Volume 11, Number 3 (August, 2014)
Author: Dr. Biko Agozino
I. Nkowa: Introduction
In honor of the Nollywood artists and producers who have popularized such common Igbo expressions as Chineke m eh! (Oh my God!), Igwee! (Chief!), and Kedu (Hello) among their teeming audiences in Africa and the Diaspora, I have followed the admirable style of Nwando Achebe (2011) in her Nollywood-like narrative of a female king in colonial Igboland, by using approximate Igbo translations in italics to start each sub-heading in this papyrus. I will also consistently use the word papyrus as a closer approximation of what ancient Africans had in mind when they invented writing as a serious discourse that was seen as a pharmakon or drug to be taken seriously lest the written drug is abused and the patient dies of the side-effects, according to Derrida(1968), quoting Socrates; unlike its European simulacrum that is mistaken for the original and quite unlike just any ordinary piece of ‘paper’.
This papyrus argues that films in general are not just pieces of communication but also attempts at simulation and that Nollywood represents efforts to simulate a simulation, making it obscene to a great extent. There is no attempt in this theoretical piece to review the contents of Nollywood films for the illustration of this thesis as is commonly the case in journalistic descriptions; rather the analysis will go beyond the structures of film narratives to radicalize the discourse by deconstructing the ideologies of deviance and social control in the enabling political economy, the cultural consequences of their propagation, the technological determinism of their sustainability, and their methodological challenges to scholarship and to the global film industry itself.
Nollywood came out of the blue and caught scholars unawares by the sheer quantity and variable quality of its output and massive popularity internationally. Snobbish film theorists refused to recognize its authenticity as a film industry and initially dismissed it as the home video industry while some now reluctantly refer to it as the video film industry (Okome, 2007). For instance, the magisterial and encyclopedic book, Black African Cinema by Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike (1994), did not spare a single word for the Nollywood phenomenon and ended by dismissing Nigerian film-making as ‘the paradox of mediocrity’ probably because the author completed the dissertation before this phenomenon emerged like a rabbit out of the bag of a magician. Were Ukadike to write his dissertation again today, chances are that he would pay more attention to Nollywood than to celluloid films, as his more recent essay indicates.
Similarly, Okome (2007) could not introduce a special issue of a journal on the cinema in West Africa without devoting the bulk of the discourse to what he called the video film industry in Nigeria, but he ended with a videography rather than a suggestive filmography to sustain the hierarchicization of genres. Gugler falls into a serious case of the same elitist trap when he dismissed Nollywood ‘videos’ in comparison with the Egyptian film industry that he admired as ‘Hollywood on the Nile’. According to him, Nollywood “…videos provide a fertile arena for studies of popular culture, which can call on the notable precedent of the study of Onitsha Market Literature, but I have yet to see a commercial video I would want to share with my students” (2010). Keneth Harrow sees the need to theorize African cinema as part of the postcolonial discourse but his emphasis is unfortunately on the representation of trash in African cinema, politics and culture. According to Harrow: “The images scattered to the wind in Nollywood films are continually relegated to the rubbish bin by celluloid film standards” (2013: 279). Other writers like Saul and Austen (2010) and Emenyonu (2010) would beg to differ because they see the serious revolutionary developments in film-making that Nollywood represents, challenging scholars to take the industry more seriously.
On the other hand, Jean Baudrillard (1999) offered useful tools for theorizing the mass media in The Revenge of the Crystal but he stopped short of applying his theory explicitly to the film industry the way that this papyrus will attempt. This is because of his stated distaste for television, according to Kenneth Rufo (2002). probably It is not just the conjuring trick of history that is at work in the sudden perplexing emergence of Nollywood. The ongoing struggles for exploitation and for liberation are capable of throwing up unexpected cultural developments every now and then only for many to percolate into the sands of time and fashion without enduring as legacies of cultural practices. But it is more likely the case that the aficionados of high art thumbed up their noses at the Cinderallas of the Nollywood film world while the theorists of the postmodern condition smugly assumed that Africans occupied a pre-modern atavistic time-warp that was deemed irrelevant to the complexity, diversity, interconnectedness, self-similarity, recursion, fractional dimensions, infinity, and self-organization that characterize African fractal cultures more than most but are paradoxically denied to Africans by chaos theorists, according to Eglash (1999). However, Eglash too did not comment on film-making as a field rich in what he called African Fractals.
