, our values, and the enrichment of our thought process. It is only in a well-organized society in which there is order, discipline, peace, respect for fellow human beings and political stability that you can talk of technological progress and economic growth (Nnolim 75-76).
The filmmaker as an artist whose works serve as cultural ambassador whether he intends it for that objective or not, is the personality the society must look up to for the actualization of and development of culture. But before the movie maker can do this he must be well grounded on the traditional norms and value systems, know what is allowed and what is permissible. This knowledge he can get through research and then engage his creative ingenuity in the portrayal and interpretation of same.
In these days when the society has become morally lax and the youths seem indifferent to standards of correct behaviour, the redeemer lies in the movie maker who is expected to serve as teacher, historian, educationist, moralist, preserver and projector as well as informer and entertainer. If then the filmmaker, either out of ignorance, sheer indifference or taking refuge in the guise of artistic license, fails to be faithful to his culture then, the society loses its identity and begins the inevitable march to extinction.
Oyewo cites Ogundele when he says, “First and foremost all the productions are a symbol of the culture of post modernism, which highlights the uneasy cohabitation of pre-colonial/traditional, the colonial/modern, and the post-colonial/post modernism.” He continues, “this assertion is premised on the fact that the video films constitute a melting-pot for cultural elements of ancient and newly created myths, old and new societal ethos, and they make use of modern technologies of camera, television, video-player, computer, projector, batteries and electricity to celebrate the ethos of consumption which the modern society indulges in (Oyewo 144).
One cannot discuss culture and the video film without expecting a sort of clash of interests or of cultures. Culture preserves, the video film, representing modern taste, experiments. What one is saying is that the practitioners in the industry should be mindful in their image selection because they are the official gatekeepers and custodians of the essence of societal relevance which is culture. Inasmuch as the industry thrives in oddity, on the absurd, and on all those things which elicit an uncommon curiosity of man about himself the practitioners/filmmakers should at least, realize that the future of the nation is involved and that this future is anchored on culture. This is not an easy task, however, but they are the only hope of the society to reclaim itself from the dilemma of being at the cultural cross road, tossed between and by the wind of change and that of preservation and proper representation.
On culture lies the overall essence of a people-their identity, well-being, world view, their past, present, future, values, meaning systems and their ‘people-ness.’ The issue of culture is therefore not to be trivialized or discharged as archaic, obsolete, ‘old school’ or what not. On the filmmaker as an artist lies the responsibility to bring back on course a people who have wandered. His is the duty to realign, reform, re-orientate his people and ensure that whatever they hold sacred remains sacred. But he must first know what those sacred things are. Based on the foregoing, therefore, the following recommendations are hereby proffered.
- The National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) should occasionally or quarterly organize a workshop for Nollywood industry workers to educate and enlighten them on what and how to treat culture in their movies.
- The provisions of the film and cultural policies on culture should be adhered to.
- The movie makers should also engage in self censorship via the preview of their movies.
- They should also engage in pre- and post production research in order to know the cultural aspects to focus on.
- Costumes, modes of greeting, burial rites, marriage, some belief systems should he thoroughly researched into before using them in movies.
- Lastly, the government should go beyond giving money to Nollywood practitioners and get involved in productions which will emphasize and show case the nation’s culture or sponsor festivals like FESTAC, among others.
Acholonu, Catherine O. Africa, the New Frontier: Towards a Truly Global Literary Theory for the 21st Century. Owerri: Afa Publications, 2002.
Afigbo, A. E. “Myth, History and National Orientation in Nigeria.” In A. Banjo (Ed.), Humanity in Context, Ibadan: The Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), 2002: 79-125
Anyanwu, Chukwuma. “Historical and Thematic Study of Nigerian Indigenous Language Movies.” Unpublished PhD Thesis, Department of Theatre Arts, Delta State University, Abraka, 2014.
Brown, M. H. “Osuofia Don enter Discourse,” Global Nollywood and African identity Politics.” Ijota, 2-4, 2008: 56-72.
Isola, A. “In Whose Image?” In F. Ogunleye (Ed.), Africa through the Eye of the Video Camera. Manzini: Academic Publishers, 2008: 7-15.
James, Ademola. The Need for a New Direction in the Nigerian Film and Video Industry: A Blue Print for Progress. Abuja: NFVCB, 1997.
Nnolim, Charles E. “Literature, the Arts, and Cultural Development.” In S. Ogude (Ed.), Annals of the Nigerian Academy of Letters. Ibadan: NAL, 2002: 63-93.
Oyewo, G. A. “The Yoruba Video Film: Cinematic Language and the Socio-Aesthetic Ideal.” In F. Ogunleye (Ed), African Video Film Today. Manzini: Academic Publishers: 2003: 141-157.
Sutherland-Addy, Efua. “The Ghanaian Feature Video Phenomenon: Thematic Concerns and Aesthetic Resources.” In K. Anyidoho & J. Gibbs (Eds.), Fon Tom From. Contemporary Ghanaian Literature, Theatre and Film. Amsterdam-Atlanta: Rodopi, 2000: 265-277.
Ukadike, Frank. “African Films: A Retrospective and a Vision for the Future.” In Gaston Kabore (Ed.), Africa and the Centenary of Cinema, Ouagadougou: Prescence Africaine, 1995: 47-68.