Na mata ne: Crime and the Gender Question in Nollywood
Emmanuel Ebere UZOJI
Department of Theatre & Film Arts
University of Jos, Nigeria
The phenomenon now called Nollywood has generated a lot of interest both internationally and locally. It is now in the front-burner of our attempt to export Nigeria but the antecedents of Nollywood have greatly affected what goes on in most Nigerian cities. Girls have become ardent Nollywood subscribers and hitherto assumed larger-than-life personae. This study takes a look at the effect of Nollywood and the impact of its activities in the global film market. A sample survey in this study also reveals that girls of school age are exposed to Nollywood quite early especially in the secondary schools. With more crime reinvented by their supposed Nollywood idols as is evident in the films reviewed in this study, girls are more vulnerable to negative tendencies inadequately interpreted in these movies. As a consequence, this paper recommends a complete rejuvenation of the monitoring mechanism of home videos to reduce the negative effect this might have on under-aged children. It stresses the need for the production of movies that specifically target the classrooms to enhance education, good morals and discipline as part of efforts to true nationhood and development.
The dawn of the 21st century has opened up a new vista of opportunity for African arts. The advent of globalization as evidenced by the reality in which we find ourselves has also further pushed forward the fact that we live in a small world. Every day, we are confronted with new technologies that are no longer the exclusive preserve of its originators. In Nigeria and Africa as whole, the world is forced to listen to us not just because of how loud we can shout or cry but how well we utilize these technologies to make our voices heard. One sound we make resonates around the world and a lesser whisper elsewhere echoes in the streets of Africa (Uzoji 103).
The assertion above by Uzoji reflects the true story of Nollywood, now acclaimed to be the second largest film industry in the world, next to India’s Bollywood. The cinema in Nigeria or Nollywood (as it is colloquially known) is a nascent film industry which has grown within the last two decades to become the second largest on the planet, in terms of number of films produced per year. This is ahead of the United States and behind the Indian film industries. A documentary anchored by Hala Goram and Jeff Koinange formerly of CNN, reveals that Nigeria has a US$250 million movie industry, churning out some 200 videos for the home video market every month (CNN documentary). Nollywood no doubt is Africa’s largest movie industry in terms of number of movies produced per year. A further analysis of these shows that, Nollywood produces 2400 movies per year, which amounts to seven movies per day. If every Nigerian is to watch all of these movies then we need 28 hours per day to cover all these titles.
Beyond the successes, the growth and the fame of Nollywood comes a rather disturbing phenomenon – the classroom. How far is the impact or influence of Nollywood being felt in our schools especially the secondary school? In our determined quest to rank among the top 20 economies in the world by 2020, is Nollywood positively or negatively contributing to this? What role can Nollywood play in this rebuilding effort since its audience cuts across the entire strata of life? Studies carried out for this paper reveal that more children of ages 8-16 are exposed to these films and there is no functional mechanism to control who watches what. This is the basis of this paper.
The Historical Antecedents and Development of the Nigerian Film Industry
In most anthology of film industry, no mention is made of Africa until the late 1980s. Western historiography has it that film making did not take root in Africa partly due to the underdevelopment of the continent. They also believe that colonialism gave Africa its first film culture (Robert 390). While giving credit to Europe and Asia for their pioneering works, Armes rather dismissively says Africa’s style of filmmaking and exhibition was patterned after what was going on in Europe and elsewhere and this only started in the 1980s (4). However, recent studies have proved that this assertion is wrong at least with the period or dates. Hyginus Ekwuazi however asserts that even though film was introduced by a European merchant, it took the combined effort of the colonial administration and the church to sustain the industry (48).
From this period, Africa developed a distinctive film culture and Nigeria and local film producers began to emerge. The first films were made by Ola Balogun and Hubert Ogunde in the 1960s, but they were frustrated by the high cost of film production (New York Times). However, television broadcasting in Nigeria began in the 1960s and received much government support in its early years. By the mid 1960s every state had its own broadcasting station. Law limited foreign television content so producers in Lagos began televising local theatre productions. Many of these were circulated on video as well, and a small scale informal video trade developed. This period also saw the emergence of an exhibitory film practice championed by the Yoruba theatre groups. They produced indigenous films and took them on tour to local audiences on the theatrical circuit (Akpabio 90). This particular tradition went on for about 5 years, and later blossomed into an industry now referred to as Nollywood.
