Wednesday, September 9, 2009

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."
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.
AFP images from South African xenophobic riots of 2008

So, as Neil Blomkamp, his co-writer Teri Tatchall, the film's producer Peter Jackson, TriStar Pictures and Sony are comfortable scapegoating Nigerians so as to 'artistically' make their money, it cannot be ignored that being that District 9 (henceforth 'the South African film') was fictional, its creators could easily have created a fictional nationality from which the chosen villains originated. Or, at the least, these villains, who Blomkamp deliberately chose to be 'Nigerian', could have in some way been given some redeeming qualities so as to balance what will undoubtedly be seen as representative of a nation of more than 140 million people. As for the misogynistic portrayal of Nigerian women as inter-species prostitutes, it is again unfortunate that women would be portrayed as subhuman (and sub-alien) and then deliberately tied to the non-fictional nation of Nigeria. Considering the growing problem of rape and violence against women, including children, of all ages in South Africa (where 1 in 4 men admit that they have raped a woman), and of course, that country's President's sexual past with a young HIV-infected lady, it does seem that many of the choices made in the creation of this movie were unfortunate. These realities coupled with the director/writer's unsupported generalizations about Nigerians and, the treatment of Nigerians and other black immigrants in South Africa, who are derogatorily referred to as 'makwerekwere', only compounds the issues that the South African film presents and the decisive (re)action from all concerned individuals that it must receive.

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.

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

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JesusFreak said...

Great Post as usual.

I'm not really moved about all the degrading remarks from District 9, Sony et all. This is because, if it does not have an element of truth, they won't say it. The best we can do is less talk-back and much constructive actions. That is the only way we can erase all these negastivities.

Funny enough, the FOI bill was not made into law. Now the repercussion is that non-Nigerians are now using the freedom of speech to aggravate what's wrong with us.

I still believe in Nigeria and i know she will change for the better soon

Sugabelly said...

Completely co-sign. This rubbish has been out of hand for a damn long time.

I think your post was great. Forceful and powerful. It definitely gets the message across.

But you know what? Most Nigerians just don't care enough. They're too busy worshipping the West/Whites to care that we are being trampled on constantly by this same group of people that we have appointed our gods.

Not only did Dora Akunyili have nothing to say about District 9, but there hasn't even been that much of an uproar about it among Nigerians. There have been murmurs yes, but most of the murmurs have come from bloggers like you and me and other people.

What about Nigerians in general? A lot of them are of the opinion that we should be grateful that Hollywood has included us in their film. For every educated Nigerian blogger boiling mad about District 9, there are two daft-as-fuck Nigerians defending the stupid movie.

"Nigerians must create a strategy that aggressively promotes and defends the nation, its citizens and interests"

Naeto C just released a music video with YET ANOTHER White Girl as the lead.

How's that for citizen promotion? That makes 4 of those from Dare, a couple from P-Square and D'banj, and now 1 more from Naeto C. (So at least 6 recent Nigerian music videos featuring White women - because we all know that the population of Whites in Nigeria is threatening to overwhelm the country)
Don't say I didn't tell you so.

NaijaBabe said...

SSD, as usual, very well said.
Same goes for Sugarbelly as well.

I havent seen the movie and I only got to watch the SONY commercial yesterday and I was far from impressed. Appalled more like, and as Sugarbelly said, I only heard of these two incidents through various blogs, not even a single facebook status has brought this to light. That goes to show that its either we are not enlightened or we choose to ignore. I want to wish its the former thats the case and not the latter.

This is unacceptable! Nigerians need to be a bit more proactive.

Beauty said...

Here is a principled stand against homosexuality by Former President Obasanjo, Lagos, October 2004, he said "Such a tendency is clearly un-Biblical, unnatural and definitely un-African,". Two years later, "The Nigerian government has proposed a law to ban homosexual relations and same-sex marriage, in what the justice minister says is an attempt to avoid such practices spreading to the country from the West. Justice Minister Bayo Ojo announced the draft law this week, saying it is in response to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s concern over homosexual relations and marriage encroaching on Africa’s most populous nation. “Basically it is un-African to have a [sexual] relationship with the same sex. If you look at the holy books, the Bible and the Koran, it is prohibited,” Ojo told reporters on Wednesday. I bet nobody anticipated such ignorance.

