The Socio-semiotics of Filmic Representations in Nollywood and its Implications for Nigeria's Cultural Diplomacy
John Ochinya ONAH
Department of Theatre Arts
Benue State University, Makurdi
The popularity and currency of made-by-Nigerian films, both within and outside the shores of Nigeria, is acclaimed to be high and may explain why it is today noted to be among the largest film industries in the world. Although the popularity is hardly in doubt, what is represented and how Nigeria is portrayed are critical to her image in the international community. In a fast globalizing world, Nigeria cannot afford a context of isolationism since its socio-economic and political systems interweave and are relatively dependent on the network occasioned by globalization: as a strategy for achieving political and economic goals on one hand, and its nexus with the promotion of positive image in the international arena, on the other. This context justifies the value of cultural diplomacy as a means of negotiating diplomatic exigencies and expedience. The contention of this paper is on the nature of the portraiture of Nigeria that is experienced in Nollywood films. Through socio-semiotic analytical approach, the paper interrogates the nature of representations in some Nigerian films and how these films impact on Nigeria’s diplomatic realities. It concludes that if Nigerian films transcend economic capital and integrate diplomatic concerns, the gains could permeate every aspect of socio-political realities and engender advancement and development.
Key words: Socio-semiotics, Cultural Diplomacy, Image-building, Globalization, Nollywood, Film, Representation
Since Aristotle, it is the general consensus that art is representation because it refers to something else. Film is among many modes of expression that is based on representations and is an influential medium that could shape the construction of personal, group and national identity. It offers frameworks through which the cultural realities of given environments are represented. Made-in-Nigeria films (or is it made-by-Nigerian films?), similar to other climes, represent aspects of Nigeria’s realities through storyline, characters, and semiotic codes. Uchechukwu Ajiwe et al assert that “film is a powerful man-made instrument used for shaping and re-shaping individuals and the society at large leading to what has become the “Nigerian popular culture” of today” (57). No doubt, producers and directors of Nigerian films freely create filmic products that resonate with national audiences; whether in Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, or in English. These films, known as Nollywood films, can aptly be described as culture in motion through space and time.
However, the tension between the demands of the film industry for economic capital and the creative forces in the making of films generates the impetus for inquiry into the complexities of representations on screen. In this discourse, the concern is the role of film in identity construction; how it shows certain groups in a given way, or how characters often define themselves in relation to an imagined homeland in Nigeria. Evidently, there is tension between idealizing the “home” country positively and denigrating it: sometimes deliberately avoiding innocuousness and overtly representing social and political malaise or infirmity. Onuzulike expressed this:
The Nigerian movie industry “Nollywood” has had a profound influence on African culture. The Nigerian accents, style of dress, and behavioural idiosyncrasies, all of which are distinctly Nigeria, are now being transmitted as images around the globe. The medium of film has come to be directly associated with the culture industry. In Nigeria such a role for the film industry is still evolving. However, certain factors are altering the profile of what could be regarded as the country's culture, while the film industry itself is undergoing a crucial transition (231) (Italics mine).
The influence of Nollywood films find a bipartite expression in a spectrum: the fact that it impacts on foreign viewers who also identify with the issues these films depict and thematize about Nigeria, on one hand, and as a cultural phenomenon that is susceptible to influence by other cultures, on the other. However, the ‘westernization’ of Nollywood films, in the context of western lifestyles it depicts, increasingly inclines Nigeria towards easy branding of its people as “cultural half-castes”, engendering cultural confusion in socio-political and philosophical terms. To buttress this point further, it is evident that a number of cultural elements portrayed in contemporary Nollywood films are alien to the cultural values of the Nigerian people. Perhaps, Nigerian film makers are spurred by the rather inarticulate tenets of globalization in order to widen the viewership of made-by-Nigerian films. By this, they consciously or inadvertently represent Nigeria in several erroneous manners; the image of Nigeria, or rather Nigerians, is painted in spurious portraits. This fact resonates in the words of Mahana Traore, the Senegalese filmmaker that, these “films are vehicles of violence, sex and an alien culture; a culture into which we are not integrated and into which we, in fact, refuse to be integrated because we want to remain ourselves” (cited in Adesanya 13).
