Monday, October 26, 2009

Nollywood is Nigeria's film industry and currently the third largest in the world after Hollywood (U.S.) and Bollywood (India). Movies are created with small budgets and in a short amount of time, and despite the quality issues of many of them, they have become a mainstay of the average Nigerian, and proven popular across the African continent and the Caribbean. Nollywood continues to gain recognition and one of its most well known stars Genevieve Nnaji, recently received mention on the Oprah Winfrey Show, a program watched my millions across the world. Good or bad, Nollywood has allowed ordinary Nigerians to influence lives beyond the shores of Nigeria.

Despite these attributes, TIME Magazine opted to create a questionable pictorial essay on Nollywood entitled, The Stars of Nigeria's Movie Biz. Shot by Pieter Hugo, the pictures were taken from the book Nollywood and the images are creating quite a stir.

According to the magazine, the photographer "asked teams of actors and assistants to re-create Nollywood myths and symbols as if they were on movie sets." And, on the online page of the Nollywood book, the publishing house wrote that the images,
"are staged representations of Nigerian film sets, featuring local actors who recreate themes and characters from Nollywood films: young men in military fatigues; witch doctors, healers and saints; hunters with their kill; prostitutes in their rooms. The result is a series of surreal tableaux rooted in local symbolic imagery. Accompanying the photographs are texts by Chris Abani, whose short fiction piece captures the chaos of the filmmaking process, and an essay by Zina Saro-Wiwa on Nollywood’s explosive growth and what it means to Nigerians. Presented in a simple and restrained format, Hugo’s gorgeous photographs reveal a little-known phenomenon to a wider audience."
I am by no means an 'artist', but I understand the need to create content that connects with the end user and holds their attention. The pictures above, though set up to present an unusual perspective of a thriving industry, are problematic, to say the least. In my opinion, many of the images can actually be interpreted as demeaning the very industry and people supposedly being celebrated. The only picture I find remotely interesting is this one -

One of my readers comments from a Facebook and Twitter discussion on this issue eloquently stated -
"These pictures are only a confirmation of [a] Western stereotypical view of Africa, always stressing the bizarre and ugly parts of us as barbarians. This is not a true representation of Nollywood. The photos are skewed to undermine the position of Nollywood in the world's film industry.... On this, they fail!" - Mr. Jacob Dankasa
Mr. Dankasa's comments were mirrored by others engaged in the discussion and I definitely share his opinion. The need to resort to the characterization of Africans as part of the dark and mysterious continent is one I do not prescribe to regardless of whether that act was meant as satire or intended to challenge viewers. And, the fact that well respected Nigerian, Chris Abani, and a relative of the murdered Ken Saro-Wiwa cosigned on the project by participating in it, does not mean that the depictions of Nollywood, and in essence Nigerians, were not disturbing. Furthermore, although the images were reportedly 'recreated' by the actors themselves does not change things as that only raises issues of how certain Africans (in this case, Nigerians) see and value themselves, an issue that has been discussed in some manner or another ad nauseam by this writer. Here again is another reason why Nigerians, like everyone else, must be proactive in telling their own stories without allowing others, who clearly do not know them, to define who they are for a mass audience.

Nevertheless, I definitely understand the need to push the envelope, after all that desire has led to some of the most creative masterpieces and accomplishments of all time. However, with these pictures, I struggle to develop an appreciation of them and/or what they represent and believe that they unnecessarily relied on biases that will only confirm certain stereotypes for Hugo's mainly Western audience. And, although many others like friend, fellow blogger and photographer Gatto Giallo tried to help me understand (he reminded me, writing, "just photographer's tricks based on Nollywood myths ..."), I leave it to those so inclined to enjoy the pictures. Or not.

Please visit Nigerian media and model maven Linda Ikeji's blog for an entertaining discussion of this pictorial.

Related Articles of Interest:
- Economics of Nollywood: Price (written by guest writer, Oz)
- The Nigerian Psyche
- Persistent Psychological Paralysis
- The Significance of Persistent Psychological Paralysis

- Who will fight for Nigeria?

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Oluniyi David Ajao said...

Shame on them.

seye said...

This is so annoying. I am still at a loss for words!!!!!!!!!!!

Dojaa said...

Okay I am going to be a deviant on this issue.
I do not blame Time magazine for this depiction of nollywood, I rather agree with them because most of the nollywood movies tend to have themes associated with witch doctors and other bizarre stupid things which in no way depict the Nigeria people or the country. We should be holding our crazy, untalented, moronic occult obssessed producers, directors, writers, actors and everyone else involved with the distribution and production of these 'movies' to account.

Nnanna said...

I actually like the pictures. For one, they seem to reflect a much higher quality, than anything I have personally seen in a Nigerian movie.

For another, I don't think these pictures have any reflections on the Nigerian society as a whole. If it is a representation of the Nigerian movie industry...is it inaccurate?

Furthermore,I consider any one of these pictures to be far more interesting than a shot of Ms Nnaji carrying a Versace bag.

Finally, in the movie business, no PR is bad PR. So Nollywood, relax and enjoy your time in the Sun.

PS I confess to being a photography enthusiast, so maybe I'm overwhelmed by the art

Jacob Dankasa said...

