Nollywood and the Quest for Relevant Education in Nigeria: A Critique
Chidiebere S. EKWEARIRI, PhD
Department of Theatre Arts
Alvan Ikoku University of Education
Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria
The Nigerian Nollywood, conceived in line with the American’s Hollywood and Indian’s Bollywood name wise, from its inception in 1992, has been overshadowed with barrage of criticisms viz-a-viz low audio quality, low production quality and lack of appropriate visual aids among other things. These, among other factors, stem from the rush to maximize profit, and the calibre of people at the helm of affairs. Educationally, the content of some of the films have not been spared as most of them have been found wanting in terms of giving out the right information and proper education. The paper observes that the intent of film as an art is not just to be inconsiderably entertaining in its attempts to satisfy the market and yield impressive financial reward, but the film must also fulfil its finer role of proper information and socio-moral education. Films with morally debased contents have negative impacts on the youths who have fertile minds for experimentation and may cause them to begin to emulate and imitate the actions and inactions gleaned from these films. This paper therefore is a clarion call on Nollywood filmmakers and the powers that be, to, as a matter of urgency, review the content of some of their films with the view to improving the quality of education for our youths in particular and Nigeria in general. Nigeria’s quest to become the best in Africa and among the best in the world will not be attained if the contents of our film industry are not propelled towards the right education.
The Nigerian Nollywood, as a child of necessity, came to fill the void that existed after the demise of celluloid film and has grown from strength to strength, even in the midst of mixed-feeling and misgiving amongst its audience across the globe. Such misgivings “...usually include mention of the audience dissatisfaction with poor sound quality, misrepresentations of cultural practices” (Kunzler Daniel http://www.suz.unizh.ch). More so, it has come to become one of the most discussed topics in the National Dailies, Radio and Television stations. This is what Yeseibo meant when he said that:
The growth in the industry has portrayed Nigeria in bold relief on the global map of the motion picture. Be it good or bad, the Nigerian video film has since become one of the most dialogued issues in mass culture (81).
The volume of literature in the area testifies that people have equally been busy analysing its origin, and how it has metamorphosed into the present position that efforts may not be necessary to further adumbrate their postulations. Its thematic preoccupations have also been extensively looked into. In all the assertions put forth by commentators, one thing that is deducible is that the industry has done relatively well. Some have argued that it launders the image of Nigeria abroad and speaks to the masses in the language they understand. These positivities notwithstanding, the industry still has some basic problems trailing it. The fact that it has been in existence for over twenty three years now clearly shows that it ought to have outgrown tooting challenges. Without any equivocation, film is a veritable means of communication and it entertains. Through this means, tensions are relaxed and body functions re-energized and reinvigorated for the tasks ahead. But is film then merely entertainment? Certainly not... beyond entertainment, film is culture – that culture which informs and influences us... (Dul 152). Wachuku shares this sentiment when she argues that, “even though film belongs to the entertainment model of mass communication, its functions extend beyond mere entertainment” (139). It therefore implies that apart from entertaining the audience, it must do that through proper education. This becomes imperative given its audio-visual qualities and the fact that it has a wider coverage. This paper therefore is an attempt to examine the content of some of Nollywood films with a view to assessing their educational implications especially to our budding youths who have fertile minds for experimentations.
Nollywood and the Society
The emergence of Nollywood in the Nigerian filmic scene, without doubt, owes much to the ingenuity and practical dexterity of the producers of Living in Bondage as well as the prevailing situations at the time. Suffice it to say that Nollywood thrives on a particular theme which reflects on societal problems. That is why “it is very important for the artist to understand that he owes the society the sacrosanct duty to practice his art in a way that would be positive and impact on the lives of the people” (Onyekaba 524). Film, in all ramifications, is a cultural thing that constructs and deconstructs societal values and ethos. Mabel Evwierhoma notes that,
As a cultural tool, the video should construct identities, using mono-cultures, cogent identities towards total change. She advocates cultural viewing models that can ensure that we view our films in a way that they can make meaning to us, not to watch Nigerian movies with euro-asian or euro-american cultural bias paradigms, in which case we lose meanings and essence
Nollywood mirrors the society and according to Olugbodi,
the essence of any film enterprise is to communicate concrete and specific messages, from the point of view of the gate-keepers involved, i.e., director, producer, cinematographer, actor etc, to specific audiences, and to engender specific responses or feedback. Thus the filmic communication must essentially obey the general rules of encoding (encoder), and feedback all of which constitute the fulcrum of all communication activities (28).
