Tag: Nollywood

Sex education: What Nollywood and sermons don’t teach

(Pic: Flickr / Nollywood Artist)
(Pic: Flickr / Nollywood Artist)

Positive parenting had began to gain popularity among parents and teachers in the small Nigerian town of Sapele where I grew up, and my school was not going to be left behind.

So, every Valentine’s Day saw us assembled in our school hall to be treated to a film screening. Somehow, my teachers always managed to find the same kind of Nollywood story: good girls who kept themselves pure in the midst of the moral morass of youth and married handsome, wealthy men who loved them dearly for their virtue and would do anything to have them.  In the late 1990s, the whole film show business seemed like such a big deal. But did it occur to anybody to question the choice of Nollywood as a viable Sex Ed aid? I I don’t think so.

Before the film played, it was mandatory that we live through 30 minutes or so of reorientation. The big colour television, placed at the centre of our school hall, would be on, the blue screen waiting, while a teacher – preferably the most religious or the most willing/concerned – talked to us about our changing bodies. By an unspoken consensus, on days like this – on other days too, but especially on days like this –  everybody tried to avoid the use of certain words. And, standing in line, my breath held, my self-comportment overstretched, it was easy to understand why.

Those words, in their raw carnal forms, had terrible pitfalls. We had seen it happen many times; girls we knew, swallowed whole by the scotching intimacy of carnal words. Girls who knew about breasts and hips. Girls who we could tell, just by looking at them, that they were doing ‘it’. Girls who became pregnant. The general impression being that good girls just did not notice their bodies.

For the same reason that these words could just not be said, these films we saw were less about whatever narratives they managed to have and more about the overarching message. That narrative was: Good girls wait and are rewarded, bad girls end up with babies on their backs walking the streets looking lost. Good boys graduate, get great lives and have beautiful families, bad boys end up unfinished and angry at the world.

Then one year, our ‘exposed’ Home Economics teacher brought back a new movie Yellow Card (Zimbabwean) from one of her trips to Lagos. That film represents for me, to this day, a kind of epiphany.  At school that day, I saw a story that was by miles different, unnerving even, but possible. I saw young people who were preoccupied with sex but also preoccupied with education and careers. It showed them making mistakes but also it showed them trying to make better choices. And for showing this, that sex was not so much the problem as much as poor sexual choices were, for attempting to move the frame of conflicts to a flexible one, the whole positive parenting film show thing became suspect.  Our teachers feared we would become confused. And so, the whole film-screening campaign with its preemptive concern for possible life-altering choices was quietly shelved.

If campaigns to improve sexual and reproductive health education has done anything well in the last couple of decades, it is that it has increased the willingness of parents, schools and religious bodies to talk to about sexual and reproductive health. In communities like the one where I grew up, and perhaps communities like it mirrored all through Africa, this is how you mostly learn sex education: from well-meaning people in churches and schools who would designate whole programs to “talk to the young people about sex”, but deliberately neuter or thwart the message in the “best interests” of young people.

Recently, I attended a church program where the guest speaker, a woman from a religious NGO, insisted that “the computer age” was directly responsible for the proliferation of abortions in young girls. And as I sat there listening to her say these things in her confident, measured voice, I was not worried by the certainty of her illogic. It was the readiness, gratitude almost, with which the audience swallowed this rare information that worried me. The nature of information that was disseminated is problematic, perhaps enough to be counter-productive?

The statistics around abortion appear conflicting. Certain research shows that this conservative approach to sex education led to better sexual behaviour. Other research shows that it did not reduce the abortion rate. And that worse still, the numbers of unsafe abortions in countries like Nigeria are as high as ever. While this says nothing definitive about the challenges that apply to the methods of Sex Education currently practiced in Nigeria and other African countries, enough information exists that draws attention to the inadequacies of the approach.

From school lessons in the 1990s to school lessons now, SEX = SIN is the form of sex education that young people are getting, instead of the more pertinent ‘there are safe ways to have sex’. This is mostly because Nigeria, like much of Africa, is a highly religious space, where your Sunday School teacher most likely doubles as your concerned/willing school teacher, so there is the unavoidable problem of an overlap of the same kinds of sermonised sex education everywhere.

