Nollywood: Full Story of Its Rise 2

The representation of the city is subsumed by a logic of acquisitive desire and magic because this same vast floating desperate mass of the population needs figures for the social processes of post oil boom Nigeria, which seem an occult because they have so little to do with work or productive social processes.
They are organized by cliques and cabals enriching themselves at the expense of others, following the slogan “chop make I chop”. Upward mobility is everything, and there are very few people in a position to demand, or even interested in, accountability or transparency from those who have made it.
Andy repeatedly replies, to questions about hid identity, “I am a businessman” – a supremely vague description in this situation where it means everything and nothing. There is little in the way of available political ideology that really makes sense of this mess. Popular consciousness, built on a disposition in traditional Igbo culture to favour individual dynamism and ambition, is fascinated with the art and strategy of getting ahead in this world, and of course admiring of the spectacle of luxury that accompanies it, even as it registers horror at the moral anarchy. It is therefore very easy for the video dramas aimed at this audience to mis-recognise the real social and political issues facing the urban masses, representing them in a way that falsifies the problems and makes solutions unimaginable.
In Hollywood and the Indian film industry, both under the control of a consolidated bourgeoisie, mass culture is certainly designed to have a politically soporific effect. In Nigeria, as they critics notes, the problems are rooted more in limitations inherent in popular consciousness, though it is possible that in so far as something like a culture industry is set up in Nigeria it will begin to resemble these other cases.
One recurring form through which this anarchy is expressed is the sacrifice of marital relations on the altar of greed, to support a glamorous urban lifestyle. This happens with allegorical clarity in Living in Bondage, but it also features in a number of the other most popular Igbo videos, such as True Confessions and Glamour Girls; it is given a mythological turn in Nneka 1 and 11.
These dramas all invest their female characters with immense frightening power – the nightmare projections of the males who control video production, but which resonate with everyone whose psychological relationships have been rendered insecure by the precarious struggle for existence.
While the urban scene is dominant in the Igbo productions, both critics do not mean to suggest that they are limited to any one location, physical, social or ideological – their openness is one of the most promising things about them.
Ikuku (Hurricane), written and directed by Nkem Owoh (Andy Best Productions, 1995), is sent in a village, and takes a village perspective on things; but it does some thing that is quite rare in the Igbo production, which is to present the village in historical fashion, as being in an uncompleted relation to the forces of modernization, rather than as being a pure repository of uncorrupted values or as the scene for essentially timeless stories of magical encounters.
The village is beset by a terrible wind because the priest of the Ikuku shrine has died without a successor. A diviner says the priesthood will fall on the Ezigbo family, and eliminates as a candidate one of its members, the town drunk Osuofia.
The only other known male is Dr. Raymond, a unclear physicist living in Lagos, recently recalled from abroad by the government. Nobody knows that a boy called Stephen is the illegitimate son of Osuofia – he’s obviously the right candidate as he suffers visions of the oracle and of his father, but the film never gets around to a discovery scene which would resolve this situation.
A delegation is sent to visit Dr. Raymond in Lagos. Found in his luxurious home, he treats the delegation rudely, with no respect for kinship, let alone the shrine to whose priesthood he has been called. Eventually, however, he is forced into returning to the village by a series of catastrophes that befall his life in Lagos: his chickens all die, somebody poisons his dog, his grant letter goes missing, and the engine of his Volvo car knocks.
Much comedy is made of his cultural alienation once he returns to the village. He speaks English to the oracle, puts on surgical gloves to handle kola nut, expects there to be files on the job as priest and a bank account to support sacrifices, and allows his foreign wife to commit various sacrileges, for which she suffers magical retribution.
In a parallel plot, the Igwe’s son and heir has also returned: Jeff has acquired a fake American accent in Lagos, along with the dress and manners of a street hustler, and he brings along a finance called Jenny who can’t cook and has no intention of learning how to. Jeff will clearly never be able to succeed his father. The theme of acculturation to the wider world is carried on throughout the film through many incidental jokes, not necessarily connected to Raymond or Jeff: about who does or doesn’t speak English – French and even Latin also come up. The village has been thoroughly penetrated by the languages of modernity.