Doja 2.0, I understand the point which you are coming from. However, you'll agree with me that what you mentioned are not the entirety of what Nollywood presents. Nollywood is not all about 'witch doctors and other bizarre stupid things' as you put it. I'll not complain if Time also presents scenes that feature other powerful actors and scenes side by side these pictures. As a rhetorical critic, I understand very much the power of pictoral metaphor and what it does to create an image of a people. Nollywood presents the beautiful and the ugly parts of our culture, most times with a message to stress that what is good is most desirable. Not perfect yet, but they do their best. As much as we call on them to improve, we as Nigerians must not put our signatures on deliberate designs to dehumanise us by people who have close their eyes to whatever that is positive about us.

NneomaMD said...

I think my contention is with TIMES magazine rather than the actual artist. Before TIMES decided to showcase this artist, I was aware of this exhibition and previous works by Hugo on Nigeria. His photography is usually a bit dark and I expected such in regards to his personal take on Nollywood.

The issue I have with TIMES is that this piece is an example of irresponsible journalism. TIMES took Hugo's art (not fact) literally, when, I believe, that was not the photographer's intention (I think). Rather than present the exhibition as the art, it took Hugo's photos as fact, as a sort of photographic documentary on Nollywood. This is evidenced by the short captions placed with each photo that attempt to explain the Nollywood industry to its western audience. Also, TIMES included the names of the participants in the photo shoot. I have been watching Nollywood films since the early nineties, and I could not identify any other the participants in that shoot. TIMES, without investigating the facts, included their names, thinking that these no-names are the faces of Nollywood.

I was amongst those who expressed much anger at the depiction of Nigerians in the film, District 9 because it, too, was based on misinformation and biases held by the director of the film. However, I will not fault Hugo for his artistic interpretation of the Nollywood industry until I hear his side of the story. TIMES, however, as a mainstream publication, was incredibly lazy with their research and adopted some fantastic art piece as reality.

On a side note, this issue very much relates to rebranding. In a previous post, SSD, you mentioned actors and actresses that were on the re-branding committee. Why have they been incredibly silent on the issue of Nollywood in the eyes of foreigners? Also, I would like to know of their take on the idea that Loomnie presented a while back on his blog, that some of Nollywood's bad press can be ascribed to its writers and producers who produce demeaning portrayals of Nigerians in film.

NneomaMD said...

If I may add one more point I should have added to the above...I mean, since it has been long since I commented on your blog, I feel entitled to two posts. On the list you presented on rebranding the actors/actresses that featured were those who were heavyweights in the nineties. This is when the occult was overrepresented in Nollywood. This is why I asked in my last comments to hear from such actors/tresses. Nollywood has evolved and continues to change, so I disagree with the above that occultic themes are pervasive today. We see them occasionally but not to the extent as we saw in the past. If TIMES wanted to present an accurate portrayal of Nollywood as it is today, it would have focused on other themes besides the occult. At least Nollywood has been able to mature and grow over the years...albeit at a slow rate. I am not sure I can say the same for Hollywood, who's penchant for violence (that rivals that of most Nigerian films, past and present) gets worse with each new release.

N.I.M.M.O said...

I saw this spread earlier and I was miffed until I re-read the editorial piece that came with it a bit more closely.

The photographer -Hugo- did what any cost-minded (ijebu) person would do: he got some 'aspiring' Nigerian actors, make-up artists etc and asked them to depict Nollywood in any way that caught their fancy.

Then he snapped them.

It was not HIS story; it was THEIR story. He simply captured it on film.

Please read it again.

TheAfroBeat said...

Have to go with Nneoma and NIMMO on this one. Hugo's storytelling is one thing - he told his models' story, and even if some argue that that is misrepresentative of Nollywood, those who feel obliged to tell the story as they feel it should be told, should go ahead and do so.

Like Nneoma, I'd seen these photos months ago before they were published by TIMES and thought, wow, interesting take on Nollywood. And that's what it is, Mr Hugo's take. Mayhaps TIMES doesn't do a good job of highlighting the one-sidedness of this story to its readers, but that's their perogative, and if they wholeheartedly share Mr Hugo's PoV on Nollywood, that's fair enough i say.

Nigerians, like everyone else, must be proactive in telling their own stories without allowing others, who clearly do not know them, to define who they are for a mass audience.

That really sums it up, Solo. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

We are not just having a debate, we are helping Time create a classification of our movie industry. Just the same way we must accept D9 for what it is, the great photographer did not wake up one day and thought to bash our brand :). Beauty.

plastiQ said...

Let's not get our knickers tied into a knot. I saw these pictures last year and I was intrigued. It's a photographer's take on Nollywood. It is art. BUT, I think Pietre Hugo should sue Time Magazine for using his words/pictures outta context.

This is poor journalism, an ABATI at best.

LaPenseuse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
io said...

i see the pics the same way i'll see the picture of an hollywood staple blown out of proportion. think of a picture of spiderman in his old age trying some enemy with balancing himself with a walking stick....

cosmicyoruba said...

i just wish the pictures had come with caption explaining what they are supposed to potray. while viewing the pictures i could not help saying out loud 'what the HELL is this?' but in all honesty i do agree that the makeup used on the actors is flawless and of high quality.

however, i am not happy with this potrayal at all as it is very negative. i mean one mythological being they could have potrayed was Mami Wata and she is beautiful etc but i'm sure if they had decided to potray her she would have had blood on her hands, probably standing over a dead man's corpse with her eyes rolling inside her head. this is sad :(

the quality is excellent and amazing but i don't know if this is the 'real' image of Nollywood. they have chosen to potray just a part of it and without useful captions these images are stereotypical.

African Safari said...

I agree, I like that last photo there too. There is something about them all though that just seems a little off. I'm impressed but not at the same time. I don't get it.

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