The dangers of going out to seek or buy protection can still seem as big and as real as the dangers of reckless, unsafe sex in certain communities. And this sermonised form of Sex Education which very often equates the emphasising of condom and contraceptive use as promoting irresponsibility, if anything, contributes to the entrenchment of conservative ideas in communities that are already too conservative.

Sex education is everywhere; on billboards, on TV, in churches, in schools, but it is still a long way from being about the simple and most basic thing: the right to protect yourself. It is yet to transcend religion or what I am willing to telling you. It is yet to be about life, about safety, about options.

Kechi Nomu writes from Warri, Nigeria. Her poems have appeared in Saraba Magazine and Brittle Paper.

Open letter to the anti-TV brigade and my Nollywood people

A black 4 x4 rolls down a driveway to the sound of D’banj’s Oliver Twist and stops outside the palatial triple storey residence. The cast’s names unfold: Desmond Eliott. Rita Dominic. Mike Ezuruonye. The driver turns off the engine. As he opens the car door, D’banj declares:

I have a confession
See, I like Beyonce!
I like Rihanna, she dey mek me go gaga
I like Omotola, cos people like her….
…Oliver, Oliver Twist!  

The young man — played by Mike Ezuruonye — steps out of the car. With calculated chill, he adjusts his trendy aviator sunglasses. The camera zooms in on the Gucci logo, then lingers on the trendy haircut that would get a nod of approval from the Kinshasa’s sapeurs; those gentlemen whose renowned stylishness is encoded in their very name: Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (Society of Ambience-Makers and Elegant People). A beautiful young woman in impossibly high heels emerges from the passenger side, as D’banj declares his liking for Genevieve. Her makeup alone is worthy of a Vogue magazine cover. The man puts his hand around her waist, and looks into her eyes with a loving enchantment that would be perfect for a John Legend video. The couple walks into the opulent lounge, boasting the requisite plush lounge suite, thick carpets, huge flat-screen TV, and artworks on the walls. Seated alone is a well-dressed older woman, her turquoise head-wrap intricately folded like an origami. “Good-morning mama,” the young man greets cheerfully, arm still around his lover.  The camera zooms in on the origami head, as she gives him ‘The Look.’ We sit back and wait, knowing what is coming seconds before it is delivered: the multi-syllabic Nolly-sneer….

*         *        *

Hi. My name is Grace and I own a TV.

As a lapsed Catholic, I know a thing or two about confessions. You know what they say: Catholic guilt, like Catholic marriage, is truly a for-better-or-worse situation. You can take the Catholic out of mass but you cannot take the guilt out of the Catholic. So, like D’Banj, I have a confession to make: I watch the news and sports, but my main TV viewing diet is soapies and Nollyflicks. Yes, including 7 de Laan, Rhythm City and Nollyflicks with titles like Adam’s Apples and Daughters of Eve. I realise this is a dangerous confession for a wannabe Kleva Black, because we are supposed to have our noses perpetually buried in Slavoj Žižek’s or Cornel West’s latest thoughts, as fantastic jazz plays in the background. Naturally, we are not supposed to know who Sarkodie is; never mind the latest ghetto kids’ choreography of Ugandan hitmaker Eddy Kenzo’s Jambolee.  And we definitely aren’t supposed to be pondering how to transcribe that trademark Nollywood sneer-and-click combo, which has inspired an entire range of memes.

Look atew 2

Look, in my defence, in between trying out these Jambolee moves and Nollywood sneer-clicks, I read books and listen to jazz, in the interests of keeping peace with the jazz snobs and literati in my life. I am currently bonding with Ahmad Jamal and reading Kenyan Caine Prize winner Yvonne Owuor’s Dust. But I remain guilty of owning and watching a TV. This is a serious indiscretion, which might explain why a few second dates never materialised in my dating past. Perhaps I should not have betrayed such enthusiastic knowledge of Jason Malinga’s marital problems on Generations, or such passionate irritation at Gita McGregor’s perpetual scheming on 7 de Laan. Or maybe it was my sincere puzzlement at the murder mystery in Thathe, implicating the Great Warthog of Luonde, He-Who-Says-Die-and-I-Perish.

