Media Criticism, Culture and Nollywood
Department of Theatre and Performing Arts
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria
Entertainment is been one of the vibrant outfits that sustain man and adds to his longevity. It is generally accepted that the western nations are dominating the entertainment sector in the entire media practice today. Therefore, the need to project Nigeria in the entertainment sector is one of the factors that gave rise to the Nigerian home movie industry. Nollywood is nationalistic, a movement that tries to challenge the influx and the influence of foreign culture through foreign movies in Nigeria. Through the movies, the Nigerian culture is spread as well as several misconceptions about Nigerians are also corrected. The focus of this paper is to project the hegemonic activities of home movie practitioners in the business of film making. Nollywood have not really succeeded in promoting the culture and image of Nigeria as a result of local hegemony on the side of the practitioners who are more concerned with enriching their pockets, relegating to the background the cultural implication of such representation. Findings show that though Nigerian culture is being promoted, there are still mounting challenges as the image of Nigeria is being represented positively and at the same time, negatively. The problem has to do with local hegemony in form of money bags who determine what the thematic thrust of each movie made will be. There are both trained and untrained practitioners who are business oriented, churning out films without considering their cultural implication. Furthermore, there exist communication gaps on what Nollywood is meant to project coupled with the reason for its creation. They engage in making movies that are full of obscene behaviours thus, creating what is alien to the Nigerian society. The implication lies in the fact that promoting the Nigerian culture has not been well understood and handled by film makers. This paper recommends that film makers hold an authentic cultural value by bringing to a minimal the negative images they project. Movies which promote the good cultural values of Nigerians should be produced more often.
The exposure to the American way of life has brought about modernization of tradition causing the fading away of indigenous culture and embracing almost completely Western culture. This accounts for the understandable apprehension in traditionally oriented societies where there is some noticeable mounting anxiety about the impact of mass and global entertainment in the daily life, men-women relationships, sexual immorality and the obligations of parents and children. This is to say that consumer societies have been created with lifestyles, values, tastes and inspirations based upon models and commodities of the Western industrial countries. The conviction is that the fate of a victim of this cultural imperialism will continue to be decided from the outside and in this way, its progress and growth will be retarded, as its production and consumption patterns will be fashioned out in accordance with the needs and values of an alien society. However, to disengage from this, Ashcroft et al proposed the need for an internal struggle for self-determination by the Third World countries (49).
Thus, Nollywood, as an indigenous art form is a part of this reformation movement. This industry has come up to challenge as it were this Western culture masquerading as ‘universal’ by creating and producing films focusing on indigenous themes and issues. The pioneers of the Nigerian home movie seek to stop or rather drastically reduce the invasion of foreign cultural products in Nigeria thereby, promoting the Nigerian indigenous culture locally, internationally and globally.
Culture is a term used to describe the distinctive human mode of adapting to the environment as well as moulding nature to conform to man’s desires and goals. It includes everything that makes man, what he is as well as the heritage he possesses. It finds expression in his religion, language, philosophy, music, dance, architecture, political organization and so on (Ajayi 3). Each society has its own unique culture which has developed through its history and passed on from one generation to another. The relevance of culture therefore to social and economic development is something on which there is virtually a unanimous agreement. It is an accepted fact that without culture, there can never be any meaningful development.
Consequently, a well-developed culture creates a process of positive impact to National Development which helps to promote cultural diplomacy. True development therefore can only spring up from the people and cannot be borrowed or imposed, though there is no culture that does not experience little borrowing here and there. In that direction, culture in its positive and progressive form serves as nourishment, making or creating an enabling environment for making better the lives of a people. Therefore, cultural promotion in the broadest sense of the term is thus the preservation and provision of the entire heritage of a society to inform and influence their inherent ability to invent and innovate in the face of present day challenges. This promotion becomes the sole business of the people directly concerned, their ability to create new and productive means of tapping their cultural heritage based on the past without necessarily going back to the past because culture is dynamic. In view of the above, Nasidi and Bello asserts that,
Culture and its promotion do not mean to return to the past but rather an appreciation of the resources of the resources of the past and its contribution to the present as well as our imaginative response to such contributions in the light of our present problem and as a strategy towards our development in future (12).
