Nollywood and the Literary: Steering the Wheels Towards the Promotion of Cultural Diplomacy and National Security
Department of Theatre Arts
School of Languages
Kaduna State College of Education
Gidan Waya, Kafanchan
Nollywood has attained and brought so much popularity to Nigeria and Africa at large, through its works; somewhat attempting to relegate the place of literary drama and theatre in Nigeria though Nollywood has its roots in/from drama and theatre in Nigeria. Inadvertently, so has the strong concern for cultural diplomacy and national security and the role Nollywood has played or is playing in promoting the two concerns above in the bid for a resultant positive and meaningful change towards development. This paper examines the role of drama, theatre and Nollywood in promoting cultural diplomacy and national security. The question being examined is whether drama, theatre and Nollywood can coexist and work together in the promotion of Nigerian’s cultural diplomacy and national security. Can literary and non-literary writers and artists, devoid of retrogressive puns, put all hands on deck to work towards common goals and national development? What then can be done? in the light of these, the paper essentially observes that the roles of theatre practitioners, Nollywood forerunners, media bodies, corporate bodies and the government and audiences become necessary factors in repositioning Nollywood towards this most desired and needful venture for the betterment of every citizen and the nation. Nollywood is doing well currently but determinedly can do much more in/for the future if the wheels are appropriately steered.
Keywords: Nollywood, Drama, Theatre, Cultural Diplomacy, National Security
Nothing about life and living is static. Changes occur giving time and experiences that bring about variations in situations, generation to generation. Every nation holds its rights to its culture being preserved and meaningfully passed down, bearing in mind needs of each generation. Similarly, every nation deserves peace to be able to accomplish set developmental goals, whether national or individual. No wonder then that the desire and cry for peace over war universally has growing consensus. A peaceful environment provides the needed avenue for setting and achieving goals, including cultural diplomacy and national security. Drama and theatre are very significant sources since they are representations and presentations of real life; and the medium of representation in question is Nollywood.
The paper seeks to delve into the roles of drama, theatre and as well as consider and propose a synergy and interface of these veritable means of entertainment, information and education in order to realize the ultimate goal of positive promotion of Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy and national security. In his article, “Folk Media and Rural Development in Nigeria: Implications for Development,” Williams S. Onogu gave the definition of culture as stated in the Cultural Policy for Nigeria as,
the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenge of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetics and religious norms and the modes of organization thus distinguishing a people from their neighbours.
So, naturally, drama will recreate from what nature and life offer within a given environment. Drama and theatre operate upon the sociological frame work that sociology is the scientific study of human conducts and conditions, human interactions and human relationships, communal rules and social institution; and since drama and theatre imitate and exhibit these then, drama (theatre) and sociology need to have common denomination and shared objectives.
Drama and Theatre
Yemi Ogunbiyi asserts that Nigerian theatre and drama originated with the Nigerian himself, embodying his first preoccupations, his first struggles, successes, setbacks and all. No doubt, the origin of drama and theatre lies among a people and the Nigerian people are no exception. Drama and theatre have for ages played multiple roles in the society. Roles that are sometimes taken for granted or not even recognized as theatre in performance. The taken-for-granted attitude to drama is not only found in public arenas but the academic environment also, where drama tends to be reduced to performance mainly for entertainment or denigrated as clowning. Though the entities must be acknowledged as entertainment, drama and theatre are more than entertainment.
Recent discourses present drama and theatre in newer light. Rather than mere mirroring to reflect society, they are used as tools for reforming; instead of speaking for people, they are used to recreate history in which people can speak; and drama and theatre are used to problematize issues and promote argument within the aesthetics of unfinished drama where meaningful discussions can be provoked. Both have become veritable tools for the development of Nigeria as a nation and need to be more emphasized and systematically approached. Recent events have caused us to witness the changing roles of drama and theatre as they attempt to grapple with the social and political exigencies because they involve and embrace the people. Jenkeri Zakari Okwori notes:
This is because it deals with the issues and problems of the people. It uses their cultural forms, challenges them to become engaged in changing their realities and leaves the process of creativity and sharing in their own hands (46).
This is what drama and theatre do or should do. If the question of positive change and personal or corporate development are left out of the process, then one could be tempted to accept the huge and distracting hullaballoo in most Nollywood movies. The query in this discourse is, what is portrayed, why it is being portrayed, and the resultant objectives reached; since many a time, the supposedly set goals are not attained.