Okome supports the above when he pontificates that Nollywood,
produces cultures as it produces society and in turn society influences its social and cultural makers. It offers explanation to things we do in the dark. It is eloquent about the life we live but would not speak about in public (7).
As a product of the Nigerian society, Nollywood has metamorphosed into a big fledging industry that not only puts smiles on the faces of Nigerians at home and in Diaspora, but has also cultivated itself into an employment of labour; thereby giving back to the society, what it got from it. Presently, it has become the primary entertainer of the Nigerian populace and a force that cannot be wished away easily. Its raw material is drawn from the society, and the gains accruable from its expositions of the cruelties, social vices and other maladies that are inherent in the Nigerian society, also goes back to the society.
Analyses and Discussion of Selected Films
First of all, let it be established from the on-set that this paper is premised on the fact that presently, Nigerian films mostly emphasize entertainment, ignoring the educational and developmental aspects of film. In the words of Bardi, “the main function of film, or rather art, is to inform, educate and entertain. The function of education is presently neglected to a great degree in the Nigerian film industry” (509). This is the case with some Nigerian films where illicit sex, cheap pornography and other goring images that debase our morality have become the order of the day. In a film titled Agafe (aka Man of Sin), produced by Geofrey Olisakwe Ejidike and directed by Emeka Hill Umeasor, we see a whole lot of that. Agafe (Frank Artus), the major character in the film sold his soul to the devil and becomes a killing machine. He kills for fun so as to satisfy the serpent king that gives him wealth. In that film, exquisite looking mansions with the state-of-the-art furniture were on display and he (Agafe), spends money as if he plucks them from the tree. In his private guest house where he uses as a slaughter area for his unsuspecting victims, different images and symbols are conspicuously placed on the walls. The power of images and symbols cannot be underestimated. In view of this, Borchers argue that:
Images are composed of a variety of symbolic elements that each suggest meaning to a viewer; when combined with other elements, images can portray a powerful single message or a variety of messages, often contradictory to one another (139).
Agafe is a film that centres on the use of supernatural powers to amass wealth, prostitution and the quest for material things. The spate of sexual scenes that permeate the film is quite alarming. Ayakoroma summarized the thematic preoccupation of most Nigerian films by arguing that “the emphasis had been the portrayal of sex, violence, spilling blood, nudity, indecent dressing, religious intolerance, obscene language, and presenting government in bad light” (16). In a similar vein, Mgbejume further argues that:
When people view the stories – movies, they begin to apply some of what they learn to their own lives. Some who are beset with problems will apply the prescribed solutions acted out in such movies to their own problems thereby bringing about relief. On the other hand, some will go opposite direction. They will copy the portrayed violence and may begin to display aggressive attitudes (38).
Inarguably, the storyline of the film is not bad but what is offensive about the film is the high dosage of pornographic materials. Film is make-belief no doubt but certain things we see in the Nigerian Nollywood these days are no longer make-belief. They have gradually gone beyond mere verisimilitude to outright reality.
Another film in that category is Wet Pants and Hot Pants, produced by Felix Onu and directed by the duo of Don Single and Chinedu Igbokwe. The same is also applicable to Doro Babes. In the films, the highest level of lesbianism and homosexualism is exhibited. Girls frolic with their fellow girls while boys also made advances on their fellow men. The pictures of some of these scenes are not pleasant to the eye especially given the fact that some children may stumble on the film and watch them. In one of the scenes, (Wet Pants) after making love to one of the ladies, the condom used was visibly removed and the content of it poured into a cup of brandy which Madam Rossy (Florence Owonta) mixed together and drank in front of the cameras thereby portraying (apart from her perceived reason for her action) the fact that drinking sperm nourishes the body. Much more worrisome is also the fact that children mostly under-aged girls are watching these movies (Iorapuu &Uzoji 108). As a matter of fact, the titles of some of these films leave much to be desired. These days, video shops and outlets are awash with such titles as Kingdom of Darkness, Billionaires Club, Ritual Money, Occultic Power, Evil Genius, etc. One wonders what one expects to gain from watching these films. A closer look at most of these occultic films turns out to be excursions into gory sights of blood, violence and the mundane. Emeana writes that:
just because our producers have come in contact with obsolete effect machines used in Europe and America, they now play on the gullible and ignorant viewers. With reckless abandon, they exhume skeletons from the grave, turn characters into dos, lions, snakes and other animals (2).
