2 Obstacles to Cultural Diplomacy Faced By the Nollywood Industry
How many African movies did you watch this year? Can you answer that question? I bet you cannot. Because if you are similar to ordinary human beings, chances are either you watched very few of them, or you did not watch any at all. Truth be told, the movie industry in Africa has often been associated with pejorative terms in the past. Furthermore, we reached a point where even us, Africans, do not consume our products.
Nevertheless, the last decade has witnessed the growth of a movie industry threatening Hollywood and Bollywood production: the Nollywood Industry (also known as Nigeria’s movie industry). Indeed, Nollywood is the second biggest movie producer in the world, right after Bollywood (Simmonds, n.d.). We know, for a fact, that Nigeria produces over 50 movies weekly (Moudio, 2013), surpassing the overly famous Hollywood. But what do those numbers mean for Nigeria? Well, if there is one thing we can be sure of is that movies are more than just entertainment. Indeed, Nollywood movies have shifted the way Nigeria has been portrayed over the last decade on the international level. This phenomenon is what we call: “Cultural Diplomacy.”
Over the years, Nigeria’s movie industry has made progress never observed anywhere else in Africa, making it a pioneer on the continent. However, as we observe and admire Nigeria’s success, one question remains: If it is that good, why aren’t we all investing more in the movie industry? The answers are embedded within our society and our governments.
1. “You cannot survive by working in the movie industry”
Before Nigeria got where they are today, the industry had to go through some tough times. When it comes to arts and culture, national government and societies seemed to agree that neither of them was worthy of investment, discouraging the youth to become part of the industry. Nollywood suffered severely from this condition. For years, the industry was associated with: Low quality, redundant storylines, and lack of originality(T. Giwa, 2014). Consequently, the image of Nigeria on the international level was also deteriorated. This problem had two main causes:
Society’s perception of the industry
Most parents have at least told their children once: “What is this? Will this feed you when you grow up?” And today, we can finally answer: YES. Yes, our passion for drawing, writing, acting, or singing will pay our bill, IF we decide to believe and to invest in ourselves. The movie industry has plenty of job opportunities, and the best example we have is Nigeria. The movie industry is the second biggest employer after agriculture in the country (Moudio, 2013).
Moreover, the industry is broad, hiring individuals with different backgrounds and passions. From graphic designers to scenario writers, the industry is plentiful of opportunities not yet harnessed by the local workforce. The lack of involvement of the locals often results in opportunities given to foreigners. And yet, social perception is just one of the reasons why movie industries are not evolving in most African countries.
Lack of quality institutions
There is a lack of opportunities for specialization in the field at the local level. We all have heard about CalArts in California USA, Los Angeles Film School in LA USA, Toronto Film School in Canada… (Moudio, 2013). And we are easily amazed by all those opportunities abroad. We even reached a point where we do not notice or care anymore that none of those schools are in Africa. This brings us to the question: How are Africans supposed to tell their own stories if they are not allowed to learn on the continent? Not only this issue impacts storytelling, but it also brings the risk of brain drain. It is not new for Africa to see its most talented individuals leave the continent for higher studies and never come back. The only way to avoid this is by creating quality institutions specialized in film-making within the continent. Nigeria understood this message and invested in a quality school focusing on film-making. So far, the only reputed schools on the continent are in Nigeria and Ghana.
Before the Nollywood industry reached its today’s success, Nigeria had to face those challenges mentioned above. Private sectors started the work by producing numerous quantity movies. The public helped them by buying those local products, which got the government’s attention and pushed them to support the movie industry by creating adequate institutions. Those efforts combined allowed the youth to consider movie production as a real career in Nigeria, removing stereotypes that used to weigh on the industry. The ultimate benefit of this investment is the opportunity given to Nigerians to narrate their stories from their own perspective. In her talk “The danger of a single story” (2009), Chimamanda strongly insisted on the emergency for Africans to take ownership of their narratives to avoid any more misconceptions about the continent. The Nollywood industry is showing us an example of how powerful movies can be to promote one’s culture and to shift people’s perceptions of a country. But for that to happen, each institution and individual has a role to play, especially the youth.
2. “We are not Africans”
The Nollywood Movie industry has witnessed a significant evolution over a period of time since the post-colonial era to the present. Both the quality of movies and perceptions of society changed to a better step. However, the industry is currently facing the issue of African actors being addressed as non-Africans by the western media. I experienced this first hand. It happened right after I watched the movie called “The Boy who harnessed the wind.” I was so moved by the story that I wanted to know more about the actors, and their stories. I immediately took my phone and started googling to find their biographies. Then something happened which instantly quenched my excitement. One of the main actors, Chietel Ejiofor, was identified as an English, and nothing else. It made me particularly angry, and then I realized how many African kids would probably go through the same experience. And just the thought made it worse.
In addition to that, there is also the fact that those famous African actors do not reside or do their day to day activities in Africa. This has built in the mindset, especially in young people, that to be successful, one needs to leave the continent.
Each one of those previously mentioned challenges contributes to the discouragement of the African youth to join the movie industry. However, Nigeria’s Nollywood Industry is the proof and the promise that it is possible to achieve success despite those obstacles. By investing in the industry and empowering each stakeholder, Nigeria showed the way to harnessing movie production and using it as a tool for Cultural Diplomacy. Now it is our turn. Every step taken in the past has led to this moment where the youth can and has to step up. The key to a successful movie industry is US. We are this creative and bold generation that can finally deviate the turn of history for Africa. We have heard, read, watched how our countries have been narrated by outsiders. We have been angry for a long time, but the wait is over now. And we need to put ourselves in key sectors such as the movie industry, so they can hear us. Let us bring our diversity, our creativity, our knowledge and change the narrative. So… what are you doing? Are you in?
Moudio, R. (2013). Nigeria’s film industry: a potential gold mine? | Africa Renewal. Retrieved 15 December 2019, from https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/may-2013/nigeria%E2%80%99s-film-industry-potential-gold-mine
Simmonds, K. Bigger than Hollywood: The quiet ascent of New Nigerian Cinema. Retrieved 15 December 2019, from https://www.canon.co.uk/view/nollywood-hollywood-nigerian-cinema/
T. Giwa, E. (2014). Nollywood: A Case Study of the Rising Nigerian Film Industry- Content & Production [Ebook] (p. 2). Illinois: Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Retrieved from https://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1667&context=gs_rp
TEDGlobal2009. (2009). The danger of a single story [Video].
Tucker, L. (2018). Top Film Schools Around the World. Retrieved 15 December 2019, from https://www.topuniversities.com/courses/communication-media-studies/top-film-schools-around-world
What is cultural diplomacy? What is soft power?. Retrieved 15 December 2019, from http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/index.php?en_culturaldiplomacy