By institutionalizing discrimination such laws can act as an official incitement to violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the community as a whole. Unfortunately, all of the above are facts, whearas, District 9 is pure SF! My variation of HG Well´s Our true nationality is humankind attempts to see the big picture in relation to Drakes´s equation. May I suggest that the sins above dwafs the perceived ones following in an artistic philosophy that emphasizes instructional and informative qualities in literature and other types of art. On the other hand, Unoma Azuah´s visit to Nollywood in The Near Nullity of Nollywood had this to say "Most Nigerian films present an unsophisticated and inhumane image of Nigerians because they lack literary merit, and promote the demonisation of women, occultism, homophobia and fundamentalist Christianity". Is any one concerned that the Producers and Directors are Nigerians?


SSD, great post.
I must admit that I haven't seen the District 9 movie myself but I have seen the PS3 commercial. For once I thought Sony was just out to dent Nigeria's image (just been cynical..!)

Anyway, I find the PS3 very appalling. As I noted on another blog, I agree that we have some criminal elements in Nigeria (ie Yahoo Yahoo, 419 etc), but that does not give Sony the right to rub it on our faces. This smacks of political correctness.

In the same token, we Nigerians should also start respecting other nationalities. For example, referring to a carrier bag as "Ghana Must Go" is equally as derogatory.

Parakeet said...

I really hate it when I read people saying 'it has any element of truth in it'. You wanna talk about the truth? The truth is that America is the biggest terrorist and most corrupt nation in God's own earth. That is the real truth right there. But what do most people think? That America itself is the arbiter of truth and the nation who fight the worlds' cause. There's a difference in the real truth and manufactured truth. What we see today is a classic dispaly of mind engineering and Nigeria is an easy target. Why? Deny it all you want we're a nation of peculiar people. These other countries see the potentials in us that we dont see. With a lot of organisation and determination we can actually rule the world. But like Marley said God bless his soul, 'kill em before they grow'. I am biased cos I am Nigerian but it is fine to be. I know we have problems. Plenty at that but compared to other nations we're better off. We have the resources, the people and the capabilities, if we unite and channel it in the right direction we'll make a massive difference. If you cant join the fight please move on make the rest of us see road. District 9 and the Sony Ad should not be tolerated and all the movie makers in Nigeria has a lot of work on their hands. Forget the romance and comedies and start some real work in fighting this bad portrayal of Nigerians world over. If you ain't tired of it am fed up!

sokari said...

I completely agree with Beauty and think this fuss over D9 is way over the top. Really I think this film needs and deserves a deeper reading.

The way Nigerians portray themselves in Nollywood which lets face it is mostly crass, cheap, -even more so when you look at film from other parts of the continent eg Francophone countries. In fact I am sure its some sort of sinister plot along with evangelical religions to prevent Nigerians from taking politics and social issues seriously.

Regards xenophobia in SA - this on the other hand is very real and as someone who spent time in that country, I can say that I and other non-SAs have experienced this. I once spent a whole afternoon and evening with a Ugandan friend arguing and denfending Nigerians with a bunch of so called educated people.

Unfortunately but also true is both the internal and external xenophobia displayed by Nigerians many many times and lets just talk since independence here.

The Nigerians in the film are all stereotypes and as I mentioned before - all the characters in the film are presented as stereotypes and not one of them comes across as someone or group I would like to know better (finally watched the film). Apart from the name Obj these people are not even speaking a Nigerian language.

Nonetheless I accept that there is something uncomfortable about the presentation of Nigerians as evil sharks & so to is presenting the Black SA as evil xenophobes - (and I agree with the interpretation that OBJ and his crew represent a conglomeration of Africans in SA eg Congolese etc.)This is not because they are supposed to be Nigerians and we dont know really if there are - but the presentation of Black people / Africans in such a racially explosive way by a white director is cause for concern. So my concern is the portrayal of Africans not specifically Nigerians or any other group.

