The need for the Nollywood film industry to produce more movies that reflect the socio-cultural and artistic aspects of the nation’s life was highlighted at a film forum in Lagos recently. The forum, convened by Bisi Adeleye Fayemi, Executive Director, the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) and organised by the Lufodo Academy of the Performing Arts (LAPA), had as theme ‘Nollywood: Women and the dynamics of representation. It attracted prominent movie practitioners and members of the academia as discussants in various sessions of the two-day event. Various discussants noted the power of the film medium and stressed on the need for filmmakers to be careful about the type of messages they pass to their audience. It also stated that the need to make money should not be exclusive of the need to make decent films ‘that will stand the test of time.’ The forum further assessed the role films can play in cultural imperialism with particular reference to Hollywood and how that industry has helped shape the world’s view of America.

As talkshow host, Agatha Amata noted: “Nobody can tell your story better than you. America has sold us the hype of being the most powerful country in the world through Hollywood and people here now think there’s no poverty in the U.S. It’s when they get there that they see beggars on the streets and they are shocked. If America can use the media to sell you a hype that’s not true, then it shows the power of the media. So, we should be careful about the messages passed to the audience especially young people who erroneously believe that everything they see on TV is right.”

It was in this light that another discussant, Abena Busia in her paper titled, ‘Women and the Dynamics of Representation: Of Cooking, Cars, and Gendered Culture’ expressed concern about the manner in which African women are portrayed in the movies. According to her, Nollywood had become a force due in part to, “the existence of such a mass of films, now available, and watched in every corner of the globe.” Busia, who is an Associate Professor of English, Women’s Studies and Comparative Literature at Rutgers University, New Jersey, United States added that, “How women are presented to audiences in a number of media has been of concern for a number of women and women’s movements around the world. As human beings, we all become concerned about how we are seen by others, how we are re-presented to the world, especially by others who do not count themselves as one of our member. And when we do not see ourselves reflected, or reflected as we would like, the need for redress, to challenge the discrepancies between how we see ourselves and how you know ourselves to be seen, becomes a powerful driving force, and not just for women.”

Resultantly, Prof. Onookome Okome, a Canada -based teacher of English and Films studies stressed the need to have rounded female characters, instead of one dimensional ones in order to avoid monotony.

Not just whores and witches

It was such monotony that made another discussant, Pastor Biodun Ibitola, broadcaster and marketer to stop watching films. “I got tired of seeing women portrayed in the same way in the stories/films,” she complained during day two of the forum which kicked off with a discussion on Saints, Whores, Nags and Witches – three major stereotypes of women in Nollywood movies. Filmmaker Emem Isong gave the lead presentation during the session, moderated by TV talkshow host Funmi Iyanda which focused on society’s perception of women generally. To the TV presenter, ‘every single successful woman worldwide is called a witch or whore,’ adding that the impression foreigners who watch Nigerian movies have of Nigerian women is that of being ‘stupid, money-grasping and prostitutes.’ “These are the stereotyped images of the Nigerian woman which Nollywood is passing to the rest of the world through the movies. This is an issue which needs to be addressed,” she stated. While comparing Hollywood’s portrayal of American women to the way the Nigerian woman is represented, she noted: “ The white, blond American woman is at the highest level of womanhood to the American man. You can never see her raped, maltreated or abused in a Hollywood film unless she has done something really bad to deserve it.”

Countering this view of women in films, Ibitola noted that it was time script writers began to write stories that tapped into women’s traditional role in society. “Women play various roles in the community as mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters and so on”, she said, noting that African women have moral standards and societal mores which need to be portrayed in the movies. Supporting this view was Dion Jemide who noted: “Film is art and not just about making money. It’s time Nollywood started making more artistic movies.”

However, top filmmaker Amaka Igwe, posited that the Nollywood film industry was fashioned out to entertain and not to teach anything. “These films are made just to sell. They don’t teach anything.” Igwe, who called herself an ‘unrepentant commercial film maker’, stated that filmmakers should not take the audience for granted because they are much more intelligent than the filmmakers think. As she put it: “They analyse the films and want to know why certain things happen the way they do.”

However, the need to draw a line between stereotyping and proper representation so it does not become propaganda was also highlighted. On this issue, Busia said: “ Where do we draw the line between demanding socially responsible art and policing the artist? Besides, can we police morality or demand, as opposed to desire, socially responsible art forms; and again, as I asked before, must our art be required to be what we consider positive, for then when does it become propaganda, why not be content with reflecting what is, however discomforting that may be?”

Josephine Effah Chukwuma, a women’s rights activist supported this view stating that its ‘not about glorifying women as saints but films should show that for every action there’s a reaction.” And for actress Dakore Egbuson, who revealed that she had to turn down a lot of scripts because of her concern for the quality of her work, actors should be more selective in the roles they choose and not think about the money alone.

Film clips on various themes and issues concerning women’s roles in society were shown at the event. These include Rifle Road and Jesus and the Giant, two films by Akin Omotoso, a South African-based Nigerian filmmaker which focused on gun control and domestic violence. There was also the Hollywood film, The Secret Laughter of Women, starring Joke Silva, Nia Long and Colin Firth which boasts an array of strong women in an immigrant community in France who were ‘vehicles of tradition’ even while away from home.

Movie practitioners, TV personalities, writers, arts and cultural activists and others who attended the event which was graced by Lagos State First Lady, Mrs Abimbola Fashola include Tunde Kelani, Mahmoud Ali-Balogun, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Emem Isong, Amaka Igwe, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, Kunle Ajibade, Biodun Ibitola. Others include Bimbo Oloyede, Agatha Amata, Toyin Akinosho, Reuben Abati, Funmi Iyanda, Iretiola Doyle and Emma Isikaku.

Also in attendance were Nollywood stars including Chioma Chukwuka, Bimbo Manuel, Dakore Egbuson, Omoni Oboli, Uche Abriel Macaulay, Monalisa Chinda, Doris Simon, Saheed Balogun, Rose Odika, Carol King, Ego Boyo, Bhaira Mwizu, Moyo Lawal and Dupe Jaiyesimi