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ALI, Dameh Joseph: Historical and Cultural Re-Orientation in Kunle Afolayan’s October 1

Historical and Cultural Re-Orientation in Kunle Afolayan’s October 1

Dameh Joseph ALI

Department of Theatre and Performing Arts

Bayero University, Kano (BUK)

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GSM: +234-803-824-2698; +234-818-896-6796

Abstract

Overtime, films, like literature have come to encapsulate the activities of man. These activities are usually captured in stories told, written or acted for entertainment and didactic purposes. The enactment and representation of historical occurrences has provided a veritable tool for re-telling and re-orientation with the aim of attaining a more lucid and better grasp of a situation. Employing Nigeria’s historical and cultural diversity, Kunle Afolayan re-enacts Nigeria’s colonial experience and events at the eve of Nigeria’s Independence as a pointer to subsequent travails of the Nigerian State. This paper juxtaposes history, culture, present day realities and Afolayan’s October 1, simultaneously unravelling the seeming but not too obvious cause(s) of Nigeria’s challenges, and proffering solutions. It can be argued that Afolayan has actually brought to the fore the fact that Europe (Britain) ‘under-developed’ Africa(Nigeria).It could be said that October 1 is one of Nollywood’s step in the right direction.

Introduction

…art not only reproduces life but explains it: its productions very often ‘have the purpose of pronouncing judgment on the phenomena of life’ (Plekhanov 6)

It suffices to commence with an explication and effort to relate literature, drama and film as forms of art which reproduce and explain life through enactment of experiences and human actions as central and basic elements. As cultural and social practices they have become veritable tools for telling and retelling, through enactment. Film, like drama and literature has overtime taken a very prominent position in the schema of human life. Film is indeed ‘the popular art of our century’ (Carter 4). The relationship between film and drama is arguably, literature as both draw from the latter in most cases, (Chukwuma & Amalaha 78). However, while drama is realized on stage in the theatre, film is viewed on the screen. This disparity however may not necessarily draw a very thick line between the two forms of art as both essentially employ characters who imitate and improvise actions using dialogues. It is important to note that while literature strips man of visibility and reduces him to words on pages, drama gives man visibility and audibility on stage where gestures and body language are harnessed to enhance expression/narration. Film, has achieved mobility and portability of performances and ensuring the exactitude only literature could boast about. For ‘it is film that will have the ability to raise up and make visible once more human beings who are buried under mountains of words and concepts’ (Carter 11).

It is fascinating to observe that playwrights and screenwriters do not write in a vacuum (Wa Thiongo 12). In African countries they have occupied themselves with the realities of Africa’s experiences as it relates to relations with Colonialism and its offspring, i.e., imperialism/neo-colonialism, cultural/religious/political crises/skirmishes and most recently – xenophobia. Africa’s history told from the perspective of non-Africans and that which is told from an African perspective may vary in terms of detail and import/effect, Smith and Mendelsohn corroborates, thus:

… Many have drawn on the African past for their film narratives, often as a means of engaging with and ‘historicizing’ the pressing issues of contemporary Africa. These history films set out to contest older European versions of the continent where ‘Europe is presented as the bringer of history and civilization to an ahistorical Africa’. Instead these films present versions of African past from African perspectives, re-visioning major themes, including slavery, imperialism, colonialism and post-colonialism in more complex and balanced ways and, crucially, reaffirming African agency (3).

Kunle Afolayan’s October 1 engages Nigeria’s history, using the colonial experience of the nation by Britain to narrate experiences from an African perspective.

             It suffices, therefore, to posit that Film, as shown in October 1 is an effort at retelling Africa’s history. This retelling aims not just at x-raying Africa’s experience as an interruptive intervention from the West, the focus seem to be an explication of Africa’s peculiar and current challenges as an outcome of that historical experience.

Theoretical Concerns

October 1, a historic day in Nigeria, which is celebrated as a public holiday commemorating the country’s independence from colonial dominating Britain, leaves no doubt as to the pre-occupation of the film – October 1, with issues concerning colonialism and post-colonialism. Not just as a national discourse, since the film was produced in 2014, this suggests that it is an investigation in post-colonial vicissitudes; the colonial experience itself and legacies thereof. Gauri Viswanathan opines that Post-Colonialism is the ‘study of the cultural interaction between colonizing powers and the societies they colonized, and the traces that this interaction left…’ (Stam 292).

