Sustaining the Integrity of Nollywood and the African Entertainment Industry – Lessons for Moving Forward. - Editorial By Oliver O. Mbamara (DGN) (AGN)
Brief History/Background of Nollywood:
Nollywood is the nickname of the brand of Nigerian filmmaking that exploded in the early nineties with the groundbreaking film – LIVING IN BONDAGE. That unique style of filmmaking and distribution quickly gained such success and notoriety that in a few years, it has gained acceptance and popularity beyond the shores of Nigeria and Africa. Today, it is known in international filmmaking circles as the third largest filmmaking industry in the world.
In the early ninety-eighties, a huge number of Nigerians began going abroad to either study or make a living. A significant number of these Nigerians settled in the United States and around the mid nineties, some of them with artistic background delved into independent filmmaking. Beginning from around the mid ninety-nineties to the early part of this millennium, some African themed movies such as BACK TO AFRICA, 419, A MILE TO CANNAN, THIS AMERICA, and MISSING IN AMERICA, were made in the United States. These early filmmakers/producers are no doubt pioneers who laid the foundation and encouragement for today’s Nollywood USA and African Diaspora filmmaking worldwide. Whether they get their due recognition is another matter. The fact is that today, other filmmakers and artists from other African countries based abroad have now joined the filmmaking wagon and African themed films are now substantially popular abroad. This development has now drawn the involvement of other artists and entertainers from Africa in Diaspora, and to that extent, this piece will address the topic here not only as they pertain to Nollywood but also to the African Entertainment Industry in Diaspora.
These African themed films have their unique style and appeal and are mostly done with low independent budgets which sometimes affect the quality of the films. Many film critics who do not understand the relevant background history of Nollywood and African filmmaking easily engage in harsh criticism of these films and most times judge them by Hollywood standards. However, these films continue to garner attention and the audience has continued to grow because the stories remain unique in their content and also because they mostly address subjects that mainstream Hollywood would not address. It was only a matter of time before Nigerian or African owned/managed organizations began springing up to support and recognize the efforts of these African filmmakers and entertainers.
Upsurge in Award and Entertainment Promotion Organizations:
In a 2004 article titled - Suggestions for the Sustenance of African Artistic Heritage, I stated as follows:
“African artists deserve better recognition… (that carries) ...such a value that makes it worth the effort of the artist. Except Africans set up their own artists awards event to reward those artists who excel in African artistic cultural performances, African artists will continue to seek to impress the West. The implication of that is the gradual loss and extinction of African cultural and artistic heritage. If the African artist is made to know that by expressing his cultural artistic heritage, he would gain a reward equal or even more revered and worthy than what the Grammy or Oscars would offer, then such artist would have the motivation to dwell and develop the African artist in him/her.” Full article at: http://www.nollywoodmovies.com/EsySgstnsForSustnceofAfriArtst.html
Today (seven years after that piece), several organizations have sprung up to bestow awards on African filmmakers and entertainers in Diaspora. Such a development ought to be appreciated and encouraged in light of the necessity. Some of these organizations have made commendable efforts to live up to the billings and objectives of an award show – to fairly recognize valuable and outstanding talents and contributions to the industry so as to encourage more valuable works. While some of these organizations have drawn accolades and approval, some have received very mixed reviews with the exchange focusing on one organization more than the others.
Present Challenges and the Way Forward:
This piece is meant to address the issues raised by the exchange and to safeguard the integrity of Nollywood and the African entertainment Industry in Diaspora while moving the Industry forward.
It is not unusual that these young organizations may not be as versed and efficient as others that have been around for years such as the Academy in Hollywood. However, there are certain basic guidelines expected of these young organizations if they have to be taken seriously and if the integrity of the industry has to be maintained. As beginners, it is expected that these organizations should make effort to research the industry and sample opinions within the field to better understand the talents and values that they may wish to recognize. Where such organizations are run by persons who are neither filmmakers nor entertainers, simply asking questions, seeking advice or suggestions from veterans in the field would go a long way towards helping such organizations prevail and grow into formidable institutions.
What is an Award?
The dictionary defines award as follows: “to give (something due), especially as a reward for merit.” There are three simple quotients to note here: (I) the thing given has to be something due; (ii) it has to be as a reward for something, and (iii) it has to be for merit. If any of these quotients is missing or unfitting, then the award would become undeserving to the recipient and unfair to the other competitors for such award. When this occurs, there would of course be discontent with the award.
Some of the complaints by some stake holders of Nollywood USA against a recent award that took place in North Carolina are that the award lacked the necessary quotient of an award show and that the process of nomination and choosing winners of the award did not reflect the practical standard and merit of talents and entertainers in the filed. On the other hand, the organizers of the show continue to maintain that the event lived up to its billing.