In this sense, the task of cultural promotion should consist essentially of making contributions of the past available to the present in order to inform, educate and inspire desirable creativity today.
The theoretical thrust of this work is centred on the theory of Cultural Hegemony expounded by Raymond Williams and Antonio Gramsci. These two Marxists propounded their theory as a tool to underscore the cultural imperialism of the West, hegemony not been forceful like colonialism but a subtle manipulation by the West to the Third World countries. He sees hegemony as domination by consent and fundamentally, the power of the ruling class to convince other classes that their interests are the interest of all (Gramsci 5). Dominance is thus:
Exerted not by force nor even necessarily by active apparatuses such as persuasion but by a more subtle and inclusive power over the economy and over state as education and media by which the ruling class interest is presented as the common interest and thus, comes to be taken for granted (Ashroft et al 116).
Hegemonic domination is so much more difficult to isolate and understand because it involves social and cultural spheres which are the basis of our life and which gives meaning to values (Williams 108).
Over powered by the hegemonic discourses of the West, Third World societies are stunted in their capacity to articulate their own identities and world view; they tend to internalize the perspective of the modernizers and developmentalists. This is done not only through the control of the media but also through ownership and control of the whole infrastructure of the production of knowledge. Thus, the Nigerian movie industry itself far from being a transcendent and emergent practice may come to serve as the most significant mode of incorporation into an effective dominant culture.
As it were, South Africa made several efforts to counter the hegemony of the whites, so it is with Nigeria and the emergence of the Nigerian movie industry to combat the influx of foreign programmes. This struggle is aimed at exposing and entertaining Nigerians with indigenous cultures. Yet then, is also an internal hegemony in the industry. The ruling class (owners) dictate the thematic thrust of movies solely for financial gains. To achieve this aim, the concentrate on producing movies that do not in any way promote the Nigerian culture solely for profit.
By and large, hegemony, as a term, propounded by Antonio Gramsci and Raymond Williams is employed both by the West and Nigeria. The West through the media to some extent has gained cultural dominance in Nigeria and Nigerians reacting to this launched a national struggle to free themselves from the cultural hegemony of the West by coming up with the Nigerian movie industry. This is aimed at controlling the content of the media to ensure that it is not dominated with the foreign culture thus, the struggle of Third World countries as emphasized by Robert Kavanagh to dominate in cultural production which he calls alternative hegemony. However, the Nigerian film industry is controlled by a few people who are considered as the ruling class whom in a bid to make profit, package any film that is hot and selling, whether Western or local, to the detriment of the Nigerian culture. As a point of fact, the new capitalist overloads have thus emerged as the local hegemony.
The Nigerian Home Movie: A Historical Overview
The need to project Nigeria in the entertainment sphere gave rise to an intellectual movement initiated by a handful of writers and private film and Performing Arts graduate not only in reaction to and rejection of alien cultural domination but also to reinstate Nigeria’s cultural heritage and re-orientate Nigerians suffering from colonial mentality. (Haynes 13).
Entertainment has quite a lot of impact on man’s psyche and this has contributed to his longevity due to regular release of stress. In Nigeria particularly before the coming of the white man (pre-colonial period), entertainment was part of the peoples’ folk tradition and culture. This exists in form of festivals, songs, dance, rituals and storytelling. Our exposure to western life through colonial administration and post-colonial experience introduced us to foreign media and glamorous forms of entertainment which began to eclipse the truly indigenous art forms of entertainment. This statement is buttressed by Ejike Asiegbu, when he asserts that, “At this point, most of the television programmes were foreign soaps; we didn’t have our own indigenous entertainment programmes” (as cited by Ihechi 15).
