I am a Science Fiction fan that was determined to watch the recently released District 9 movie, particularly when I learned of its connection to the African continent. But, then, I learned of the extremely derogatory portrayal of Nigerians in the film and I had to pause. My anti District 9 stance was only cemented when I also discovered at Pyoo Wata's site that the director and co-writer, South African Neill Blomkamp, admitted that he included Nigerians in his film to portray murderous, cannibalistic villains because,
" [i]f I try to keep South Africa as true to South Africa as I could, then, unfortunately, a massive part of the crime that happens in Johannesburg is by the Nigerians there. It's just the way it is. I wanted to have a crime group, and thought the most honest refraction of a crime group would be Nigerians, for one."THE ISSUES AT HAND
Now, this sentiment, that Nigerians are the sole source of crime in certain parts of the world, is not unique to Blomkamp. After all, I know a Nigerian-Ghanaian who made the same assertion about crime in Nigeria, while also stating that "Nigerians use mirrors to kill their mothers", a statement and stance that I must admit has affected my relationship with said person, but, she is entitled to her opinion. However, while I can choose to ignore the biased opinion of those I know and don't know, it is impossible to disregard the charged portrayal of Nigerians which when viewed in a larger context, is beyond damaging or defamatory but is dangerous. With regard to Blomkamp, a South African, I unfortunately cannot read his comment outside the context of the murder and assault of Nigerians and other black Africans in the South African xenophobic riots of 2008 where countless lives, and property were lost and the then-South African President, Thabo Mbeki was forced to personally apologize to all Nigerians on behalf of his country. Besides, if the writer actually wanted to be "true to South Africa", he could have addressed the failure of post-Apartheid South African politics and the inability to improve the lives of many of that nation's poor who continue to live in the same ghettos they lived in prior to the election of the much respected Nelson Mandela. Instead, a 'message' about South African, and in turn human issues, was taught, but on the backs of 'Nigerian' characters.
SONY PS3 - THE REACTION
But even more disappointing than the satirical South African film is the lack of a reaction from the Nigerian government which has seemingly left concerned citizens on their own to challenge the portrayal of Nigerians in the film. Sony, a subsidiary of which released the South African film, also recently revealed a viral advertising campaign that mentions "Nigerian millionaires", a reference to online advance fee fraud schemes, in an effort to get some laughs and sell product. In response to the commercial and outburst from many concerned citizens, Nigeria's Minister of Information and 'head' of the nation's announced branding campaign demanded an apology. (Sony has now apologized and edited the commercial to remove the offending reference). While it is fine for Akunyili to seek an apology, the failure to address the South African film (released by Tristar Pictures, a subsidiary of Sony), is problematic. Although the Sony commercial has gone viral on the internet and generated a lot of discussion, the South African film presents a more damning and difficult problem for Nigerians when considered in the context of the recent murder of Nigerians and other black Africans by South Africans in 2008 during xenophobic riots, with justice yet to be achieved for many of the victims and those they left behind. As such, it requires immediate reaction by not only the Nigerian government but Nigerian and non-Nigerian individuals as well. This failure to make demands of Sony not just for the PS3 commercial, but also the portrayal of Nigerians in the South African film illustrates the absence of a necessary strategy for dealing with assaults on the character and person of Nigerians, be it at home or abroad, that would allow Nigerians to go from merely responding to these assaults to instead, a more proactive action that will prevent many of these incidents in the first place.
Many options remain for creating not only a genuine discussion about tensions in South Africa as they relate to Nigerians and other African immigrants. Nollywood, the Nigerian music industry, writers, the media and the influential Nigerian blogosphere could be key assets in dealing with not only the issues raised by the South African film but other concerns. However, nothing speaks louder than money. Therefore, in addition to a media/Nollywood response, certain basic business decisions will aid in impressing upon Sony and other corporations that Nigerians will no longer tolerate being scapegoated for the sake of cheap laughs and/or movie purposes. For instance, the recently signed deal between Sony SA and the Nigerian Television Authority should come under review. The contract is to the tune of $8.2 million and will allow NTA to provide high quality visuals to viewers of the under-17 FIFA football championship to be hosted in October 2009. Already, it is clear that NTA is being charged far more than its South African counterpart paid for what would be considered more work and more instruments. That discrepancy in price, coupled with the obvious lack of respect for Nigeria and citizens as portrayed in the Sony controlled South African film and the Sony commercial (which is admittedly tame in comparison) are enough for Nigerian authorities to reconsider the agreement and/or ensure that no new such contracts be entered into with the company and others that have shown or suggested a dislike/bias/hatred of Nigerians and Nigeria's interests.