Cause for Concern:
Right or wrong, some of the issues raised and the tone of the exchange recently have become a source of concern. This piece therefore seeks to implore on all involved to tone down the rhetoric and adopt an approach that would allow reasonable dialogue to occur. Personal attacks, character assassination, innuendos, and threats of legal action may not help matters. Both sides have made their points and must realize that the public has the intelligence to draw its own conclusions. If we have the good of the industry at heart, we must hearken to reason and know when to call it off. After some point, further confrontation begins to yield no results but a tarnishing of the image of the parties concerned and a caricature of the industry. Professional decency demands that we afford each other some respect even when we disagree.
Lessons to Learn:
Rather than a perpetual apportioning of blames or an attitude of refusing to take corrections for future improvements, we can do well to take a moment and listen to each other and see beyond the rhetoric so as to note the abounding issues that require correction and improvement for a healthier future and growth.
Film Festivals, Competitive, or Formal Industry Recognition Shows: There has to be a clear definition of what a show is all about. Is it a festival-oriented show whereby the organizers can set their own guidelines and give awards to films and filmmakers based on how the film fits their guidelines? Or is it a program open to all in the field whereby some of the best in the field are competitively paired against each other and the best comes out the winner on merit? In the latter case conventional modalities are followed to make sure the winner merits the award by general standard that the public can relate with instead of just what the organizers think or feel. In the first case, an award to recognize an achievement could be bestowed on any person based on the conception of the awarder that the awardees deserve recognition. In the second case, the winner beats out other challenging colleagues based on merit. Unless this distinction is clearly drawn from the onset, the tendency is for the process to be bungled in a manner that would leave many with discontent at the results.
The Issue of Funds and Returns: Let us not be quick to condemn organizations and promoters for attempting to make some returns from shows since funding is needed to organize and sustain the project. However, it becomes a problem when it appears to an onlooker that the goal of putting the show together has shifted from encouraging growth and talent in the industry to simple profit making by the organizer for whatever reason. At the slightest indication of a narrow impression to the public, such organizers must pause to fix the situation so that the wrong impression is not given to the public.
Living up to the Name of the Show: If an award organization is named after a country, it should open up the nominations and the awards to all artists and entertainers from the entire country. In the same vein, if an award is named an African award, it should be open for nominations to entertainers from all of Africa. Without that, the organizers run the risk of being accused of misleading the public by the name or appellation of the award show. It is not impossible for a particular artist, film, album, or entertainer from a particular company, tribe, state or country to cart away most of the trophies at an award show so long as there are other nominees from other tribes, states, or countries who were clearly beaten to the award based on merit not based on affiliation, friendship, familiarity, tribe, or favor.
Broader Involvement of the Public in List Making: The preceding point equally applies to organizers or compilers of honoree and entertainment lists such as Who’s Who in the Industry, Achievers List, Personality lists, or even award nominations. It would help to do some research or use some practical modalities (such as number of roles played or number of films produced, etc) before putting out such lists. Alternatively or additionally, the organizer or compiler should leave the process open for the public to make suggestions. To draw up such a list based only on people known by the compiler could rather be misleading as it is bound to leave out some industry achievers unknown or unrecognized by such compiler.
Responsibility of the Organizer/Promoter/Stake Holder:
There is an amount of responsibility that comes with a decision to produce content, or organize a program that rides on the name of an industry as popular as Nollywood or the African Entertainment Industry in Diaspora. Where that responsibility is misplaced or ignored, the authenticity of that content or program becomes questionable and the integrity of the industry comes under scrutiny and may possibly be tarnished. To avoid this, the Organizer/Promoter/Stake Holder in the industry has to ensure that certain basic guidelines are followed to ensure fruitful discipline within the industry.
Where discipline and basic guidelines are missing, the tendency is that the structure and process could be flawed or at best misunderstood even if the intentions were noble. When an approach to an action is flawed or appears to be flawed, the integrity of all concerned becomes a questionable issue at stake. When such happens, stake holders in the industry are bound to speak up and though sometimes the comments maybe too harsh, the concerns raised cannot be ignored.
All players in Nollywood USA and the African Entertainment Industry in Diaspora whether organizers, promoters, producers, artists or crew have a responsibility to maintain a level of integrity and genuineness that will invite and encourage the growth of the industry. That includes the responsibility to make it encouraging for outsiders from other industries like Hollywood to find it confident enough to engage in the industry or to partner with players in the industry to ensure continued growth and improvement.
Watch Out For Part Two Tomorrow
- Issues in Nollywood – Unity and Moving the Industry Forward
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oliver O. Mbamara is an Admin. Judge of New York State. He is also a filmmaker and a published writer, poet, and playwright. For more on Oliver Mbamara, please visit: www.OliverMbamara.com