TREACHERY ON A STAGE OF LIES:CHRIS ABANI,ZINA SARO-WIWA,COLLABORATE WITH PRESTEL PUBLISHING, PHOTOGRAPHER PIETER HUGO AND TIME MAGAZINE TO DENIGRATE AND FALSIFY NOLLYWOOD AND NIGERIA

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toyin adepoju

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Oct 4, 2009, 9:18:01 AM10/4/09
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Chris Abani,Zina Saro-Wiwa and photographer Pieter Hugo collaborate in an evil and untruthful book about Nollywood that depicts Nollywood as a house of horrors,reflecting the dysfunctional and crisis ridden social existence that they see as dominating the Nigerian imagination.

The photographer staged scenarios,which according to TIME magazine which presented an uncritical photo essay of the book,and Prestel International the publisher,are representative of the symbols and central aesthetic of Nollywood.Chris Abani is described as providing the text and Zani Saro-Wiwa,Saro-Wiwa's daughter,as writing an essay in the book on what Nollywood means to Nigerians.

These staged scenarios that are described as emblematising Nollywood's recurrent symbols and motifs,as embodying its central aesthetic,are all images of horror.The accompanying captions,most likely from the book,describe the industry as feeding on pain,as creating and disseminating images of the suffering that engulfs the entire society.The limited budgets and short time frame in which Nollywood production often takes place are also highlighted but little  reference is made in the captions to the creativity of the filmmakers,to their creation of an entire industry out of almost nothing in the name of a support structure,moving on to becoming  the world's third largest film industry.

Abani and Zina Saro-Wiwa are Africans and, I expect, both Nigerians.They should know better than to collaborate on a project that presents a reality of African life in an untruthful manner.The Black people who allowed themselves to be photographed in such gory compositions are also responsible for participating in yet another falsely denigrative discourse about Black people.These images are not representative of Nollywood film.If anybody thinks otherwise I would like them to prove it to me with a brief survey of Nollywood film from the earliest time to the present.

I cannot post the images here even though someone else has already done so.They are too horrible,involving children,adults, animals and semi-clothed women in tragic circumstances,depicted in terms of appearances and image compositions that are  even worse than those that came out of the Nazi concentration camps after World War 2,where the Nazis  worked hard for years to dehumanise and exterminate Jews .

The images are here at this link to TIME

This is the  link to the  Prestel page on the book

Ridiculously false captions from the photo essay:

"The narratives are almost always overdramatic, with no happy endings".
 
This statement about few or no happy endings in Nollywood films is a  complete lie.I dont know enough to comment on the issue of melodrama.

This  caption quoted above is placed under a particularly depressing image that evokes not only a most unglorious image of a family,it depicts the family group of a man a woman and a  small child in terms of the kind of images reserved for  depicting zombies  in  films,wearing clothes that seem to be decaying from long burial under the earth,covered in mould,with their entire bodies covered  in a terrible, dull whitish matter as they stand listlessly against an ugly unplastered  and unpainted  brick wall with the small child sitting on one of the dreary looking drums that dominates the foreground.I find it difficult to evoke the sense of gloom,decay and despair embodied by this image.Only God knows where on earth such a conception of this image as representative of Nollywood  comes from.

"The production companies have extremely limited budgets and only the most basic scripts".
 
The second part of this assertion is untrue as a characterisation of Nollywood films in general.
 
The caption is placed under an image of a grimacing woman whose discoloured teeth rhyme with her disheveled  hair,partially undone bra and what look like bloodshot eyes,as she sites in front of a dull,uncoloured wall,an image that  evokes at once both agony and rage, and possibly, despair.The woman's deep brown skin  is marked by striations of dark colour,looking like some deeply incised tatoos or a discoloration of the flesh.

"The preferred aesthetic is loud, violent and excessive".
 
I beg to differ on this as a summation of Nollywood aesthetic.

The caption quoted and highlighted in black above  is placed under an image of man in a suit and tie ,standing on top of the carcass of a slaughtered  cow,its blood spilling into the street as the man holds what looks like the cow's  bloody heart,against a background of dimly glimpsed animal  carcasses  and withered vegetation.


It is true  that Nollywood does  depict gory situations but the depiction of gory scenes is not a staple  of Nollywood. and such a nasty image as this one is not representative of any form  of African or Nigerian art.

Caption that emphasise the film's portrayal of negative social issues:

"Plots revolve around situations familiar to the audience and include witchcraft, bribery and prostitution, in addition to romance and comedy".

This caption is placed with an image of three dirty and desolate looking women,chained together by their necks and hands,wearing something that looks like rough brown sacks that cover them from their waits to their knees,and out of which is cut some material that covers their breasts;otherwise the rest of their bodies  are  uncovered,as they stand barefoot om bare earth in what looks like a scrapyard,with dilapidated cars and a lone tree in the background.

 
Accurate comments negated by juxtaposition with images that generate a conception of a twisted collective Nigerian imagination and social life:

"Both the photographs and movie scenes they draw from are deeply rooted in the local collective imagination".

