Nollywood, Cultural Diplomacy and Women’s Roles as Agents of Peace and Security
Praise C. DANIEL-INIM, PhD
Department of Theatre Arts
Igbinedion University, Okada
Edo State, Nigeria
GSM: +234-813-477-3130; +234-815-693-3431
Within a lifespan of twenty three years, Nollywood has been consistent in its role as the nation’s cultural diplomat. Ranking as the second largest employer of labour in the country, Nollywood tactfully draws from the rich Nigerian culture and projects a world where peace and security reign. Though these are often achieved as a result of a writer’s or director’s dream of a utopian state, yet, the need to have Nollywood repositioned for a better promotion of cultural diplomacy and national security cannot be over-emphasized. Also, though women are often depicted from the traditional point of view in the Nollywood films, yet, women’s roles as agents of peace and security cannot be denied. Through a sampling of selected home videos of Emem Isong, the paper submits that there is need to provide an enabling environment for the survival of Nollywood, women and culture.
Since 1992 when Nigerian home video became a global phenomenon, Nigerians and other countries see the films as reflections of the cultures and traditions of the people of Nigeria. Being a totality of the ways, values, norms, behaviours, mannerisms and reflections of a people, their art forms are expressive of the peoples’ culture. Just as America’s Hollywood films are characterized by violence and new scientific discoveries, Indian Bollywood films are filled with problems of caste systems, love and worship of many of gods. Likewise, Nollywood films are seen as cultural diplomats of the Nigerians.
Basically, culture is divided into indigenous and Western culture. According to Ukala:
In the traditional culture, there exists a sense of family, of lineage and group identity. There exist social, religious and political systems …it was handed down from generation to generation (51).
At inception, Nollywood films were filled with scenes of sacrifices and diabolism. As a result of this, other countries started associating Nigerians with diabolism. They believed visits to native doctors were constant realities of every Nigerian. Stories abound of how Nigerians living outside the country were accosted at one time or another for fetish practices. On realizing that the films were serving as cultural diplomats, the stakeholders in Nollywood industry drastically retraced their steps and begun exploring other contemporary themes, which are reflections of the evolving cultures of Nigerians.
Within the Nigerian society, Nollywood films have some positive effects on the members of the society. Apart from entertainment, “Nigerians depend on the home videos to understand certain situations. Their solutions to problems are at times drawn from lessons learnt from Nigerian home videos” (Daniel-Inim 69). It is noteworthy that the interpretations are culture relative.
Like other fields of endeavour, men dominated the Nollywood industry. They used the medium to project their cultural notions of gender roles, which had been biased to suit men. The few women who found their way into the film industry faced the challenges, which were synonymous with other women all over the world. Through hard work and persistence, few women like Amaka Igwe and Emem Isong stood their grounds and adopted the film medium to project better images for womanhood. They saw the film medium as tools for propagating the cultures of their people. For example, Emem Isong’s Uyai and Edikan try to debunk the age-long notion of the Calabars and Ibibios as witches and house helps.
Cultural Diplomacy and Women’s Roles as Agent of Peace and Security
Africa (of which Nigeria is the giant) has rich a cultural background. Her reverence for marriage institutions, sex, religious and traditional beliefs is globally known, as African cultural values. Emphasis is laid on high moral values. From the olden days, women have been known as custodians of culture and tradition. This is because being closer to the children she would always employ her naturally endowed gift of talking to them and telling stories to her children. Through this medium, she was able to maintain the cultures and traditions of the society and ably transmit them to the next generations. Also, though women like the Biblical Eve and Delilah have been associated with negative images in relation to the fall of man and creating enabling scenarios that were antithetical to peace and security, yet, the Biblical Deborah’s and Mary’s are signposts to women’s roles as agents of peace and security. It is therefore not surprising that with the entrance of women into Nollywood film industry, their roles as cultural diplomats and agents of peace and security began to be highlighted.
Nigeria as a nation has been characterized by several crises. Ranging from civil war, tricks, robbery, hired assassinations, rapes, insurgency, cultism, election and even domestic violence. All these forms of crises have had adverse effects on the social, economic, political and educational lives of the people in the society. Since everybody desires to live in peace, the issue of maintaining peace and security therefore becomes the collective responsibility of every citizen in a nation. However, due to the calm and subordinate dispositions of women, they are more disposed as veritable agents of peace and security. Caleb Nor re-iterates this belief when he says:
…until Nigerians begin to appreciate that the maintenance of peace and security in the country was everybody’s business, the security challenges confronting the nation would remain intractable (8).
