The Aesthetics of Multiculturalism and Popularity of Nollywood
Charles EFFIONG, PhD
Department of Performing Arts
Akwa Ibom State University
Obio Akpa Campus, Akwa Ibom State
Nollywood has become a household name among the Nigerian audience and even global audience following its dynamic nature. It is on the strength of this that its popularity is sustaining against the fear waning on account of thematic concerns. In this direction, the focus of this paper is to examine multicultural features in the industry and the cultural aesthetics of Nigerian films that have sustained its popularity among global media products. Akon Itiat, an Efik-Ibibio film produced in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, forms the sample for this study. Although there are some negative conceptions about Nollywood especially in the area of thematic development, which some arguments have used as a point to question the popularity of the industry, such developments as the production of Nollywood films in diverse Nigerian languages and dialects have further built on the popularity of the industry among Nigerians. Audiences from different Nigerian cultures now watch films produced in their different languages and feel accepted. Dialogue construction of any of such films is subtext to carry along audiences from the global sphere. This paper, therefore, tries to find out through survey and inference technique how the multicultural nature of the Nigerian society can further be exploited by film producers in such a way that many more local languages can be used in the production of Nigerian films. Thus the conclusion is that Nigerian films produced in local form that is in different local languages of the people’s culture carry with them aesthetics or beauty that endears many audiences of the cultures to the films.
The Nigerian film industry, known as, Nollywood, emerged in the era of globalisation. Apart from being a source of entertainment, Nigerians have seen its emergence as a positive step and as a medium to promote the Nigerian cultures so that Nigerians and Nigeria can be better known and understood throughout the world. The films produced by this industry have formed popular features especially in the African media space and are sufficiently distributed as cultural products in the country, the continent and even beyond. Nigerian cultures through this medium are fast gaining global appreciation, even though the films are, arguably, yet to fully promote cultural themes of positive moral values in their productions.
Unarguably, Nigerian society is best appreciated for its complexities, diverse cultures so called multicultural identities. The more than 250 ethnic groups with different languages and settlements are testimonies that Nigeria is a multicultural society. Thus, the multicultural nature of the country is an appealing element that other people of the world are fascinated about. Irrespective of the multicultural factors, Nigeria has remained a unified entity for more than fifty four years now not succumbing to political and cultural differences facing a population numbering over 160 million people. These elements of multiculturalism such as different languages, dressing mode, social lifestyle, religious beliefs among others have served as symbols that encourage the identification of all cultures in the Nigerian society. These elements bear the potential of contending with competitiveness in the global space.
This is to say that in this season of globalisation, cultural muscle such as the interesting diversity in Nigeria can form the boost for popularity and acceptability of the peoples’ way of life in the globe. Notwithstanding the diverse opinions about globalisation, issues concerning development in cultural studies, theatre and media inclusive, have formed part of the globalisation theory. Since the advent of the 21st century, the term globalisation has become commonly referred to when contending that all countries of the world would meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a matrix for development into the global community. To this end, culture being a significant factor in the issue of development can be well appreciated globally when thought to be good. No one thing or person that is bad is accepted in the society and this is the reason what is good and appreciated thus is regarded as beautiful.
The implication here is that it is essential for culture to have aesthetics in order to be attractive to its people and the world. This is in agreement with the assertion that the assimilation of communal life such as folktale activity is dependent on aesthetics because the audience would find the activity fascinating through the expression of acceptable norms, ways of doing things, attitudes, values and taboos in the community (Utoh-Ezeajugh 18). It may be safe to add here that acceptable values and approved ways of behaviour in a given community account for a good appreciation and popularity of such culture. Therefore, aesthetics is a significant concern towards a positive appreciation of multicultural societies such as Nigeria, and the Nollywood, as a cultural product.
Today, the Nigerian audiences and in fact global audiences are witnesses to Nollywood films produced in different Nigerian languages supposedly to market the cultures of those languages. We have films now produced in Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Efik-Ibibio languages, among others. The challenge for one audience or the other whose language is not used in the production of Nollywood films is to easily access the Nollywood production based on his/her cultural milieu. This paper, therefore, seeks to examine the potentialities of the Nollywood in exploiting the multicultural setting of Nigeria to further enhance its aesthetics and popularity among national and transnational audiences.