Nollywood in Brief
Nollywood has its roots embedded in drama, theatre practices derived culturally. Market consensus agrees Nollywood came into limelight in 1992 with the production of the movie Living in Bondage by Kenneth Nnebue. Obby Patrick Ebewo, a Nigerian-born and American-based film scholar, notes in an article on Nollywood that the collapse of movie- theatre going culture in the 1980s caused by the incessant harassment of innocent citizens by criminals, the country’s economic downturn and various problems affecting celluloid film. The implication provided the opportunity movie practitioners need to plunge into this new but promising facet of drama and theatre practice. And with the energetic entrepreneurial spirit with which the pioneers started, the enterprise got a good pedal to hinge on. Despite the low budget, they were able to suddenly branch out like an ocean, into one huge market that today describes the world of business interests of actors and actresses, script writers, production crews, distributors and regulatory bodies through the daunting face of threatening copyright infringement challenges. Nollywood has come a long way, has a wide global reach and fame and has brought Nigeria into the limelight of entertainment and the movie industry. People worldwide have regular and constant access to Nollywood, giving it a universal second place. The pertinent question is: Are Nollywood practitioners ready to heed the clarion call or take the plunge?
Cultural Diplomacy and National Security
Cultural diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural co-operation or promote national interests; cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector or civil society.
The above definition is given by the institute of cultural diplomacy. Cultural diplomacy between cultures has existed through centuries, as a practice that has gone beyond the confines of international relations to a vibrant and innovative academic field of research and has successfully established itself as a stand-alone theory and practice. The term cultural diplomacy is recent but historically, it is evident of practice that has run through centuries. Explorers, travellers, traders, teachers and artists can be considered living examples of ‘informal ambassadors’ or early ‘cultural diplomats.’ Any person who interacts with different cultures facilitates a form of cultural exchange which can take place in fields such as art, sports, literature, music, science, business and economy, and beyond. Through the interactions of peoples, the exchange of language, religion, and ideas, arts and societal structures have consistently improved relations between divergent groups.
Cultural diplomacy in practice is uniquely able to affect intercultural and interfaith understanding and promote reconciliation. It is a tool critical to fostering peace and stability throughout the world. When learned and applied at all levels, possesses the unique ability to influence global public opinion and the ideology of individuals, communities, cultures or nations which can accelerate the realization of set principles which include recognition of cultural diversity and heritage; global intercultural dialogue; justice, equality and interdependence; the protection of international human rights and; global peace.
Cultural diplomacy and the public sector have two broad approaches distinguished as ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’-the use of force or persuasion in having tasks accepted by a people. Political scientist, Joseph S. Nye describes soft power as, “the ability to persuade through culture, values and ideas, as opposed to ‘hard power’ which conquers or coerces through military might.” While hard power approach has historically been a favoured policy of governments, but globally, the need for co-operation on a new level calls for the use of soft power as a form of cultural diplomacy and stresses it as significant. It functions as an intrinsic and necessary component of economic and/or political diplomacy.
However, Iyorwuese Hagher strongly noted in a presentation on ‘Cultural Diplomacy and Peace’ that, cultural diplomacy remains the principle tool through which Nigeria can instil and embrace the culture of peace. Hence, the consideration on the role of Nollywood, drama and theatre in promoting Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy and national security. Hagher posits that the strong desire and desperate call for cultural diplomacy and national security is a growing consensus among nations, especially Nigeria. This is because nations need to appreciate their cultural diversities and those of other nations, to understand how to reach out to their people and other nations so as to develop healthy relationships and promote peaceful co-existence for greater levels of development.
Literary Drama, Nollywood and the Question of Repositioning
Nollywood is drama and theatre performances projected in a more advanced technology – film. Hence, it can be termed filmic drama. Drama is a story told through action and dialogue while film is a means of projecting and expressing dramatic thoughts with a weighty emphasis on actions – pictures. Nollywood is known for good entertainment since it presents stories that Nigerians home and abroad can relate to; and stories that have opened up vistas of the Nigerian space to the world. Sloppy stories but brilliant story ideas that could have been developed to create unforgettable experiences but which are quite limited in depth (Prisca Sam-Duru). Sam-Duru in another article on Nollywood further outlines the shortcomings of Nollywood to include bad grammar, putting commerce before excellence, artists’ attitude of being involved in more than one production at a time, representing a culture strange to the present Nigerian generation, adding that such cultures are also not well researched. She also mentions the inclusion of departures that do not explain the original and the essence of departing from a stated culture. Many more points of note have been advanced in recent times as part of discourses on Nollywood that need redressing.