Emem Isong-Misodi is one of the most prolific and astute female producers Nollywood has ever produced. A graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of Calabar, she was a banker before she joined the Nigerian movie industry. This ace producer launched her entrance into the movie industry with Jezebel, a movie which she co-produced with Francis Agu in 1994. Her first seven years in the movie industry were in collaboration with Remmy Jez with whom she produced Games Men Play, Games Women Play, Critical Decision, Behind Closed Doors. In 1996, she released her debut solo, Breaking Point, which was followed by Reloaded 2008. Some of her other moviesinclude: Weekend Getaway, Mrs Somebody, Lagos Cougars, Apaye, Forgetting June, Lonely Heart, Visa Lottery, Bursting Out, Holding Hope, Guilty Pleasures, Promise Me Forever, Men Do Cry, Sweet Tomorrow Emotional Crack, Edikan, Uyai, While ‘U’ Slept, A Piece of Flesh, Games, Holding Hope, Unfinished Business, Udeme Mi, Broken Silence, Memories of My Heart, Don’t Cry For Me, Water Falls, Kiss And Tell, One, Dinning With A Long Spoon, Knocking On Heaven’s Door (co-produced with Ini Edo Ehiagwina for Achievas Entertainment). Her other co-produced movies are: On Bended Knees (with Chioma Chukwuka-Akpotha), Blind Promise (with Susan Peters), Darima’s Dilemma (with Mbong Amata), as well as Champagne, which was premiered at Silverbird Galleria a few months ago. With an average of one movie per month, Emem Isong is one of the few Nigerian female filmmakers, who use their films as media of empowerment for women. Her films are also a media of cultural diplomacy where women are projected as agents of peace and security. She debunks men’s notions of women as being weak and uses the traditional norms to women’s advantage.
Analysis of Knocking on Heaven’s Door
Knocking on Heaven’s Door is an exposé on the domestic violence which some Nigerian women are made to endure in their various homes. Moses (Blossom Chukwujekwu) and Debby (Adesua Etomi) are successful gospel singers. But somehow, Debby has more fans and makes more money which, naturally, is spent by her husband. Despite Debby’s efforts to be a good wife to him, Moses is filled with jealousy and feelings of insecurity. He beats Debby at the slightest opportunity (without provocation) and apologies at the next opportunity only for the cycle to repeat itself some minutes later. Debby, who despite the brutal attacks on her, still sings in the church choir where a music producer, Tom (Majid Michael), promptly diagnoses her problem and determines to help her. Being the faithful and dutiful wife, Debby shuns his offers. But Tom’s persistence pays off one day after Moses in his anger drops Debby on the road. Frustrated, Debby is forced to accept Tom’s offer of a lift. He carries her to his house where Debby is coerced into confessing Moses’ brutality; and he advices her to divorce Moses before he kills her.
On her return, Moses accuses her of infidelity and rapes her. Dejected, Debby seeks solace at her girlfriend’s place. She later reconciles with Moses but he spoils her business proposition of twenty million naira. Frustrated, Debby fights him with her kitchen utensils and escapes to Tom’s house. In search of Debby, Moses ends up in the house of Brenda (Ini Edo Ehiagwina), his ex-girl-friend, who he suspected had published Debby’s preference for Tom. As both fight, Brenda pushes him and he falls hitting his head on the staircase and dies instantly. Brenda smartly uses his phone to call Debby. Unfortunately, Tom answers the call and rushes to collect Debby’s certificates as she was threatened they would be burnt if she does not surface in fifteen minutes. However, just as he notices he has been set up for Tom’s death, he tries to escape but is caught and arrested by the police. In the cell, he repents of his sins and challenges God to vindicate him. Six months later, Brenda is tormented to confess her guilt. She is arrested while Tom is released to join Debby in a duet in a recreational bar.