Recent developments in Nollywood portend the film industry as viable in the promotion of morality and acceptable Nigerian cultures owing to its level of popularity. The opinion stems from the fact that, although there exist some limitations, there are films from the industry which are didactic and have treated social and cultural issues and resolved them with adequate punishment on erring persons. There are also films which have further promoted the people’s values as accepted by them. From the foregoing, Ovoke gives an analysis positing that the strength of the industry in this regard is effective although “they do not do it well” (128). The viability factor is enhanced in the assertion that the film industry is effective in economic as well as social and cultural spheres as it is acknowledged to make over 2,000 low-budget films in a year (Ovoke 127).
Furthermore, Nigerian and global audiences have found in the Nollywood a veritable source of awareness, entertainment, education, information and edification. The lifestyle of Nigerians, good or bad, is learnt from this medium. To this end, Ebewo affirms: Nollywood films are popular inNigeriabecause they have indigenous content and address issues relevant to a mass audience. Through an amalgamation of Nigerian narrative techniques (African storylines) and Western technology, these films document and re-create socio-political and cultural events that occurred within and beyond the country's borders (online).
This trend can be linked to the beginning of filmmaking in Nigeria as observed by Shaka about the nature of Nigerian films from the era of Ola Balogun till date. According to him; As an art form, the film medium, like our literature, has historically documented the social mentality, fears and desires of the Nigerian society through the works of our major filmmakers. Ola Balogun’s works such as Amadi, Cry Freedom, Money Power; Sanya Dosumu’s Dinner with the Devil; Jab Adu’s Bisi, Daughter of the River; the critical realist films of Eddie Ugbomah, such as, The Rise and Fall of Dr. Oyenusi, The Mask, Oil Doom, Vengeance of the Cult, Death of a Black President; Ade Folayan’s Mosebolatan/Hopelessness, directed for Moses Olaiya Adejumo’s Alawada Movies; Wole Soyinka’s Blues for a Prodigal; Ladi Ladebo’s Vendor, all have chronicled the social anxieties of Nigerians in the age and time of their productions (2).
In the light of this, it can be safely agreed that Nigerian films, from the beginning, have been typically Nigerian with style and form that have duly transcended beyond the period to the evolution of Nollywood in 2002 after the 1992 effort by Kenneth Nnebue with the popular Living in Bondage. Along the line, productions from the industry became issues of concern based on thematic content and the positive image of Nigeria globally. The films were either seen as carrying and portraying accepted cultures of Nigeria or projecting the country to global audiences in unacceptable themes. These contentions have thrived yet with the acknowledgement of popularity of the medium with the verve to impact on the audience.
While the concern for promoting such cultural issues that would make Nigerians stand tall around the world persists, indigenous films of indigenous Nigerian languages become replete in the industry and media space. It is not to say that the production of films in indigenous languages was prompted by the challenge to look for authentic and acceptable themes for positive image since there were already Igbo films and Yoruba films; but the development led to a further creative advancement in the production of films in terms of language genre for cultural promotion. Today films are produced in Hausa, Efik-Ibibio and other Nigerian languages and are receiving significant patronage in the global media space. This is evident in the DSTV Satellite Africa Magic channels, where these local languages are promoted to world audiences by Nollywood productions.
Aesthetics and Multiculturalism in Nollywood
As earlier noted, aesthetics is concerned with what is beautiful thus can be simply understood in relation to the beauty of an organism. Therefore, in arts, it may be referred to in terms of attainment of correctness to the extent that the audience and whosoever seeks to identify with a work of art can perceive it as good and enjoy to fullness such work. The basis for this argument is that in appreciating a work of art it would entail; looking at (hearing, reading and so on) works of art, on different occasions in different moods, so that one may gradually come to enjoy and savour everything in the work of art that there is to be enjoyed and savoured (Hospers 2). Thus, in filmmaking which is an art, aesthetics certainly conjure audiences’ interest and guarantee producers’ level of fulfilment in either message delivery or enhancement of economic base.