While we are at it, what’s the deal with the duplication of stories across South African soapies? I see now the missing Malaysian plane that first resurfaced on Rhythm City with Siyabonga Twala’s stylish character, DH Radebe’s private jet disappearing, has now reappeared and disappeared again on Isidingo. Yes, it is another stylish black businessman’s private jet: Vusi Kunene as Jefferson Sibeko, disappeared somewhere off the Angolan coastline. I am guessing the scriptwriters don’t know this, but some of us are equal-opportunity viewers (to borrow a phrase from my friend who once defended his polyamorous tendencies by explaining that he always made it clear to the women in his life that he was an equal-opportunity lover). Unlike my bank which recently demanded financial monogamy from me, by declaring they wouldn’t handle some of my transactions unless I stopped ‘seeing’ my other bank; some of us  have dispensed with LSM monogamy, and we are now equal-opportunity viewers who gallivant across SABC and DStv’s audience Bantustans.  And I can tell you this much: when you start on an amnesia and stolen identity story-line in Diepkloof at 18h30, by the time you get to the Thathe flavour of this amnesia on Muvhango at 21h20, you have just about had it with the amnesia angle, in all its manifestations. While we are at it, I am this close to organising a Red October campaign in protest against Paula van der Lecq’s (Diaan Lawrenson) use of the word ‘phantasmagoris’ on 7 de Laan, and KK Mulaudzi’s  trying-too-hard-to-be-hardcore  robotic laughter on Muvhango.

But I must distance myself from The Bold and the Beautiful. There is a way in which if you started watching The Bold from episode one, when you were six sizes smaller, the sight of Brooke Logan Jones Forrester (x7) walking down the aisle with her daughter’s husband’s father for the umpteenth time is harmful to your health. It is not so much the many tribes of primary, secondary and tertiary incest involved, but the deep shame that you ever nursed a committed teenage crush on Ridge Forester. As did half your school. The other half was busy ogling the NBA’s Dennis Rodman and his peroxide-blond head. I wasn’t a Rodman fan, but I supported the San Antonio Spurs with the same passion I now dedicate to the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the Ghana Black Stars, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, the Desert Foxes of Algeria and the Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire. What? Too many teams? No, friend. When it comes to soccer, I am an equal-opportunity Pan-African. Sure, I got that memo about all my Foxes, Eagles, Elephants, Lions and Stars being whipped out of Brazil before they even finished unpacking.  This, despite the fact that many of Europe’s soccer leagues would have a crisis of SA platinum-belt proportions if all their players of African descent decided to go on a prolonged strike.  Like all matters Pan-African, supporting African soccer is not for part-time Africans. It takes the loyalty of an Arsenal or Bafana fan, and the patience of biblical Job.

So, you can see why I have no energy for an anti-TV brigade which has somehow convinced itself  that not having a TV makes it a special breed of really clever, studious, intellectual people. I am generally able to ignore this lot with the same indifference I reserve for those who think my Christianity is questionable because their limited imagination cannot process the idea of a dedicated Christian who does not go to church and is partial to Windhoek lager. What I can’t ignore though, are people who build careers studying popular culture or producing content for these platforms while simultaneously holding TV, radio, and magazines in such contempt. What brand of dishonest schizophrenia is this?

But I digress. The moral of this open letter is really an appeal to my people in Nollywood. Listen: That situation of sunglasses indoors? E no fine oo. E shady.  Abeg, mek we stop this nah.


A TV-owning equal-opportunity Nolly-fan

Grace A. Musila is a Kenyan who studied in South Africa.

Hard work pays off for founder of ‘Nollywood Netflix’

At only 33, Jason Njoku is already considered one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs thanks to an online film distribution service that has tapped high demand for Nigerian movies.

But the British-born Nigerian entrepreneur, whose firm iROKO has been compared to the US Internet movie and TV streaming giant Netflix, is cautious about reading too much into the accolade.

“On paper, I’m a millionaire, absolutely,” he told AFP at his office in Nigeria’s financial capital, Lagos.

“But it’s on paper. It’s not cash in the bank. I think we are not successful, we are not profitable, we have a long way to go.”

Njoku’s caution is understandable given his background.

Soon after he was born, his father left, leaving his mother struggling to make ends meet while Njoku grew up in southeast London. Yet he managed to become the first from his family to go to university.

With a chemistry degree from the University of Manchester under his belt, Njoku decided to set up his own business. But it was not all plain sailing.

“I graduated in 2005 and spent a good five-and-a-half years just failing in everything I tried,” he admitted.

