Nollywood Women Filmmakers and Actresses as Transformers and Promoters of Culture for National Security and Development
Emily Oghale GOD’SPRESENCE, PhD
Department of Theatre and Film Studies
Faculty of Humanities
University of Port Harcourt
Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Women are often regarded as agents of social change. This implies that, the slogan: “women are their own enemies,” is a product of women’s outright negligence of their willpower and reluctance to change the mundane ugly trend and perennial practices that impede the transformation and improvement of their social status and everyday life. The negative profiling and stereotypes of dehumanizing roles played by women on screen, which are validated and re-established through repetition, become the raw materials for Nollywood women filmmakers to re-create a new and realistic identity for Nigerian women. Against this background, the cultural practices that devalue women, as projected in Nollywood films, will be questioned in this paper. Furthermore, it opines that, the need for women filmmakers and actresses to deploy new modes of promoting the downplayed traditional and cultural practices that validate the role and place of women as contributors to national development and promoters of culture and national security should henceforth be at the centre-stage of feminist discourses and women’s film. The theory of deconstruction as well as duty theory will form the frame work for this study.
KEY WORDS: Cultural practices, peace, security, women filmmakers, Nollywood, national development
Since the inception of video filmmaking in Nigeria, which has established the Nigerian video film industry, ranking it as the third largest filmmaking industry in the world, Nollywood films have gained wide viewership especially within the African continent. Much as this development gives a global recognition to the input and contributions of Nollywood to the entertainment industry through their depiction of the African Continent, there is an urgent need for the repositioning of Nollywood for the promotion of the place of women in socio-political, cultural and traditional activities, security and national development. This, of course, lies in the door step of female filmmakers in the industry. Since issues bordering on security have become recurrent and central to the safety of women globally, time has come for Nollywood female filmmakers to use their prowess for creativity to craft films that help promote our cultural heritage at the same time projecting ways, modes and various sectors of society on how females (whether young or old) should be protected for the development of our nation. In this light, reference would be made to films like Troubled King 1&2, Living Dead and Yesterday to have a glimpse of cultural practices that devalue women and pose a threat to their security and by extension, to national security and development.
Duty Theory: The phrase emanated from the term, ‘deontological’ (meaning, ‘duty’). The theory states that people act out of respect for the moral law when they act in some way because they have a duty to do so. For instance, a father provides for the financial needs of his family because of obligations (Broad “Duty theory”).
An Overview of the Theory of Deconstruction: Deconstruction is a theory used in “the study of literature or philosophy which says that a piece of writing does not have just one meaning and that the meaning depends on the reader.” Similarly deconstruction is the “analytic examination of something (as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy” (“Merriam-Webster”). However, Deconstruction is also viewed as, “a philosophical movement and theory of literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth…” (“American Heritage”).
Deconstruction which is a form of critical analysis is based on Jacques Derrida’s work titled “Of Grammatology” in 1967 which is “a method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary texts which emphasizes inquiry into the variable projection of the meaning and message of critical works, the meaning in relation to the reader and the intended audience, and the assumptions implicit in the embodied forms of expression” (Wikipedia).
Deconstruction is assumed to be a “particular kind of practice in reading” and a “method of criticism and mode of analytical inquiry” (“Presidential lectures”). Deconstruction is explicitly defined by Barbara Johnson, in her 1981 book titled The Critical Difference when she noted that “deconstruction is not synonymous with “destruction.” Rather she stated that,
It is in fact much closer to the original meaning of the word ‘analysis’ itself, which etymologically means “to undo” – a virtual synonym for ‘to de-construct.’ … If anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the claim to unequivocal domination of one made of signifying over another. A deconstructive reading is a reading which analyses the specificity of a text’s critical difference from itself (“Presidential lectures”).