I will direct you to my blog to read this interesting review by a SA of the film and the comments.

The point which I found most interesting was that turning it round - the Nigerians were the only ones who had a relationship with the aliens, living with them - ok it was exploitative but far less so than the rest of the country. At least they provided a much need supply of food and were not afraid of them. I mean is the desire of the Obj to eat Wilkus any worse than the MNU wanting to cut him into pieces for the same reason? On the contrary the MNU - read white people, corporate greeed - is far worse than anything the so called Nigerians could come up with.

Here is the link to the original piece

I just wish Nigerians would make a fuss about political, social and human rights issues. But thats always my starting point as readers no doubt are very much aware.

Thanks for posting this SD - an excellent post even though I dont necessarily agree with many of your points. As always Respect!

nneoma said...

SSD- this was an amazing assessment of the situation at hand. Nigeria bashing is more rampant than the occasional snide remark about our business practices and behaviors in foreign countries. Just the other day, I watched a youtube video of a documentary about Tanzanian albinicide - the ritual killing of albinos. Some so-called expert claimed the the practice originated from Nigeria and then went on to provide a clip of some random Nollywood flick that featured Ozokwor petitioning a dibia to kill one of her sworn was ridiculous, the comments thereafter even moreso. It seems like anything wrong that happens in Africa can be easily pinned to Nigeria.

I think one of the most important points you brought up is the failure of the re-branders to harness other sectors of Nigerian media. From your previous re-branding post, there was a list of those on the committee which included those in Nollywood....I am surprised Akunyili and co have not yet found innovative ways to generate their support. This is not terribly new (for example, public health messages have been subtly integrated into Nollywood flicks in the past).

One thing i have learned from this latest slate of Naija bashing is that re-branding is indeed you alluded to with the SA riots. Key to any branding effort is to focus on the experience of the product. Yes, infrastructure changes and corruption cannot be tackled by Akunyili and shouldn't. Besides, it takes time to address some issues. However, in the meantime, Akunyili should be playing offense, rather than defensive measures such as her latest request for an apology. Offense meaning, showcasing the good Nigeria has to offer (highlighting foreign businesses that currently work in Nigeria, positive experiences from visitors and tourists etc.)
will stop here, for this "short" comment could get longer.

Sugabelly said...

@sokari: You CANNOT compare this with Nollywood.

The portrayal of Nigerians in Nollywood is crass because Nollywood films are envisioned and produced and acted by people of limited education, imagination and scope. I'm willing to bet you that 80% of the people in Nollywood didn't go to school, or even if they did, they didn't go to any useful school where they could learn anything substantial in creative expression.

Also, MOST Nollywood practitioners never even went to film school while Neil Blokamp here is a director that went to film school. And even if he didn't anyway, he was still guided by PETER JACKSON who is basically a Hollywood FILM LEGEND.

There is NO comparison whatsoever.

Nollywood films are bullshit because they have no choice really. Until better educated people with broader horizons that actually went to formal film schools start taking over Nollywood, one cannot expect it to be much better than it currently is.

District 9 on the other hand is a completely different case. It was orchestrated by professionals well-versed in the use of film as a medium to send social messages to the audience and they CHOSE to send a horrible message about Nigeria to the world.

There really is NO comparison.

FIGE said...

well, i must say that with all i read here, there is more to talk about. I would not be able to talk much as i am in a class. But with refrences i will start with beauty's comment. IF i dont get you wrong, you say The law against homosexulity is indiscriminating? Plz confirm that for me before imake futher comments! Now to the issue of Telling about tnigeria the way nigeria is! Nigeria is not good, nigeria is not a place to be! But no matter what i will be here! i will be a part of the change! so matter what they potey of nigeria in these films,thats their biz. nollywood does not potray us better, does it! so why make a fuss over this. abeg jo. but i like the fact that apology was made....and more apologies will come in near future....But how will it happen?

Beauty said...