According to Johnson, a theatre performance can be adjudged beautiful when it is able to curry fervour from the audience through adequate application of directorial elements such as beats, rhythm, tempo, mood (26). This implies that every audience member in the theatre expects the show to have aesthetics in order for them to derive entertainment, enjoyment and lessons from the performance. There is no gainsaying the fact that film, which is an area in the Performing or Theatre Arts, should be aesthetically sound to attract optimum interest. Apart from the elements employed by the film director and the technicalities involved in getting the montage form a complete narrative, cultural elements are also essential in achieving aesthetics in film production. This can be developed from the various aspects of peoples’ cultures which are authentic and positively accepted by the locals. In Nigeria, where there are many cultures, Nollywood stands in a good position to harness from the cultural resources, promote the good image and still sustain its popularity. The multicultural nature of Nigerian society can make this possible for the film industry against contending histrionic and management challenges as well as stereotyped negative themes.
Multiculturalism is understood as cultural diversity, the celebration or acknowledgement of multiplicity of cultures in a given society. Whitehead views multiculturalism as being the celebration of cultural tolerance and human diversity as well as positively expanding smaller units of the society and setting the pace or showing them a broader perspective of cultural heritage (233). Notably, it considers desirable different peoples living in the same territory and sharing the same state for the purpose of development. Thus, it can be said that the promotion and development of all the cultures are the essential concern of the people, who would feel satisfied that their languages and ways of life are not forgotten and made extinct in the society they live in. For Wallerstein, it was the move to break the barrier of exclusion among diverse cultural entities, that the French revolution instituted the policy of inclusion (650).
The foregoing is a testimony that there are a lot of positive values in a multicultural society which can be of great interest to the locals and the entire world. The amalgamation of the entire Northern and Southern regions of Nigeria in 1914 which brought together the Hausas, Yorubas, Igbos, Ijaws, Efiks, Ibibios, Bekwarras, Ejaghams, Annangs, Orons, Kanuris, Fulanis, Tivs, Idomas among other ethnic groups in the country points to the fact that even the British colonialists, who employed indirect rule in the administration of the amalgamated Nigeria, had no plan to obliterate the multicultural elements of the country. Therefore, Nollywood is expected to further uphold the multicultural identities of the people for popular and positive acceptability. The industry is not expected to promote scenes that glorify obscenities and other negative issues as such would be counter to the aesthetics of Nigerian cultures. In this regard, Akpabio opines: Instead of the glorification of sex, prostitution, greed, promiscuity and other negative tendencies, these home videos could have lent themselves to dealing a deathblow to these ills. Nigerian culture does not encourage promiscuity as we find in Sharon Stone who uses her beauty to advantage in the acquisition of wealth. In fact, many communities expect brides to be virgins and it is normally a thing of shame for the husband to discover that his wife is not chaste at the consummation of their marriage. That is not to say that negative cultural practices did not exist, some of which have regrettably survived to this day (8).
In affirmation to this argument, Ojeyemi and Sesan maintain that sadly Nigerian films relegate moral virtues to the background in their video films because Nigerian cultures do not celebrate disaster, failure, misfortune, incestuous relationships, violence, thuggery, prostitution but enjoin us to be considerate about the impact of our actions on the larger society (209). The call is that Nollywood should be altruistic in handling cultural issues especially in a multicultural setting like Nigeria where accepted cultures of the people are replete. In doing this, the film industry would be seen to meet the aesthetic demand of the audience especially at such point where the audience and the performer agree, and that point is referred to as aesthetic convention (in Ayakoroma 84). Undoubtedly, it is safe to say that the audience is essential for understanding aesthetic appeal of a work of art and also has great influence in determining the level of aesthetics in a work of art like film.