Upon these definitions lie the contention of the inadequacies and “mis” representations in the screen image that befits women’s true identity in cinema thus, the denigrating cultural practices projected on screen ought to be refuted by the deliberate attempt of women filmmakers who would highlight the major and pivotal role women play in our culture. For example, the tradition of having women as major contributors to the economic growth and development of our nation, mothers as role models and bread winners to their families, and other socio-cultural fora like Women Associations or Organizations where women adorn themselves with selected uniforms (costumes) for certain occasions to foster unity of purpose and identity should be projected more often in women’s films. Although, produced by a male, August Meeting is a typical example of such films.
In line with the above, deconstruction in feminist film criticism, to my mind, is used to judge existing modes of narratives and representation that do not portray the true identity, image, strength and role of women in society as reflected either in literature, art, media or cinema.
Example of Nollywood Films with Denigrating Cultural Practices
Often than not, the cultural practice where a widow is made to undergo dehumanizing widowhood rites often project women as a laughing stock. This is also adopted into film narrative modes thereby subjecting the woman’s image to perpetual objectification for viewers’ pleasure. This scenario is replicated in films like Yesterday, Mother’s Cry and Living Dead. Nnenwa in Mother’s Cry and Patricia in Living Dead respectively are to be stoned to death, simply because they are women. Nnenwa, a widow, is accused of stealing a chicken to keep her son, Ejike, alive, while Patricia is accused of witchcraft and is also to be stoned for killing her assumed dead husband, who later appears in the company of policemen to prove that he is not dead, but that he has been mistaken for the dead man.
In Living Dead, Chris (Kanayo O. Kanayo) suddenly adopts a lifestyle of drinking and sometimes falls by the roadside while his wife, Patricia (Edith Azu) goes to work and tries her best to pay the house rent and caters for the family. Patricia inadvertently becomes the bread-winner of the home at the loss of Chris’s job. In spite of her sacrifices, her in-laws, especially Adaobi (Franca Brown) would not let her have peace because she (Patricia) is not yet pregnant. Adaobi calls her a witch and a diabolic woman who has subjected her brother to a house-man while she, Patricia, works so as to assume authority in the home. Patricia finally becomes pregnant laments over the absence of her husband who is assumed to have been brutally murdered by ritualists, having stayed late in the night, drunk. Adaobi and family members shave Patricia’s hair, wash the corpse for her drink and make her to swear of not having a hand in her husband’s death. Patricia could not fathom the reason for her misery. The village women beat her up, tear off her clothes as they say to each other “let us teach her our tradition and custom”. However, when her mother-in-law confronts Adaobi and her team for this wicked act, Adaobi replies: “mama, she has killed your son, my own brother. If you will allow- it, me, Adaobi will not allow it.”
The shame and pain Patricia goes through in the village makes her to tell her friends: “I came ready to face them, ready to face the humiliation.” She adds that “I want to prove to them that I didn’t use him for rituals.” Patricia also says, “I know they want nothing short of disgrace and death for me.” She is called a witch and her penalty is that she be stoned to death. According to one of the women in the “Umuada” group who are responsible for all the calamities meted on Patricia, “Patricia is only going through our traditional burial rite.” As the villagers stone her, Chris appears with a group of policemen explaining that he was detained for drinking and has been mistaken for the dead man. Realizing it was a mistaken identity; Patricia asks Adaobi, “I hope you have satisfied yourself. I also hope that you are satisfied that I’m neither a witch nor I killed your brother for ritual.” Despite a proposal for marriage made to Patricia by her former male friend, and the attempt by Alex (Patricia’s brother) to make her forget about her wayward husband, the self-sacrificing spirit in her (Patricia) would not let her forsake her husband. She explains to Alex that Chris was a good man and that he only started drinking when he lost his job, and that “why shouldn’t I help pick him up now that he is down?,“ besides my child should have a father,” because she is now three months pregnant. Despite her painful ordeals, Patricia decides to go through more sacrifices of her image in order for her unborn child to have a father. This experience is akin to Okerri’s submission that, “No man can be tolerant enough to accept a wayward wife but a woman is characterized by suffering, toiling, and pains, and she is compelled to stick to her marriage vows especially when a child is involved in the relationship.”