The central purpose and focus of this paper is to draw attention to the nature of Nollywood’s representation of Nigeria and its people and the image question thereof in the context of a globalized world. It challenges and stimulates ways of representation that will engender appropriate image in line with the tenets of cultural diplomacy. The paper attempts to negotiate the following questions: how is the representation of Nigerian society depicted with recent developments and expansions in Nollywood films? What is the implication of spurious and or negative portrayal of Nigeria by Nollywood films? How does the foreign audience perceive these depictions by the filmmakers? While focusing on specific themes of concern by the filmmakers, how much do they factor into their films, a deliberate positive image-building for Nigeria? With answers, the paper suggests representations that would engender positive image with beneficial implications for Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy.
Conceptual /Theoretical Frames
Conceptually, the label “Nollywood” is problematic and controversial. For some practitioners, it is an arbitrary term that loosely describes a putative space of Nigeria’s movie industry or, put in Alessandro Jedlowski’s words, a “space within which the Nigerian filmmakers operate” (246). It is controversial because, even within Nigeria, films in northern parts bear the term, “Kannywood” (cited in Jedlowski 244). In similar vein, “Yoruwood” and “Yorubawood” have emerged on the internet and Nigerian newspapers in an uncertain way to describe films of Yoruba filmmakers (Jedlowski 244). Evidenced from the above, there is the problem of “indeterminacy that surrounds the meaning of the term, “Nollywood” and of its definition in relation to other instances of filmmaking in the world” (Jedlowski 244). Notwithstanding the disputation over the term “Nollywood” which is enveloped in a general atmosphere of indeterminacy, the context of use here is loosely the space within which the Nigerian filmmakers operate and which enjoys “a general agreement,” and suffice this designation inaugurates a high potential of a phenomenon expedient for Nigeria’s cultural reputation.
The context of ‘cultural reputation’ presupposes the function of cultural diplomacy. Culture, which modifies diplomacy here, embodies the wide spectrum of literature, the arts in general, customs, habits and traditions, humans’ behaviour, history, music, folklore, gestures, and social relationships (Sztefka http://www.beta-iatefl.hit.bg). Thus, any interaction or exchange between the people of two countries in any of these areas is considered cultural diplomacy. Joseph Nye describes cultural diplomacy as ‘soft power’; the ability to persuade through culture, political values and foreign policies and ideas, as opposed to 'hard power', which conquers or coerces through military might (5).
Cultural diplomacy is properly described as “the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples to foster mutual understanding” (Cummings 1). Cultural diplomacy is a bipartite communication process that embodies efforts in image-building and values in the light of foreign audiences as well as attempt to understand the culture, values, and images of other nations and their people. It encompasses ways by which governments generate respect and understanding of themselves amongst other countries. Evidently, some governments, like United States of America, leverage on films to spur admiration for its country thereby ‘suspending’ its limitations that may signpost its people and environment as ‘inhospitable.’ Film is therefore rich semiotic or semiological resources for securing diplomatic capital gain.
Within the context of semiology, Roland Barthes's methods still play an important role in the development of film theory, however, it was Christian Metz, one of the giants of French film theory, who became best known for the use of semiology as a method to analyse cinema. Adopting Saussure's models, in Film Language, Metz argued that cinema is structured like a language and film cannot be regarded as comprising a "langue," in the sense of having a strict grammar and syntax equivalent to that of the written or spoken word. Unlike the written word, film's basic unit is the shot, and is neither symbolic nor arbitrary but iconic; therefore, it is laden with specific meaning.
However, modern theories deny the Saussurian distinction between signifier and signified, and look for meaning not in the individual signs, but in their context and the framework of potential meanings that could be applied. Ultimately, we come to realize that meaning and signification is subjective and should be contextualized. Certainly cinema which, because of its utilization of photography and recorded sound, appears at first glance to produce not just representations of reality but presentations from reality, might seem to be poor ground for Saussurian semiology. This explains why post-structuralism challenges certainties of meaning and invite constructions of how multiple meanings might be created in a particular set of circumstances, as experienced by a particular individual (Lansdale 3).
Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin led the incursion into studies on socio-semiotics. He maintains that the sign cannot be a pure, fixed unit (Eagleton 116), therefore cannot but refer to the real world because the sign, by itself does not have a nature. It is the different social groups that make up a particular society that imbue the sign with meaning. Socio-semiotic theory therefore recognises (from empirical evidence in the study of audience) that the spectator uses cognitive, emotional and semiological mechanisms to create meanings, that is, a spectator is involved hermeneutically in the construction of such meanings (Pavis 27). For Jean Alter, socio-semiotics partly refers to the sociology of semiotics (13), that is, to the manner in which a given society organizes the production, distribution, and reception of all sorts of signs. It attempts to reconcile the limitations of semioticians and structuralist in their over-indulgence with form rather than context.
This paper appropriates socio-semiotics as an expedient theoretical framework. The theory advances the impact of social factors on those features, in this case (of film), that involve semiotics: production of fixed signs, production of filmic signs, codes and references of signs, actors or dancers as signs, reception of signs by the audience, and so forth.
Analysis, Discussions and Interpretations of Some Nollywood Films
The method employed in this paper is content analysis. The choice of selection is not systematic but random. It has isolated texts or shots in relation to assumed visions of the filmmakers: Jeta Amata and Ifeanyi Ikpoenyi, in the contexts of their films and their semiotic implications. These films are profuse with iconicity, indexes and symbols which generate several questions that run out of answers. In other words, a number of signifiers and images are thrown up in this film that constitute controversial iconicity: signs that are (never totally) identical to their referents, and symbols (cultural signs): such signs that do not look like their referents and only stand for them by dint of convention. It evidences the fact that “no story told with signs supplies its full meaning” (Alter 122). However though, the films communicate “absent” stories of the Nigerian people: stories that cannot be experienced directly and hence must be communicated with signs that stand for, or refer to, some selected features of the stories. The filmmakers find themselves at liberty to select events that appeal to them and order them to achieve an intended meaning, although different conclusions are deducible from their combinations.
Black November by Jeta Amata
Black November, directed and produced by Jeta Amata, is a representation of the volatile oil-rich delta region of Nigeria where the people’s fishing livelihood is marred by oil-spillage that engulfs the rivers, killing aquatic lives. The film depicts pictures marked by filthiness and degradation from neglect or poverty which aggravates the sensibilities of the militant youth of the community. A multinational company pays compensations and a section of elders misappropriate. Consequently, a group mobilizes to wage war against these corrupt elders, government and multi-national oil corporation, ostensibly to protect their land from being destroyed by the activities of oil exploration, drilling and spillage. Upon the arrest, detention, prosecution and death sentence passed on Ebiere, the supposed leader of the group for masterminding the brutal execution of some chiefs, a rebel fraternity storm America to seek justice by kidnapping an American oil executive to press their demand for the release of Ebiere. While also, a part of an American city is held hostage by the rebel group with rifles and explosive devices, riotous agitations are carried out in different parts of the Niger-delta area, especially at the premises of oil workers. These agitations however leave gruesome destructions of lives and property to the detriment of the indigenes.
Through flashback technique, the movie unfolds the commonplace narrative of the Niger-delta people, who are a practical example of the paradox of being so rich with oil and yet among the most wretched people in the world.
The outset of Jeta Amata’s Black November reveals shots of the Niger-delta context as an environmentally unfriendly place. These portraits act as signifiers of wretchedness, squalor and disease of a people in a difficult or perplexing situation. Among these shots is that of a boy who runs to squat on a boat to defecate while a woman, in a close proximity, unconsciously or carelessly fetches water with a bowl to feed her thirsty child strapped on her side. These sorts of shots are signifiers that refer to disease, sickness and premature deaths as the bane of the Niger-delta people. More so, it refers to a community in the throes of neglect in spite of being the goose that lays the golden egg. This ironic portrait is a deliberate scheme by the filmmaker to set the tone early for his ideological position.