Consequently, some Nigerians became zealous to create our own form of entertainment. This resulted in the producing Mirror in the Sun, which according to Igwe, was the first soap opera produced by an independent producer on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) (10). This appeared to have gingered other private individuals to start writing and submitting scripts to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). Consequently, NTA came up with Behind the Clouds. People like Zeb Ejiro and Amaka Igwe came up with Ripples and Checkmate, respectively. These made huge successes and attracted others who came with a lot of ideas but could not make any head way as recorded by Igwe thus:
Because of what Ripples and Checkmate achieved, a lot of young people who desired to do something could not because NTA had a problem. There was reduced sponsorship of play production and a lot of staff were retrenched (1).
As a result of the economic crunch, the Nigerian Television Authority started patronizing cheaper but second hand Mexican and Brazilian soaps whose themes, storylines and plot structures were often alien to the Nigerian culture and entertainment values. The Nigerian home movies industry emerged when it was needed. It came as a rescue to the Nigerian society, though this as it is may not be its utmost task. The pioneers then may not have envisaged that their effort would grow as fast as it has done today.
Consequently, different ethnic groups began to produce movies in their own languages. Igbo movies at first came out without subtitles but later, English subtitles were introduced. The Igbo home movies did not achieve a recognizable effect until Kenneth Nnebue an Igbo business man and producer brought into lime light the fact that a larger market could be created by releasing video cassettes. He stormed the market with the first Igbo movie in Nigeria titled Living in Bondage produced by Nek Video Link. Indigenous script writers from each part of Nigeria emerged with scripts based on their ethnic culture. They project what their immediate society or target audience is known for and gave it some embellishment to attract national relevance. The themes of the typical Hausa home movie may revolve around Hausa language, religion, morality and tradition, these being major elements of culture. The Igbo home movies have their own themes revolving around love, crime, fetishism, questions of making money by all means, self-recognition, personal achievement for power to rule and dominate while the Yoruba home video revolved around the potent power of the gods, their relationship with the living and their influence on human activities and the relationship between the born and the unborn. This is to say that Nollywood in the time past has challenged the influx of western cultures that invade Nigeria through film and other media products.
Over the years, Nollywood has been able to put Nigeria on the third world map as the third most prolific movie-making nation in the world; hence, it is believed that Nollywood is the most watched movie in the African world today. Thus, a lot of negative perceptions of the existence of Nigerians in the world have been corrected. Furthermore, films have established themselves as the dominant form of Nigerian popular culture with more than 1,000 titles released every year which are popular because they are a reflection of the way of life of Nigerians. In this light, Ayakoroma records that majority of the video films possess originality, vitality and creativity which portray strong cultural indices of the Nigerian society (3).
However, despite the successes it had recorded, there are still inevitable problems in the way the practitioners engage in this activity of film making. In fact, there are several instances where these movies are tailored around alien cultural identities. The traditional theatre practitioner that transferred from cinema to home movie at the early stage still respected morals but as competition became stiff, acceptance high, hunger for financial/ commercial gain increased, morality was thrown to the dustbin giving rise to the negative representation of the Nigerian society.
In brief, the dominant cultures have been challenged by the emergent culture seen in the efforts of the Nigerian home movie industry in creating an alternative nationalistic entertainment outfit. This is because through the home movie, the Nigerian have tried to regain in the cultural sphere, a freedom and an authenticity lost by history but finds himself trapped in the prison house of “non-African” concepts and practices. The new capitalist overlords of Owerri, Onitsha, Idumota, Alaba and so on are creating a new hegemony in the industry. They ignore the fact that African values differ from their western counterpart, except for the alienated ones (Nasidi 109-110). Therefore, the need to assess how local hegemony operates and affects movie making in Nigeria is of paramount importance.
The Impact of Local Hegemony on Cultural Promotion
In the Nigerian movie industry, power and control are in the hands of a few individuals who dictate the thematic thrust of the movies produced. These few individuals are the money bags who have the cash to produce movies. Having profit as their primary aim coupled with the fact that they do not possess the intellectual knowledge, they churn out movies of questionable features as long as it entertains the audience and bring good returns. Here, money becomes the piper that dictates the tune. He is seen as an average investor who wants to make his money rather than being interested in culture. He wants something that will make his movies sell and as a result, the movies are full of excesses.