This exclusion of Nollywood from the dominant discourse of films is in line with the hegemony of Hollywood in the definition of what is acceptable as film and what must be segregated into the ghetto of the poor cousin, the amateurish home video with imputed mediocrity in comparison to the real McCoy of films proper. But to the fans and the producers of Nollywood, what they produce and consume voraciously and reproduce endlessly is nothing but films and so Hollywood does not have any monopoly over the determination of who is qualified to be issued a visa to immigrate into the imaginary but privileged wonder world of the film country:
Nigerian popular videos are nothing like the films canonized in African cinema studies. Common video genres include horror, comedy, urban legend, mythic parable, romance, witchcraft melodrama, Christian morality tale, and historical epic. While Africa’s celluloid cinema has depended largely on foreign funding, schooling, and inspiration, Nigeria’s video industry is profitable and self-sufficient. It is now one of the fastest growing sectors of the Nigerian economy (McCall, 2004).
Nollywood followed the example of Bollywood in India which was named after Bombay, one city where more films are made than anywhere else in the world and in strict fidelity to the technological litmus tests of Hollywood celluloidism itself. Bollywood products are not home videos or simply videos but films sui generis that the Nigerian Nollywood producers probably grew up watching a lot in city theatres alongside Hollywood standard-bearers. The Nigerian equivalent emerged with its defiant middle finger and tongue sticking out: call it what you like but we believe that we are making movies or films or cinema just like Bollywood and Hollywood but right here in Nigeria and under our own terms and with our own methodologies, they seemed to announce. The name ‘Nollywood’ has stuck with the industry as a reference to the Nigerian Hollywood, or more precisely, the Nigerian Bollywood, making me wonder why they both chose to abandon the Holly and mimic the wood. Okome highlights this filmic lineage in mimicry thus:
Nollywood and Hollywood have a lot in common. They are also remarkably different from each other. Both began as pedestrian art forms and have remained somewhat
in the province of the people. As vital visual industries in their respective societies, they sell dreams cheaply to people who are frightened to live without them. They began as the art of the people and were inaugurated by the desires of those who were lost in the welter of different stages of social and cultural changes and who sought to make sense of what was going on around them (Okome, 2007).
If Bollywood is a mimicry of Hollywood without any pretension to holiness and without copyright permissions, then Nollywood is an obscene mimicry of a mimicry without apologies. If Bollywood is a simulacrum of Hollywood, Nollywood is the simulacrum of the simulacrum without obsessing about copyrights especially because no one bothered to copyright these unfranchisable icons of the moving image. Given that Hollywood came with a counter-thesis to what Foucault (1976) dismissed as the ‘prohibition hypothesis’ regarding obscenity as taboo and requiring censorship boards to nanny the producers of artistic expressions, it is clear that Nollywood as the mimicry of a mimicry and the simulacrum of the simulacrum was also born with seduction as the midwife and with censorship ever present to remind the enfant terrible that they might be independent producers all they want but that their work falls under what Althusser (2006) called the ideological state apparatuses and must be sanitized before being certified suitable for public consumption. In his introduction to the special issue of Film Philosophy focusing on Baudrillard, Jon Baldwin (2010: 1-5) found it curious that no major collection of work has been done on Baudrillard and cinema despite his fascination with images and simulation and that the few essays that allude to this focus on simulation without reference to seduction the way this papyrus attempts. Film-makers in general successfully resist the censorious state in their dash for filthy lucre by encoding enough obscenity under the radars of censors to guarantee their work a fighting chance in the competition for the seduction of the willing and complicit audiences that pay the pipers.
