Thematic Preoccupation of Igbo Films: New Dimension to the Image Bastardization in Nigerian Movie Industry
Dept. of Ling/Lang and Literary Studies
Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo
PMB 1010, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State
GSM: +234-803-749-4775; +234-909-110-8021
More than any other video films: Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio/Efik and the Ijaw films in Nigeria, the Igbo film culture has been at the vanguard of sustaining what many have described as the other Hollywood culture in sub-Saharan Africa, maintaining a gigantic viewership and an economically viable enterprise. However, the most disturbing aspect of this success story is the thematic preoccupation of these films, otherwise known as the content. In the near two scores of its existence, the Igbo film culture has more often than not presented the Igbo as a nation of voodoos, occultists, dupes, witches, sorcerers, ritualists and prostitutes. While it controls and enjoys the largest network of viewership and market returns, it has deliberately and heavily misrepresented its primary constituents: the Igbo. Video films usually x-ray a particular culture and within the visuals, content and aesthetics an aggregate of the people’s social attitude is formed. We can say that Igbo image in the Nigerian movie industry is replete with misrepresentations and casts doubts about the sincerity in their business successes and general life-style; and this is invariably as a result of misconceptions from Nigerians about Igbo cultural matrix and mores. This paper re-visits the image myth currently surrounding the Igbos in their films vis-à-vis the Igbo reality. It concludes that placing too high premium on financial gains, the inability to conduct credible research, the impatience to allot time to a particular film project, lack of professionalism that is associated with the video format, and lack of creative and critical borrowings from foreign film cultures have masterminded the ignoble trend that characterizes the Igbo film culture and has conversely cast doubts on the true image of the Igbo.
If the value of art (any art) is to find expression in the society in which it is created, if the artist does not create in vacuum as the society in which he lives and creates his art serves as both originator and projector of this art, if countering Oscar Wilde’s position that “art expresses nothing but itself,” and therefore, assenting that “art is, indeed, the expression and reflection of the totality of the human condition” Umukoro (5), then in a more affirmation to Soyinka’s views expressed in Olaniyan and Quayson that, “the artist and his art have always functioned in African society as the record of the mores and experiences of his society and as the voice of vision in his own time” (101). Then we can say of the Igbo films that their themes, their high imaginative intensity and ability to communicate at a level that immediately holds emotions all spring from a particular Igbo cultural matrix. The themes in Igbo films therefore, are the expressions of those world-views which intricately bind the Igbos together. This therefore, is the Nollywood, our way of telling our own story to the world in our own way. It is the magic and authority that this telling gives to both producers and the taste publics that pulls the culturally diverse parts of Nollywood together. It is this magic that brings the life of and existence of the African (the Igbo) closer to his roots through the film medium.
It is now public opinion that the emergence of the Igbo film, has indeed boosted the entire home video front in Nigeria, opening new possibilities, dimensions and of course challenges in the industry at large. Its entry has been considered a major breakthrough for the Nigerian home video industry in more ways than one, obvious lapses of recycled themes and technical know-how regardless. For example, the theme and sub-themes of Living In Bondage by Nek Video Links has been so much recycled that people now see ritual, bloodletting and occultism as part of Igbo lifestyle, thereby misrepresenting the Igbo cultural matrix. Most Igbo films today reflect the above wrong notions, which is no doubt a bad footing for the Igbo film. In the words of Ogunjiofor, a product of NFI, Jos, he asserts, “…the video film world in Nigeria has not yet started. We have a long way to go… we are imitative; we produce in English and adopt Western concepts which are lost on our people who patronize our films (Haynes & Okome 35).
In spite of its breakthrough commercially and numerically most of these Igbo films still lack that cultural touch and taste akin to ethnic films. For Nigerian video producers, the films are theatricalized, fantasized and magicalized in terms of visual effects, the more they are guaranteed heavy financial returns. This is done unfortunately at the detriment of thematic content, context and other filmic features. Some of the films that are culture based on the other hand are grossly misinterpreted or misrepresent the people and their culture. This is as a result of wanton extravagance of illiteracy and ignorance among the Igbo film makers. Their works reveal a proud display of inadequate research and unnecessary generalization and assumptions, especially those of them that embark on epic film production. Many of the films are false representation of the Igbo society, they blow situations out of proportion and are infused with an excess dose of ritual, witchcraft, occultism, bloodletting, nudity and sex which are what the Igbo socio-cultural mores are not.