Jeta Amata paints a violent, high crime, high action picture of the Niger-delta slum in Nigeria, revealing a gangster movie of sorts. The film is among the new movies by Nigerians that intersects Nollywood and Hollywood, both in thematic and technical concerns, like Half of a Yellow Sun, October 1, Blood and Oil and a host of others. Amid the stylistic beauty arising from the Gestapo style displays of events such as beating, shooting, blood-and-guts, as well as cruel killings, there is also a strong statement about the Nigerian people as poorer than they really are and that it is, in most part, self-inflicted.
The interpretation of self-infliction is however debatable from a broad perspective but in the context of this film, the activities of the elders is a function of the suffering that the people of this region undergoes. Money is dispensed to the people through the elders of this community but it ends up in their pockets. Such actions are signs that refer to the greed of the people and further refer to the reason for the underdevelopment of the region. Again, this aspect of the film reflects the elders as states’ executives who plunder the resources of the people for their personal uses. An instance of this portrait is Chief James Onanefe Ibori who is currently facing series of prosecutions for defrauding Delta State of Nigeria. It is therefore difficult for one to miss this iconicity when the images of the elders in this film are portrayed. The conflict of this narrative is furthered by the consequence of extra-judicial execution of these elders by the militant youths of the community, on one hand, and the oil spillage that ravage the livelihood of the community, on the other.
The effect of the oil-spillage as seen in the shot of dead fishes and the show of frustration by the actor as he hand-picked a dead fish from the river and slams it back is an index of trouble. Such sign, beyond being an indexical sign, could be interpreted as a symbolic sign since spillage generally stands as a sign for some kind of face-off to come between the host community and the Oil Company responsible. The ramification of this action or reaction as the case may be is that a foreign worker is abducted, militants lay siege to oil installations, mass protests, vandalized pipelines and the likes.
In the real world of Nigeria which the this film refers, the militant youth laid siege to oil installations and prevented activities of exploration, drilling and or production, at a high cost to Nigeria and foreign investors in oil and gas. As a result, the government of Umaru Musa Yar-adua introduced subsidy programme to quell the situation. This palliative measure subsists till date. Although complex, the compensation of the people of this region ramify into the constitutional 13% derivation plan to the oil-rich States and the establishment of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other interventionist strategies to enable aggressive and perhaps commensurate development. However, the finances that have accrued to these states as a result of these programmes over the years is a far cry from the realities of the region and people; in other words, the people have not benefitted from the huge sum that have been injected into the region as a result of the programmes. This scenario plays out in Jeta Amata’s film where the elders are fished out and set ablaze by the angry mob. What this means is that something is fundamentally wrong and explains the series of agitation by the youth and people in various forms. Therefore, the true picture or the facts of the reality which perhaps motivated this film may not have been logically represented.
The story by Jeta Amata is as much about a violent approach to self-determination as it is about rising out of the ashes of perceived exploitation. No doubt, the narrative is one that many Nigerians especially in the Niger-delta region could relate to. However the film generates a disturbing feeling when violence is depicted as images from Nigeria. This feeling is heightened particularly when women are brutally assaulted and raped by soldiers in the glare of their husbands. What this sort of picture readily semiotize is the current war against the Boko Haram insurgency by Nigeria. The film presents an iconic image that refers to the activities of reports on Nigerian soldiers that are said to rape women in such circumstance or better still, the report by Amnesty International indicting the Nigerian military of extra-judicial killings.
Violence as part of this film is commonplace in Hollywood films, but Jeta Amata elevates a Nigerian brand film as a function of sentimentality such that the carnage becomes a vehicle for reaction and response. However, the strategic use of technique that is interwoven into the narrative adds to the layered richness of shots. Appealing to sentimental emotion in this way makes the audience feel for the Niger-delta people who because of an unequal system live such violent lives. On the basis of the overt sentiment of this film, it may have failed to portray government and multinationals as guilty. Rather it depicts the Nigerian people to be guilty by default because they are Nigerians. The violence and crimes they may commit are not understood as conditions and results of the systematic exploitation and neglect of the people in economic terms, but as qualities of their very nature as violent, and intolerable people.
