Deconstructing the "Wood" in "Nollywood": Nigerian Film Industry and its Imagined Scenographic Space
Adérèmí Michael ADÉOYÈ
Department of Theatre and Media Arts
Federal University, Oyé-Èkìtì
Ekiti State, Nigeria
The problem of this study is the disconnect, in terms of cultural context and moral adherence to scenographic standards, between the Nigerian movie industry and the American movie industry, in spite of feigned superficial and nominal imitation of the latter by the former. The objective of the study is to demonstrate that Hollywood has a direct reference to a scenographic space, which has physical existence on the American soil, where drama, theatre, scenography as well as practitioners meet to experiment, produce and market their arts. The theatrical experiment, production and marketing in Hollywood are however governed by the American culture; while the conception of Nollywood commands an imaginary sense of space, which has no application to physical, cultural or natural scenography. This study is situated within the theoretical principle of “Deconstruction” by Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), which advocates intellectual dissection of artistic phenomena with a view to constructive criticism. Data were collected via non-participant observation and Key Informant techniques and analyzed through qualitative method of data analysis. Therefore, the study concludes that the Nigerian movie industry should have a reference to a physical scenographic space, where theatrical activities are governed by relevant cultural contexts and professional standards, as observable in the American model which it seems to follow.
Key Terms: Nollywood, scenographic space, cultural contexts, deconstruction.
The Nigerian film industry, which is also known as Nollywood, having emerged out of popular culture, is going through a tough revolution towards the actualization of a world-class medium that would tell Nigerian stories to Nigerians and the world at large. This is evident in the rate at which the industry is growing. Hence, Ode avers that, "the Nigerian film industry, "Nollywood," is growing in leaps and bounds" (103). However, while the growth of Nollywood is quite undeniable, it is also undeniable that the elements of the Nigerian popular culture are fast losing ground in the industry despite that Nigerian popular culture is the root from which Nollywood emerged. Haynes succinctly confirms it that Nollywood,
emerged out of popular culture and also out of the structural adjustment and decay in formal institutions such as the Nigerian Television Authority, stage drama, and academic literary education (1).
However, having gone through many phases as noted by Haynes above, the Nigerian film industry has not fully addressed itself to the key subject of scenographic designs especially in its eventual emergence, thus, slowing down the pace of its revolutionary process. Ododo also argues that the problem of the Nigerian theatre arts industry generally rests on “the development of design practice in Nigeria” which, he opines, “is rather slow, compared to some other arts of the theatre like acting and directing” (95). Ododo insinuates here that there may some problems with the standard of acting and directing, but the major challenge lies with the design and scenographic conception as well as the cultural contexts. This view also receives corroboration from Shimsenge and Gbilekaa whose opinion is that "unskilled… designers in Nollywood have toyed with Nigerian cultural codes by not reflecting the true identities of such cultures through the characters and the social backgrounds they depict in the films" (158). It can therefore be inferred that the industry tends to portray Nigerian cultural concepts in ideological frameworks that are far from being Nigerian as Shimsenge and Gbilekaa further contend that "the implication of the negative representation of culture of Nigerian societies by film producers is that it will annihilate cultures so presented" (158).
The issue of moral adherence to the Nigerian culture, scenographic standards and theatrical professionalism, which should be the paramount objective of Nollywood, constitute, on the contrary, its major shortcoming. Okhakhu and Bardi unequivocally confirm that "there is the problem of lack of professionalism and specialization in Nollywood" (233). This candid view has also received several further confirmations. In other words, "in Nigeria, we experience situations where an individual functions as an actor, producer, writer, costumier and director at the same time. This practice does not give room for excellence" (Okhakhu & Bardi 233).
From its inception, Nollywood has been characterized by conflicting cultural features including its nominal essence which is apparently constituted by unfounded variables, which also do not seem to bear consistent relevance to the Nigerian scenographic environment or its cultural contents and contexts. Perhaps, this is the consequence of the natural divide between Nollywood and its conceptual destination; Hollywood, in terms of cultural differences, technical proficiency and other professional values and attitudes. Viewing this as a problem of thematic content and quality, Okhakhu and Bardi further agree that,
also there is the problem of thematic content and quality of the Nollywood films. Many Nigerian home videos are not properly thought through… they are also poor representations of the cultural milieu that seeks to define their existence (234).
From the argument above, there is a clear need for a logical interrogation of the relationship between the Nigerian movie industry and its American counterpart as indicated in the problem of this study. While it is justifiable that Hollywood may serve as a model for the Nigeria movie industry, it is unnecessarily for the practitioners and other stakeholders of the Nigeria movie industry to attempt to feign a superficial simulation of Hollywood as observable nominal replication of H-"ollywood" in N-"ollywood" without considering the deeper cultural and environmental (or scenographic) import of such relationship.
The conceptual trend in Nollywood has attracted critical views from scholars who either consider it an outright problem or tie it to the scenographic health of the Nigerian theatre industry. For instance, Agoba relates it to "the health of a theatre tradition," which “can be readily understood from the symptomatic manifestations of its scenic conflations” (167); while Okhakhu and Bardi state categorically that "the film industry in Nigeria is battling with a myriad of problems" (233). The usage of "myriad of problems" above suggests the complex nature of the challenges that surround Nollywood.
