How Nollywood can reshape Nigeria’s global perception
Late 2017, this came across my twitter timeline.
“In Hollywood movies, Russians/Arabs are (Nuclear) terrorists, the Japanese die aimlessly in battle, the Americans are the smart, patriotic, pragmatist who always saves the day.
That is how Film is used to brand a country, to shape the social values and worldview (politics) of a country.
If you have never visited America, Hollywood is all you need to see it as an enviable paradise, pillar of justice.
But America is, obviously, shitty from within. You need to visit America or “read” protest writers (especially the minority) to see the real America. But this is not even the point. My anger is at Nollywood and how it does the opposite” – @KelvinOdanz
Replies ranged from; outrage in defence of Nollywood, to others confirming their experiences and encounters (with other Africans) due to perceptions from Nollywood.
Is this valid? Does Nollywood have blame in some of the negative ways the world see Nigerians?
If so, can they do the opposite and shape a fully dimensional image of Nigerians? Not necessarily a “positive” image but a more realistic picture?
The Twitter thread reminded me of the power of narratives and perception.
It recalled the story of a friend who schooled and worked in the U.S for 10 years.
In that time he never saw any FBI agent in their stencilled windbreakers, not once. But the television shows and movies made him aware of their existence.
His perception of American Law Enforcement had been shaped by Hollywood long before he set foot in the U.S.
These movies and TV shows were the catalyst to a generation of 80s kids deciding America was where they needed to study and settle.
We heard of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, CALU, UCLA etc through our favourite sitcom characters and aspired to attend those schools.
Films like; Top Gun, Iron Eagle, Stripes etc. sold us the nobility of American Armed Forces.
Young Nigerians have left for the US and joined the Navy or Army because these films sold us on the nobility, patriotism of being a U.S soldier, a Navy Seal – the few; the proud; the free. Something they would curse you for suggesting they do for Nigeria.
Film and TV shows in the 90s painted a picture of African Americans as mostly thugs, gangbangers, hood rats or people with a chip on their shoulder who blamed “the man” for everything wrong with their life.
Why? The prevalence of hood films, the stereotype of Black men as criminals, black women as weave snatching loudmouths with multiple baby daddies.
The same way Hollywood convinced many that Africans all live in mud huts in the midst of wild life, something many still believe in 2017.
Throughout history, cinema has been used for various purpose.
Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” convinced a lot of Germans to believe in Hitler’s cause.
Utilizing the language of film and powerful imagery it won the Fuhrer the support he sought.
Uncle Sam responded with “Why we Fight”, which convinced many Americans to support the government in joining WW2, whether it was by joining the arm, buying war bonds, morale or other means. Cinema is that powerful.
What is glorified or normalized on screen, especially without a balance to show shades of grey, absolutely matters.
Hollywood is bad at portraying anybody who isn’t Caucasian; resorting to lazy stereotypes, archetypes, clichés and reductive short cuts in portraying Asians, Latinos, Africans, Indians and other ethnicities.
The people from these communities are justifiable outraged and disappointed and many have decided not to wait for Hollywood to portray them accurately and tell their own stories.
“Art is inherently political. Even trying to make a film that has nothing to do with politics is, in and of itself, a political act. Once we make the work and release it into the world, it’s beyond our control.” — Barry Jenkins
We can’t complain about American sitcoms making Nigerians the butt of jokes (Nigerian Prince), complain about negative portrayals in Hollywood films then do similar to ourselves with tribal stereotypes/ shallow archetypes.
We can’t continuously write one-dimensional character; the lazy gateman, driver or seductive house-girl from a certain part of the country; witchcraft, Pastors or Imams being the solution to all problems.
Perception matters and these archetypes reinforce dangerous tribal stereotypes create more problems than the laughs they intend to get.
Visual images penetrate our subconscious, taking a place in the deep recesses of minds and lay in wait till they can be confirmed, denied or reinforced. Nigerian filmmakers can play a huge role in how the world perceives us.
Through stories, narrative and the power of cinema, we can show we are more than the negative press on 24 hours news cycle, the email they received from a Prince, the bad experience their friend had, or the conclusion they have drawn from hearsay.
We can shape our own narrative, and it’s not by whitewashing, pretending to be squeaky clean or creating a façade, but by being intentional with the narrative we shape through the power of cinema.
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