It is undoubtedly true that the Igbo film maker is not a professional but an opportunist and an avaricious businessman whose sole aim is to maximize profit at all cost which is the trade mark of an average Igbo man in Nigeria. However, much as business cannot be undermined in filmmaking, it must not overshadow or control the thematic preoccupation; a people’s ethos and image must not be murdered on the altar of wanton financial pursuit. The potency of art in externalizing the most in-depth of a people’s culture and life style must be harnessed and put into use in filmmaking. Culture should be the core factor in ethnic films and Igbo films inclusive. Therefore, a people for whom a film is created around should be able to identify themselves in the films. They should be able to see their culture and life style, their challenges, their world-view from which their strengths and weaknesses are made manifest; from which they see and feel their past, their present; and from which they take cues for better future.
It is incontestably true that every work of art stems from the society that gave it birth. The product of any work of art is, therefore, nurtured and conditioned by the varying environing factors around which the work sprouts. Bamidele, quoting G. H. Bantock, confirms the relatedness of literature to society. In his words:
G.H. Bantock restates the interrelationship between literature and the social world from which it is created. In his view, he argues that all novel and plays and a fair amount of dramatic or narrative poetry (film inclusive) may not be understood without their environing context (2).
Barzun concludes that, “a country, finally, erodes and the dust blows away, the people die and none of them were of any importance permanently, except those who practiced the arts…a thousand years makes economics silly and a work of art endures forever” (18). We human beings do not last a thousand years, but art surely has and does. So, when because of the immediate monetary inducement we want by all means, we mortgage the future of our arts (films), when it does outlives us, the future surely will be bleak just the same way the past has been hazy with lies for monetary rewards.
In reading the Igbo film culture, quoting Chris Okey Obiako, Ekwuazi, in his seminal essay captures this ugly trend inter-alia:
Today the credibility of the Igbo man… has been smeared. His hard earned reputation for business and financial success and more importantly, his unquestioned uprightness, which used to be a subject of envy to other tribes, has been dragged into the mud…. In their hurry to amass wealth, in their lust for state of the art cars and other luxuries, in their quest to build heaven on earth, a bunch of scoundrels have turned Igbo myth around – from sublime to the ridiculous (Ekwuazi in Haynes 82).
It is based on these presumptions in Nigerian society that the reading of the thematic preoccupation of film culture of Igbos will be underscored in this paper, since the influence of society on a work of art apart from dictating the mood, tone and other items of content; also shapes the form of such work. The form of the work could either be distorted or moulded depending on a negative or positive societal influence exerted on the work. “Societal Influence” here connotes; the makers of the art work (filmmakers) in this instance, the art work and the environing conditions (which could either be social, economic, political or religious) around which it is created. It is therefore, this indelible thumb print of the makers, and/or the environing conditions on the art which when decoded and analyzed against the backdrop of the finished work explains why the work is the way it is.
The Film Medium as Satire
Film medium in Nigeria from its earliest beginnings has always been geared towards satirizing the socio-political and economic life of the Nigerian people. Okoye has affirmed that, “Nigerian cinema showed marked interest in a critique of contemporary socio-political life…” (26). Kongi’s Harvest, the first Nigerian film, adapted from Wole Soyinka’s play of the same title, in 1970, for instance, is a satirical critique of the proliferation of military dictatorships across the political landscape of contemporary Africa. Film as virile vehicle of expression seeks to investigate man, his behaviour in society and his knowledge of himself. Film like literature is part of and product of society. Its nature is essentially social, satiric and didactic. Edwin Wilson defines satire as, “art form related to traditional burlesque, but with more intellectual and moral content” (26). Satire employs wit, irony, and exaggeration to attack or expose evil and foolishness. Satire can attack one figure… or it can be more inclusive… (27).
Satiric film is a form of social control. Bamidele in theorizing about satire in society says that the genre came about in a cultural climate that saw the form of literature in the service of its didactic intent. In all facets of life, man needs to conform to a social norms and mores, and so satire in its various forms; film, stage, television or even our communal moonlight story telling sessions is a ready weapon to drive home these ideals using its various methods and styles. This style or method could be through irony, parody, invective, sarcasm and wit. In most cases our enjoyment and understanding of satire in films, texts, television and on stage derives from our thought of political ineptitude or inadequacy of a leader, a system or an institution. According to Bamidele, satire acts as target of political wit. Political wit can be directed against social groups, circles or strata whose social position is contested (6).