It is pertinent to note that the Nollywood have in form and content at several points tilted towards the reproduction of some foreign cultural values as opposed to the set goals which as earlier stated are the creation and provision of a local expression of the Nigerian society. This clearly can be seen as the effect of the hegemonic nature of the dominant culture. The dominance is no more a forced one but one of consent. This is to say that Nigerian movie practitioners have in their productions of arts yielded to the subtle manipulation of hegemony. This influence is traceable to the influx of western films that propagate western cultures and the exposure of the makers of these emergent home movies to foreign media productions as against the indigenous art form. These foreign cultures have so overtly taken over the whole industry that their effects are adversely felt by every member of the society.
Moreover, there are both trained and untrained practitioners who are business-oriented, churning out films without considering their cultural implications. Most of them, driven by some selfish interest (money) have ignored the main reasons for their being and have gone into the act of creating what is alien to the Nigerian society. Nollywood knowingly or unknowingly incorporates negative themes and cultures which are capable of corrupting the members of the society. Behavioural decadence in recent times has become the overriding factor in some of the movies which impacts negatively on Nigerians and non-Nigerians. To further buttress this point, it is pertinent to note that Nollywood has changed from focusing on the real issues to focus on issues like seduction/sex which has become so irritating and pervasive. Seduction, nudism or erotism is another area in which the moral credibility is called to task.
It was in the light of the above that, Musa conducted a survey on nudism and the national image. He did content analysis of Omo Empire, Outcast 1 & 2, Night Out and Shattered Homes in his attempt to discuss the proliferation of nudity and eroticism in Nigerian movies and outright disregard for the demand of censorship (190). He asserts that seduction movies assault the psyche of the Africans as they violate all known rules of decency, good taste and mobility within their culture. In his analysis, data show that almost all the theatre workers, artistes, production and managerial crew are guilty of glamorizing aspects of immorality. Artistes subject themselves to this act of immorality in order to achieve fame and material wealth instead of professionalism. This can be counted as some of the reasons artistes expose, debase and “sell” their bodies with impunity. Therefore, Musa concludes that the southern Nigerian movies crews (Igbo and Yoruba) are common rivals trying to outdo each other in the noxiousness of nudism (196).
Furthermore, Glamour Girls were able to show some flesh, that of Eucharia Anunobi in a bath tub scene with Zack Orji. This according to Kayode, gave birth to a star, as she emerged as Nigeria’s first sex symbol. Movie viewers went on to dub her Nigeria’s Sharon Stone and she lived up to that name, shedding her clothes in more films including Native produced by Theo Akatugba (38). Similarly, Cossy Orjiakor is said to have maintained that whoever wished could come and fondle her breasts. Though good acting was not her strong point, she became an instant phenomenon with her generous display of her most prized assets. Some say Cossy never pretended to anyone that she could act a great deal, her ticket to fame was her natural endowment and with that chest, she redefined sex on the screen, not only taking it to the roof but dismissing the likes of Eucharia Anunobi and Shan George (Kayode 43). Before Cossy, Nigeria home video featured voodoo, romance, epic, comedy and gangster movies. With Cossy, sex or erotic thrillers was blatantly added. Scripts were written specifically for her and movie producers raced after such scripts. As it turned out, Cossy’s mammary endowments were as sought after outside film location as inside it. In fact, these artistes that pose for sex in the industry are those that have nothing to offer.
For the Yoruba artistes, Ajiboye says: “I don’t see anything wrong in facing the camera nude so far as the pay is justifiable and the message it is intended to pass across will be of immense value to the society” (21). One may begin to ask what will be of immense value to the society. Is it appearing nude on screen or the debasing value of the feminine gender in the society that has norms guiding behaviours? This madness which they do not seem to realize contributes to the major criticism and problem of the Nigerian home movie. They are aggravating and increasing immorality in that society. It is obvious that these seductive scenes in the movies are a direct expression of the media support for exposing women for high commercial gains. Nudism is a direct attack on social value which actresses and directors claim to be protecting. Glamorizing immorality to promote morals is tearing a cloth to mend another considering the effects of such exposures of eroticism and seduction on the psyche of especially the adolescent audience.