Aesthetics in Akon Itiat: An Efik-Ibibio Film and Relevance to Nollywood
Akon Itiat is an Efik-Ibibio film produced by Idy Imeh and directed by Moses Eskor in 2012. The language of the film is Ibibio and it is subtitled in English. The story centres on women revolting against injustice and abuse of their rights in the society. The prologue of the film shows the murder of Udo Usoro, a rich man in Effiat community and the main story begins with Umoh, the brother of late Udo Usoro, who tries claim the property of the deceased because the deceased had no male child apart from four female children. Umoh also insists on taking over Arit, his late brother’s wife for a wife. He reports Arit and her children to Obong Itiaba, the King, who summons the widow to the palace and banishes the woman and Akon, her eldest daughter into a deep pit.
As their ordeal unfolds, a palace guard insists on sleeping with one of Arit’s daughters before he allows her take food to her mother in the pit. The helpless girl gives in and is directed to the pit to give the food to her mum and sister. Entreaties by the King’s wife, the Queen, and his son, the Prince, to release Arit and Akon from the pit yield no positive result. The Chief Priest of the Kingdom, Eyin Asabo, brings a message from Asabo, the god of the land that the women should be accorded their rights. The king refuses. Arit dies in the pit and the King orders Akon to surrender her late father’s property to Umoh, her uncle. He decrees that the role of women stops in the kitchen and not beyond that.
Akon, therefore, mobilises the women and youths to protest the injustice to the King’s palace. Tough and obstinate, the King sets his guards against them. The women and youths resort to trap Umoh, the King’s son and his guards and take them as captives. There is turmoil in the land as Obong Itiaba sets his guards to arrest or kill anybody found in the land.
At the brink of death, the king holds steadfast to his policy of marginalising the women in the land saying that it is the law and tradition of the land. Retributive justice sets in when Umoh dies in captivity by the ghost of Udo Usoro after confessing to have killed Udo Usoro. Akon is killed by the palace guards. The late Obong Itiaba’s son, the Prince, emerges the new King and abolishes all laws hostile to humanity and restores the rights of women in the society.
This movie has been adjudged as one of the best in the multicultural setting to have come from the Efik-Ibibio blog. Its treatment of gender issue and women protest calls to mind the era of 1929 Aba women riot and even the 1995 Beijing conference. The theme is relevant and topical in contemporary time presents the female gender as those being marginalized in the society especially after the death of their husbands. On the whole, the thematic treatment of the film abhors negative issues and upholds positive issues in cultural promotion.
Although Ayakoroma says that films based on language genre and especially in local languages cause audiences irrelevant stress in viewing exercise and “subtract from the overall viewing experience of such films” (90), it can be said that when such films treat universal themes which affirm goodness in conformity to social codes and moral values; they would promote popularly accepted cultures of the people and remain relevant to the audience. Thus, “being cruel, unjust or immoral does not give people anything of real value” like to do the right thing irrespective of cultural disposition (Boh 149). It would, therefore, mean that the audience would appreciate subjects that projects how to do what is right, and which account for the beauty of the film.
However, it is not to say that only good themes can sustain the popularity of the Nollywood among the audience. Arguments have thrived that whatever is produced by the Nollywood is typical of Nigerian cultures and to that extent the popularity of the industry is unshaken. In an interview with a national newspaper, Okome holds that the stories carried by Nollywood, good or bad, are Nigerian stories.
These are the stories Nigerian people want to see; a story about a man beating his wife; a story about a man cheating on his wife or a story about a man going to jujuman in order to make money. These are our stories. In the America frontier films, the Wild, Wild, West films, they are stories about the American macho, masculine man conquering the frontiers: killing the red Indians in order to expand American interest. That’s their story, this is our story. These are the stories told by the filmmakers and it cannot be anything else (online).
The above contention is a realistic viewpoint which seems to suggest that every aspect of Nigerian cultures taken from the multicultural entities in authentic, acculturated and diluted forms is the way Nigerians are. That has made it obvious for film audiences around the world, especially in Africa to be in a quick rush to get Nigerian films. A newspaper columnist, Onyekakeyah, supports this view and holds that no matter what cultural themes that are being portrayed by the Nollywood, the film industry and has projected the country in a good light and promoted the cultural diversity (67). His opinion was in reaction to Dora Akunyili’s rebranding programme in consideration of the themes portrayed by Nollywood.