The need for the application of technical designs in Nollywood productions to resonate, engage and experiment with the cultural essence of the Nigeria society, including its physical space, cannot be overemphasized. This argument has also been strongly affirmed, hence, "…designs in Nollywood movie productions must be in conformity with Nigerian cultural dictates; that is the design should be sufficiently guided by the rich moral and ethical values" of "the Nigerian people, basically to tally with the locality it derives from" (Shimsenge & Gbilekaa 160). While the American movie industry is justified to look within its physical geography, and natural scenography for cultural elements such as Hollywood, in order to have a direct reference to a theatre that exist physically on the American soil, where drama, theatre, stagecraft, and the respective artists would meet, experiment, create and promote their arts, the notion of "Nollywood" commands only an imaginary space concept which neither has any application to Nigeria, its natural, artistic and material culture nor its physical, geographical and scenographic space. However, the idea behind the evolution of a film industry in any cultural space is often to formalize the popular culture of such cultural space as art because "theatre is a cultural space" (Counsell 6), thus "…designs in plays and films based on alien culture of violence and sexual concept should be downplayed in our theatrical performances…" (Shimsenge & Gbilekaa 160). This way, the Nollywood experience which has fallen short its expectation in terms distilling a robust theatre tradition as a formal vestige of Nigeria's rich popular culture, may be revived.
Nollywood and the Deconstructionist Approach
The theoretical liberty to criticize the nature and process of Nollywood by tearing it down into its basic syntactic and conceptual structures fundamentally resides in the principle of “Deconstruction,” by Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), which advocates intellectual dissection of artistic phenomena with a view to its constructive criticism. Thus, the attempt to "deconstruct" the "wood" in "Nollywood" does not represent any attempt to discredit or damage the reputation of Nollywood nor divest it of any positive attitudes or value. However, deconstruction, here, refers to the efforts of "breaking" Nollywood down into its barest and simplest compositional units for the purpose of deeper understanding. Precisely, this study views Nollywood from the deconstructionist approach to provide a holistic, robust and critical consideration of the challenges surrounding Nollywood as well as the ways around the challenges. Auslander equate the deconstructionist approach to
…what happens when one works one’s way through a certain logic of thinking in such a way as to reveal what that logic cannot admit, what it must exclude, the unthinkable, ‘the singularity that threatens generality … the anomalies that circulate within and open up the system’ (Sherwood, “Derrida” 71) (92).
In agreement with Auslander's observation above, Ubersfeld also views Derrida’s deconstructionist technique as a critical judgment of details with the object of “reconstructing the story” thereby arguing that deconstruction is tantamount to understanding “the physicality of the performance” (135-136). This is probably because the deconstructionist attempt is not to decimate its subject but capture it holistically, dissect and permeate every bit of it with significant scrutiny.
"Nollywood": A Derivative Conception
The name "Nollywood" given to the Nigerian film industry appears conjecturable as being related to a syntactic string directly divisible along three syllabic partitions i.e., no-lly-wood, thus comprising of "no," "lly" and "wood." While the first two syllables do not appear to have a direct link to any known Nigerian word or concept, the last syllabic entity contains the word "wood" which rings a bell in any ear that is conversant with film production around the world. "Nolly," as found in the combination of the first two syllables and having an initial letter "N," may be symbolically related to Nigeria only because of the initials. However, the connection between the Nigerian theatre traditions and the word "wood" remains a mystery, in response to which Shaka and Ihentuge re-echo Haynes' conclusion that "names are often silly and strange" (177). In an attempt to unravel this mystery Shaka and Ihentuge also note that "the term 'Nollywood' which was first used by Matt Steinglass in an article he wrote in New York in 2002, on Nigeria's popular film culture, has been controversial and problematic" (177). In addition to suggesting the origin of Nollywood, Shaka and Ihentuge also hint its problematic dimension.
Investigation has revealed that Hollywood, the headquarters of American film industry, "has produced some major influences in terms of nomenclature; having begotten two extra 'woods' in Indian Bollywood and the Nigerian Nollywood. Nevertheless, the three film traditions are different" (Iwuh 23). While it is not out of place for any society to seek the emergence of an alternative film tradition out of an existing space of popular culture which will ultimately respond to modern needs and challenges of theatre, the attempt must be curtailed within the ambits of relative socio-cultural standards. Hence, Akwang opines that,
judging from the advocacies of various artists, directors, critics and theorists, the search for an alternative space where modern African plays could be staged appropriately requires the fall considerations of African worldviews that inhabit these plays. Not as a bland or nostalgic resort to nativized cultural products, but as an attempt to reinvent the sociocultural contexts of these plays (81).
In Akwang's succinct assertion here, it is deducible that the worldviews of a society should form the bedrock of any inventive spatial-theatrical conceptions and its ultimate physical emergence. Nollywood is guilty of contextual misplacements and "nostalgic resort to nativized cultural products" for its inadequacy or outright lack of the "attempt to reinvent the socio-cultural contexts" of its popular culture (Akwang 81).
