The Power of Nollywood to Save Children's Lives
Over the past two decades Nollywood has become a cultural phenomenon attracting millions of viewer's right across Africa and the wider Diaspora. Nollywood films have redefined the parameters of African cinema and are distinguished by their popularity and ability to cut through every social stratum and ethnic divide, thus powerfully influencing African culture.
The fact that they are internationally dismissed for their low production quality is irrelevant; Nollywood films embody what it means to be African, reflecting ethnicity, historical traditions, customs, and heritage- something that foreign films struggle to achieve. These films hold a very prominent place in the minds of Africans, captivating curiosity and imagination.
The UK-based charity Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) has used this cultural connection and produced the Nollywood film 'The Fake Prophet' in an attempt to stimulate debate and pioneer positive change by challenging issues such as child trafficking and the labelling of children as 'witches'.
SSN has collaborated with the renowned Nollywood film director, Teco Benson to produce this unique film. Teco is well- known throughout the world and particularly within the Nollywood industry, for his timely and influential productions. He also believes in the power of film to instigate positive social change. He says: “Film, with its subtle messaging approach remains the best medium for encouraging change in behaviour within society and Nollywood has an important role to play in this. I believe that 'The Fake Prophet' is the first truly socially responsible Nollywood film to be made and I am delighted that we have been able to set the bench mark for future productions''.
As well as having a positive impact on society, Nollywood's ability to reach out into the hearts and minds of the masses has also had negative consequences, particularly on the lives of vulnerable people. Some of the most common themes in Nollywood films are witchcraft and the supernatural and these have had a profound influence upon Nigerian culture and belief. Popular films such as 'End of the Wicked' depict children as being possessed by witchcraft, capable of eating human flesh and responsible for disease, death, environmental disaster, poverty and unemployment.
Research by Stepping Stones Nigeria has shown that these films have had a significant and damaging impact on children by promoting the belief in witchcraft which in turn leads to torture, violence, abuse and abandonment, often perpetrated by exploitative Pastors and other influential community members.
'The Fake Prophet' aims to counter-balance these films and expose the truth behind the so-called men and women of God who have made their wealth from branding children as witches. It also highlights the legal consequences of carrying out child witchcraft accusations and abuse.
Produced for the purpose of generating lasting social change, this film is the first of its kind, combining the work of an NGO and the Nollywood film industry. It addresses difficult issues in an entertaining way, thus reaching out and enlightening communities and individuals through story and drama. 'The Fake Prophet' follows the story of two young children who are accused of witchcraft by a fraudulent pastor who makes money by identifying 'child witches' and charging large sums of money to perform 'deliverance' ceremonies. It powerfully encapsulates many major social and political issues that affect Nigerian society today, including the dangers faced by children following witchcraft accusations, the problem of child trafficking and the vulnerability of children living on the streets.
Gary Foxcroft, Stepping Stones Nigeria's Programme Director states that, 'Given the projected reach of 'The Fake Prophet' and the power of the Nollywood film industry we anticipate that this film will go a long way to help challenge deeply held attitudes, values and beliefs and will ultimately prevent the further abuse of children. As such we are enormously excited about the films potential'.
Using the medium of film to shed light on these issues will provide a different way of empowering parents, families and communities to think about the rights of their children and the key role they play in Nigeria's and Africa's future. The inexpensive production of Nigerian video film means that the masses are easily reached with films exported to most African countries including, Ghana, Zambia, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This therefore creates an ideal platform to raise awareness about the horrific human rights violations facing many children today
Nollywood's ability to resonate with the beliefs and values of its audience makes it an integral part of Nigeria's cultural identity today. Nigerian cultures, religions and beliefs which frame and inspire the plots of video film need to be chosen in a responsible way. More films are needed which challenge political and social issues in a new and pioneering manner. Films must tell innovative and cutting-edge stories, as demonstrated by 'The Fake Prophet'.
'The Fake Prophet' is due to premiere in London on the 24th July, in Lagos in August and New York in September. Following this it will be broadcast on television stations throughout Africa, Europe and the USA. It will be screened at various International Film Festivals and will be released globally on DVD in September. Stepping Stones Nigeria and Teco Benson are delighted by the possibilities of this film and its potential to transform lives. The high standard of film- making achieved in 'The Fake Prophet', together with its capacity to be used as an advocacy tool, means that this film is well-positioned to set the Nollywood industry alight and inspire a new wave of innovative and creative film making.
For more information about this film or the work of Stepping Stones Nigeria please visit: www.steppingstonesnigeria.org or www.makeapact.org