Tuesday, 15 December 2009

NOLLYWOOD AND ITS MANY ENEMIES

The minister of communication; Mrs Dora Akunyili certainly tops the list of Nollywood Bashers. Every time she talks about Nigeria’s problem, she is quick to attribute it to Nollywood. All Nigeria’s image problems lies with the fact that we’re making Juju films, she couldn’t be more wrong. In the past few years, Nollywood has produced mostly love stories, I would even welcome a movie bordering on rituals just for a change. Yes we had our session of rituals. It’s the way it works; one person starts a trend, succeeds, everyone else follows till someone else breaks the trend. Hollywood is particularly guilty: They came with NEXT and PREMONITION and DÉJÀ VU etc, and then for a while, the Directors all visited Africa, LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, BLOOD DIAMONDS, CATCH A FIRE etc. Now they’ve all gone surreal: TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE, GAMER, 2012 etc.


Mrs. Akunyili is minister of information, an extremely sensitive position, before she can inform people, she must first be informed. All she needs do is grab a few copies of Nigerian movies from Idumota or sit facing Africa Magic for a few hours and she’d know a bit about Nollywood. It’s a bit embarrassing every time she makes a statement in error. In a recent statement, she blames Nollywood for the movie District 9. She says if we had been making movies about how Nigerians contributed towards ending apartheid, then District 9 may not have been made. Is she for real? The director of District 9: Neil Blomkamp clearly stated that he believes most of the crimes perpetrated in SA are by Nigerians, he’s probably never seen a Nigerian film.

Nigeria’s infamy is from corruption and internet scam, nicknamed yahoo, yahoo. And that’s the image she’s trying to clean, where does Nollywood come into the matter? Only recently, Amnesty International just accused the Nigeria police of extra- judicial killings stating that they ‘kill at will’. Someone will probably blame Nollywood for this development.

Even if we were making juju films as claimed, is this why my green passport is scanned a thousand times by immigration officers outside the country or why the guy in the bus in Germany shifts beside me uncomfortably, clutching his bag tighter. Or why the shop attendant in Dubai immediately becomes more alert when I mention that I am Nigerian. I bet they don’t even know we have a movie industry in Nigeria, all they remember is the number of crimes that have been perpetrated by Nigerians in their country. Why then is Mrs. Akunyili bent on blaming Nollywood? Only months ago, she asked Nollywood to help her rebrand Nigeria, now she turns around to rebrand Nollywood

The minister would do well not to tongue lash the Arts for it is the Arts that has saved Nigeriá’s face and given us global recognition. It is Uwem Akpan’s book that was selected by Oprah for her book Club, Asa who has gained acceptance world wide, I personally heard her on radio Leicester, Femi who has been nominated for the grammies, Chimamanda Adichie who has won several international awards, Lancelot Imasuen who has been featured on CNN and Genevieve Nnaji who was featured on Oprah.

But it is not only the minister that hates Nollywood. There are several websites dedicated to just spew venom on Nigerian movies and particularly at more successful producers. Most members of these sites are Nigerians in the diaspora or more specifically, Nigerians in the United States. Someone summarised their problem as beef(Nigerian English for envy) We succeeded where they couldn’t. We didn’t wait for them to return home with their Harvard or nursing degrees(not sure how nursing would help develop the country), we went ahead and produced an industry out of absolutely nothing. With most of us self-taught, we wrote scripts with candles, powered equipment with generators and made movies that have left the world gaping. How did we do it? Everyone is seeing the opportunities and potentials, except these set of Nigerians. South Africa, realising that winning the Oscar(Tsotsi) is not the all and all, have decided to go Nigeria’s way by creating Jollywood which they say will compete with Nigeria’s Nollywood. Ghana’s Gollywood is also following closely behind with the full support of their Government.

I was invited to a film makers workshop in Berlin based on a Nollywood script. The participants couldn’t believe my script had been shot as a feature film, they all wait for grants, grants that may never come and their dreams will be buried with them but in true Nigerian style, we found a way out without waiting for the Western Messiahs to come lead us right.

Nollywood has given me as a writer, a platform to be heard. I am privileged to write both screenplays and literature, while I enjoy both, in writing literature, my audience is mostly Western and I am forced often to look back to be sure that they are following me as I paint my dear continent black but with Nollywood there’s a freedom to be you.

Nollywood has also contributed towards bringing back the middle class in Nigeria. An average practitioner lives comfortably, travels round the globe, most times without having to pay for tickets.

While this profession will always attract its fair share of criticism, for most of the critics, it’s not aimed at bettering the industry, it’s sheer envy and hatred, they would give their left arms to see it fail so they can continue to feel justified for some of the conditions they live under abroad. Loads of them have tried to do it ‘better’ and few if any have succeeded so far.

While some movies make you cringe, some send you reeling with laughter or with tears. I choose to celebrate those ones.

Apart from Joy Isi Bewaju’s review of Guilty Pleasures and Molara Wood’s review of Figurine, a lot of what you read online is sheer balderdash. Ini Edo’s hair didn’t match her figure or Mercy Johnson should go learn how to kiss. These for movie reviews?

I read several reviews of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Invictus’: Some by critics and some by viewers. It left me with a prayer: Lord send us some intelligent critics in Nollywood. Chikena!



3 comments:

nneoma said...

Ah, I wish this could have been posted on NigeriansTalk.org....
Anyway, I hear you that more props should be given to the Nollywood industry for making something out of nothing. However, the bigger the industry grow, the more it must realize that it does have a responsibility to its patrons, namely Nigerians. I have on numerous occasions in the past that Nigerian films have evolved from their 1990s juju/ritualistic origins to more "western" themes. I, like you, would give anything these days for an old school juju theme (and what the heck happened to the Igbo film industry - films like Evil Passion and Nneka the Pretty Serpent were my absolute favorites...seriously, I have watched both films at least three times.)
Yes, I am guilty of Nollywood bashing, as evidenced in some of my latest posts about Nollywood (see the post about film, "The Maid," which promotes the notion of children inhabited by devilish spirits). I hope the idea is conveyed that I write such posts because I recognize the immense power that Nollywood has and could have on shaping society. As an avid fan, I have much respect for the industry, I would watch a Naija film over any American one anyday. I do try to post about Nollywood films that challenge and uplift Nigerian society - which is more the norm amongst Nigerian films than the exceptions.
My dear, don't mind the haters - continue doing your thing and I look forward to your future films....

Miz B said...

Love this! we need more of your ilk in Nollywood... you, Zik Zulu Okafor etc. Im sick of opening the papers or going online and seeing headlines like 'Nollywood will be no more in the next 5yrs' 'Who can save us from the bondage of Nollywood? and other such balderdash! 'articles' written by people who are not in the industry and have no stake whatever in the industry so can afford to talk crap! I thank God some of us are realizing that we are the change that we seek. We are the ones to 'save' Nollywood. I wonder when our govt will get it? Thanks for such an enlightening article!

StandTall-The Activist said...

I am not sure if Nollywood is totally blameless. I am not in no way supporting Akunyili point of view but take for instance, I am here on a study fellowship in London and other fellows from Africa believe Nigeria men are bad, Nigerians do juju, they like charms and black magic. i aske how they cmae abotu this and guess the answer, "don't we watch Nollywood movies? you guys show us how Nigeria is through your movies". Nollywood needs more work to do in shooting correctional and edcuating movies.