Arising from this context, filmmakers evidently represent their impressions, experience and sentiments in diverse forms, though mostly incomplete. However, the true picture of the Niger-delta story is a complex arena of discourse that is steep in indeterminacy and requires a systematic study to arrive at the truth of the situation. Nevertheless, filmmakers are expected to be as close to the truth as feasible, even within the ambit of fiction, what some hybrid scholars and critics call ‘faction’: the melange of fact and fiction (Tsaaior 4). Where a filmmaker delves into a complex domain of indeterminacy, ideology becomes evident.
Save the Baby 1&2 by Ifeanyi Ikpoenyi
Save the Baby 1&2 narrates the world of assassins and men of greed in a putative Nigerian city. A billionaire Chief seeks the service of good assassin to eliminate a friend whom they jointly have a stack of booty in a bank account. They are unable to take the looted $50 million (Fifty million Dollars) to a foreign bank since the government agency against financial crime is watching closely. To forestall been uncovered, they hide the money in some spurious account with a weekly indication on the internet by each of them of been alive. Markus who does not have a family except an advisory friend turns greedy and hires an assassin to kill his partner in crime. He succeeds in eliminating him and goes to the bank only to discover something is wrong. His partner had given his daughter the password knowing that he may not live for long. Markus turns to eliminate his partner’s daughter but the assassin he engages for the second time changes his mind and protects the girl and her daughter. Unfortunately, this assassin kills several of Makus’ gang of assassins sent to eliminate him and the girls as well as kill Makus himself. The movie promises to continue in Part 3.
The narrative of Save the Baby is an iconic representation of the spate of corruption, assassinations and kidnap that are gaining grounds in Nigeria, like in other parts of the world. The film reveals shots of guns that act as signifiers of destruction of people’s lives. The film, similar to Jeta’s, essentially portrays how government officials loot government funds to build mansions abroad as well as live affluent lives with their family members even without been probed, not to talk of been investigated. The implication of this type of sign is that such a country is a failed state because it can no longer protect lives and property. Unfortunately, these sorts of crime occur and the assassins are most times never discovered. The general signification of the story is that of a culture of corruption that festers in an uncontrollable proportion. It evidences that Nigerians are among the most corrupt people in the world using several indices from the movie.
The video film demonstrates a graphic portrayal of the phenomena of assassination, and looting of government treasury at the expense of the generality of the people. The characters are iconic images of politicians in Nigeria that steal without compunction. The film therefore shows by convention what Nigerians have become familiar. It is easy for the Nigerian audience to agree that they have ‘read’ the same texts in their daily experiences. However, this phenomenon is not coded in any cultural system of the Nigerian people. In other words, the portraiture of this film is alien to the cultural practices of Nigerians.
In the world of this film, relative to the real world which it mirrors, the characters are largely criminals with the exception of the little girl. Mariel is aware of her father’s criminality and loot of public money and she does not exonerate herself and this explains why she would be chased around by Chief Markus’ hired assassins. Fortunately for her, however, Skipo who was hired to kill Mariel’s father and herself eventually turns around to protect her. Her character portrays a semiotic deception in the sense that she is presented as someone who is not part of the crime and just gotten back to the country from abroad, yet her knowledge of her father’s crime gives her away and makes her an accomplice. Worse still, her knowledge and the fact that she does not discountenance her father’s proposal to lure her into his criminal deal with Markus explain her contradictory character. In spite of her father’s death, she carries on with a deal that puts her life and daughter in great risk yet she pretends to be scared. This double-standard is signified in everyday life outside the world of the film. Her kind of character is an icon that could be likened to those whose riches are not questioned by their communities or even churches. In these places, they put a semblance of good people by their friends and neighbours who benefit from their ‘generosity.’