Nollywood is the most popular mode of cultural expression in Nigeria today, producing at a rate which makes Nigeria the hothouse of the genre. The Nigerian film industry no doubt, has grown in leaps and bounds on all indicators. But this growth is to be stunted. Afolabi Adesanya notes that the cost of production greatly hampered film production (15). Filmmakers, unable to cope with the cost of shooting on celluloid, first turned to reversal film stock and later on, video tapes. Unlike the American and Indian film industry, the Nigerian film industry uses video cassette format and recently the video compact disc (VCD). As a consequence, the films are shot straight into video tapes, replicated and sold from home viewing, hence the term home videos. This ingenuity no doubt, has transformed the face of the Nigerian film industry. According to Jonathan Haynes and Onookome Okome, the boom experienced by the home video industry is credited to a Nigerian businessman of Igbo extraction, one Kenneth Nnebue, an electronics dealer and film promoter (15). Okome describes the genesis of Nollywood as a myth (4). In his latest work he states that the prevailing myth of the origin of Nollywood circulating among scholars is that “a certain trader in Idumota area of Lagos suddenly chanced upon an ingenious way of disposing a large cache of VHS cassettes, which he imported from Taiwan” (Okome 4). Taking advantage of the prevailing social, economic and political circumstances in the post-war Lagos of the 1970s, this trader diverted the use of VHS cassettes into recording and retailing of local theatre performances and productions. Not long after, other traders saw the financial benefits to be derived from the voracious appetite for popular video film shown to an army of subscribers, some of whom came from the emasculated audiences of popular Yoruba travelling troupes in the western parts of Nigeria. Reacting to this need, popular video producers quickly redoubled their efforts, and before long, a string of popular video films were put in the market. Lagos quickly became the Mecca of video production, making the sites of the consumption of the cultural product of Nollywood essentially part of that cultural landscape.
But Nollywood as it has come to be known today actually took root with the release of the box-office movie Living in Bondage in 1992 by NEK Video Links owned by Mr Nnebue in the Eastern city of Onitsha. The huge success of this set the pace for others to produce other films or home videos. Through the business instincts and ethic of the Igbos and their dominance of distribution in major cities across Nigeria, home videos began to reach people across the country. Nollywood exploded into a booming industry that pushed foreign media off the shelves, an industry now marketed all over Africa and the rest of the world (The Economist).
The burst of Nollywood into the entertainment industry also changed not only social relations as more people stayed back at home but also had its toll on the nation’s education. Kids and children in secondary schools are now easily spotted in video shops looking for movies. No doubt this trend heavily impacts on children’s performance in school. It is common that reading habits in schools are fast disappearing as kids no longer have the passion to buy books but find it easy to rent or purchase home videos at give-away prices.
Nollywood and the Classroom: Impacts and Influences
Early Nigerian films thematically emphasized culture and history and to some extent morality and politics, including contemporary social realities. There is something to learn, a take-home for everyone no matter their age or class. But not so with the present filmmakers, the hunger for quick sales and profit as well as the quest to satisfy the appetite of its audience has thrown these virtues in the dustbin of history. Critics and even the regulatory authority, the National Film and Video Censors Board have severely criticized Nigerian home video films for placing too much emphasis on occultism, blood, gore and sex. The board called for movie producers to be above board in portrayal of violence, crime, sex and pornography, vulgarity, obscenity, religion and other sensitive subjects (6-Year Report). More worrisome is the fact that children mostly under-aged are devouring these movies. In a survey conducted for this paper, it was discovered that more children watch Nollywood and the number is growing by the day.
In the course of this study, we distributed a simple questionnaire for students to answer yes or no. A total of 196 students responded to our questions. Two questions were asked:
- Do you watch Nigerian home videos?
- How often do you watch, daily or at least twice a week?