There must be a focused and well thought out approach to dealing with such destructive portrayals as that in the South African film. To do this effectively, Nigerians will have to work with non-Nigerians. There are many non-Nigerians who are equally concerned by overly stereotypical and condescending portrayals of people as used in some films and other media. A coalition of concerned individuals and groups that crosses across many identities such as working with homosexual and gender interest groups, those fighting against the defamation of certain religious groups and organizations. In some cases, an alliance with such groups might appear to be a forced marriage, but if done right, such a union could pay immense dividends because the reality is that those who do not understand the pain or disappointment of the disrespect frequently leveled at Nigerians will have little cause to rally for a cause focused on Nigerians. Therefore, in order to truly have the numbers to counter defamatory stereotypes such as those shared in the South African film and the South African xenophobic riots, there must be a coalition of like minded individuals and groups. Additionally, such a coalition against the defamation of certain groups could also translate to a strengthening of interest groups in Nigeria working against the maltreatment of Nigerians by their fellow citizens who have chosen corruption and fraud to the detriment of millions.
WE MUST ALL DO BETTER
South Africa, like any other nation in the world is not perfect. Nigeria is equally imperfect and working towards the creation of a better nation. This writer has tackled the realities of advance fee fraud and the statistics that debunk the stereotypes of Nigeria as the home of fraud, and has taken the time to suggest out of the box solutions that could potentially limit the number of victims who would fall prey to online scams. Furthermore, xenophobia and the related issues of prejudice, racism, tribalism are not unique to any nation or group of people. Similarly, corruption, fraud or other related issues are not unique to any nation or peoples as reflected by the recent $2.3 billion fraud fines faced by Pfizer for misrepresenting certain medicines, cases against Halliburton and Siemens AG or even the infamous Bernie Madoff who scammed many individuals and organizations of approximately $50 million (one can only imagine what the media would say if Madoff had been of Nigerian extraction, but, thankfully, that is not the case). There is no monopoly on the lowest traits of human nature and it is unfair and dehumanizing to dump some of these on any group. Nigerians would do well to create well funded and powerful organizations, lobbying groups of sorts, with the sole focus of promoting the people's interests at home and abroad. Such an organization could more adequately respond to questionable portrayals of Nigerians, while also championing the best of Nigeria. Such action does not require assistance from the federal government and, in fact, should be independent of the Nigerian government at least until it becomes unquestionably clear that the government comprises of individuals willing and able to be beneficial rather than detrimental to such a cause. A simple analysis of the recent Brutish Airways debacle reinforces this point. Essentially, Nigerians cannot continue to be on the defensive, simply reacting to all manner of perceived or actual injustices. It is time to get proactive.
That being said, Nigerians must continue to shun and punish those whose selfishness has resulted in the squandering of a nation's reputation while also putting an entire country's legacy in question. Until that challenge of facing up to and resolving the issues plaguing Nigeria and her people occurs, Nigerians will continue to witness what can only be considered attacks on their character and even person. Not just in airports, or in pop culture, but right at home where many live woeful existences in a land of plenty promise. Nigerians must create a strategy that aggressively promotes and defends the nation, its citizens and interests and that will require a change from within so as to adequately address the issues faced by Nigerians everywhere. The offensive South African film and other negative portrayals that are sure to come will never overwhelm the work Nigerians themselves have to do to adequately challenge the stereotypes that have taken over Nigeria's image.
* On behalf of Nigerians everywhere, this writer demands an apology from TriStar Pictures, its parent company, Sony, the South African director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp, writer Terri Tatchell, producer Peter Jackson. This writer must also encourage the creation of an understanding between Sony and interest groups (be they tied to the Federal Government of Nigeria or not), that when this film is sold on DVD, shown on cable/satellite channels across the world and is no longer exclusively shown in movie theaters, the film include a message at the beginning explaining that the movie and all those involved in its creation do not aim to stereotype and besmirch Nigerian men and women. This writer also recommends that Sony Global and its South African arm, Sony SA, conduct programs in conjunction with Nigerian interest groups in South Africa to address the growing xenophobia against black immigrants in that country, and violence against women, so as to discourage, and likely prevent, any future reprisals that might arise as a result of their product. This writer strongly encourages former President Olusegun Obasanjo to sue the makers of this film if he feels that the use of a name curiously similar to his in the movie could be damaging to him and his family.
Nigeria's Dora Akunyili has demanded an apology from Sony and the makers of District 9. Thanks to eccentricyoruba for sharing the link.
From the Archives:
- Nigerians, Brutish Airways & Respect 1 and the entire series of related posts.
- Who Will Develop Nigeria?
- Who will fight for Nigeria?
- Persistent Psychological Paralysis
- The Significance of Persistent Psychological Paralysis