The bane of this discourse is the relevance, acceptance, interface and synergy between both aspects – drama and theatre on the one hand, and on the other, Nollywood. There is a seeming salient but loud divide between both aspects; some stand-offish attitude that makes marrying them look like a mirage but pragmatic, bringing out the significant relevance of the thematic stand in view. There is the need for a more purposeful and determined acceptance, interface and synergy between literary drama which include the amateur, oral traditions and Nollywood for meaningful repositioning to occur. Literary drama has a stronger founding to that of Nollywood and it is academically scrutinized, critiqued and tested severally before and after production, then reviewed and documented. Content of literary drama is richer, more intentional and relevant to issues that concern the people and could be adapted for film. While literary drama lacks constant and wider reach, Nollywood lacks good and relevant content, and the technicalities needed for producing good movies. In the words of Dapo Adelugba,
we in Africa have an analogous opportunity but it will not last forever. We must embrace not only the knowledge of our indigenous inheritance but marrying technology to the rich resources of knowledge in our culture folk (14).
To Adelugba, it is this possibility of borrowing both from the literary and the oral traditions of the world that could cause theatre practitioners and forerunners to unwillingly settle for the nomenclature. It is at this juncture that something new can be recreated. As postulated by Augusto Boal, “drama is a very efficient weapon. Theatre can be a weapon of liberation. Change is imperative. It is through the creation of the new that that which has not yet existed begins to exist.”
Nollywood should desire the efficient and effective use of drama as a weapon of promoting cultural diplomacy and national security, making the themes relevant to present times and happenings and in such a manner that even the general audiences can identify with issues being raised and are moved towards owning ideas and working towards bringing the desired change. Boal further postulates that, “it is not the place of theatre to show the correct path but only to offer the means by which all paths must be examined.”
Reassertions or undermining intentions are both ways through we can reappraise society to discover how it works and our place in it. Biodun Jeyifo observes that until very recent times, the aspiration to a popular appeal by (our) literary dramatists has been a largely haphazard, unconscious affair (78). Nonetheless, the seemingly missing identity of purpose enjoyed by the general audiences of Nollywood can be regained and refocused when synergies are combined. Sebastien Mercier, cited in Biodun Jeyifo, posits:
… the theatre is a painting; the thing to do is to make this painting useful, that is to say, to make it accessible to the greatest possible number of people so that the picture which it represents will serve to link men together (78).
Nollywood has blazed the trail as far as national or global acceptance is concerned but need to recognize and understand the dire need to professional training of man-power and practice; and respect for the practice. Theatre practitioners need to have so much respect for themselves and their work that they would never settle for the easy, the superficial or the cheap (Uta hagen). In fact, never settle but keep on endlessly exploring, digging deeper and aiming higher in their scenes, plays and careers. Learning as processed in the art is never over; hence, a lot of learning, unlearning and relearning need to be done by all groups concerned towards the significant repositioning of Nollywood. Talent goes along with a responsibility to it. Therefore, an established and long lasting relationship with the academia will go a long way in repositioning Nollywood. It is needful for Nollywood practitioners to return to the drawing board to set goals that go beyond self-gratification and aggrandizements. Goals and objectives that bother on values, ideas, attitudes, etc. that will bring about positive change and promote profitable cultures and general security of the people need to be carefully set and deliberately pursued. Nollywood practitioners and forerunners need to be daring enough to break the literary jinx, moving into the university confines to bring out drama including scripts that will be written in partnership, relevant to the people and times, and promote them. This should be done without neglecting the urgent need and call for professional training in technical aspects of production. Good in-put and good out-put means good heads working together as a team.
Repositioning Nollywood for the task of promoting the nation’s cultural diplomacy and national security demands a workable national policy that allows for freedom of expression and at the same time monitoring the implementation and effect of such a policy. It also calls for government setting up training schools for training of man- power for standard productions. The role government plays cannot be underscored. Content in/of movies released to the outside world should be a national affair and this can be effective only if government plays a paramount role to help curb piracy and most importantly give sponsorship for movies approved to have met required standards. Media organizations will need to do more of constructive critiquing as it concerns the nation though roles of individuals could be mentioned but the usual bring-down syndrome needs to be downplayed. Other corporate bodies can also sponsor movie productions or help market them, home and abroad.
Repositioning Nollywood is a joint effort; and as proposed in this paper, a call for interfacing and synergizing efforts for maximum effects for the betterment of all. So, all hands need to be put on deck. Until literary drama leaves the confines of universities, its impact will yet be unfelt; and until Nollywood is ready beyond the now, it might still be a tough walk and a wild goose chase ahead. This paper calls for collective creation and recreation that will bring about positive reactions with no schism between artistic activities and political, social and everyday events. A truly national forum that will serve and benefit all and the nation at large is needful.
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