These people become the butt of satirical gibes when they act at variance with established norms. And so film employs satire tremendously to achieve and realize its aims and objectives at remodelling the society. Satire adopts the means of correcting manners, establishing moral values and ideas in the process, through the employment of exaggeration with dramatic wits or sarcasm. This is achieved through objectiveness in approach as well as rationality of mockery. But when these themes emanating from satire and other genres in the film are overused deliberately without recourse to research into the thematic content or the society from where the theme is derived, it becomes a case of derision, misrepresentation and misconception leading to character assassination. Film, like the media, is active in visual imagery and laundering. And people tend to respond more to what they see than what they hear. This is the case with the Igbos and the reality of Igbo film and its image bashing in Nigeria movie industry.
Scholars have been at daggers drawn on what side of the divide they will take their scathing criticisms from; poor scripting, poor financing, lack of technical input, lack of professionalism, over used actors, shylock marketers and producers, etc., yet, there are some who do not see anything wrong about recycled themes of Igbo films which testify to the humiliation and embarrassment suffered daily by the Igbos due to their battered image in Nigerian movie industry, as much as the economy is progressive from the earnings. Beyond this negativisation syndrome, this view believes a medium that churns out as much as 40Billion naira annually cannot but be good as the vision 20:2020 lurks around the corner (Utoh-Ezeajugh 225). Others believe the reputation and notoriety of our actors is good enough for the international image of the country despite what goes on in the industry since our stars in the industry can now be recognized in Europe, America, Asia, Britain and more so on the streets of major cities in African sub-regions (Ayakoroma 17). Yet, others are of the opinion that the only problem with the industry is with the quality of the camera and continuity interplay (Adedokun 260-263).
Ekwuazi opines that, “the truth is that all those prevalent themes – witchcraft/sorcery, cultism/ rituals, prostitution/scammers, murder/armed robbery etc. which the home video are forever recycling, are really the instruments of wealth creation – they sell” (18). Be that as it may, we cannot, therefore, murder our hard earned reputations as a people (Igbo) on the altar of financial gains and the euphoria of the moment. This is the position of (Barzun 20), when he insists that “art cannot be divorced from moral and social significance; but in subversive art the future interests of society replace the present interests…genuine art cannot be anti-people.” The Igbo filmmakers should take a cue from this.
Thematic Preoccupation of Igbo Films
Nigerian movie industry no doubt has contributed in no more small measure to the socio-economic gains of the country, yet, it is also replete with negative tendencies. Starting with the box-office hit, Living in Bondage, Nollywood has projected Nigeria and the Igbo in particular as a ritualistic society, where sacrifices involving human beings are perpetrated per second billing.
The crux of this paper is on any Nigerian video film which revolves on the Igbo world view, produced either in Igbo or English language, in spite of the ethnic origin of the producer, director, cast and crew, location or period of production. The unfavourable environing factors around video film production in Nigeria have greatly distorted its content and hampered its potentials, especially among the case study of this paper, the Igbo film. Context always determines content. Hollywood films are circulated all over the world today because they have the enabling environment and a highly organized industry: context of production. In Nigeria, the reverse is the case as the industry is abused in content and context. Emphasis is laid on glamour, on enticing and seductive images, putrid and pedestrian nuances which the film makers rely on to sell the films.
Most of the Igbo video films take all the time to glamorize evil and unethical behaviours like prostitution, sexual vulgarity and bawdiness, armed robbery, money laundering, money ritual, occultism, scammers, internet fraudsters, 419ners, etc. all these themes run through the whole length of the film, consuming about 85minutes of the 90minutes duration of the film. At the end, a paltry five minutes is used to right the wrongs that spanned through the whole film, just to fulfil the Aristotelian concept of good triumphing over evil. With such films, the aspiration and desire of the audience to come to terms with their culture and life style must have been dashed by the incessant show of all forms of amoral life style and conduct replete in the films.