The film, Akon Itiat, also falls within the epic genre, which Ayakoroma sees as an “attempt to reconstruct our historical past as well as our myth and legends” (90). The fact about such films is that they carry with them the aesthetics of the true culture of the people through lessons, awareness creation and entertainment. A cursory study of audiences’ acceptance of the film in Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, shows a positive acceptance of the film as one that treats popular issue in the community and submits in favour of keeping the people’s values and morals tenaciously. It was also learnt that the story is based on legend of the people of Uyo.
Language use in the film industry is the concern of Jija. He opines that local languages may be extinct in a country like Nigeria, if Nollywood only keeps to producing movies with foreign language. According to him, Nigerians and those nationals, who are outside the country, are at home with movies produced in their indigenous languages to keep them abreast with their mother-tongue. He states that; “one believes that, the production of such movies would safeguard our indigenous languages from extinction and propagate the rich, cherished and fascinating culture and traditions of the people abroad” (265). In Nigeria and in other parts of the world, Bollywood productions, Indian films made with Indian language are watched by audiences. Thus, Akon Itiat is significant in this regard having promoted the aesthetics of an accepted culture of the people.
The likes of this film are favourably competing in the market with films made in Igbo and Yoruba languages which have made good sales within and outside the country even through Africa Magic on DSTV. This proliferation of Nollywood into cultural systems can be seen basically as a factor to attract appeal and identity of multicultural audience. Producers of Hausa films have understood this and stress that in this age of globalisation, Hausa films must promote accepted Hausa cultures and make them popular. In this regard, they maintain that:
We are now in a wonderful global and digital information age with the advent of great technologies like the Internet, digital cameras, streaming video, and mobile devices and computers and so our goal is to use these technologies to further promote and spread the Hausa film industry and Hausa culture globally (online).
The import of this portends a strong effort for cultural promotion and protection, which is further emphasised by Ibrahim in his assessment of the bastardisation of Hausa/ Islamic culture by movie producers and holds that only approved or accepted cultural issues based on morality should be produced (online).
The foregoing clearly keys into the aesthetics model of African theatre production which has been earlier emphasised as relating with good values of life. Therefore, it can be held that in Nollywood productions, such as Akon Itiat and any other, aesthetics depend on morality through the message of the film. Vogel affirms this position thus: African aesthetics generally has a moral basis, as indicated by the fact that, in many African languages, the same word means “beautiful” and “good”. It is consistent with the use and meaning of African art that it should be both beautiful and good, because it is intended not only to please the eye but to uphold moral values…(in Johnson 35).
To this end, every Nigerian culture carries with it popularly accepted values that are positive elements of the people and which can further draw interest and give acceptable message about the culture through Nollywood as cultural product. This is why Nigeria being a multicultural society is believed to be a source for popularly acceptable cultures that are aesthetically potent to sustain the popularity of Nollywood among its teeming patrons.
Nollywood is undoubtedly a very popular medium among Nigerian and world audiences. Specifically, audiences from other African countries see in Nollywood a source for typical African entertainment and lessons of life. This has been acknowledged by this paper and proven to be a globalised view of the popularity of the film industry.
Nevertheless, in the face of multicultural elements, popularly acceptable cultures by people from the diverse entities of the Nigerian society are stressed as authentic base to further enhance and sustain global acceptability of Nollywood. This has also been viewed as the basic element of aesthetics in an African culture. In that regard, what is good is thought of in line with accepted values and morality, and this supports the view that Africa understand aesthetics in the eye of morality.
This paper, therefore, recommends and submits that the strength of Nollywood lies in the multicultural entities available for the industry to use in producing its works, and therefore it should encourage the production of more films in local languages and epic genres that will highlight aesthetics of multiculturalism through authentic promotion of acceptable cultures of the people and in the long run sustain the popularity of the industry.
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