The dominant images in this film are guns that are displayed at every moment. However, at no point in this movie does this attract the law enforcement agencies and therefore the impression of free for all society. The film signifies a lawless society where there is no law enforcement and this semiotic fallacy is among several events that the film attempts to represent. For instance, these assassins who have turned against themselves flaunt their guns without any form of detection and they do as they like.
Skipo, the lead assassin in this story lives a life of killing people and been paid. Each job of assassination draws an income of nearly one hundred million naira, yet he does not indicate any affluence and it does not appear that his love for money drew him into such venture in the first place. The only aspect of his character which signifies grace is his change of heart to eliminate Mariel whom he had been paid by Markus to do so. In this situation, he shows that he could have compassion and therefore is not completely heartless. However, he grows fierce with his killing spree each moment, particularly those engaged by Markus to kill him.
The filmmaker, Ifeanyi Ikpoenyi, like Jeta Amata, paints a high crime, high action picture of assassinations and corruption in Nigeria, revealing also a gangster movie of sorts. The film nevertheless generates a disturbing feeling of violence depicted as images from Nigeria. More so the love for money is what engenders this senseless maiming and killings that are begun by thieving politicians. Such actions are signs that refer to the greed of the people and further refer to the reason for underdevelopment.
The filmmaker in Save the Baby attempts to ape Hollywood gangster approach which he does not succeed because of the shallowness of his plot and characters. Although Hollywood has dominated our conception of what a “normal” movie is over a long period of time but it nevertheless denies us the idea that Nollywood must not necessarily develop in the same direction since film is culture. The claim here is that there are a number of identifiable themes that can shape Nollywood films rather than aping strange themes from other cultures. Ikpoenyi’s film fails to represent characters that could be emulated as ideal Nigerians and therefore leaves nothing to gain other than violence, and killings.
Factual Reality versus Ideal Reality: Implications for Nigeria’s Cultural Diplomacy
There is a pervasive error in the notion of the functional role of art in society as represented by Nollywood films. Beginning from Aristotle’s clarification of modes of imitation as exemplified by poets, that “we must represent men either as better than in real life, or as worse, or as they are” (3). Within this trifocal modes, the same distinction marks off tragedy from comedy; for comedy aims at representing men as worse, tragedy as better than in actual life. The import of the above is that art should not just be a representation of what is but of what ought to be. Using this philosophical approach to art creation as a template, Nollywood films largely prefer to represent Nigerians as worse and fail to strike a balance, that is, a melange of realistic representation within the framework of the Nigerian ideal. In other words, filmic framing should place side by side the Nigerian value and the characters that desecrate them as worse than an ideal Nigerian.
The similitude that Nollywood films represent is the absurdist approach to dramatization of reality. Like the absurdist, the Nigerian film maker tells it as it is, realistically, often shockingly, he hits his audience over the head to get their attention. In contrast, we are almost often inundated with images of America in Hollywood films where there is a profuse context of ‘love for country’ (as a national philosophy), through the symbolism of practically revealing and sometimes flying American flag and other heroic acts. The reverse is ironically the preoccupation of Nollywood films where woes, corruption, cultism, prostitution, ethnic strife and the likes are dominant thematic preoccupations. Negative images represented in films account majorly for the wrong impressions peddled abroad about Nigeria as hostile, corrupt, dangerous and volatile. In fact, at airports, Nigerians are reported to be often embarrassed by foreign nationals due to suspicion, lack of trust and the erroneous impression that they constitute security risk. While film contributes in exacerbating these erroneous impressions at the global level, it also has a cardinal role in illuminating Nigeria’s cultural identity.
It may therefore not be hasty to conclude that filmmakers of Nollywood have largely failed to factor into their films deliberate image-building themes for Nigeria. At the moment, they are interested in merely telling stories, sometimes for sensationalism or display of excessive liking for depicting factual reality or representations. In other words, they reflect realistic events without creative inputs to use film deliberately to impact on the moral psyche of their audience. To only use film as Shakespeare’s “mirror” held up to nature is to misrepresent the ideal nature of art: for art serves to use its “mirror” to ‘defamiliarize’ nature with the intent of reinventing the moral mind of its audience.