The implication of this argument is that the adoption of a "wood-related" nomenclature, for Nollywood, is inadequate uninventive and unoriginal. Iwuh also confirms Biodun Jeyifo's demeaning lamentation on the cheap outlook of the Nigerian film industry thus:
everything in Nollywood is cheap to the point of excess. In plain terms, and as far as I am aware in well documented comparative profiles of the national film traditions of the planet, Nollywood leads the rest of the of the world in how cheaply, how quickly and how effortlessly films are produced and released (23).
Jeyifo, as reported by Iwuh, perhaps resorted to this mortifying use of words because there apparently many other film industries in the world which have spontaneously and naturally evolved in their normal and cultural space without being derivatives of existing cultures that are dissimilar to them. Comparatively, Nollywood and Bollywood are about the only two film industries around the world aside, which appear to share the controversial "wooden" syndrome, with Hollywood, without putting into consideration the immediacy of the concept in question to their own local cultural contexts, as the Americans have done.
While Bollywood is adopted to portray the contemporary mode of television, film and video production in India, the moral, cultural or logical justification for such adoption remains a challenge. Whereas, one could manage a conjectural explanation to relate the "Nolly" in Nollywood to Nigeria because of the "N" factor, though the wood appears equally out of place, the "Bolly" in Bollywood appears far from having any link with India. Wa Thiongo has also challenged the cultural ground for such imitative adoption because a
society creates the materials for the arts and consequently art is for the service of man, and for art to be successful, the artist has a professional responsibility to make his work relevant to his society and its concerns (212).
Ngugi Wa Thiongo's view above is perhaps borne of the formalist notion of the Neo-Hegelian Marxist temperament that tends to balance 'form' with 'content' "as well as 'role' with 'representation'" (Eagleton 10). Hence, the Hungarian Marxist critic, Georg Lukacs argues that "the truly social element…" in the art "… is the form." While Lukacs, places strong emphasis on "form", Hegel, as reported by Eagleton (10), counterbalances Lukacs's argument with the outright position that, "every definite content determines a form suitable to it" (Eagleton 10). Therefore, the suitability of the American Hollywood, as a spatial "form" or conceptual "representation" has been relatively predetermined by the American cultural context as the relevant content. The basis for the argument here is to challenge the adoption of the "ollywood" "representation" or "form" by the Nigerian movie industry because the cultural content that informs the "ollywood" spatial form or conceptual representation is truly American and not Nigerian.
Hollywood and Nollywood are metaphorical representations of real and imagined scenographic spaces, respectively. Hollywood, a word which refers to the film and video industry in the United States of America, got its name from the actual location that has been designated for theatrical assignments. A name which refers to a city in the state of California, in the United States, Hollywood has become, over the years, the metaphorical marketplace where actors, directors, designers of sets, props as well as make-up and costumes meet and sell themselves. The choice of Hollywood as the overarching title for the contemporary American theatre thus appears to have a root in material culture, physical environment, social codes and expectations to which it ultimately responds as Ampa has already insinuated that "every movie has its cultural expectations, its codes and values" (8). The above inspires a comparative look into the foundational contents of both Hollywood and Nollywood as artistic forms which should ordinarily refer to an underlying foundational content on which their entire formal existences are based.
The existence of Hollywood as a physical experimental space has also culminated in the deposit of diverse professional equipment and facilities which are on ground day and night to experiment unwonted possibilities especially in the areas of scenery and props. Evidences of this abound in the numerous Hollywood products around the world. However, Nollywood does not refer to an actual location nor does it refer to a space for performance. Invariably, there is no specific "marketplace," for Nollywood actors, designers, directors and other theatre professionals in Nigeria, to meet, negotiate, advertise, transact and sell their arts. This perhaps qualifies as a good reason why the products of Nollywood do not often reflect the standards that are available in the products of movie industries such as Hollywood, which has often been noted as a benchmark for theatre industries all over the world. If the cultural orientation and trend of Nollywood is to be redirected, "…set building and set décor, props making, sound mastering and lighting should receive professional treatment" (Iwuh 40). The implication of this is that Nollywood should tend towards a physical conception of its theatre, beginning with serious considerations of visual designs and scenography.
A truly cultural and truly original scenographic conception of the Nigerian movie industry, even while still adopting the American model, for instance, would have been found in such geographical locations as Ikogosi (a possible model of Hollywood in Ekiti State, Nigeria), or in Obudu (another promising model of Hollywood in Anambra State, Nigeria) or Tinapa, (a potential replica of Hollywood in Cross River State, Nigeria). Developing a model after an institution does not necessarily demand becoming everything that such institution stands for. Hollywood is however governed by the cultural conventions of the western world especially the American culture. While one would note that America is made up of many cultural elements including elements of black African cultures, the central contextual ingredients are more western than African in tradition. Therefore the social contexts in Hollywood productions permit a number of traditions that are absolutely abominable to the traditional African society and especially Nigeria.
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