Furthermore, Oniga an actress complains that there is no originality and professionalism among movie artistes of this era. She maintained that, “we do rehearsals before we go for shooting but now, people just jump from one set to another not willing to erase a character without taking a new one” (20). Thus, pornographic images in an attempt to mimic foreign movies also are an assault on the serious minded adults and a corruption of the young ones especially adolescents thereby, bringing about moral decadence in the society.
Films like Nurses Club produced by Onye Eze Production Ltd have no positive message to offer to the Nigerian society. In the movie, we see a Doctor having sex with the nurses one after the other, while the nurses in turn are told by their matron to sleep with any male patient that comes to the hospital. Scenes of sex were recorded freely and sold to the public. The pictures on the pouch of the CD showed girls who were half naked coupled with the fact that one has to sit through their terrible acting, unbelievable characters, questionable plots and frustratingly long running themes. Furthermore, films like, Girls in the Mood have no positive message to disseminate to the public.
Why do some producers choose to represent Nigeria the way they do? This is because the negative representation of the Nigerian society in the Nigerian movies is still on the high side. The present condition is not irreversible. It can be corrected by using the available resources to concentrate on movies that aim at inspiring the people of Nigeria to positive actions which will bring progress, development thereby, help in fostering cultural diplomacy.
On a lighter note, there is the need to say that the Nollywood is getting better day by day despite the poorly produced movies that are readily available in Alaba market. Movies like Figurine, The Meeting, Phone Swap, Mr. and Mrs. among others gives the country hope that we are on the right track.
Besides, Hollywood films save for those escapist ones that employ technology to incredibly tantalize effect are beginning to get boring. Therefore, Nigerians should engage with Nigerian stories even if they are served below par compared with Hollywood films; films that allows the eyes of the audience to swim in complexity without having to understand better what is spoken in plain English hence, the need to defend Nollywood despite its heart breaking distance from the sophistication of Hollywood.
On the whole, Nigerians need to change their approach to the salvation of Nollywood from the clutches of mediocrity by devising solutions that are practical and down to earth rather than stuck to the pinnacle of some ivory tower. It is out in the open that Nollywood is controlled by a cabal. This cabal otherwise known as Nollywood producers and marketers are mostly concerned with profits. If they are in the slightest bit concerned about making a difference, it might not be in such artistic endeavours as plotting a unique story, showcasing brilliant acting or putting up honest settings; all subtle points that are harder to sell than spectacle. Spectacle is great when wrapped with good principles. However, when a movie is marketed on the strength that it is the first movie to film a Hummer Jeep being battered on set, or a helicopter crashing and bursting to flames, then there is much to worry about. Thus, the template for saving Nollywood must be tailored towards the bias of industry practitioners rather than those without. For the fact that Nollywood is an industry, change must be systematic.
Possible Mitigation Strategies
- The National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) is the body that is entrusted with a lot of duties as far as monitoring the activities of the Nigerian home movies industry is concerned. They have been invested with power to control the industry. Therefore, they should be more diligent in executing their duties.
- The industry should document and preserve aspects of indigenous cultures in movies for consumption instead of dancing to the tune of the Western cultural hegemony by accepting and reproducing the cultures of the west as ideal or general culture. This fight entails initiatives by the people, independent of external institutions with a view of changing the existing situation. The fact being that while the people need to have contacts with external institutions for some interactions, they also need to retain control over the product of these interactions.
- Strict professionalism should therefore be introduced in the industry for the full exploitation of professional movie production to bring this change. After all, one cannot practice law unless one is a law graduate who has gone to Law School. In the same vein, one should not be a movie maker if one is not trained in the field.