Here obscenity is being defined not simply in terms of sex, a subject in which Bollywood and Nollywood need no censors because they are self-censorious enough as they leave much to the imagination in their coy and deliberate amateurish representations of the romantic, as if the fabled overpopulations in these parts of the world are the result of some kind of undesirable magic, compared to the bolder testing of the boundaries of permissible erotica in Hollywood and the outright pornographic orgies of independent European film makers. The definition of obscenity here goes along the lines of Jean Baudrillard (1990) who suggests broadly that excess or obesity is always considered obscene as in obscene profits, excess of meaning, excess of mythology, excess of violence, excess of visual simulation, excess of seduction, excess of special effects, excess of good and evil, or simply excess of virtual reality as an escape from or murder of the ugliness of the inelastic reality principle: the opposite of the real is a nonentity while the opposite of evil is elastic depending on whose good it is.
This papyrus explores the ways that the obscene is part of the problematic of Nollywood as is the case with any film industry, how the double-edged swords of technology enable the production and propagation of the highly desired obscenity, how all these challenge the colonization of the life-world by finance power as Habermas (1987) would put it, and how scholars could engage the industry in the continuing struggles to deepen democratization by decolonizing the private and the public world some more. To those who may protest that this essay on the simulacrum of the simulacrum is itself a simulacrum because it sounds like the mimicry of Eurocentric navel-gazing in the postmodernist paradigm, it should be pointed out that deconstruction, chaos theory and postmodernism are all based on African systems of thought as Derrida (1994), bell hooks (1990), Cornel West (1998, although West mistakenly identified Foucault as being more relevant to Black struggles than Derrida when in fact the reverse is the case), Patricia Hill Collins (1993), Kwame Anthony Appiah (1992) and Ron Eglash (1999), among others, have suggested despite the rejection of the postmodern approach as escapist with reference to the need for scholar-activism against racism in the centered and critical Africana paradigm by Molefi Asante (1993) and Stuart Hall (although Hall failed in his modesty to identify his very own Africana paradigm wile highlighting the ideological French and the structural British paradigms in cultural studies) (1996).
II. Uwa Ntoo: The Revenge of the Crystal
Without reference to Baudrillard’s The Revenge of the Crystal, Gerry Coulter (2010: 6) suggests that “Jean Baudrillard refers to film and cinema hundreds of times in his writing because good cinema was very important to him.” Coulter went on to detail the references of Baudrillard to cinema as the media that he personally liked most even though he regretted that the quality of photography was degraded by the use of special effects in virtual technologies by film directors. The evidence of Baudrillard’s taste for ‘good cinema’ not withstanding, this papyrus argues that Baudrillard could have made better use of the cinema in his theories of the image and that if he had looked beyond Hollywood to Nollywood, his theory of the simulacra and seduction could have been more robust.
In Jean Baudrillard (1999) he was curiously silent about the film as a modernist object of production, communication, simulation, desire and consumption even while his arguments perfectly lend themselves to filmic illustrations. For instance, in the interview with Guy Bellvance (1999: 17-18), Baudrillard starts by saying that there is no difference between a banal strategy and a fatal strategy since, to him, the banality of the masses and the silent majorities is also a fatal strategy because “mass art”, for instance, is the height of banality. He could have used the cinema here to illustrate what he meant by mass arts for the silent majority or of seduction as a fatal strategy of the masses, etc. When he talks about the revenge of the object as the core of the fatal strategies, it could have been better illustrated with the ability of the objects in films, as quasi-subjects rather than passive objects, to compel the simulation of the simulation by the seduced audience but he kept this link mute while prioritizing fashion and advertising. Something like Nollywood or any film industry could have provided better exemplars because, while utilizing fashion and advertising, a film employs much more than these seductive strategies of the costume and products placement.
I will resist an over-determined reading of the mass media moral panics, but there might be a connection between the emergence of Nollywood films infused with the obscenity of violence and the rise of violent crimes like kidnapping and suicide bombing that were relatively unknown in Nigeria prior to the postmodern era of Nollywood. Is this an example of the crystal objects taking revenge on the producers who conjured them from the nether world of virtual reality and at the expense of the seduced masses who insatiably consume the delicious narratives of terrorism? Of course, a materialist reading would oppose the idealist philosophy that suggests that reality mimics ideas and not vice versa. Kidnapping became common in Nollywood only after kidnapping became common in the country and given the rise of suicide bombing in the country, it may not be long before storylines incorporating suicide bombings appear in Nollywood. Kirsh (2011) reviewed the research on the relationships between the mass media and youth violence and concluded that such concerns date back to the rise of the print media and continue with the electronics media of today. I am certain that many theorists see film connections in the work of Baudrillard since a whole issue of a Film Philosophy Journal was recently devoted to postmodernism and the disgust in films (2011). I am following this orientation here by suggesting that the concept of obscenity as the ‘monstrous proximity of things’ (Baudrillard, 1999: 29) is applicable to Nollywood in particular and the film industry in general but in a way that challenges Baudrillard himself, not just the mimicry of him.