Their plight is clearly stated by Femi Shaka in his article “History, Genres and Texts of the Emergent Video Film Industry in Nigeria,” in the following manner:
Characterization is also handled along the traditional lines of gender hierarchy in African society, such that the male seems always to be the subject in narrative with the female functioning as an object of male spectacle or vilification, serving more to be seen than heard. Where women are characterized as very loud and adventurous as in Glamour Girls (Kenneth Nnebue, 1993); the femme fatale image is made to read as a signifier for waywardness and promiscuity (Shaka 22).
The culture of representing women in films both as objects of admiration and symbol of suffering and toiling has strongly revealed the magnitude of insecurity and threat to their existence in a patriarchal society. This kind of cultural practices should be deconstructed by female filmmakers who should see it their duty and responsibility by projecting the beautiful side of women. Okome however pushes the blame back to women as the perpetrators of their own plight. He asserts that women constitute the bulk of video audience yet, they are a contributing factor to the stereotypes:
While women constitute the bulk of video audience and are said to indirectly dictate thematic preferences for the entire popular public of the video film, the discourse of their presence is anything but flimsy constructions based on the notions of inherited stereotypes of women perpetuated by male patriarchy. Women are objectified and expressed in the artistic configuration as bodies of desire and pleasure (qtd. in Yeseibo 45-46).
Living Dead may have been argued to be a film produced from a man’s point of view with the intentions to perpetuate patriarchy. However, it will be more worrisome to see films produced by women filmmakers projecting women within the trajectory of cultural practices that debase women. In the light, the film Troubled King 1&2, produced by Mariana Isiguzo and Uche Nancy as the associate producer will be briefly examined. In Troubled King, women leadership is represented in its worst form where a mother, Patience Ozokwor is portrayed as a thug and gangster leader of the slum dwellers. On the other hand, the urban perspective to Isiguzo’s film presents King Donald (Kenneth Okonkwo), a reigning king and a doctor, as one who is portrayed as a terror and a bullying husband who whips his wives for meager offenses like breaking of car light. For example, Queen Adaku receives severe flogging from her husband, the King for breaking his car light and she cries, complaining to her mate: “why did he have to beat me up like I’m a child?”
The King has a problem impregnating his four wives who have not been pregnant for the past seven years. In desperation for acceptance as the King’s favourite, one of his four wives, Lisa fakes a pregnancy and becomes the darling of the King which results to his banishing Constance, one of his wives from the palace and dissolving their marriage for slapping his “pregnant” wife, Lisa, in retaliation. Constance is happy to be out of the palace and for leaving “that brute of a King.” In exhibiting his male audacity over his wives, King Donald refuses to accept a refund of his bride prize from Constance’s father, and he bans him from coming to the Palace. King Donald, despite his life of affluence and opulence, there is no peace in his palace. Thus, he flogs Queen Ada for breaking the headlight of his car, sends Queen Constance home for fighting with Queen Lisa and finally deals with Queen Lisa for faking her pregnancy. However, this film, Troubled King is written by a Nollywood female filmmaker who is expected to give the audience the point of view of women rather, her film reemphasizes a culture of negative stereotyping and exploitation of women on screen. Her film is a reflection of patriarchy and thus a continuation of the male’s point of view to film narration. This is the juncture where women filmmakers need to deconstruct the dominant ideology and cultural practices of women’s subservience to men.
In Yesterday, the cultural practices that pose danger to a woman’s security are divers and numerous. Elo (Liz Benson) at the loss of her husband was subjected to the following: black clothes were given to wear, she was locked in an ash-filled room without taking her bath; she sat on the floor for days. Also, she was starved of food, almost raped by her late husband’s elder brother, and her son was taken from her during her forceful confinement, the bath water from her husband’s corpse was given to her to drink (which she refused to drink), etc. similarly, the house built by her husband was confiscated by her husband’s elder brother, Matthew (Ejike Asiegbu) and other painful experiences are some of the cultural practices that pose danger to women’s security and inhibiting them from contributing their quota to national development.