In specific terms, the overall semiotic strategy of these films can be clarified, and related to ideological concerns of both producers and receivers. Therefore, it is tempting to relate the problem of film’s basic tension between the narrative and referentiality, and to derive an answer from their interaction. A successful film ensures that the viewers, whether they like or do not like the narrative, will visualize it mentally with clarity and intensity. Uchechukwu Ajiwe et al put this problem in perspective:
Being a visual medium, the audience’s interest is primarily sustained by what they see in the film and not necessarily the story. Film makes us desire things that we may not ordinarily like… In this light the audience identify themselves with the visual images as codes assembled by the filmmaker, he/she perceives it based on his/her understanding with the cultural codes.The understanding of the different codes assembled by the film-maker as a unified entity depends on the viewer’s level of interpretation of the image seen and his/her familiarity with the cultural codes. For film is a creative medium that exposes extracts of the human endeavour and his environs which uses visual elements to initiate social change(57).
When they follow well the events of a story, their interest in its content remains sustained even when they are indifferent to the problems it raises or when they react to them with outrage. No doubt, familiarity with the events of the narrative, occasioned by iconicity, breeds curiosity, and negative emotions has their own hold on attention.
The tension between factual reality and the representation of ideal reality can be reconciled and resolved in the filmmaker’s creative ingeniousness to benefit several ideological sentiments. In the case of Nollywood, where it is intended as historical documentation of some sort, film still requires the orientation of contemporary realities to make such films relevant to the modern times against the backdrop of the Nigerian ideal. Ideals enable viewers to emulate and improve on their lives and become better citizens. It is therefore within this context that Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy is exigent and should be considered as an expedient factor in filmic representations in Nollywood.
In an increasingly globalized and interdependent world, in which the proliferation of mass communication technology ensures we all have greater access to each other than ever before, cultural diplomacy evidences itself as a critical attitude, not only in fostering peace and stability throughout the world, but inaugurates socio-economic and political benefits for individual countries. Apparently, not every country consciously prioritises cultural diplomacy as a national attitude and goal and this explains the near isolation in global events with its concomitant effect on economic and social development.
This paper has analysed two Nollywood films: Jeta Amata’s Black November and Ifeanyi Ikpoenyi’s Save the Baby 1&2 and deduce the lack of diplomatic concerns to bolster Nigeria’s image abroad. The kernel of the discourse is a call for new thematic models for future transformations that will erode static and rigid definition of films that currently emanate from Nollywood industry. The current fluidity, dynamism and development, in the context of technical know-how or skill, are a welcome development that should be heightened, however. Granted that the nature of portraiture may be realistic events (often in the guise of fiction) represented in Nollywood, the two films fail largely to reveal these events in the context of the Nigerian cultural values and ideals. The shots and actions that they reveal prove subversive and therefore antithetical to the cultural values of the Nigerian peoples. Such semiotic malaise is perhaps a product of ideological and political intent that impacts negatively on the image of Nigeria.
Nigeria must therefore inaugurate keen attention to Nollywood industry as a veritable instrument of interfacing with the world. Diplomatic concerns should be a core value used to leverage on the film industry to maximise the gains of the resource of cultural diplomacy. Tufnell and Crickmay allude to film as a veritable function of all narratives. According to them,
our stories are an attempt to find position and direction. In this sense, they are like the early maps of the world or modern maps of the universe [...] a way of positioning the elements of territory that is just being discovered, beyond the edge of the known. And it is in these stories, as these mappings of emergent worlds appear that we begin to trace more fully the undercurrents of our lives (176).
Therefore, to engage cultural diplomacy as a cardinal objective by Nollywood, characters in film should replicate national characters to a large extent in order to induce national consciousness and emulation by citizens. This outcome would inevitably engender positive outlook of Nigerians as good people that they are, rather than the preponderant representation of negative characters in more films than not.
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