In a recent discussion with a group of friends and associates of varying ages and backgrounds, someone asked a very interesting question – what is Nigeria known for? I would like to think the question was asked innocently. The responses were given in that spirit. One friend suggested that Nigeria is known for literature, possibly because of the successful legacy handed down by writers of my parents’ generation. My response was based on my knowledge of the influence of some musicians on the global popular culture. Again, these musicians were primarily from a couple of generations before mine. Then it occurred to me that the major contribution of subsequent generations to Nigerian cultural exports is the Nollywood film.
Immediately, the group was plunged into an intense conversation about the production values of these films. One of us complained about the lighting in the movies – a technical detail which I haven’t noticed, since I don’t watch them. The complainant said her husband enjoys watching the films because of the wealth of traditions and social mores embedded in the stories. It is clear that there is power in these narratives, since they have influenced the aesthetic of black screen presence every since. Indeed, it is highly likely that a blockbuster film such as Black Panther is a direct beneficiary of the fact that people are more accustomed to seeing black people on screens, telling our own stories, than used to be the case in the past.
Some shrewd operators have moved into the world of film and video making, because they are aware of the opportunities offered to take control of the way that Nigerian based stories are told. It is a fine thing that folks feel liberated by the Nollywood DIY ethos and are taking the bull by the horns. In some cases, this is paying off handsomely in their personal lives. But now that the opportunity is there to make a difference, perhaps we need to remember some important points.
Film and video making are primarily visual media. Well written scripts with entertaining dialogue have a place within the art form, but film makers should aim to tell stories with visual images much more than with spoken dialogue. Another discussant in our conversation commented about the poor sound quality of many Nollywood films. These are all issues that can be addressed, if the creators aim to up the ante on their production values.
I guess the main issue at stake here is the creative ambition of the artists. Is Nollywood creating any work that will be regarded as timeless and classic by future generations? Only time will tell.