Cultural practices that depict the true strength and life of Nigerian women ought to be projected to the world to appreciate the diverse nature of our ways of life and the sacrifices and contribution of women to the development of the African continent. As duty theory obligates us to carry out our responsibilities, a challenge is thrown up to women filmmakers to take up the responsibilities to transform the culture of stereotype into a creative process where a regenerated African woman emerges into becoming the new media image. Thus the onus of promoting a new culture for women in films lies in the hands of Nollywood women. In this regard, these ambassadors of our culture, who work behind the scene use actresses as agents in achieving this mandate. By extension, the obligation to promote and transform culture lies at the door steps of the actresses who are a veritable medium and tool through which cultural practices that are embedded in any society are transmitted to the viewing audience. There is therefore a required synergy between actresses and women filmmakers in making this task achievable. By so doing, the rich culture of Nigeria would be projected to the world. Such films which lay more emphasis on practices that highlight the pivotal role of women in the Nigerian society would certainly help secure the dignity of the African woman before the world. Also, filmmakers from other cultures of the world would have a glimpse of the place and role of women within the Nigerian culture. The absence of this true image of women has reflected in Ama Ata Aidoo’s query over journalists’ representation of the African woman when she reacts:
But there is no doubt that, ever since, the image of the African woman in the mind of the world has been set: she is breeding too many children she cannot take care of, and for whom she should not expect other people to pick up the tab. She is hungry, and so are her children. In fact, it has become a cliché of Western Photojournalism that the African woman is old beyond her years. She is half-naked; her drooped and withered breasts are well exposed; there are flies buzzing around the faces of her children; and she has a permanent begging bowl in her hand (39)
The implication of Aidoo’s worry is that the continuous representation of African women in this light by western media could tarnish the realities of our women’s strength and abilities. In this light, Okerri has observed that the portrayal of the female folk in association with bitterness, anger, sorrow, regrets and sometimes death has never given a positive image of womanhood (62). These experiences which could be termed, in Elo’s words, in Yesterday, as “wicked”, “crude” and “inhuman” show that the battle against gender inequality must continue to rage until there is a change in favour of the female folk. In Elo’s words: “this is not a question of feminism, no. It is a question of cleansing society, a question of getting rid of those obnoxious and barbaric practices to debase womanhood and mankind” (63). Okerri further expressed that women seem to be helpless in this battle because these practices are embedded in our custom and tradition. Asking the question “of what essence” are these practices to women and our culture, Okerri opines that “even if such practices are customary, we are all aware that culture is dynamic, therefore, there must be a change because according to Elo: ‘I’m sure no gentleman here would allow his wife, mother, sister to be dehumanized and traumatized’” (63).
Feminists argue that the images of women in cinema are manipulated and the ripple effects of such manipulations put the woman at a disadvantage position making her vulnerable and susceptible to visual and physical assault. This again poses a security challenge to the femalefolk whether as a child, a grown woman or an aged mother. The realization of the effects of media manipulations is reflected in Herbert Gens assertion that, “there is no doubt that the media have an effect on society” (qtd. in Dennis 78). In the same vein, Martin Joly, validates Gen’s observation of the powerful influence of the media on society with particular reference to repetition of certain visual images:
the memory of an image will also be the more forcible the more the visual message has been repeated: repetition and ritualization can alone make up for the impossibility of contemplating the animated, sequential image, whether we are speaking of an image in the cinema or, even more particularly, in the media. This raises the problem of film analysis and its potential effectiveness in the comprehension of filmic signifying processes (48).