@nnemoa's "Key to any branding effort is to focus on the experience of the product" are words of wisdom but unfortunately we are stuck in the past while the rest of the planet looks for innovative ways to view the future. For example, NASA released new images from the revamped Hubble Space Telescope while those still trying to copy the Ipod remain in the dust.

In 2001, Minister for Justice and Attorney-General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Bola Ige was brutally murdered in his bedroom and now, Nuhu Ribadu still fears for his life. How does one re-brand those?

Nollywood - against all odds at TED is recommended viewing and I agree with @nnemoa. Are the FGN & State governments bold enough to copy the success of Nollywood? Movies turned around within 9days including action, production, distribution & success. All made in the so called 419 country? Hello? Is anyone awake in Abuja? Yet, again, I forgot that we needed to educate some on the potential of great nation, good people.

District 9 "encourages the audience to ask questions the movie is uninterested in answering... it is neither racist nor xenophobic. South African director Neill Blomkamp has made an astonishingly thought-provoking and intelligent film that in turn assumes intelligent thinking from his audience."

imnakoya said...

From the tone of your post, I can tell how concerned you are about this. Pele!

Nigerians are everywhere in the world, we're loud, aggressive and generally enterprising. These factors - plus our history, make us visible (and maybe too visible than we like, given the far-reaching works of our lazy 419er brothers & cousins), and targets for stereotype-seeking movie directors.

Just as some have expressed earlier, I'm not bothered by this at all.

I remember Chinese products many years back were regarded cheap, inferior and out-right fake. What's the story today?

A few incidents like District-9 or Sony ad do not define who I'm/we are as Nigerians, now, or in the future.

This is my suggestion: Enjoy District-9 for its entertainment value. Also use it as a prop to do something good, today, about the home country!

Agegelabs said...

As I read your excellent post, one country comes to mind - Rwanda

You should read this interesting piece on Rwanda as the New Model for Africa's Development. Amazing how far Rwanda has come in 15 years. They are trying to rewrite their history.

There are lessons to be learnt here. We should focus on our problems from the inside. Let's have a zero tolerance against corruption and mis-representation of Nigeria/Nigerians will reduce significantly.

eccentricyoruba said...

i don't see Nigerians been bothered enough to make a stance on this. it is a pity though, most people will not be bothered about their representations in movies because to them it is 'just a movie' and is purely fictional. i personally believe that people who think that way are able to because they have not faced racism and probably won't in Nigeria. it is all quite sad though. as for District 9, i'm never watching it! there are other valuable things (i.e. books) to spend my money on.

townncrier said...

Do the legion of young Nigerian singers who daily throng to SA to shoot musical videos ever read these stuff?
I mean if we cannot even shoot 3 minute musicals in our country,how do you expect other people to respect us ?
It's indeed a big problem that needs considerable reflection by not only the government but us citizens as well.

Anonymous said...

My goodness, I just read your article and I couldn't agree with you more. The racist portrayal of Nigerians in District 9 is absolutely dangerous and criminal. Blomkamp has learned the ways of the apartheid past well and he should be called out for it.

- Yemi A from Facebook

Obi-talker said...

Yeah! I havent even finished reading but That pyoo director guy something must be wrong with his head for him to say that kind of nonsense. Infact let me not shout too much...let me just get back to the article then I will know wats up.

Obi-talker said...

Men alot has been said but I can't help but notice how some of the comments just went from district 9 to homosexuality and nigerian music videos...anyways i sha know that it is mostly bloggers that are talking about this and to be honest educated people or people with a means who can go to cinemas like silver bird and watch it. Solomon, I love the idea of a disclaimer and somewhat apology before the film starts in a DVD format. I'm really feeling that idea. But i hope this South Africans don't start something they cant finish may this not be a case of north Korea and South Korea beef between two countries. I don't know why that country doesnt like black people it donn matter their nationality. God will help them!

For the love of me said...

I posted on this issue as did many other bloggers. For the Nigerians who say they don't see anything wrong with the video, wow, I can only say a big wow.

eccentricyoruba said...

okay just to let everyone know that Dora Akunyili has responded to this issue

NIGERIAN said...


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