This caption is placed underneath an image of a tender looking woman,elegantly dressed in buba and wrapper,her red handbag resting  daintily on the concrete bench on which she sits,sitting companionably with a grotesque looking man,naked from the waist up,dressed in only a dirty looking wrapper,with something like a hideous skin rash on his shoulders,his body gruesomely dark with horns protruding from his head.The caption suggests that this image is representative of the contents of the collective Nigerian imagination and of Nollywood imagery and visual symbolism.That is a wickedly false assertion.Even if such an image might appear in a Nollywood film as depicting a Christian conception of the demonic inner being of someone whose true nature is unsuspected by others,it is not representative of  Nollywood  and is certainly not representative of the collective Nigerian imagination.

"It is estimated that Nollywood generates from $250 million to $500 million annually"

This statement,which indicates the economic scope of the industry,is placed underneath a sad picture of man  dressed in a military uniform, decorated with medals.The man's had is in a sling as  he looks soulfully out of the image.The dark and dull colours of the uniform and that of the  image background give it a sombre and sad quality.Why must a sad image of an injured man  be correlated with a statement about the inescapable fact of the economic success of the Nigerian film industry?The fact that ALL the images in  the TIME photo essay are uniformly negative indicates that the TIME magazine editors either chose  to use only  such images or that the entire book is composed of such images.Such painful  images are not representative of Nolllywood.

"Many of the movies are produced and marketed within the space of a week".

This statement,which I expect suggests the frenzy of actual production in Nollywood,though I dont have detailed information on that ,is paired with an image of a man in a dynamic pose holding what looks like a Kalashkinov rifle  but with his body seemingly burnt from head to toe and his clothes charred to rags.Behind him is a group of children,some fully dressed some not,behind whom is an unpainted wall topped by a row of broken bottle.

Where in hell did this  kind of image come from as as a representation of Nollywood?With the plethora of films coming out daily from Nollywood it is only the images from a hellish imagination that the photographer was able to stage as representing the film industry. It is interesting that the images are not drawn from particular Nollywwod films but are imaginative creations of what the creators or creators understand  as what Nollywodd represents.This suggests to me an effort to persist in the imagery of Africans as savages,a tradition grounded in denigrating African achievements.
 
"Nigeria's film business, a.k.a. Nollywood, is the third largest in the world. Its filmmakers produce as many as 1,000 movies each year for the home-video market".
 
This caption accompanies an image of what, from its face,has the alert  intelligence and features of a man,but the body of which is closer to that of a malnourished ape.The creature holds a lonely bottle of coke in a place of bare tables,empty chairs and a desolate looking tree.The dull colors of the setting and the dark hairiness of the unfortunate looking creature make it a scene out of a demented nightmare.This not quintessential Nollywood or representative of the Nigerian imagination.The horrible image effectively contributes to making nonsense of the accompanying caption describing the achievements of the industry.
 
"To create these images, photographer Hugo asked teams of actors and assistants to re-create Nollywood myths and symbols as if they were on movie sets".
 
This caption is paired with an image of a man in a bland mask,with very large costume ears,a  black bowler hat, under a black jacket that covers him from shoulders to ankles while slightly revealing his bare chest,as he stands bare foot holding an axe, in a street with the blur of cars in the background,along with an ugly bare billboard ,and a large dull coloured sotry building in the background.
 
Why is this dreadfully comic figure holding an axe?Is muder a staple of Nollywood the way sex is a staple of Hollywood? As far as I know that is not true of Nollywood.Its films are not often haunted by comic evil characters like this sad,impoverished and dangerous looking and  ridiculous figure.

"Nollywood represents the first time that Africa's rich oral and written storytelling has found a voice in mass media".

This statement presents a perspective on Nollywood that tries to be positive without recognising,that,at least in my view,Nollywood is not representative of Africa's rich oral and written storytelling tradition beceause its themes,plots and informing ideas  are significantly divorced from the worlds of Classical African culture and of modern African writing in European languages,being instead a third cultural strand,a form of modernity that integrates a religiosity that is largely denigrative of the cosmological values of the Classical African culture,appropriating only aspects of its social  values,and is not sensitive to the ideational,imaginative and linguistic sophistication of modern African literature.Is it also not true that that African oral traditions represented a mass medium before they were overtaken by the forced introduction of  written literacy?

Whatever might be the value of the assertion in the caption quoted and highlighted above,that value is significantly diluted,if not twisted and negated by the image that accompanies it.It is an image of three children,in a desolate  landscape,wearing drab boxers-underwear shorts,naked from the waist up,and covered in a white chalk like substance from head to toes.These visual forms,along with their skinny appearance,one of them having  a distended stomach,gives them the appearance of refugees from a spiritual  holocaust.They look like wretched,underfed ghosts wandering between worlds.

Is this emblematic of Nollywood imagery?Of the Nigerian collective imagination? For images of spirit worlds in Nigerian literature go to Amos Tutuola,D.O.Fagunwa and Ben Okri,as well as to the oral traditions.The New Sacred Art Movement in Nigeria which was centred on the spirit world has a different aesthetic from what is  presented in this account of Nollywood.What is the source of these macabre visualisations?A conception of what Nigerians   really look like  as different from what is evident to the naked eye?How well do the makers of this book know Nollywood?The TIME editors do not know it at all if not they might have presented this book differently.

From the Prestel and Amazon description of the book: "Nigerian films often deal with the moral dilemmas facing modern Africans today and tell stories familiar to African families: of religion, violence, AIDS, and economic hardship."

Moral dilemmas ,true.But what percentage of Nollywood movies are centred on "violence,AIDS and economic hardship"?

I should like to learn more about these issues  from those who know more about Nollywood than I do,.
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