The thematic preoccupation of most if not all Igbo films nay Nigerian video films in the words of Ekwuazi, “has succeeded in branding Nigeria as a country of occultists, swindlers, drug barons and go-go girls” (5). Everybody closely associated with the production of the Igbo films from the script writer, director, actors, marketers, producers and most annoyingly the reviewers are all culpable in this erroneous peddling of these farcical visual aesthetic assault.
The newspaper reviewer, who should be an arbiter, is also caught in this web. Ekwuazi states inter alia:
The critic/reviewer mediates between the industry and the audience, his immediate aim is to influence the reader to decide to see a specific film; his ultimate aim: to refine the taste of both the industry and the audience (15).
The newspaper reviewer at first glance would tag the films as Igbo cultural films and would recommend it to every home, or proclaim it “a must watch for everyone”. This is because he has been deceived by the charade of costumes, make-up, location, etc., shown in the films. He does not ask how much of the brazen display of obscenity and sexual overtures are becoming of a typical Igbo community. These things are sacrosanct and hallowed in Igbo cultural life and so should not be shown however implicitly. Even when these values are becoming over-thrown by all sorts of immoral conducts introduced by Western civilization, the ethnic filmmaker should be an astute researcher whose work it is to research into cultures and exhume whatever culture seems dying or dead and try his hand in resuscitating and reviving them through the vibrant medium of film for the benefit and betterment of the society at large.
The filmmakers always seem to want to fill in the gap with just anything without considering its sociological impact on the people. Themes from rituals through the portrayal of sudden possession of wealth, sorcery and the portrayal of magic and witchcraft, voodoo and the extent to which the oracles kill, and armed robbery has been recycled more than any other theme in Igbo film culture. This has necessitated some critical approach to why creativity has nosedived in the film industry and quest for monetary returns elevated beyond imagination. The themes, the high imaginative intensity and ability to communicate at a level that immediately holds emotions and captures interest is a reflection of how good these movie makers have become in false fabrication of Igbo cultural reality and how conversely lies can easily be peddled and disseminated for the unsuspecting and gullible viewers to believe what they see (visual reality different from the cultural reality).
From every indication it appears that the Igbo film maker is not a professional but an opportunist and an avaricious businessman whose sole aim is to make money at all cost, thereby placing mercantilism above social value and image construction. As Haynes and Okome opine, “the main reason for this would seem to be the historical situation of the Igbo in modern Nigeria. The Igbo videos are the expression of an aggressive commercial mentality whose field of activity is Nigeria’s cities” (quoted in Enem 24). Much as business cannot be undermined in film making, it must not overshadow or control the content and context of the film. Art must not be sacrificed on the altar of business. The potency of art in externalizing the most in-depth of a people’s culture and life-style must be harnessed and put into use in an art that reflect and refracts their mores like the film medium and not otherwise. Culture should be the core factor in ethnic film making and Igbo films should not be left out and or rather bastardized in its thematic preoccupation. A people for whom a film is made should be able to identify themselves in the film; they should be able to see their culture and lifestyle, their challenges, their world view from which their strengths and weaknesses are made manifest; from which they see their past, their present, and from which they take cues for a better future. But when the film is badly made, bereft of any contextual link to the people for which it was made, they will fail to see themselves even while “looking at themselves in their own mirror” (Okoye 20). Such a film, therefore, loses its sociological impact and becomes reduced to a banal piece of work and of no significance.
Such Igbo films like Living in Bondage, Wipe your Tears, Blood Money, Died Wretched and Buried in One Million Casket, Billionaires Club, Widows Cot, Glamour Girls, The Master, Across the Border, Yesterday, to mention but just a few, have taken all the time to glamorize evil and unethical behaviours like ritual, prostitution and sexual suggestiveness, armed robbery, money laundering, drug peddling, voodooism and occultism. Many of these films and their thematic preoccupation are false representation of the Igbo society. These film producers and directors blow situations out of proportion in a bid to entice and keep their unsuspecting audience. These exaggerations are exactly what the Igbo social-cultural system avoids. But because these people are businessmen and to keep their business going, there must be a story to attract patronage no matter whose culture is on the brink of bastardization.