Nnaemeka also joins her voice to this practice by observing that the negative image of the African woman is partly created and promoted by the Western media, and the sad reality is that it has been internalized, reproduced, and disseminated by Africans themselves (14). Similarly, Werewere Liking throws more light:
For us, what constitutes the indescribable but quite perceptible weakness of most African films is this kind of incoherence inherent to African film-makers’ ignorance of their own traditions of the true history of their peoples, and hence of their most profound aspirations. The only image they represent of Africa is the impoverished one they’ve been taught thy- world-view of others. And this is the only thing they should be ashamed of, because they are not doomed to such ignorance and lethargy, or worse, to the servility that keeps them in that condition. The image of Africa that the world consumes today is so pathetic that it can only be viewed with condescension, even by those who pay the production costs, whatever their motivations. What should shame them even more is the way they associate their inner poverty and servility with the image of an entire continent (qtd. in Nnaemeka 14).
In sum, Liking’s observation reflects the conscious or unconscious perpetuation of the mis representation of the African woman by African filmmakers. Here lies the importance of duty theory and theory of deconstruction where it behooves on Bollywood women filmmakers to identify the mundane structures that perpetuate these stereotypes and begin to create new identities for our women. This awareness should be created through feminist discourses, exchange programmes and roundtable discussions. Feminists, whether critics, writers or theorists, have to lend their voices towards the realization of this goal; as Filomena Steady has rightly observed that, those who are concerned with issues that affect African women and “those women who are engaged in the mission of enlightening and liberating other women are feminists” (qtd. in Njoku 197). This clarion call therefore requires all feminists to work collaboratively with Nollywood women filmmakers in this cultural transformation and reformation exercise. By so doing, the status of African women would be elevated just as Beatrice Stegeman enjoins all women to be
The new woman who promotes a theory of personhood where the individual exists as an independent entity rather than a group member, where she is defined by her experiences rather than her kinship relations, where she has a responsibility to realize her potential for happiness rather than quantitative financial worth, ad where she must reason about her own values, rather than fit into stereotyped traditions (qtd. in Njoku 198).
Women Filmmakers Obligation in Transforming and Promoting Culture
As earlier stated in the abstract, the negative profiling and stereotypes of dehumanizing roles played by women on screen which are validated and re-established through repetition should be the raw materials with which Nollywood women filmmakers would use to re-create a new and realistic identity for Nigerian women. This is because Nigerian women have contributed immensely to national security and development and their contributions are scarcely represented in Nollywood films. God’spresence has questioned this omission and calls for a collaboration of women from all sectors of society to see it as a duty to promote the achievements of women who have contributed to national development:
we have women like Farida Waziri, Dora Akunyili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and a host of others whose positive impact have been felt in improving the state of the nation in various sectors as shown in chapter three. How come we are not seeing a reflection of their contributions in Nollywood film? There is therefore a clarion call to women in academics, in government and organizations for the advocacy for female empowerment to join forces with feminist film critics in correcting these anomalies and give support (financially and otherwise) to female filmmakers to produce films with a balanced and objective view on women's activities in their cinematic narratives (God’spresence 188).
Female filmmakers in Nollywood are herby saddled with the responsibility to produce films that project the cultural practices that give women their pride of place. As ambassadors of culture, their films are viewed by audiences in other cultures across the globe and their films might be the window and mirror to the African continent and the cultural practices showing the diverseness and richness of the cultural heritage. In this vein, Nollywood actresses are also saddled with the ambassadorial task since they are the direct agents of this dissemination of our cultural identity. To achieve this mission, a synergy between the various creative art forms ranging from costume to make up, dialogue/language should effectively synchronize to tell the true story of the Nigerian woman and the African culture.