The concept of Colonial discourse hinged on Ashcroft, Griffith and Tiffin’s seminal theorization on colonial discourse, titled, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post Colonial Literature and Edward Said’s Orientalism provides a veritable tool for understanding colonial discourse on the one hand and counter colonial discourse on the other, as this work seeks to proffer. Said discusses Orientalism as a body of works that represent the Orient as inferior, barbaric and inherently uncivilized. Europe as the Occident is therefore the source of civilization and all good. He maintains that ‘Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West…and a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient’ (Said 204).  Narratives like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth fit into the category of Orientalist narratives. Viswanathan corroborates thus:

British colonial administrators, provoked by missionaries on the one hand and fears of native insubordination on the other, discovered an ally in English literature to support them in maintaining control of the natives under the guise of liberal education (in Ashcroft 3).

The perceptions, portrayals and representations of Africa, Asia and other colonized territories in narratives authored by Westerners have fostered counter narratives in new art forms like films.

Kunle Afolayan has produced a number of films: Irapada, The Figurine, Phone Swap and October 1, amongst others. He has concentrated on issues that concern a wide range of African experiences. He places a lot of effort on mise-en-scene peculiarities for his productions in spite of ‘commercial pressures within the studio system’ (Butler 34-35). He has maintained effective respect for ‘Africaness’ in his films. It is rare to find non conformist African images in his films, family and societal values are placed at the zenith. His productions are a departure from the commercially motivated films which ‘are being produced at a rate of nearly one a day’ (Haynes xv). October 1 for instance was produced and premiered to coincide and commemorate Nigeria’s centenary celebration in 2014.

            October 1 fits into the Med Hondo School of aesthetic African Cinema. As Shaka points, ‘African cinema should adopt an anti-imperialist approach to counter Hollywood’s images and representations of Africans’ and Africa (37). It is a colonial counter discourse, countering the ‘uneven Afro-European power relations’ which ‘defined Africans as inferior beings and their customary practices as perversions of European ideals.’ Kunle Afolayan, a Nigerian by birth whose films bother on issues that pertain to African experiences, his October 1 qualifies as an African film because, ‘for a film to qualify as an African film, the filmmaker must be an African either by birth or naturalization, and that it should be based on African social experience’ (Shaka 35).

            Nigeria gained political independence from Britain on this day in 1960. British colonial officers led by Frederick Lugard ruled the colony through the Royal Niger Company, while Indirect Rule was found to be best for the Northern protectorate, Direct Rule was found to be best for most of the Southern region. This difference might be adduced to Cultural and religious peculiarities of the regions which were merged in 1914.

            With her diverse cultural, ethnic and religious leanings, Nigeria has over the years witnessed several crises. Contemporary Nigeria is not devoid of such crises. To grapple and tackle such, knowledge of the country’s history and culture comes in handy.Films provide a lot of insight into a community’s well being. They also represent the yearnings, feelings and aspirations of a nation, ‘films are linked to society across many social issues’ (Miller 15).

Synopsis and Analysis of October 1

The film opens with racy shots of a rape scene, where both the assailant and victim’s identities are kept at bay from the viewers. Subsequently, it is discovered that the Oba of Akote’s son, Prince Aderopo (Ademola Adedoyin) the first University graduate from the town is the assailant and is guilty of a number of signature rape/murder cases where the victims are not just raped, but their throats slit and the inscription of the cross drawn on their chests.

            As later unveiled in the film, Prince Aderopo’s dastardly act is predicated and premeditated on Father Dowling (Colin David Reese), a Bishop in the Catholic Church who has been defiling boys (Aderopo too) in Secondary school. Aderopo feels his community sold him out to the Missionaries to be defiled; hence the community must pay back by feeling exactly what he felt and suffered in the hands of Father Dowling. It is safe therefore to submit that without colonial influence, Akote would not have suffered such fate; death of several young ladies through rape. Prior to that, Akote never experienced such. Again, while Father Dowling is not just a paedophile but also gay, Aderopo as an African is innately sane by not raping boys like him (though this is in no way justifying his actions), but knows that sexual experience should be between males and females, a core African cultural value. In the light of this, it is safe to posit that Father Dowling, a colonial representative functions as a source of underdevelopment.  