Cultural Diplomacy and Women’s Roles as Agents of Peace and Security in Knocking on Heaven’s Door
Culture is the acceptable ways and beliefs of a particular group of people. Dandaura and Adeoye are of the opinion that, “Culture encapsulates the ethics, ethos, mores and procedures for human growth and development in any society” (1). Accordingly, Isong presents the predicament of the devout Christian who is caged by the religious doctrine of “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Despite being used as “a punch ball” (Aidoo cited in Anya 5), Debby endures for five years. Even when she loses consciousness as a result of her husband’s beating. She is forced to lie to cover up. When she thinks of walking out on him, Moses reminds her; “I am your husband, you are not going anywhere.” This image of the woman as caged by man is also seen in Emem Isong’s The Mistress where Gina is forced to remain with Chief Magnus Chukwudife Udoka (Enebeli Elebuwa), who tells her, “I bought you.” In fact, marriage especially in the Eastern part of Nigeria where Emem Isong hails from is a sacred institution which does not consider living alone or committing adultery an option. By portraying Debby as successful but oppressed, Isong shows the travails of some women who have been bound by the socio-religious culture of compulsory marriage. With great art, she exposes the agonies that Debby went through.
Women’s role as peace agents is seen in the Pastor’s wife. On intuition, she calls Debby to ascertain whether all was well in her home. Debbie’s friend also served in this capacity. Emem Isong’s method of contributing to the peace and security in the society is by her offering solutions to the crises and insecurity, which some women are facing in their homes. She seems to be aware, that maintenance of peace and security can only come from individuals and from the homes. Understanding that families are microcosms of the society, Isong makes her heroine to arrive at her point of realization and assertion in the kitchen – the very spot where her education is said to end. Debby says:
Moses you soaked my clothes. You soaked my clothes because you didn’t want me to get the deal. Moses you didn’t want to expose me to the harsh realities of being a megastar. I can’t hear you. Ah money! What do I need the money for? Even the little I make, you do the spending. You drive the big cars and I drive the small ones and your reason, your reason, your reason is that I am a woman who needs to be saved even from herself. How about one for the times you hit me? Oh Moses, it wasn’t you. It was a reflex action. One of those most reflect actions that come upon you when you are angry. So that punch that struck me… I am sorry that I wasted my emotions loving you. I am sorry I believed that you were God sent to love and cherish me till the end. You are just another bastard with a pole between his legs…. You are a sick, weak, demented, imperious and conniving brute… Why are you so wicked? I promise you one day you will live and die alone; a victim of his own wickedness. I said it. You will live and die alone.
By this, Isong tries to tell women that their strengths lie in their weaknesses. They are to look around them to see the weapons that can bring lasting peace into their lives. They should use what the society has given them to secure their lives because it is only when they are is at peace and secured that they can contribute meaningfully to the society. This is illustrated when Debby escapes from Moses and later becomes a famous entertainer after Moses had died out of frustration.
Analysis Derima’s Dilemma
This play focuses on Nigerian cultural moral values. Derima is the twin sister of Dise. While Derima (Mbong Amata) is wayward and extroversive, Dise (Mbong Amata) is reserved and introversive. Derima, married to Joshua (Majid Michel), goes to her girl-friend’s (Bibian) party against her husband’s instructions. At the party, she meets her ex-boyfriend, Tom (I. K. Ogbonna), who convinces her to have breakfast with him. Neglecting the breakfast her husband prepared for her, she dines with Tom, who convinces her to go on a weekend spree with him. To cover up her tracks, Derima convinces Dise to impersonate her while she is away. Unlike Derima, Dise cooks meals for Joshua, gives excuses for not having sex and even uses garlic to cook his meals. Unfortunately, on the way back, Derima and Tom have accident and die. Dise is then trapped in her role play as Derima. Confused she capitalizes on Derima’s death to wave Joshua off from sex. Eventually, she yields to him and gets, pregnant. The truth also comes out as Dise arouses Joshua’s suspicion by doing some things which Derima could never do. The revealed truth makes Joshua to hate and drive her away. Her foster father who feels betrayed also tries to disown her but the pleading of her foster mother saves her. At the end, Joshua comes to terms with Dise’s love and accepts her and the pregnancy.