The cultural practices that devalue women as seen in Nollywood films are questionable. Who are the producers of these films, men or women? Why do they reinforce and perpetuate these denigrating cultural practices especially when they know that Nollywood films are viewed by audiences across geographical borders, which are a global audience. Are the female producers comfortable with these images, why do they play along? Can these modes of misrepresentations be deconstructed? These and many other questions need to be examined by feminist film critics as measures to ascertain if female filmmakers are duty bound to give a befitting and realistic representation of a woman’s true identity that aligns with contemporary roles of women in social development. As duty theory expects the feminist film critics to question the modus operandi of male representation of the woman’s image in cinema, so also the narrative modes adopted by female filmmakers deserve to be x-rayed and question to ascertain if their creativity align with theories of make-believe and verisimilitude. This therefore calls for a synergy between theory and practices where Nollywood women filmmakers and actresses would have exchange programmes with feminist theorists and critics in the academics, tutors of women’s studies and gender studies as well.
This platform would help to build up the foundation of awareness already laid by previous writers and critics whose sole desire is to deconstruct negative profiling of women and present the image of a new woman in media art representations. This aligns with God’spresence’s observation of the ignorance of Nollywood women filmmakers to their pivotal role in projecting women in a most realist way and actresses in helping to perpetuate a denigrating image of the woman rather than rejecting such roles. She however encourages them to be duty bound to determinedly join forces with women filmmakers to deconstruct these devaluing representations noting that a deliberate and conscious effort by filmmakers and actresses was required for proper evaluation of their roles in Nollywood.
Suffice it to say that the awareness for Nollywood actresses to deliberately turn down roles or adjust scripts that are continuously in the negative stereotypes of women is alien to most of them. The desire to promote the status of Nollywood to a world renowned film industry and also for personal recognition may have downplayed on the image of the Nigerian woman and the African society. Known as the third largest movie making industry in the world, caution is required here to not just proliferate the market with films without painstakingly writing and producing films that acknowledge the true identity and positive impact of women in societal development (God’spresence 188).
This goes to show that women filmmakers need to understand that the onus lies on them to deploy new modes of promoting the downplayed traditional and cultural practices that validate the role and place of women as contributors to national development and promoters of culture and national security.
Using Culture to Secure our National Pride
The historic epoch tagged FESTAC “77 which was the climax of African cultural exhibition of the diversity of talents, artifacts, artists, religion and culture which took place in Lagos, Nigeria has never been erased from the memories of those who participated, those who viewed and those who were told by oral tradition or those who read or watched the documented historic event. Today, in the 21st century, one could boldly state that Festac‘77 has metamorphosed into a new form we now refer to as carnivals. Carnivals have become a potent force in the dissemination, transformation and interactions between cultures. This has been made the more forcible by the process of globalization.
It is a common knowledge that the inability to document African history robbed the continent of its pride of place as being the starting point of civilization and other major issues. Thus lack of historical documentation has been a major challenge to the preservation of African history. Suffice it to state that, art artifacts which were abducted from Africa by foreigners are today seen in museums around Europe and other parts of the world who have laid claims to their ownership rather than Africa where they originated. Perhaps the recent development where some nations are returning these artifacts back to Africa, especially to Nigeria stems from the undeniable recognition of the culture these art pieces represent pointing to their origin and source. In the same vein, films produced from Nigeria, and by extension Africa are easily identifiable because of the culture they disseminate through the costumes, people, language, life style and traditional practices portrayed in these films. Perhaps this is a vital and potent reminder of the fact that if women filmmakers do not rise up to the task of transforming the culture disseminated in their films, the woman’s image and identity will be in jeopardy as the global audience would continue to see them in stereotypes that gives her no productive social status.
This work has examined films that present a culture where women are dehumanized which portends great danger to their security and contributions to national development. The work has adopted two theories: deconstruction and duty theories, where deconstruction is seen as the “analytic examination of something (as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy,” and duty theory tells how people act in certain ways as a matter of responsibility on their part. The role of women filmmakers in Nollywood was evaluated as of paramount importance to the transformation of culture and re-imaging of the Nigerian woman. In sum, this works emphasizes that the pivotal role of Nollywood women, as filmmakers and actresses strategically presents them as ambassadors of African culture and image makers of the African continent.
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