When Baudrillard talks about technical objects among the ‘primitive’ or about ‘the coexistence of the modern with the antique,’ he may have been mistaken in attributing them to a certain stage of economic development – that of industrial production in Europe. Nollywood is proof that such a coexistence is not only found among the less-privileged farm workers and laborers in Europe but also in the backwoods of non-industrialized Nigeria where traders and unemployed university graduates applied their critical thinking creatively and produced a vibrant industry that is relatively independent of international finance capital. Whereas Baudrillard was talking about the marketing of antiques to those who desire to exhibit a mythological respectable origin, the Nollywood industry represents a similar fetishism by which bygone beliefs or objects are recreated and performed as part of ‘our anguished curiosity about our origins that cause us to juxtapose functional objects as signs of our present mastery with mythological objects as signs of an earlier dominion’ Ibid.:42). If Baudrillard had looked beyond the market for antiques in Europe and gazed at the recycling of superstitious beliefs in almost every Nollywood production to the delight of holier-than-thou evangelical enthusiasts that proceed to burn traditional places of worship or even to drive nails into the skulls of little children who are accused of witchcraft at alarming rates, he could have had a more robust theory of the revenge of objects. Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo advocacy forum, once petitioned Nollywood producers to avoid false depictions of Igbo culture as authentic in their films following a series of ritual murders in Ghana that were alleged to be copycat simulacra of Nollywood narratives. According to McCall:
From the beginning, the Nigerian video industry has inspired calls for regulation. It’s a delicate issue; insiders call for funding and attention from government agencies, while outsiders lobby the government to censor one genre of film or another. In 1992, when videos were still a fledging offshoot of Yoruba popular theater, a meeting of the Federal Nigerian Film Corporation saw an odd coalition of progressive academics and conservative bureaucrats push to ban popular videos. As Jonathan Haynes noted, ‘embarrassment and chagrin at finding that Nigerian cinema had come to mean atrociously made films about witch doctors and adultery led to proposals for censorship (McCall, 2004).
While the clamor for censorship and regulation continues, a French journalist who spent years reporting on the industry concluded that since the films are watched in unregulated domestic spaces beyond the reach of public censors, ‘the only regulatory authority that counts is the actual consumer’ (Barrot in Curry, 2010: 46). But the producers are also regulatory authorities in their roles as self-censors who make efforts to produce films that will escape censorship by avoiding lewdness as much as possible.
The essay by Baudrillard on ‘Mass Media Culture’ (Baudrillard, 1999: 63) is eloquently silent about the film industry, but his opening statement alluding to Marx on the fact that history repeats itself first as a tragedy and second as a farce is applicable to Nollywood as the simulacrum of Bollywood which is the Simulacrum of Hollywood. Rather than use the medical check-up to illustrate what he means by ‘cultural re-cycling’, he could have used Hollywood or any film industry to represent a historical and structural definition of consumption as the ‘exaltation of signs based on the reality of things’ (emphasis in the original) (Ibid.). Instead, he chose to focus on the computer and modern European artists like Picasso without a word about the inspiration that Picasso got from African masks, for instance. As bell hooks (1990) and Cornel West (1998) have argued in their essays on the tendency of postmodernists to exclude Africana alleging popular culture from their discourse (although, as indicated earlier, West was mistaken in that Derrida was more guilty of this flaw than Foucault, quite the contrary), a critical reading of Baudrillard with reference to Nollywood could be mutually enriching.
