NOLLYWOOD HELPS ME APPRECIATE NIGERIAN PIDGIN
Afour-hour transit stop at most African airports is insufferable. Fortunately for me, faced with a stop at Entebbe Airport, some innovative people had brought Nollywood to travellers fatigued from negotiating anything from entry without a visa to permission to carry one's entire luggage on board lest it go missing.
Nollywood helps me appreciate Nigerian pidgin, with nonsensical phrases that keep you in hysterics: “As man land, man eye brush vest. Man begin knack tori.”
“As I cascaded down the stairs, my eyes happened upon a young member of the opposite sex dressed in a manner that would be illegal in 17 American states. I calmly walked up to the subject and proceeded to relay a series of lies guaranteed to place me in an advantaged position.”
I particularly like this one, from Elliot Ibie on the same website: “Why your body dey shake like leaf now, abeg o thermocool!” Translation: “It is apparent to anyone within a fifty mile radius that you are about to experience an emotional explosion which will entail loss of control of all bodily functions. I beg you to seek out the nearest body of cold water and immerse yourself in it.”
Nollywood film plots are completely wacky; black magic is a constant theme. I watched one where a chief is troubled by his past as a bank robber. His wife, a well-respected Lagos boutique owner, was once a prostitute.
The couple's three European-educated children are about to find out that the chief is not their biological father. The plot thickens as the chief and his wife try to cover up their past.
Just when you think they have pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, their housekeeper casts a voodoo spell on them and tries to cut off their heads. Of course, the lesson is that black magic always has calamitous costs for those who use evil means to get rid of their problems.
Many of the films tackle tough social and political issues. One of them centres on a cultural practice where a man's family grabs all his property after he dies, leaving his widow penniless.
The widow, in coalition with other widows, forms a formidable group of women to stop the practice. But, in the process, they become corrupt. The message conveyed by the film is that some traditions may be imperfect, but be wary of women when they have too much power.
The film is simply picking up on one of Nigeria's hot debates on tradition vs modernity, which resonates across Africa.
Nollywood covers anything from dysfunctional families to religion, love, corruption, tears and betrayals, with colourful characters guaranteed to keep you in stitches. It gestures to political discourse in a very clandestine manner.
It produces culture as it produces society and in turn society influences its social and cultural environment. It offers explanations about the things people do in the dark. It is eloquent about showing the lives people live, the things they do that they would not speak about in public.
Love it, hate it, Nollywood is one of the best things to happen in the world. Africans can connect themselves and the real world to the movies. It gives meaning to culture and showcases for many the real Africa.
In The Washington Post, Neely Tucker writes: “The raw energy of the movies — and the flurry in which they are filmed and sold — is a kind of grass-roots creative revolution on a continent where stories have been told for generations but rarely committed to film.”
“Nollywood's rise represents a unique cultural moment,” wrote Abraham McLaughlin, in The Christian Science Monitor in 2005.
A Ugandan businessman I spoke to captured the sentiment: “African stories are finally being told by Africans themselves.”
Finally, “Africans are no longer the waiter, the nightwatchman or the peasant greeting his white boss with 'Jambo, Bwana!'”, as mercatornet.com's Martyn Drakard wrote in 2006.
He quotes Nigerian director Bond Emeruwa as saying: “We are telling our own stories in our own way, our Nigerian way, African way.
“I cannot tell the white man's story. I don't know what his story is all about. He tells me his story in his movies. I want him to see my stories too.”
It's no wonder that Nigeria is home to the third-largest film industry in the world and the fastest growing after Hollywood and Bollywood. Where else can you shoot a full-length dramatic film for 10000 in seven days? “Currently, 300 producers churn out movies at an astonishing rate, somewhere between 500 and 1000 a year,” wrote Drakard. Nollywood is a 250-million-a- year industry. The industry is entirely self-sustaining, receives no foreign or government funding.
On a continent where serious award-winning movies about Africa are usually made by African filmmakers based in Paris or London, and have little resonance among most Africans, Nollywood is bringing a new story to the screen, a story that millions of Africans are tuning into.
Nigeria's pulp movies have had a wide influence on African popular culture. Nollywood offers an innovative and cheap way to expand the African story through a variety of voices and images that can only serve to turn around the image of a dying, helpless Africa to one that celebrates itself.
South Africa has not yet learned the art of telling its story by any means possible. We could learn from the Nigerian film industry and speed up the pace at which the many untold stories could find their place on our screens.