Though Njoku was broke, unable to open a bank account and slept on friends’ sofas, his best friend and university flatmate Bastian Gotter was still persuaded to invest in his latest venture.

Cinema is big business
That enterprise – iROKO Partners – was his 11th attempt at starting a company and born of the fact that cinema is increasingly big business in Nigeria.

Video editors David Adeoti (L) and Jolaosho Oladimeji preview a work at the headquarters of Iroko tv in Lagos. (Pic: AFP)
Video editors David Adeoti (L) and Jolaosho Oladimeji preview a work at the headquarters of iROKOtv in Lagos. (Pic: AFP)

Some 1 500 to 2 000 Nollywood films are made every year and many are wildly popular both at home and abroad.

Most films, including poor quality pirated copies, are sold for a dollar or two on DVD in markets or by hawkers at traffic junctions, making them difficult to come by for the legions of fans overseas.

Njoku bought a ticket for Nigeria, where he had previously only been on a few childhood visits, and set out to meet film producers in the hope of creating a slick, modern distribution network.

“Our idea was really simple: we just wanted to take Nollywood movies and put them online. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

With producers on board, the first step in 2010 was the creation of “Nollywoodlove”, a dedicated channel on the video-sharing site YouTube, followed a year later by the iROKOtv platform.

Gotter sank money he had made as a trader for British oil giant BP into the venture and a US-based investment fund also provided financial backing, Njoku said.

Today, iROKOtv gets nearly a million hits a month and almost 90% of the content – more than 5 000 films – is free, with revenue generated in part by online advertising.

There is also a subscription service, where users can download the latest releases for $7.99 (5.7 euros) a month.

Notwithstanding comparisons with Netflix and the company’s expansion beyond Lagos to Johannesburg, London and New York, Njoku believes they still have a way to go.

Profitability, he said, will only start to come in two or three years.

“I’m actually always wary not to celebrate success before you know what it actually is. And at the moment, we’re still growing, we’re still scrappy, we’re still scared,” he explained.

“And in as much as money is important, it’s not the yardstick that we should use to determine your life and your values and how you try to build a company…

“We’re basically still growing and investing for growth.”

Up to now, most users of the site have been in the diaspora – first and second-generation African families who want to stay in touch with their roots.

African online market
But Njoku is eyeing the vast potential of the African online market for expansion and has tasked engineers to figure out the best way to compress films so quality is not lost on poor Internet lines.

Njoku and Gotter have also set up the music download site iroking.com, dubbed the “African Deezer”, featuring 35 000 tracks from Nigeria and other countries on the continent in MP3 format.

Another venture, “Sparks,” supports and finances young Nigerian start-ups.

What’s clear is that Njoku is not short of ideas or energy.

The self-confessed workaholic reckons he spends more than 100 hours a week in his office and is eager to share his experiences with young Nigerians, mindful that they will determine his future success.

“I think tenacity is one of the most important things because things are never going to go in the right way,” he said.

“So, if you can get knocked down five years in a row and still be excited, still be enthusiastic and still be in the fight… I think I’m fortunate to have been able to continue somehow.”

Cecile de Comarmond for AFP

Reality TV show, films to showcase Niger Delta

A prominent director goes to Nigeria’s troubled oil-producing region and recruits 21 youngsters with absolutely no film experience.

He brings them to one of the country’s most expensive hotels for a 10-day filmmaking crash-course then flies them back home to make movies about positive, non-violent change.

Picking up the tab are US taxpayers – red carpet premieres included.

“This is pretty out there,” the US Consul General in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos, Jeffrey Hawkins, said of a new TV programme which chronicles the search for new moviemakers.

Dubbed Dawn in the Creeks, it aims to showcase Niger Delta role models “who did not win (their) fame and respect with a gun”, said Hawkins.

The United States – as well as other countries and big oil firms – is concerned that conflict could return to the Niger Delta, which churns out some two million barrels of oil day – the highest crude output in Africa and Nigeria’s lifeline.

Decades of corruption have long denied Delta residents the benefits of oil revenue while oil-related pollution, including thousands of spills, has ravaged their environment.