The satire on modern, alienated sons of the soil is balanced by discredited village figures who insist on their traditional titles: the main one is the drunk Osuofia, who insists on his status as elder and relative as he gives a prurient lectures on sexual morality to his niece, and demands that the waitress in an Igbo restaurant in Lagos bend down as she serves him in difference to his rank, but really so he can see down her breasts.
When he is thrown down after provoking a fight in the village bar, he makes a big deal of how a titled man’s head should never touch the ground. Similarly, the diviner is also pushed to the ground (on the periphery of a fracas involving his fierce hen-pecking, adulterous wife); from this position he announces he won’t arise unless placated by the sacrifice of a cock. Nobody really notices.
The film, then, is made from the perspective of a real village, shot through with problems and in the midst of negotiating responses to the wider world that impinges on it. The Lagos scenes, let alone Dr. Raymond’s career, are less realistic, being the fragmentary impressions of bewildered outsiders. At every turn Igbos are found in Lagos (car mechanic, restaurant); really no one else is visible.
The notion that Raymond should abandon his career as unclear programmer/physicist in Nigeria’s space programme (1) in order to become the priest of the village oracle seems absurd even to the film, but it does endorse the community’s claim on its member- Raymond should negotiate, as his friend in Lagos tells him: go home, give gifts, and see what can be arranged. Raymond is much more ridiculous, and more clearly in the wrong, than the village ever is. But the village also has to negotiate, to keep channels of communication open.
There is an important sense, Okome and Haynes went on say in the plots the tradition can’t defend itself as it has broken down bringing suffering interruptions.
The Igwe looks and functions like an Igwe, but he has no plausible successor; the priesthood has devolved on a family whose male members are the alienated and absurd Raymond, the utterly corrupt and incompetent drunk Osuofia, and the illegitimate and unrecognized boy Stephen. Still, generally, one has a sense of life going on in a way that prevents any sense of an acute crisis. The supposed hurricane is forgotten – certainly it isn’t blowing at the end as the masks come out and everyone dances. Throughout the atmosphere is of resilience and humour, not tragic civilizational crisis as conceived of by an intellectual.
Nigerian ethnic movie production
The two critics also dealt gave some thoughts about ethnicity and Nigerian video production – pausing first to notice the emergence of video dramas in Hausa, dating from about the same period as the Igbo videos.
In their view, the degree to which video and film production is organised along ethnic lines in Nigeria is quite unusual in Africa as elsewhere films don’t carry their ethnicity on their sleeves because production is organized on a national and international basis.
The positive side of the Nigerian situation, they argue, is the immediate relation to a popular audience; the negative side is that in some ways at least it reflects a situation in which many dimensions of national life are being re-ethnicised as the national institutions deteriorate.
One needs to ask what the relation of the popular arts arising from each ethnic tradition is to a national culture, and perhaps these days one will answer with less assurance than did Biodun Jeyifo in 1984 when he placed the Yoruba Travelling Theatre “solidly within the pale of an emergent national popular culture,” though one that was not monolithic and had many ethno-national streams.
Okome and Haynes note that the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa videos all emerge from specific circumstances which give them markedly different characters. This perhaps extends even to a certain non-equivalence of categories, to difference in the extent to which they are marked as ethnic.
The Yoruba videos seem more imbued with an ethnic spirit, for diverse reasons that have already been touched upon: their immediate artistic lineage goes back to a moment of cultural nationalism. They are seldom translated out of Yoruba, and the “deep” Yoruba verbal arts play a great role; the original structure of the acting companies is more closed. There are perhaps other cultural dispositions at play too.
While Igbo films also frequently involve magic, they are much less likely to invoke to a whole traditional cosmology and pantheon of deities. The Yoruba films are much more liable to be historical in the sense of appealing to a legendary Yoruba tradition, which is not easily seen to flow into a modern plural ethnic nation. Even dramas with modern urban settings very seldom hint at the existence of other ethnicities, whereas Igbo videos not infrequently do. All this is apt to make non-Yoruba viewers feel culturally excluded.
They critics may not mean to make invidious comparisons, or to slight the rich cultural meanings which are mobilized in the Yoruba videos. But the recent Igbo production, they argue seems perhaps even more promising as a basis for the future, in its cultural and commercial elasticity, which will cause it to pursue and develop a national market, adding, “in any case, the entrance of Igbo and Hausa videographers is a healthy development in Nigerian popular culture.”

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One Response to “Nollywood: Full Story of Its Rise 2”

  1. online videos Says:

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