The question that one needs to ask is do these things happen the way we see them in movies? Or are they being manipulated to feed our aesthetic sensibilities? Filmic themes and insinuations should reflect with proper interpretation of the developments in the society. The truth is that even if such things exist, they exist minimally and therefore cannot be said to be a true reflection of the society. One may be forced to argue that the films are rated ‘18’ because of their contents but that is not enough reason to justify the pictures in the film. Perhaps, what we have not seen in these so called 18 rated films is complete nudity of people either in private or public places. After all, in theatrical parlance, nudity is part of costuming.
In film production, apart from the interactions from the actors and actresses, costume, scenery and other appurtenances like cars and visual effects contribute meaningfully in communicating the nuances of the film to the public. Therefore, whatever one gives out, whether in implicit or explicit systemizations, determines the kind of responds he/she will get. This is so because the audience is cardinal in any communication endeavour. It is a fact that the value and import of any communication is only to the extent of its impact and influence on the perception of the audience or viewer (Idachaba 90).
In this context, costumes are meant to be a decent outfit that not only covers the body of the wearer, but should also enable him/her walk freely. Unfortunately, the application of costume in the two films above, especially the ones worm by the ladies negates these provisions. They were mere contraptions in the name of clothing that merely covered the sensitive parts of the wearers. Uto-Ezeajughi, as quoted by Nnenyelike, says that:
It is worrisome that this has become a common practice to shun modesty through costumes. In a bid to emulate these film stars, costume is turned into dress and the mass of Nigerian youth parade the streets and university campuses clad in replicas of these provocative outfits. These stars are seen as role models by these youths who believe that whatever the stars wear to appear in films should be taken as a fashion statement and consequently be adopted as a fashion trend. In aiming to be like their role models therefore, the youths wear what they have seen the stars wear in films and this has negatively influenced current fashion practice among the youths (186).
To corroborate the above, Osofisan affirms that:
Hence, for the majority of the students, the greatest ambition they nurse is to emulate these figures they see daily in the media headlines and like them, accumulate wealth by any means and in the shortest time possible. That is why, for them, the grand humanistic themes which fill our plays have become like a grandiose hoax, bearing no relevance to the reality they observe all around them (xxiii).
However, there is nothing wrong in our youths emulating any of their preferred stars if he/she is an ambassador of good behaviour. This is what Wade meant when he writes that:
It is inarguably very healthy to emulate celebrities as models but definitely not when these models are drivers of vehicles of moral profligacy and social debauchery. Nowadays ladies go to an extent of naming dress styles after the celebrity that wears them. They are so fascinated that they forget that what they see actresses wear are purely costumes and not out-of-set dress codes (236).
Furthermore, the celebrity status, affluence and power some of these halve nude ladies enjoy in the society is so loud that even when they begin to pay the price of their sins, the effect becomes insignificant. Wade went further to argue that:
Some films succeed in teaching that the quickest and most accessible way of getting what one wants is to appear nude and have sex thereafter. This is because both classes of ladies in both films actually dress indecently and succeeded with their plan. Whether this success is short-lived or not, the most important thing here is the fact that they dressed indecently and got what they wanted. This, the paper faults and condemns in totality. The ladies have demonstrated that the act of indecent dressing actually works and in the process, they indirectly promote it (234).
It is also worthy to say that the language and linguistic terms used in some of these films calls for a serious concern. These are some words that are not spoken publicly. As a matter of fact, they are avoided and anybody who says them is seen as being wayward. According to Gbenga et al:
Linguistic taboos are words or expressions to be avoided because using them directly in public is seen as a violation of certain moral codes. Put in other words, linguistic taboos have their usage controlled by certain circumstances or reasons such as religion, culture or norms (118).