This explains why Tawa (Kehinde Bankole) – a girl, was not chosen by Father Downing to be taken for Post primary education, even though she was the ‘brightest student’ in the class. It is clear that the Father ‘preferred boys.’          While Nigerians celebrated, in the words of Lord Sebastian Tomkins (Lawrence Stubbings), the situation was ‘independence commiserations more like, I think we’ll hold on to Kenya for a few more years.’

Even if Nigeria and Nigerians are not known for corruption, Nigerians know how corrupt the country is. Corruption is virtually the only thing that works perfectly in the country. It is important to note that when the colonial masters left, they had already taught and shown the Nigerians they handed over to the art of corruption. The colonial masters (Winterbotton) had laid a corrupt foundation for the nation (Inspector Danladi Waziri). While it could be believed that Africans are corrupt unlike the Europeans, the opposite was the case as found in the episode of the rape/murder of an Igbo girl – Chidinma (one of Aderopo’s victims) in Yoruba land and the arrest of a Hausa man – Usman Dangari. The discovery of another dead body leads to a search and in the process, a Hausa man who happens to be wandering – trying to find his way is accosted. Although he appears to be the culprit, he is however innocent. Although taken into police custody, he got murdered by the girl’s father – Okafor (Kanayo O. Kanayo) while being transferred to another prison.

            Inspector Danladi Waziri, after investigating the case and arriving at a conclusion that the rapist/murderer is no other than Prince Aderopo, was ordered by Ruppert Winterbotton (Nick Rhys) to sweep his findings under the carpet. The following dialogue ensues:

Winterbotton:           You won’t submit this file to the ministry of justice. You will submit the original report to clearly state Usman Dangari as the murderer.

Inspector Danladi: Usman is innocent, Prince Aderopo is the killer!

Winterbotton: Usman is a nobody, no ties, no family, and no connections - disposable. The prince however, is the university educated son of a prominent Yoruba king with close ties to the new premier – Akintola, not disposable.  

Inspector Danladi:  But that is not right!

Winterbotton:           It is not about right or wrong, it is about reality. This newly independent country cannot stomach this can of worms.

Inspector Danladi: That is why I want a little more time.

Winterbotton: Unnecessary, transfer him to Ogodi prison in Ibadan tomorrow, they’ll take it from there.

Inspector Danladi: I cannot sweep this under the rug.

Winterbotton: (Getting irritated) Now listen to me, you’ll do as you’re bloody well told.

Lord Sebastian Tomkins: ….impudence … would be flogged in Kenya.

Winterbotton: I’m warning you Danny Boy; don’t rise above your station. Nigeria may be independent but clearly have no idea about the politics of this fragile land. An Igbo woman is killed in Yoruba land. A Hausa man is arrested and subsequently killed by the Igbo father. It turns out that the Hausa man is innocent. It was indeed a Yoruba prince who murdered the Igbo woman and others. No! Nigerian government won’t allow this to see the light of day. Case closed.

Inspector Danladi: Is this about protecting Nigeria? Or the fact that one of your own, a man of clergy was busy molesting young boys?

Winterbotton: How dare you?

Inspector Danladi: How dare you Sir! Is the case in Enugu not bad enough? Or do you intend to cover all the crimes of the white man in Nigeria?

Winterbotton: You are walking very thin line Danny Boy. Don’t cross it, if you do I will crush you, by God Almighty I will crush you to bits.

Chief Ins. Ackerman: Inspector Waziri, do yourself a very big favour, back off!

Winterbotton: Play your cards right. In a couple of years you’ll be Commissioner!

Chief Ins. Ackerman: Don’t let this weigh you down. It’s the British class system… they just            want to maintain the status quo….

It is clear from the above scene, which closes the film, that Inspector Danladi Waziri, a representation of Africa and Nigeria, is modest, sincere and not corrupt, unlike Winterbotton, Ackerman and Lord Sebastian.

            However, the seeds of corruption are sown and have germinated. Subverting justice to favour the ruling class; exactly what Inspector Danladi would never have done, but forced to do. The rise of citizens who are above the law, sacred cows who can’t be arrested, questioned or detained. To get promoted, one has to play his/her cards right; playing cards right infers not being sincere, straight forward, subverting justice, punishing the masses for the offences of royalty and wealthy in the society; announcing and putting it into record that Usman Dangari as the rapist/murderer instead of Prince Aderopo. This exemplifies the legacy left by the colonialists. It explains the situation in Nigeria where such corrupt practices seem to be institutionalized.

