I’m Nigerian By The Way

I’m chuckling as I’m typing this post because I started it (ok just the post title) over a year ago (September 9, 2009 to be exact).  I had just watched a scene from the movie Savages (which I enjoyed as a reflection of the challenges of an aging parent in this part of the world but I digress) in which Jimmy, the male nurse (Gbenga Akinnagbe) makes it clear to Wendy (Laura Linney) that he is not from Jamaica (if I recall correctly) by saying:

I’m Nigerian by the way

The fact that I have had this experience multiple times (I don’t get how a Nigerian could sound Jamaican) is not what got me thinking rather, what got my gears grinding was my observance of the increased references to Nigeria in movies over the last  5 or so years.  To be fair, I didn’t have any compelling statistics to buttress my thoughts, but it seemed to me that most references to Nigeria in the movies (implicitly or explicitly) were rarely, if ever, positive. Unfortunately, I never found the time to express my thoughts on the matter.

Fast forward to the last couple of months in which I’ve watched only 3 movies, Prince of Persia, District 9 and the Expendables. Two out of the three had references to Nigeria (I’ll leave it to you to guess which one didn’t).  District 9 featured a locale where Nigerians lived in crime searching for alien juju while stockpiling alien weaponry while the Expendables made reference to Nigeria as place where a mission had taken place.

In both of these movies, the image of Nigeria is at best degrading and at worst, well I’m not sure what the word would actually be. Conducting a search for “District 9 Nigeria” gives an indication of Nigerians reaction the movie.  Why did the Expendables have to go on a mission to Nigeria?  After all, the country is relatively peaceful at the moment.  The same is true of Tears of the Sun (staring Bruce Willis).  I’ve often asked myself what type of opinions are formed by the viewers of these movies many who probably could not locate Nigeria on a map and who still think that Africa is a country.  Do these movies give us the type of publicity that we are looking for?

While it could be easy to try and blame this on the West and its movie directors/producers that would be awfully trite and be missing the point.  Years ago, it might have the right reaction, but it no longer is simply because we as Nigerians are doing nothing to provide a different point of view.  We’ve resorted to perpetuating this perspective through our own movie industry as a recent article in the The Economist very clearly (even though this was not the intent of the article) states.

I’ve forwarded the article to a couple of Nigerian friends and relatives and to a man (and woman) their reaction was curiously one of pride. Once again, Nigeria, the giant of Africa, via Nollywood was influencing the African continent at large.  I must admit, there is something both cute and funny about Zambian kids trying to speak with a Nigerian accent, who knew that day would come?  However, what caught my eye was the fact that piece highlighted the most common themes in the plots of Nigerian movies as being “juju and Jesus”.  If most of the movies present plot lines revolving around juju, human sacrifice, witchcraft, money making schemes etc etc, why are we surprised that District 9 features a Nigeria settlement characterized by all these attributes? Should we really be offended by it?  We created that image.  We made our bed, we should lie in it and be quiet.

What’s worse is that well educated and informed people who rail against the fabric of society where these themes run rampant, still spend money and time, buying and watching the movies, and further perpetuating the profileration of this perspective by continually investing in the industry.  I wonder how many of my dear friends who are ardent “Naija film” viewers, have a collection of Nigerian movies that they would proudly use as a means of sharing their culture with their non-Nigerian friends especially those from the West.

I believe its time for a revolution in Nollywood but then again, money talks. We need to leverage mass marketing and exporting of movies to present our country in much different light.  It can’t be that the image currently portrayed is the only one we’ve got, can it?

I’m no longer chuckling, I’m angered by it all.  I’m taking a stand.  I’m boycotting Nigerian movies that don’t rise above the muck that we are currently mired in!


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