For instance, the Igbo films that deploy magic and witchcraft do so to increase the theatricalities inherent in the film and invariably increase sales. In fact, since after the production of Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage, subsequent Igbo films have recycled the thematic versions of this formative and groundbreaking film. There is hardly an Igbo film without a group of occultists who involve themselves in ritual killing of family members to get rich. For more than a decade of such nefarious filmmaking practice, the long lasting Igbo image and reputation have been smeared immutably. Therefore, while the Igbo proud themselves, as very enterprising and hardworking people, these films show them as indolent and never-do-wells, people who want to make quick and easy money by all means possible. The films are used to disseminate wrong information about the Igbo, yet beyond this negativisation syndrome, the producers are the better for it, smiling to the bank, no matter whose image is on the precipice of annihilation.
What is more worrisome is the general and erroneous assumption that any success story is based on involvement in occultism, juju or fetishism. This paper is not holding brief or saying there is no juju but the argument is simply; must we ascribe success to spirituality or negativity? The objective of this article is simply to change our erroneous belief that ascribes every success to occult or evil power. We must at least respect the creative and entrepreneurial ingenuity of our innate abilities. Take, for instance, the case of our music talents, today, when a creative artiste hits a blockbuster in music or movie, what you hear is he or she has gone to his village to re-engineer his juju; funny as it may sound, most people have come to accept it as the truth and of course the newest fad – the Illuminati and Dorobucci story currently making the news in our music space. So much has been said about the spirituality behind the Illuminati group. Many have ascribed negativity and diabolism to the activities of the group. The source of their success and powers has been said to be gotten from the devil. This perceived assumption has lain credence to the widely accepted contraption that the success of most talents in the creative industry globally is from the Illuminati sect, how true this is not the interest of this paper.
New Dimension in the Dialectics of Thematic Preoccupation in Igbo films
However, the thrust of this paper is to reveal and establish the perceived culprits of this phenomenon; the bastardization of Igbo myth and realities in Igbo films. This perceived culpability has left Igbo cultural matrix at the brink of extinction due to the many injustices bedevilling the film industry as a result of hankering after financial gains which conversely hampers the genuine growth of the medium and its taste publics.
The Nigerian film industry lacks cohesion. The industry operates differently among the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria: Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo, recently films in Ijaw and Efik cultures have taken the centre stage. Each of them further constitute three or more different and disparate cultures which determine the content of their films.
The Yoruba film is influenced by the animated universe of the Yoruba people. Life for the Yoruba is cyclical involving the world of the living, the dead and the unborn (Soyinka, 1976). Their belief in reincarnation and continuity is shown in the films which infuse and expose history, myth and legendary acts, folklore and songs.
The Hausa film on the other hand is dedicated to showing the Hausa man’s devotion and commitment to his religion especially, Islam. This is what Ekwuazi describes as the call of the muezzin. The Qur’an looms large over story, technique and acting. Whatever runs counter to the tenets of this religion is considered sacrilegious and abominable. The art of film itself was against Islam from the beginning and is recently being tolerated. Filmmakers, therefore, place their films on self-censorship or face the attendant economic consequences. Larkin captures it succinctly:
Adding to this problem was the traditional Islamic prohibition on the creation of images, which raised the fundamental issue of whether the practice of viewing itself was unislamic. The early Hausa names for cinema, such as Majigi (derived from magic) and dodon bango (evil spirit on the wall) betray the linguistic traces of these controversies. From the beginning, cinema had disreputable, unislamic is attached to it (114).
The Hausa religion does not provide a platform for any form of compromise in their thematic preoccupation. As a producer, one must comply with the don’ts associated with making a film for Hausa audience. Their culture and worldview which is heavily religious are preserved for posterity and the future generation. Any wonder the phenomenal rise of the Boko Haram dissention in the North-East Nigeria.
The Igbo film shows more of the Igbo man’s excessive, insatiable and inordinate hankering with wealth than it shows the Igbo cultural matrix and world view. Though the former serves as a vehicle for the later, the later (culture and world view) is featured in the passing. Majority of the Igbo films are replete with the Igbo man’s aggrandizement and megalomania. But this not the true picture of the Igbo man’s world views. According to Ekwuazi:
the Igbo people place high premium on achievement and associates failure or laziness to leprosy or lameness. Therefore, the individual goes to any length to distinguish himself from his peers by hook or crook. This individualism is opposed to, and contradicts communalism, which the Igbo people prize higher than the individual cult (73).