Cultural Diplomacy in Derima’s Dilemma
Scripted by Emem Isong and co-produced with Mbong Amata, Emem Isong once more uses mastery to show her commitment to cultural diplomacy. Centred on African moral values, the film explores the close knots that bind twins in Nigerian culture. The bond is such that they can go to any length to help one another. Though Dise is very reserved, yet, she has no choice than to risk her very essence to stand in for her sister to save her sister’s marriage. When Derima makes the suggestion she asks her:
Are you out of your mind?
But we promised to always be there for each other?
Yet, she ends up impersonating her when it was obvious Derima had travelled and was being looked for by her husband. Derima on her part, understood that the strong ties that binds them as twins would make Dise go the extra mile for her. Through Derima, Isong highlights the Nigerian cultural belief in the sanctity of marriage. Despite Derima’s Western ways, she was still uncomfortable at Tom’s proposition of breakfast and a weekend together. Their death on the way back home explains the natural justice that awaits adulterers within the Nigerian cultural setup. Furthermore, Dice’s torments and predicaments are pointers to the importance Nigerian culture places on the conscience as a moral policeman. What could have been glossed over by Western culture became Dice’s torment until she almost lost her mind. Despite her sister’s death, she was still uncomfortable at her continued deception. Standing in front of the mirror she soliloquizes:
…. Now are you happy? You have succeeded in breaking a good number of commandments. You have committed crimes that would make even the darkest of criminals blank with shock. You’ve lied to people who trusted you. You’ve betrayed your sister even in death… Are you satisfied in all? You deserve a standing ovation. Bravo! This hast got to be the greatest con of the century… Even the MIA would doff their cap for you.
On this singular episode lies the very essence of this film. It highlight’s the Nigerian moral value of the conscience as the moral policeman which guides the activities of the people. The conscience is such that once a norm is broken, peace eludes the individual. To further buttress the Nigerian belief in sanctity of marriage institution, Desi’s father scolds Desi’s mother for the problems caused by Desi’s impersonation. He says:
This is an evil child! This is the result of what you have done. Over pampering and loving them….. Do you know the spiritual and traditional implication of what she has done, impersonating her own sister?
By scolding her, he justifies the general belief that bad children are the products of their mother and that no matter how close people are the closeness does not include swapping marital roles. For daring to do this George Desi’s uncle says: “This is an abomination and cleansing rites have to be performed to avert disaster on our family.” What Isong, wants to highlight was that the peace and security of members of the society are tied to the individual peace and security.
However, it is through Derima that Isong derides the modern culture which is fast sweeping away the good moral values of Nigeria. Derima is the liberated woman who sleeps in bed while her husband prepares her breakfast. At the beginning of the film she is seen hurrying out of the house to her friend’s party in disobedience to her husband’s instruction. The opening dialogues go thus:
Isn’t it a fact that you should take off my jacket and tie and give me a back rob?
In Nollywood, yes. In real life, No.
Where are you going?
Bibi’s party of course!
But I thought I told you not to go?
I’m not a child. Only kids get told what to do.
Derima, but you are my wife. You swore an oath to submit.
What? This is Stone Age and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
I don’t like her. She is a bad influence. You give her too much time.
You are my husband yes. But, she is my friend. Mmn you can wake up one morning and decide, I don’t love you anymore and you kick me out. But guess what? my friends, will always be there for me. So darling, I will see you when I get back.
As Nigerians with strong moral values, the above dialogue conditions one’s mind for crisis. This is because though Derima as a modern educated woman is free to assert herself yet, she is supposed to balance her enculturation. Okatta explains better:
Culture and security cannot be obtained by just eliminating threats to our culture. It cannot be obtained, simply, by enclosing or protecting our cultures. Rather it requires that we strike the correct balance between culture’s ability to maintain its core and progress elements, while at the same time being adaptable to new influences (28).
In the two films discussed above, Emem Isong explores the centrality of female “essence.” She highlights the fact that womanhood, in the Nigerian traditional society is an embodiment of high moral and religious values which helps to foster peace and security in the nation and even the country. Isong’s women fit into what Evwierhoma describes as ‘Afro-feminism.’ According to Evwierhoma, “Afro-feminism is laden with traditional values, and attempts to achieve a status of recognition for the woman in an environment that is imbued with the cultural roles of the African woman” (17).