The results of this study conducted in a secondary school in Jos are presented below:
Table 1: Results of a sample survey of movie watchers in a secondary school.
|CLASS & AGE||
Number of children
|Number of children watching daily||No. watching at least twice a week||Total number of movie watchers|
|JSS 1 (10-12)||24||41||2||1||13||24||15||25|
|JSS 2 (10-13)||23||24||7||5||14||16||21||21|
|SS 1 (14-16)||21||28||3||7||11||10||14||17|
|SS 2 (15-17)||16||19||0||2||5||9||5||11|
Chart 1: Total Number of Nollywood Student According to Classes
The figure above clearly indicates that kids from an early age are quite exposed to Nollywood. As can be deduced from the table, more children from ages 10 – 13 who are in the first two years of secondary education watch more films than those in the senior category. The number of girls in variance with boys is not a deliberate attempt to sample more girls but clearly shows that there are more girls in the classroom. Quite interesting is also the fact that girls are more attracted to Nigerian home videos than their male counterparts. The reason is simply because they stay more at home than the boys who are more susceptible to outdoor activities. The impact or influence these movies may have on the children is quite obvious. Whether it is negative or positive, the child is a target and girls are more vulnerable.
In the nation’s quest for cultural revival and nation building, Nollywood is an asset of inestimable value. No form of rebranding can be more effective other than rebranding the Nigerian child. The struggle to stop the child from seeing home videos may not yield much result. Instead, Nollywood can be rebranded to befit the child. Home videos have their good and bad sides. It can be entertaining and educational, and can open up new worlds for kids, giving them a chance to travel the globe, learn more about different cultures, and gain exposure to ideas they may never encounter in their own community. Films with positive role models can influence people to change their behaviour for the better.
However, the reverse can also be true: kids are likely to learn things from home videos that parents do not want them to learn. Most of the themes of Nollywood are not children-friendly. The penchant for profit has driven movie makers into negative themes to the detriment of morality and education. Only recently, the National Film and Video Censors Board placed a ban on some films, such as, I Hate my Village for promoting cannibalism. Other films that came under the sledge hammer of the Board include: Shattered Home, Outcast 1 & 2, Night out, Girls for Sale, Omo Empire, Issakaba 4, Terrorist Attack and Unseen Forces. Reasons adduced for this drastic action were: “limitless freedom and lawlessness by our movie makers which is drowning the industry with mostly repetitive or recycled films on a few themes that hinge on sex, rituals, blood and gore” (The Guardian). The then Minister of Information, Mr. Frank Nweke Jnr, also lamented the emphasis on negative themes claiming that it gives the country a bad image: You can have stories that talk on things like voodoo but when it is overdone and made the centre of any offering, that is when it becomes a problem because the more people see it, the more they will think our country is all about voodoo practice (The Guardian. 18 Jan. 2006: 1).
Parents have a crucial role to play here. Until the Nigerian society is sure Nollywood has been rebranded to embrace the needs of our children both educationally, morally and physically, parents must watch home videos with their kids. If the movie turns awry, then they can discuss what happened to put it in a context they want the kids to learn. Parents must also know what their kids are watching. Decide what movies are appropriate for their age and personality, and stick to the rules.
Movie producers also need to be re-oriented. No one can underestimate the power of the home video to shape how a child views reality. Beyond the drive for profit, there is a need for movie producers to show some social responsibility. We need movies we can screen in our schools as obtained in other climes. We need movies that can aid what is taught in the classrooms, movies we can recommend to students as reference for further research.
The government and the relevant regulatory bodies should also as a matter of urgency re-visit Nollywood. It is not enough to pride all over the place that Nigeria is the second largest film producer in the world. What impact does this have on future generations? What contribution does it have cultural and moral renaissance? There should be a strong and functional mechanism to control the distribution, access and consumption of Nollywood’s products. The scenario where these movies are left on the streets for any child who can afford to pick up is not healthy for the future of our country. The content of these movies also has to be questioned. In our effort to build a virile, cultural strong and upright society, Nollywood has a critical role to play both on the domestic front and outside the shores of Nigeria.
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