Conclusion

The story in October 1 explains through dramatization, the activities of British colonial masters in Nigeria and how those experiences have laid the foundation of the current situation in the country, for ‘history acquires meaning and objectivity only when it establishes a coherent relation between past and future’ (Ogunleye 8). The despicable actions of Father Downling on Aderopo, Koya and others lead to the ‘retaliatory’ rape/murder of young girls in Akute. The intelligence and diligence of Inspector Danladi Waziri a Northerner is worthy of note, it could be a pointer to the fact that the North experienced a civilization prior to European intrusion. Also, Winterbotton’s order to ‘sweep under the rug’ evidence of the real culprit of the rape/murder just because the culprit is a prince, has ‘connections’ and not ‘disposable’, portrays him (Winterbotton) as ethically and morally corrupt. This clearly exhibits the European class system, where some individuals in the society are deemed sacred and above the laws of the land.

Power is the ability to defend one’s interest and if necessary to impose one’s will by any means available… when a society finds itself forced to relinquish power entirely to another society, that itself is a form of underdevelopment (Rodney 271-272).

          The above aptly captures Africa’s experience. The effect of colonialism in African countries leaves virtually nothing to be imagined or desired. The interests of Africans were set aside in favour of the ‘super’ interest of the Colonial Empire. In Nigeria, political power and religious activities were taken over by Her Majesty’s representatives; District Officers and Reverend Fathers became forces to reckon with. There was a clear distinction between the Orient and the Occident. The former believes in self superiority over the latter, and with greater economic and political will than moral will, subjected the latter to its beliefs, interests, religion, and ‘values’. In October 1, Afolayan aptly captures the loss of power and inability to impose one’s will no matter how morally sound it is. Inspector Waziri on the one hand confronts Winterbotton, Ackerman and Lord Sebastian; young Prince Aderopo and his mates experiences Father Downling’s inhumanity to man.

In spite of all these, Colonialism is not wholly abhorred. It should be known and accepted that the experience had both negative and positive effects on the African continent. The vices commonly associated to Nigeria are not a Nigerian peculiarity, but a human dynamic common to all races. No nation or race is completely virtuous or vice proof. October 1 is Afolayan’s and should be Nollywood’s heed to Ogunleye’s call that ‘artists need to know what Western powers think of us and what they do to us to enable us chart an appropriate artistic orientation’ (Ogunleye 8). Nigeria is historically and culturally re-oriented through October 1, to grapple with her past, understand the present, and know that the solutions to current challenges lies inward, in individuals’ ability to always be upright, insist on rule of law and, cultural and religious tolerance.

Works Cited

Ashcroft Bill, Griffiths Gareth & Tiffin Helen. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post Colonial Literature. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge, 2002.

Braudy, Leo & Cohen, M.  Film Theory and Criticism. Oxford: University Press, 2009.

Butler, M. Andrew. Film Studies.Herts: Pocket Essentials, 2008.

Carter, Erica ed. Bela Balazs: Early Film Theory. Trans. Livingstone Rodney. New York: Berghahn, 2011.

Chukwuma & Amalaha. “The Video Film Industry & its ‘Substitution’ for Literature and Reading in Africa: A Case Study of Nigeria’s Nollywood.” Ernest N. Emenyonu (Ed.), Film in African Literature Today, 28. Ibadan: HEBN Publishers, 2010.

Haynes, Jonathan. Nigerian Video Films. Ohio: Centre for International Studies, 2000.

Miller, Toby. “Film and Society.” Media and Society. Ed. Curran James. London: Blomsbury, 2010.

Ogunleye, Foluke. Africa through the Eye of the Video Camera.Manzini: Academic Publishers, 2008.

Plekhanov. Art and Social Life.London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1913.

Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.London: Bogle-L’Overture Publications, 1973.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 1977.

Shaka, Femi O. Modernity and the African Cinema: A Study in Colonial Discourse, Postcoloniality and Modern African Identities. New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2004.

Smith Vivian, B & Mendelsohn Richard. Eds. Black and White in Colour: African History on Screen. Oxford: James Curry Ltd, 2006.

Stam, Robert. Film Studies: An Introduction. Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2000.

Wa Thiongo, Ngugi. Writers in Politics. Nairobi: Heinemann, 1981.

Filmography

Afolayan, Kunle. October 1. 2014.

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