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Cable TVs diluting African stories, subverting cultural norms, say filmmakers

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Since the commencement of fee-paying terrestrial, digital, cable and satellite broadcasting in the country, Nigerians, especially those who can afford the monthly subscriptions, have further been exposed to foreign cultures through these stations since they air numerous 24-hour programmes from different countries unlike before.

To gain a sizeable chunk of the market, these stations have come up with diverse programmes for all segments of society. From children to the aged, the young, urban professionals, males, females and the religious; everyone has a place in their bouquet. In fact, the competition to capture Nigeria’s huge viewing public is so stiff that a few of them have resorted to localising some of their programmes, including having segments for the three major Nigerian languages — Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.

This initiative is somewhat commendable in diversifying programming top target audience. At least, it has helped to revive the dying television viewing culture, which before now was full of insipid and repetitive programmes often marred by dreary adverts. Aside this, it has provided jobs for different artistes — known, dilettante and upcoming — as well as for other professionals who work on the fringe of the movie industry.

Another thing to note is that the initiative has further brought closer home the world to the extent that viewers can pick up one or two words in other languages. The Igbo name for king ‘Igwe’ is widely used on the African continent, owing to its popularity in movies. However, the development, prompted by technology, affirms the global village concept, especially as these channels offer the latest news report, events guide, music and film promos. And taking the lead in this drive in Nigeria is MultiChoice with its DSTV and GoTV channels with its many AfricaMagic channels.

One significant thing to note is that television is a means of cultural education and immersion, as it promotes those elements of a society that make it different from others. Therefore, the compelling stories a channel offers are the embodiment of that society’s ethos and lifestyle. They bring out the features that make a particular society different from others. And for another society to be repeatedly exposed to another society’s TV offerings means a subtle enculturation into that other society’s ways of life and living. This is the exact scenario being enacted in Nigeria with the programming on offer.

Meanwhile, the unfolding situation in the cable TV programming shows that Nigerian scriptwriters, directors, producers, documentarists, and regulators are yet to brace up to the challenges of subtle cultural manipulation embedded in TV programming. MultiChoice as a foreign-inspired cable TV is at the vanguard of telling Nigerian stories, but it is only succeeding by half, as its offerings are promoting half-truths about the Nigerian reality. Apart from scratching the surface, which shows inability or unwillingness to carry out detailed research, the stories that come through are diminishing the value of the country’s cultural historicity.

The most significant anomaly is that these stories paint Nigerians as people whose lives radiate only around deities, gods and other forms of absurdities like resorting to rituals and always thirsting for blood. With its continent-wide audience, Nigerians are daily confronted with the reality of having to defend the country against such infantile charges inadvertently promoted in AfricaMagic channels. Indeed, Nigeria has become synonymous with AfricaMagic; a place where the absurd happens.

While commenting on the obviously negative trend, veteran filmmaker, Chief Eddie Ugbomah, wants the Nigerian government to stridently checkmate MultiChoice, as its activities are inimical to the growth of the local film industry, also called Nollywood. He said the foreign station indulges in unhealthy practices it could not attempt in its home country, South Africa, and wonders at the complicit regulators that allow it free rein to undermine the local film industry.

For instance, Ugbomah alleges that the foreign station has devalued Nigeria’s movie tradition by engaging the services of young, hungry and untrained producers and pays them stipends to produce no less than three movies at N1 million. These producers, Ughomah further laments, do not know the cultural implications of the film medium and so make films that are at variance with cultural sensibilities.

A film scholar, Adeniyi Olayinka, noted that many AfricanMagic movie series are nothing but skits, as they lack substance of what real movies should be. According to him, the movies are nothing but elevated TV dramas going by their presentations, characterization, location, costume, shots and storylines among others.

Although he noted that a few are good, Olayinka pointed out that majority are poorly presented, adding that the producers need to do more at getting things done properly if they really want our local stories to be a must-watch. He called on the authorities whose purview it is to regulate Nigeria’s TV content to rise to their responsibilities of crosschecking what these stations are feeding the public, adding that movies are not only for entertainment, but also a very veritable tools for national development.

He noted that movies, be it cultural or any other, are media to expose and showcase the diverse lifestyles of a people, stressing that it brings together in one piece all forms of art, be it music, food, dance, literature, drawing and even dressing.

Olayinka said Nigerians should be worried each time a movie about any tribe does not bring out the true information it intends to pass in the right perspective. He regrets that government and the various agencies assigned with these responsibilities are not doing enough.