- The gap between the intellectuals and the practitioners should be bridged. These two bodies should come together and function as one body with one purpose. The intellectuals in the various universities should design and organize enlightenment programmes inform of seminars on making good stories which will help in making the art of movie making clearer to the practitioners.
- The universities where Theatre and Performing Arts are studied should be provided with equipment like cameras and other studio equipment’s for practice. This is to give room for training in the area of coverage for those who would want to become camera men and women in their career. In addition to universities that study Theatre and Performing Arts, there is the need to establish and build film schools where movie making will be studied. The potentials inherent in the young university graduates trained in theatre arts should not be overlooked. The break through expected in the Nigerian home video industry lies in their hands.
- Making movies that will promote the image and culture of Nigeria is virtually a task that the government has to take with utmost seriousness. The government should be ready to sponsor movies whose basic aim will be to spread the Nigerian culture instead of leaving it in the hands of business men. This will serve as source of motivation to the younger ones.
- Corporate organizations and culturally disposed philanthropic individuals should be encouraged to sponsor the promotion of cultural activities.
- There should be unification in the industry rather than the divergent groups and their ideas (English, Yoruba, Hausa) these groups should come together to promote a common interest.
- For Nollywood to satisfy the main thrust of its essence, the government, the practitioners and agencies must as a matter of urgency revisit the drawing board, consider the ethical, technical, artistic and professional demands or the implication of the industry over and above the economic gains that jeopardize out rightly the same interest they profess to protect (Idegu in Okwori 24). Anything short of this change of direction amounts to a total negation of cultural promotion in the Nigerian home movie as a dynamic and potent communicative medium for cultural promotion and development.
- Scriptwriters who are already plying their art in the system should be trained. Nollywood is a huge employer of labour most of which comes from the informal sector. Many of these people while educated might be oblivious to some of the techniques, formats and methods that make for a good story. Whatever system is devised to train these directors, scriptwriters and the likes, it must be one that engages with them rather than dictates to them. This kind of engagement should involve feeding and eating on both sides of knowledge. The system to train Nollywood must seek to understand why script writers of Nollywood write the stories they do and why Nollywood marketers demand for such stories. This system so devised must contextualize the art of film making with the ultimate goal bringing down the finest quality of film making to the closest level of nationwide acceptability. This must be done keeping economic and cultural implications in mind.
- A lot of incentives besides doling out money to film makers can help improve the qualitative stand of Nollywood. A Nollywood Film Academy can be positioned to train scriptwriters, directors, cinematographers, sound engineers and other professionals with a bias for those who already practice within the home movie sector of Nollywood.
- New entrants to film industry deserve to be trained and equipped also. Nevertheless, much more should be done to bring marketers filmmakers and other Nollywood professionals up to speed on new exciting and more profitable methods of filmmaking that can have a place in the Nigerian society.
At the present, it is sad to say that the situation in the Nigerian home movie is predominantly bad, as thousands of films are churned out without proper consideration of the Nigerian cultural heritage. The solution to this problem may not be a total ban of the existing movies; rather, new movies should be produced as the cultural flagship of Nigeria. Thus, a more diligent approach could be a saving grace.
Thus, Nigeria needs quality films that will be the cultural flagship of the nation. Financial capital should no more be the main objective rather; cultural capital should be the goal. (Turner 143) This implies that for development to be meaningful as well as relevant to the people, for whom it is intended, there is the need for it to be located precisely within the cultural purview of the people, deriving as it were from their conception of the ideal world view, taking into consideration their cultural perceptions. This field of culture offers a remarkable terrain of communication which can be exploited to project a positive image of the Nigerian society as a people to other parts of the world which will in turn contribute to the attainment of her foreign policy objectives (Buratai in Evwierhoma 73)
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Ihuoma OKORIE, is a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where she obtained an M.A in Theatre and Performing Arts, B.A. Theatre Arts and a Diploma in Mass Communication backed by a Professional Diploma in Education, which she obtained from the Niger State College of Education, Minna. She is presently a Member of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM).
Email: . GSM: +234806-612-4122.