Moreover, Onitsha, Aba and Idumota in Lagos which is heavily populated by the Igbo youth and where these films are majorly shot serve as a melting pot where different individuals from all over the eastern states and beyond converge, involving themselves in all sorts of deals, trying to outsmart one another by all means but genuine. It is only natural therefore, for filmmakers here to create stories reflecting these healthy and unhealthy rivalries among these disparate entities, who have abandoned their communities to participate in a commercial muscle-flexing contest, seeking achievement by all means. Apart from music, the Igbo were not involved in any sort of performing arts until the early ‘90s. Eddie Ugbomah remains the only person with Igbo roots involved in film throughout the period celluloid waxed and waned. If the business does not have a high and fast turnover rate, count the Igbo man out of such venture. Film at that period was not regarded as a money spinning enterprise. No wonder it did not interest him. The Igbo turned to video because it had better promises of attractive financial gains owing to the breakthrough of Living in Bondage by Kenneth Nnebue. Film business became big business with the emergence of Igbo filmmakers. However, one reads Igbo film, two recurring factors are discernible: individualism and commercialism.
Distributors/Marketers as Power brokers
Most of what is happening in the video films today is a reflection of the atypical nature of the film industry. The industry is skewed. In a typical set up, the paradigms of power in the industry include: the producer, the director, censorship, exhibitor, and the audience. Apart from the Censor Board, which has even caved in with the pressure from the producers, every other paradigm is subject to the lordship of the distributor. The exhibitor died with the cine film. The distributor/marketers who are mostly semi-literates and illiterates form a cartel of juggernauts and by virtue of being the financiers and marketers of the films; they arrogate power to themselves and control the entire industry. Jonathan Haynes and Onookome Okome capture this ugly trend:
Because in many cases they put up the capital for video productions they are in a position to determine casting… and as a cartel they can kill films in which they have no cultural or financial interest. All this is the more resented are generally wholly uneducated in film aesthetics… (31).
Production under this system is rigid if not impossible. Directors have a lessening opportunity to contribute to the whole. Most directors end up being directed. They are assigned a script rather than choosing one. They are given a cast list of performers and told to shoot the film in a few days. The distributor/marketer amasses so much power to himself that he calls the shots in any film from casting to editing. Not just on the director alone, the distributor-marketer also uses his veto power on the scriptwriter, the producer and the cast as well.
For a distributor/marketer to accept a film script presented to him for production, the story must first conform to a particular genre currently in distribution. Take the thematic preoccupation of ‘Love’ for instance, if the story does not relate to love, no matter how topical or timely the theme of the story is, it will be rejected. It can also be totally dismantled or reassembled to suit the distributor/marketer. Perchance the script is a good one, the distributor/marketer pays off the scriptwriter and inscribes his name as the writer. Whatever story is to be produced, must of necessity, represent the interest and satisfy the aspiration of the distributor/marketer. The image of the culture on parade here is as good as bastardized to suit the distributor/marketer and scripter.
The producer under this system is employed by the distributor/marketer. He is charged with making sure that capital mapped out for the film project is frugally used and the most result achieved. He is tasked with ensuring production ends within the shortest number of days possible. He fuels the entire production process, cutting corners where possible to beat time and save cost. The earlier he submits the edited master tape to the distributor/marketer, the longer he keeps his job. Therefore, whatever form of malpractice that needed to be done to secure his job is most welcome.
Censorship is a weapon usually used by government or its agencies to prevent the circulation of sensitive materials considered unhealthy for the taste public. In film, censorship is an indispensible power block. It exists to place a check on the numerous excesses that are naturally associated with films in all film cultures. By numerous excesses, I mean the blazing depiction of nudity, sexual acts and suggestiveness, immoral and defamatory languages or remarks, actions or words considered inimical to the society or state, presentation of criminal acts, depiction of violence and cruelty, explicit or gratuitous depiction of sexual violence or other related acts.
However, the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) saddled with the responsibilities of checkmating these excesses look the other way in silent while this brazen recklessness is committed and the Igbo film culture is the worse for it. Owing to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies that confederate into the country, Nigeria, there is every reason for censorship board to be taut on films that discuss issues relating to culture and world view of a people, religion, politics, violence and sex. Ironically this is not so in Nigerian film industry where cultures are murdered for lust for money.