According to him, “movies like any other work of arts, relate to the viewer in a rare way that they leave a lasting impression, either good or bad. They are purveyors of culture and filling them with half-truths is tantamount to misinforming the people and not leaving a lasting legacy for the generation to come. And if this attitude is not checked, it could lead to the erosion of a people’s culture.”

For Benjamin Olise, whose wife has been won over by the Telemundo series that originate from Argentina/South America and Zee World from India, observed that there is a high level of illiteracy with AfricanMagic, adding that there is poor translation of phrases and sentences into English language, which gives wrong meaning of what the speakers are saying or mean to viewers who do not understand the local language from which translation is being made. He also observed that in some cases the writing on the screen is so tiny that viewers have to struggle to make them out.

Olise noted that using lip-synch in situations where the producers cannot get the right people to translate for them would make better sense, stressing that wrong translation puts off viewers. He stated that such shortcomings could make a viewer lose interest in the movie and called for professionals to be engaged, as there is no excuse for failing in this time that our movie industry has all the necessary hands one can think of.

According to him, movies are strong tools to correct, thwart or distort information and as such people trained in the field should be involved right from the scripting to post-production, adding: “Movies are gizmo of research for students and foreigners interested in a particular country or people. It is also a weapon of propaganda as could be seen during the Cold War era, where the super powers, especially the United States of America, used it to humiliate Russia and its allies. It was also used to showcase their arsenals, military capability, state-of-the-art technological devices, among others.

“So, Africans should not allow outsiders to tell them their stories. Stakeholders in the sector should rise to this challenge and move their local language movies in any format and medium beyond skits and give them the right treatment they deserve.”

For Bukola Okanlawon, a filmmaker, Nigerians should be grateful for the platforms the various new media have provided to air local stories and project cultures that were before now obscure. She disclosed that local professionals in the movie industry that should have brought their expertise and ingenuity to the platforms price themselves too highly to the extent that the fees they ask for to appear in a scene could take care of two or three low-budget movies and no company wants to run at a loss.

Okanlawon stated that Nigeria has a lot of budding artistes and greenhorns that would jump at the meager stipends the various platforms are offering to perform as an opportunity to stardom and eke out a living. According to her, the companies take advantage of the situation to engage newcomers to the scene, which inform the substandard movies we see on cable screens.

She observed that the number of subscriptions the various companies has show that Nigerians appreciate what they see on their TV screens, especially with the local language segment.

As she put it, “The way Nigerians are buying decoders and other devices that would enable them view these stations show they like what they are watching, especially as the programming give room to watch and hear someone from their ethnic group speak their languages. This, on its own, builds up loyalty and affinity that would be hard to break.

“The situation now calls for a synergy among content providers and platform owners for the real message to be passed across because movies embody and pass on values and beliefs of the culture within which and for which it is made. Whether the culture is projected in a bad or good light is a different kettle of fish because those financing the works are foreigners who are here for business, to make money. So, it is left to the owners of such cultures to monitor what these businessmen are doing to ensure they really want their culture to be properly documented. You cannot expect outsiders to do that for you.”

While absolving the various monitoring agencies of blame, Titus Izeze, a movie aficionado, urged stakeholders in the sector to take charge of the situation and set the records straight. He noted that since government is silent on the happenings in the industry, private people should come to save the situation just like they did with Nollywood, which is actively projecting Nigeria, telling the country’s story and in the frontier of cultural diplomacy.

Izeze noted that the production of the new broadcasting outfits are shoddy because they want quick returns for their money, as they are not like the real Nollywood productions, which take months, sometimes years to make.

“Can you image that in one of AfricaMagic movies, rain was failing and yet the people inside it were not wet and there was no flood to show it was raining,” he laughed. “It is not real; the producers should know that movie making is an art that appeals to the senses. It combines editing, scripting, drama, make up, lighting, costume, dance, directing, producing among others to tell a story. While we call for things to be done properly, we should do our best to project our own. It is only Africans or Nigerians who can tell their own stories the way they are.”

For seasoned art critic, dramatist and playwright, Mr. Ben Tomoloju, many of the movies shown in these fee-paying broadcasting stations are shoddy and not standardized. He noted that the storytelling is lackadaisical and monotonous, adding, “I believe the producers just put up something to defend themselves on the local input of programming with the regulatory bodies. Basically, they have to work on standard, the images, conceptualization, linguistic, attitude, performance and even culturality.

“Many people are going are watch it, but some of the village scenes are nothing to write home about. We have to look into all this while telling the African story. However, it all boils down to the budget available for production, but this should not be an excuse not to do the right thing to project Africa and Africans in the right light.”


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