Finally, in the essay “The end of production”, Baudrillard proclaims: “We are at the end of production. Production coincides, in the West, with the formulation of the commodity law of value, or with the reign of political economy. Before that, nothing was strictly produced: everything was deduced, through the grace (of God) or beneficence (of nature) of an agency that offers or refuses its wealth” (Baudrillard, 1999:.99). Again, this is directly applicable to the film industry in general and to Nollywood in particular even though Baudrillard appeared not to be aware of this. For instance, one individual who owns the means of production arrogates to himself, usually a he, the title of Producer and/or Director while the rest are paid off as hired artists and artisans or crew who obviously contributed the surplus values that the Producer creamed off as profits or ‘credits’ in the Marxist sense of the labor theory of value (Marx  1995). It is only in the film industry and theatre that one individual has this cheek of claiming the productive labor of a collective as an individual title by means of ownership of capital. Neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates ever pretended to be the ‘Producer’ of anything. Yet the film producer produces nothing but ecstasy in the sense that the ‘Producer’ is usually more likely the organizer or fixer of the production rather than someone who produces anything specific or tangible. Speculating without reference to the film industry but with precise implications for Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood, Baudrillard suggests that:
If revolution implies the liberation of the social and generic production of man, then there is no prospect of revolution any longer, because there is no more production. If, on the other hand, capital is a mode of domination, then we are well and truly still there (in a revolutionary situation), because the structural law of value is the purest and most illegible form of social domination, like surplus value, but without reference anymore in a dominant class or relation of force, without violence, and entirely absorbed without a trace of blood into signs that surround us, being everywhere operational in the code by which capital has finally attained its purest discourse, a discourse beyond the dialects of industry, commerce and finance, beyond the dialects of class which held sway in the ‘productive’ phase – a symbolic violence everywhere inscribed in signs, and even in signs of revolution (Baudrillard, 1999: 100).
It is talk like this that makes Stuart Hall (1996) debunk the postmodernist obsession with fragmentation and rejection of revolution in the name of the masses. Here Baudrillard exaggerates the analogy about symbolic violence and the end of production while still indirectly making the point that it is pretentious for one individual to assume the role of producer in a film project under the rule that all the other cultural workers are therefore spectators, hirelings or slaves of the dominant ‘Producer.’ In reality, the violence that he alludes to is not entirely symbolic given that producers have been alleged to demand sex from women before casting them in acting roles, some actresses have refused to perform roles that require nudity and actors and producers are constantly guarding against the very real threat of being kidnapped for ransom while the epidemic of violent crimes is often blamed on Nollywood films by those who subscribe to the theory of media determinism (McCall, 2004). Besides, it is premature for him to proclaim the end of revolutions when the very themes of Nollywood films are prophetic yearnings for bloody violence with revolutionary implications and the Nollywood industry itself is a veritable revolution in the mode of film productions. The point here is that if Baudrillard and the other postmodern theorists are forced to apply their theories to black popular culture as bell hooks (1990) and Cornel West (1998) have advocated and as Derrida did repeatedly (Agozino, 2011), they would be challenged to revise some of their conclusions to come to terms with the oppositional practices of people of African descent as exemplified by Nollywood. Baudrillard may have a point because in the film industry, the Producer is not the dominant owner of the film since the copyright belongs to the Director just as a book belongs to the author even though the bulk of the proceeds goes to the publishers who pay the author royalties that are so meager they should be called peasantries.
III. Jee n’isi isi: The Genesis of Nollywood
Ukadike (1994) recognized the existence of televised theatre, or what he called ‘filmed theatre’, in the early history of black cinema in Nigeria. However, he may have defined films narrowly to mean 16 mm and 35 mm celluloid camera products while anything shot with a video camera would technically fall under videos. This is probably due to the fact that his impressive book was the product of a doctoral dissertation that was completed before what was initially known as amateurish ‘home videos’ burst unto the scene like a bad dream come true. Nevertheless, Ukadike did present the kind of background that would give readers an idea of the nature of entertainment before the emergence of cinema in black Africa. He also indicates that many of the early films made in Nigeria were adaptations from existing literary works, including the adaptations of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and A Man of the People by the legendary Ossie Davis in partnership with some Nigerian producers but without much commercial success, and to the dissatisfaction of the original authors.