Lack of Professionalism
The issue of professionalism has taken a front burner in Nigerian film industry; hence, it has become part of the new dimension in reading the bastardization of the thematic preoccupation of Igbo films. Quite unlike the cine film, video is less demanding in terms of production. As a result, it has opened the door to armatures and debutants from all walks of life flooding the industry. This accounts for the reason why most Nigerian video films technically is nothing to write home-about. Okoye’s position says it all:
However, because of its technical limitation and the peculiarity of its economy of production, critics have faulted it on all counts, citing its invisibility in notable international film festivals as evidence of its ineffectiveness (21).
This is very particular of the Igbo filmmakers. Most of them are business tycoons who are completely ignorant of the film medium but still gate crashed into it, hijacking both the production and marketing of the films. Haynes captures it this way: “The Igbo marketers who largely control Nollywood are bitterly resented by many filmmakers, who stereotype them as a mafia of semi-literate traders with no education or real interest in cinema and an extremely narrow and short-sighted view of the film industry” (32). Not just the marketers, most directors, producers, scriptwriters and cameraman lack professionalism. Anything goes because the video format is a free-for-all format. No wonder Nigeria video films are hard to find in any notable international film festival.
Nollywood has become a global phenomenon and a brand of international repute. But this needs to be qualified. It is a global phenomenon because the outside is beginning to pay attention to it. While there is no doubt in my mind that Nollywood is a big industry, which has attracted a lot of attention in the last two decades, it is still unclear why this is the case outside Nigeria. In Nigeria, Nollywood is popular because it speaks to aspects of social life that many people live. It speaks to and debates social and cultural anxieties the way no other media had done before, yet the content of these social and cultural anxieties are what leave much to be desired especially in the Igbo films. Okome, in an interview with Onyerionwu, captures the scenario aptly:
A lot of the ordinary people who are curious about Nollywood in North America and Europe do so because it appeals to the sense of the noble savage - that picture of the African running around in circles in the jungle or beside the river waving frantically at Europe’s steamer on the river banks. I think this is a deliberate misreading, which is why the emphasis on juju, magic and witchcraft are some of the tell-tale signs of the way Nollywood is seen and consumed outside Nigeria. I do think Nollywood is much more than this (web).
Okome insists that due to the seriousness attached to the video film business in Nigeria, “it produces culture (of mediocrity) as it produces society (of debased and tarnished culture) and in turn society influences its social and cultural markets.” (Italics my emphasis).
The Igbo are in a dire need of cultural resuscitation. The pangs of war and colonialism remain an indelible scar on the cultural life of the Igbo. While colonialism debunked the Igbo culture as barbaric and introduced western culture, the civil war on the other hand destroyed the communal unity and peace the people once enjoyed. Having being robbed of their nationality through the ravaging war and colonialism, the Igbo have remained a struggling people ever after. Colonialism and civil war are also responsible for the individualism that has dissected the communal consciousness of the Igbo.
There is therefore, a need to re-christen the Igbo with an identity, a name. The task lies in the use of film to re-awaken the traditional institutions that have hitherto been bastardized by colonialism and war and more recently by the wrong use of the film medium. Igbo filmmakers should rather lead the vanguard of proper repositioning and regeneration of Igbo cultural heritage and mores rather than serve as megaphones for their culture’s bastardization through the film medium. The Igbo film ought to lend itself not only as an instrument for nation building but also as a cohesive force for the restoration of the lost paradise of the Igbo nation.
There cannot be an effectual change without involving the audience. The Igbo filmmakers have shown disinterest in what the audience thinks about their films. Yet no work of art is complete without an audience; passive or active. There should be a mechanism for audience evaluation to know how satisfied or otherwise they are with the films. Until now, the Igbo film has been everything the Igbo nation and culture is not: ritual killing, money laundering, sexual promiscuity, witchcraft, occultism, internet scammers, 419ners, etc. The National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) should tighten the knots a bit harder because the Igbo filmmakers are taking undue advantage of the audience. Films that celebrate occultism, sexual suggestiveness, magic, witchcraft, money laundering/hankering, etc. should be banned. Ethnic films must, as much as it reviews dying or dead cultures, positively change the people. Kole Omotosho believes, “it will change. People are going to begin to feel ashamed of these things, they will look at the thing and say, how could I have done this. It happens, it will get there, it will become respected, but it will take time.”
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