The level of linguistic taboo in Wet Pants and Hot Pants is very high to the extent that one wonders the true reason for the production of the film. Recently, when Ada Mbano was released, because of the linguistic overtures and expressions of the lead character, the film became a hit and almost every young adult and child who came across that film started rendering the lines of that lead character without understanding the true meanings of her expressions. It has to be stated categorically that this aspect of the Igbo Language as expressed in these films are not being taught in schools. Igbo language teachers avoid using these taboo words and do not draw their students’ attention to their usage. Whether in the euphemistic form, proverbial, idiomatic, metaphorical and/or in a paraphrased sense and expressions, they are to be avoided. But unfortunately, these taboo words are said with all amount of alacrity in our video films in the name of entertainment. This is not healthy given the fact that negative things are learnt easily than the positive ones. This aspect of paying too much attention to the superficial and sensational with information lacking in substance should be jettisoned. We can no longer be a pawn in the hands of the producers to manipulate and ridicule as they have endangered our public moral for too long (Ema 95).
The attempt in this paper is not to say that there have not been educational bent in the production of Nollywood films in Nigeria but to further substantiate the fact that more have been tailored towards pure entertainment. If the agenda of film-making is only to entertain, then the countries that have used film in other ways in the past would have failed to achieve any meaningful cultivating impact on their people and other peoples of the world. Film is more than entertainment because within the frames of the film, the film-maker captures the aspiration of his people and at the same time projects the images of his society that he wishes others to see. The need to foreground some aspects of a filmic material while back grounding some others is a social and moral responsibility that the Nigerian film maker must begin to learn (Onyekaba 524). Our society is a complex one with so many stories yet to be told. The assertion of Onyero is relevant here when he stated that:
We live in a society controlled by forces – good or evil – which exert their influence on us. These influences present conflicts in our lives, which we try at all costs to resolve. The conflicts include: child abuse, cheating, marital unfaithfulness, robbery, assassinations, rape, drug abuse, prostitution, corruption, HIV/AIDS, all other types of sickness, hypertension, betrayal of trust, embezzlement, etc. These evils that plague the society have led many into depression and hopelessness. Consequently, many have died and a number also have been left to face the agonies of life (36-37).
These are some of the themes that should occupy our thoughts. Obviously a whole lot of them have been captured in the fledging Nigerian movie industry but they are still living with us. The film is a prism and a lens through which the society is viewed. Our society is not as bad as they are portrayed in film. There are positive aspects of our society that needs to be portrayed. In the words of Ozoji,
Films are media for instruction and entertainment. Films are both a mirror of what happens in the society and a force that attempts to convey and shape the values, beliefs and attitudes of youths. They should attempt in this regard to change youth’s pattern of misbehaviour. They can influence youths to change in desirable ways when they “teach” that a film, consistent and loving approach to discipline is feasible (77).
The users of the medium (producers) must be very careful of the content of their messages. This is because such messages are usually accepted by the viewers as statements of facts. This explains why most of our current fashion and dress code are products of movie personalities and characters. This is therefore a clarion call for the National Film and Video Censorship Board (NFVCB), to try and be diligent to their duties. Having a film rated 18 does not mean that children cannot have access to them. Already families are having difficulties making their children sit down and face their studies (Chukwumah & Amalaha 82), and if some of these highly debased contents are continually and perpetually allowed to thrive in Nollywood films, we may be on our way to producing pornographic films for Nigeria.
There is need to review the content of some Nigerian Nollywood Films so as to save the parents the embarrassment of appearing stupid when they are watched in front of their wards. This is because often times, most of these films do not show signs of such debased contents. Ironically, the ones that show glimpses of it end up not having any traces of it by the time the film starts showing.
The language used in some of these films should be reviewed. Some linguistic taboos, terms and utterances that may appear obscene, muted so as not to corrupt the young ones watching the film.
Entertainment should not be the focus of Nollywood films. We should have gone beyond that given the fact that the industry has been in existence for over thirty years now. Education should always be the motivating factor in our film production. Even when this is the case, the means of achieving that should be properly scrutinized to avoid some embarrassing images. Therefore, “if our films are tailored towards education, this can raise their consciousness towards a particular cause and it can contribute to the growth of the society” (Bardi 514).
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