What tended to succeed commercially were adaptations of the comical plays of the Yoruba Traveling Theatre mostly in Yoruba language and mostly for the Yoruba audience. One of the producers, Ola Balogun, was born in Aba in Igboland and made the first ever Nigerian film in an indigenous language, Amadi, in Igbo with the support of the military government of the old Anambra State under Colonel Anthony Ochefu as Governor. With such support from government for film-makers quickly drying up, such collaborations were not repeated and Balogun returned to Western Nigeria to produce a series of commercial hits with traveling theatre practitioners as co-producers, although he tended to fall apart with each co-producer after each project. The administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Nigerian Film Corporation with a decree, but it was not until the civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari and Vice President Alex Ekwueme that the law was implemented along with the establishment of a Nigerian Film School with a color lab established to process celluloid films and directors appointed to develop the Nigerian film industry as if the film industry could ever be bureaucratized rather than be left to the uncontrollable talents of democratic citizens.
Ukadike (1994) laments the fact that despite the huge investment and continued bureaucratic staffing of the film corporation, Nigeria continued to deliver mediocre films compared to the poorer West African French-speaking countries and even compared to Ghana, not to mention Southern Africa. His 1994 book did not see Nollywood coming with a force that would take the African and international film audiences by storm by applying the African fractal principles of recursion, self-similarity, self-organization, fractional dimensions, infinity to get their fans hooked and keep them insatiable even while the democratization of the technologies of film-making ensures that piracy is a part of the game that ensures wide distribution of the productions. Production grants from public and private partnerships, video rentals and television royalties could ensure that the producers recoup their costs and make profits without being fixated on the inevitability of the digital technology-enabled piracy strategies that simulates the communal ownership of stories in African culture where the idea of individualized copyrights would be shunned as obscene. Thus the copyright infringement warnings on Nollywood films are routinely ignored as nothing but performative posing stances (‘denge pose,’ apologies to Baba Fryo whose 1996 hit song gave this name to the typical Nigerian swagger called ‘them go pose’ or simply ‘denge pose’) probably inoculated with the legal defense of fair use when friends and family make copies for free to give as gifts.
The emergence of Nollywood in the 1990s has been attributed to the commercial ingenuity of a single trader (shame on the university-educated youth suffering from trained incapacitation or mis-education with little or no original imagination) who had overstocked blank VHS tapes from Taiwan that were not selling well. The Igbo trader, Kenneth Nnebue, had the foresight from a popular Ghanaian video of the time to get a video camera and shoot a play, ‘Living in Bondage’ that he wrote, edited, directed and produced. He dubbed his blank VHS tapes with the film and marketed them successfully with the added value as a home video film (Chowdhury, 2008). This commercial success attracted other traders to sponsor screenwriters and producers to make movies for sale as VHS tapes. Technological advancement quickly led to the use of digital video cameras and Video CD recorders or DVDs to market the films in bulk. It is estimated that Nollywood makes approximately 2000 films every year with budgets ranging from $40,000 to $$200,000 but that impossible copyrights enforcement means that a lot of the sales are due to pirated copies that sell for about two dollars each internationally, indirectly providing employment to thousands of video hawkers who would be otherwise unemployed (Ibid.).
The microeconomics of competitiveness analysis of the Nollywood industry by Chowdhury et al offers some recommendations to the government and the industry with reference to the formalization of distribution networks, copyright enforcement, branding, funding and technical training needs but this papyrus focuses on the obscene discourse of Nollywood and recognizes that it will not be Nollywood if it is overregulated in such a way that the spontaneity of creative outbursts is lost to bureaucratic organization in line with the Weberian ideal type of rational administration (Weber, 1979). I have argued elsewhere that the problem of social order is not exclusively that of the obesity or excess of deviance but also the obscenity of social control in a control-freak world where authoritarian figures strive to control even that which is beyond their control rather than allow responsible adults to use their democratic freedoms to decide what to produce or consume without endangering others (Agozino, 2010). If Shakespeare had obsessed about the then non-existent copyright protections of the plays that he shamelessly plagiarized (only one or two were his original creations), literature and the theatre would have been poorer for it and his contemporaries did not see the lack of originality by ‘an upstart crow beautified with our feathers’, as one rival described Shakespeare, to be illegal (Posner, 1988: 322). In a similar vein, Wole Soyinka warns against stifling the creative process by obsessing about originality in a tyrannical way:
Regarding the creative process, let it be understood that I am not necessarily speaking of originality. I have read critiques of artistic works that appear to make originality the benchmark of creativity, blithely dismissing such a work on the grounds that it is not ‘original’. Some masterful works – in all genres – have been produced that are based on deliberate imitativeness. Or plagiarism. There are different kinds of plagiarism, some can actually emerge as a new product of its kind, a kind of creative provocation, or a commentary on the original, sometimes a sleight of expectations or attribution – what is sometimes called signification – especially in American literary discourse. So, we are not speaking here of originality (Soyinka, 2013: 3).