Nigeria as a Nation has come a long way. Bedevilled with many problems majorly caused by the diverse cultures which make up the Nation, Nigeria could be said to be a great survivor. Despite the different cultural backgrounds, the different language films have consistently tried to bind the people through their films. This is because films have a common language (movements and gestures) which transcends the use of words. From this vintage position, Nollywood films have the ability to serve as cultural diplomats and tools of peace and security. As such, what is needed is a repositioning so that the industry could do better.
Thus far, the production of films has been the sole efforts of individual producers who are often forced to do the bidding of the marketers who provide the money for the shooting of the films. The resultant effect of this dependency is that the producer may lack the freedom to explore fully the theme he/she have chosen. She would be constrained to do the bidding of the Executive Producer or face her work not being produced. That some of Emem Isong’s recent films were co-produced might have been caused by the issue of financing as the cost of production gets higher by the day. To help solve this problem, the issue of government subvention cannot be over-emphasized. If the government cannot get directly involved with shooting of movies, then there should be a constant provision of a common purse from which film producers could easily access. The past Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration tried to begin something along this line, but producers have kept lamenting the inability to access the fund.
Also, there is need for the government to be organizing international film workshops to provide an enabling environment for the technological development of the Nigerian film makers. In the same vein, cultural workshops should be periodically organized for the Nollywood film makers to remind them of their need to blend cultural diplomacy with current technological trends in movie making.
The need to appoint the right people into the right positions in the government is another very important way of repositioning not only Nollywood but the whole structures in Nigeria. Appointing unqualified people into positions they are not trained is like putting round pegs in square holes. The areas of theatre, culture and film requires people who have been specially trained in the arts of the profession. Hajia Lantana Ahmed concurs on the need for this when she says:
Sometimes, you have a Minister who is a lawyer. In the state Ministries, you may have a Commissioner, who is an economist and as a result, we don’t put round pegs in round holes. You will find out that they don’t even understand what we do as cultural officers… the first thing they will ask you is: How much is the money involved? When you tell them the amount, they will shout and say, ‘We can use that for something else! Is it not just dancing that you are going to do? (Nor 12).
It is also pertinent that there should be a repository where all the movies produced in this country are kept. This repository should be guarded jealously for posterity. This is because at the rate of enculturation, it is feared that one day some of the very important aspects of the Nigerian culture would no longer be found. This is because presently many children no longer show interests in their cultural heritage. Even then the mothers on whose shoulders rested the transmission of the cultures and traditions, no longer have the time to pass on the legacy handed over to them. They are so engrossed in their fight for economic, social, educational and political survival to bother about the survival of the oral tradition. Never the less this could be changed by the government providing the enabling environment for women to survive with ease.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the Nollywood industry has survived the rough weather of beginning a project. Within a lifespan of twenty three years, Nollywood has been consistent in its role as the nation’s cultural diplomat. Ranking as the second largest employer of labour in the country, Nollywood has been boosting the Nation’s economy. Therefore, the principle of investment demands that the Government should provide all the necessary environments (as listed above) for the survival of the industry. The re-positioning of Nollywood is the surest way of promoting cultural diplomacy and national security.
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Derima’s Dilemma. Dir. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen. Perf. Majid Michael, Mbong Amata, I. K. Ogbonna, Diana Yekini, Cassandra Odita. Royal Arts Academy,2014.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Dir. Desmond Elliot. Perf. Majid Michael, Adesua Etomi, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Ini Edo, Robert Peters. Royal Arts Academy, 2014.
The Mistress. Dir. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen. Perf: Ini Edo, Enebeli Elebuwa, Jim Iyke, Patience Ozokwor. Reemmy Jes Nig. Ltd, 2006.
Praise Chidinma DANIEL-INIM, PhD is the Acting Head, Department Theatre Arts at Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, Nigeria. She has PhD (Theatre Arts) from Igbinedion University, Okada. Her MA (Drama) is from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and BA (Hons.) in English/Literary Studies) is from University of Calabar. Her published works include, Examine Yourselves, Born to Excel, Minus Dorcas, Married but Single, Ebiere my Love, Wrong Foundation, and Reflection. She has also directed and produced movies for the stage and screen. She has published many scholarly articles in local and international journals. Her areas of interest are playwriting, gender and media studies.