It may appear to be a patriotic duty on my part as a Nigerian and African to be a fan of the Nigerian movie industry known as Nollywood. But for the past few years, I’ve been quite disloyal in that regard. Believe me, I have tried to “represent” my culture by purchasing home videos and even recommending a few to my American friends. However, with each passing dissatisfied purchase, I end up more and more turned off, sometimes even angry at what is being presented to me. Nollywood no longer tickles my entertainment bones, and it wasn’t always this way.
I remember the first Nigerian series I saw was “Things Fall Apart,” a televised version of Chinua Achebe’s most popular novel of the same name. It is a shame that he has yet to win a Nobel Prize for literature, but let me not digress. The point is, the series was good, and by good, I mean great acting, natural use of the English language (no attempt at fakery of any kind), no overly dramatic gestures-an all around success in my book! This led me to look forward to a feature length home video, and it came in due time. The earliest major Nigerian movie to appear in the 90’s was “Living in Bondage,” a story about a man who kills his wife for money and ends up being haunted by her. The storyline, though not unique, still managed to get emotion out of the audience due to the talented actors and authentic use of the Ibo language. Except for a couple of others, this has remained one of the best Nollywood movies till date in my opinion.
Sadly, Nollywood has begun to produce garbage over the years. Once in a while, a good movie will appear (unique plot, great acting, none of the faux-pas that I will list in a bit), but for the most part, painful to watch movies are produced every time someone feels like shooting a film for the sake of generating revenue. As long as there is a camera and a group of people who are willing to play their parts, a movie is made with the confidence that there is an audience who will jump on it like a dog being fed meat, and we certainly jump to grab that meat. These producers and directors get away with this because we have allowed them to by not demanding more from them. I guess being the third largest producing movie machine in the world after Bollywood and Hollywood is enough reason for the conceited attitude.
I can spend several pages detailing the problems with these films. However, I will do the reader a favor by only listing a few.
i,“Grammatilization”: It was Afrobeat singer and Human Rights Activist Fela Kuti who in one of his songs said, “they talk oyibo pass English man.” It comes off unrealistic when characters in a village scene for example, speak in the most Shakespearean voice that would even leave the author himself hiding for cover in his grave. Nollywood please leave the 16th century English tone where it belongs, on stage for actors performing an actual Shakespearean play.
ii, Unnecessary shouting: insert a home video and I can confidently bet you a hundred bucks that the first preview will begin with someone shouting angrily at another. I knew it had gone too far when an American friend of mine asked me innocently why Nigerian men constantly shouted at their women. This question had formulated in her mind after observing a pattern with the movies. I don’t know if it’s the issue of sound quality that makes the actors feel the need to yell their emotions (especially anger) at all times or the lack of ability or knowledge of using subtly and body language to convey emotion as an option that is an issue. Either way, being agitated for the sake of a forced induced dramatic scenario isn’t a good way to begin a movie. It can also lead to potential deafness.
iii, Speaking “over-phonetically”: Okay, there’s the Shakespearean sounding group of actors and the American sounding types. I am referring to the latter. Thankfully, many do not fall into this category, but for those that do, please quit. I mean, authenticity is the goal here, right? Do we ever see American movies with actors speaking with an African accent when they are supposed to portray regular American people?
iv, Overdressing for the occasion: Okay fine, I understand the need to show the nice clothes, fancy cars and ten-story houses as a way of objecting to the naked people, dirty slums and village images that are pervasive on television screens concerning Africa, but wearing silver, glittering brocade with gold slippers while chilling in the living room in a scene to show the viewer that the character is rolling in dough is quite over the top and borderline showy.
v, Omitting Key Details: Saw a movie with a very well respected and popular actor in which the protagonist’s girlfriend suddenly flips over a bridge and drowns. She is retrieved and attempts are made at resuscitation. Fine and dandy except that her weave and clothes were still intact and miraculously not wet. Enough said.