IV. Mmechi: Conclusion
What we can take from the work of deconstruction is the emphasis that Derrida (1994) places on radicalization of any discourse by focusing on the power implications in every claim to authority and authenticity. Theorists of Nollywood should take the industry to task about the enormous power that their products exercise over the masses of the people. It is not enough to see this body of work as entertainment in a democratic marketplace where the choices of the consumers determines what they buy or what they watch in the comfort of their own homes. Nollywood is obviously a new form of literature comparable to the Onitsha Market Literature of the past as Ernest Emenyonu (2010) suggested but this new literature is conspiring to enthrone illiteracy among the masses. With no classes on how to read film representations, Nollywood is nurturing a fantastic mindset among our people that is definitely obscene and needs to be addressed by all.
It is not uncommon to visit educated people in Africa and the Diaspora and discover that whereas there is no bookshelf or even a single book in sight, there are tons of Nollywood videos that families watch over and over again with children, irrespective of age certifications. I once read a news story about an armed robbery in the Ajegunle ghetto part of Lagos in which a teenage witness stated that they were watching a movie after 2 am. when the robbers struck! Families urgently need to begin urgently to regulate the number of hours that children are allowed to watch Nollywood movies before this obscene seduction erodes what is left of their minds in accordance with the revenge of the crystal. It is probably a coincidence that the rise of Nollywood and the rise in mass failures in secondary school examinations are happening together without any social theories being advanced to explain this correlation perhaps because correlation is no causation.
Nollywood could help to encourage literacy by attempting to adapt more classic and contemporary African literary works for the screen and by adapting screenplays as published plays or novels for students to study at school. Schools could also help by showing some topical Nollywood films and then holding a guidance discussion to help the young minds think more critically about the fantasy world of film. Furthermore, schools may need to introduce courses in film-making with the Nollywood producers being invited to give guest lectures so that the future generation of film-makers would not start with little or no training just like the current crop of amateurs. A situation where a graduate course in Film Studies at a university in Nigeria is conducted only through theories and textbooks to the extent that a Nollywood producer who was taking such a course confessed that he had never seen the films of Sembene Ousmane leaves much to be desired (McCall, 2004). I must confess that I never saw Ousmane’s films until I started teaching Film and Representation Workshops for the Open University in the UK. (Agozino, 1995: 3-13). More film festivals and film libraries should be able to fill the gaps between theory and practice in Nollywood Film Studies but the work of film theory still remains to be taken up fully by Nigerian scholars and by other interested scholars.
State and Federal government officials should also support this fledgling industry by making annual grants to support the production of competitive film proposals to avoid having a few well-funded individuals dominate this industry like every capitalist industry. This way, more women could get the chance to become producers given that storytelling is primarily a female role in Africa while film-making is overwhelmingly patriarchal worldwide. Also with government grants to film-makers, commercial success would become less of the determinant of which projects get funded since a serious film that flops at the box office could endure as a classic if carefully made with adequate support as Andre Seewood argues against the supremacy of the profit motive in Slave Cinema (2008). I am pleased to note that this recommendation has already been taken up by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria with the announcement by the Finance Minister and former World Bank Vice president, Ngozi Onjo Iweala of the allocation of three billion naira as investments to be awarded to proposal from the Nollywood industry (http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/okonjo-iweala-n3bn-to-nollywood-is-for-investment-not-to-share/146236/).
Finally, this papyrus will end with a prophetic theoretical prediction that Nollywood is not a passing fashion in the film industry but rather the face of the future of the film industry globally. The ridiculous costs of Hollywood productions are clearly unsustainable and sooner or later, more independent producers will jettison the outdated technology of the celluloid as many have done even in North America and Europe and increasingly adopt the African Fractal guerrilla methodologies of Nollywood. As mass unemployment becomes the order of the day due to the global crisis of capitalism, self-employment industries such as Nollywood will become increasingly paradigmatic around the world as young people grab the increasingly affordable digital video technology to make films for mass consumption and thereby create fair employment for themselves and millions of others in the independent chains of production and distribution that Nollywood has conjured from the netherworld of film. Perceptive policy makers will enable this revolution by establishing open access digital media studios in poor communities and running classes in media productions for the amazingly gifted poor people of African descent who have invented almost every new musical genre in the past one hundred years but without insisting on patenting their inventions and demanding miserly royalties from all comers.
Before this concluding prophecy appeared in print, news came that it has already come to pass. The film is dead if by film we only mean photochemical productions to be screened on rolls of film by reel projectors. This was revealed in the documentary film, ‘Side By Side’, directed by Keanu Reaves on the increasing popularity of digital video productions in Hollywood itself but without reference to Nollywood where this mode of production is old-established. According to the journalist who interviewed him about his documentary:
Most theaters in North America now project digital images – and virtually all will within a year or two. Roughly half of all Hollywood films are now shot on digital video – and almost all non-Nolan movies will be within the next five to 10 years. What does all this mean for the audience, for the future of visual culture, and for the preservation of the art form formerly known as cinema? (O’Hahir, 2012).
Reeves replied that it would mean that films would be cheaper to make and so the industry will be increasingly democratized even though it will still be tough to make a movie given the difficulty of developing a good script to start with. There will still be some regret about the craft that went into the planning of photochemical films in order to reduce costs but producers will no longer need to mortgage their parents’ homes or risk multiple credit cards maxed out in order to make movies. The change from analog to digital in film-making is not as noticeable as the shift from silent movies to ‘talkies’ or the shift from black and white to color, but it is a significant shift in the mode of production hardly noticed by Hollywood movie-goers. As Reeves put it:
I would say we’re right there. It happened very recently, and it’s all about technology. Almost all the movie theaters have installed DCP, or digital cinema projection. The cameras are getting better all the time, and from the producers’ standpoint, digital is now thought of as being cheaper than film. And the outlets, the way we’re watching movies, have become digitized. At the same time as we’re seeing the end of film, we’re seeing the end of the DVD — it’s about streaming and VOD. It’s not just about the camera or the projector; it’s the confluence of money and technology. And you certainly have to point back at George Lucas. He drove this whole thing (Ibid.).
This papyrus concludes by suggesting that if Keanu Reeves had gone beyond navel-gazing in Hollywood for his documentary, ‘Side by Side’, and interviewed producers and directors in Nollywood side by side with those of Hollywood, he would have realized that the digital film revolution had already been well established in Nigeria long before Hollywood looked in the mirror and saw Nollywood. The future of Hollywood is Nollywood and yet the producers of Nollywood are not fully aware of this as they seek to continue mimicking Hollywood. O’Hahir indicated that ‘Slumdog Millionnaires’ was the first digital film to win the Best Picture at the Oscars and yet Nollywood producers have allowed themselves to be convinced that it is not film unless it is in the form of photochemically processed reels. It is time for the Nollywood crystal to take revenge on the Hollywood magicians and invite them to come and see African wonders: Africadabra!
About the Author
Dr. Biko Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Department of Sociology, Virginia Tech. He is the Director of Shouters and the Control Freak Empire, Trinidad and Tobago, winner of the Best International Short Documentary Award, Columbia Gorge Film Festival, 2011, USA; and the Director of the C.L.R. James and the Black Jacobin Sociology series, Trinidad and Tobago. His books include Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason (London: Pluto, 2003) and Black Women and the Criminal Justice System: Towards the Decolonisation of Victimisation (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997).
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