Creeks and vegetations devastated as a result of spills from oil thieves and Shell operational failures in Niger Delta on March 22 2013. (Pic: AFP)
Creeks and vegetations devastated as a result of spills from oil thieves and Shell operational failures in Niger Delta on March 22 2013. (Pic: AFP)

This volatile mix fuelled an insurgency that saw scores of oil workers kidnapped and infrastructure bombed – all tempered by a 2009 amnesty deal where, in effect, militant leaders got massive payouts to stand down.

Critics, however, say the payouts fostered the perception that wielding a weapon was the best way for the common man to get rich quick.

The amnesty’s expiration in 2015, when Nigeria also elects a new president and parliament, has fed fears about a return to the bad old days.

The poll, too, is expected to inflame tensions, notably in the Niger Delta whose native son President Goodluck Jonathan will likely face a tough re-election bid.

Despite billions of dollars worth of oil flowing out of Nigeria South East, life for the majority of Niger Delta's inhabitants remains unchanged. (Pic: Reuters)
Despite billions of dollars worth of oil flowing out of Nigeria South East, life for the majority of Niger Delta’s inhabitants remains unchanged. (Pic: Reuters)

A prominent ex-militant has already threatened to take up arms if the presidency changes hands.

With this in mind – and the failure of earlier NGO peace-building campaigns after funding dried up – US diplomats “wanted to do something really glitzy,” Hawkins told AFP.

So they turned to Nollywood, Nigeria’s hugely popular domestic film industry.

First will come the television reality show about the recruitment drive and the film academy. Once a student’s films are made, they will be shown during three days of US-sponsored premieres.

Running the artistic side is Jeta Amata, an accomplished director and Niger Delta native now based in Los Angeles.

In a 10-day stay in the region, he found his students at town hall meetings or stopping random people on the street.

Elina Emeseruome, a semi-employed interior decorator, said she was getting her hair done at a roadside stall in the town of Ozoro when Amata stopped to ask her thoughts on the Delta’s future.

Days later, the director (39) called and told her she’d be going to Lagos to learn scriptwriting.

Her girlfriends were sceptical. “They were like, ‘same old story, he’s trafficking ladies’,” said the 27-year-old.

But her doubts were eased when the film academy began on the manicured lawns of the plush Eko Hotel in Lagos.

Amata himself feels the Delta’s future is “dicey” and said he heard multiple reports of militants mobilising to renew fighting.

“I am concerned about the region but I’m hopeful about what I see in these guys,” he said of his students

Like Hawkins, Amata acknowledged that a few feel-good movies cannot undo decades of resentment and conflict. But he voiced faith that powerful stories told through film can help steer people away from militancy.

Joel Jumbo
On day six at the academy, Amata’s students were divided into groups of seven and tasked with producing a five-minute film by 5pm.

Playing the male lead in a piece about a jaded wife competing for her husband’s affections with a younger woman was Joel Jumbo, a 32-year-old who said he had served in both the army and been part of a militant group.

Jumbo said he got nothing from the amnesty, not even a place in job training programmes Nigeria insists are ongoing but many say have achieved little.

He was unemployed, “feeling aggressive and angry and ready to do anything”. Only days before meeting Amata, he said, he was “about to go.. and meet some [of] my bad boys… militants”.

Though still tense at the film school, his frustration was more about his director who showed no signs of getting the shoot done before the deadline.

It contrasted to the quiet, understated performance by Jumbo, who said he was just enjoying being around a “different kind of people”.

Nollywood set to show off in Paris

Nigeria’s 21-year-old film industry is considered the second largest in the world; a profitable movie-making machine that churns out about 1000 films annually. Nollywood movies enjoy a wide audience outside the continent. This month, seven feature-length films will be screened at the annual NollywoodWeek in Paris. The film festival runs from May 30 to June 2 at L’Arlequin Theatre. Here’s the line-up:

Phone Swap by Kunle Afolayan

Akin and Mary bump into each other at an airport and mistakenly swap phones, which results in a hilarious travel mix-up. Akin ends up at Mary’s destination (a family meeting) and Mary at Akin’s (a business meeting). After they realise the huge mix-up, they agree to help each other with their “new” missions using the data on their phones.

Maami by Tunde Kelani

International football star Kashimayo returns to his home country Nigeria to prepare for the 2010 World Cup. Through dreams and flashbacks, he relives his childhood: being raised by his brave but poverty-stricken single mother whom he shared an unbreakable bond with until he tries to reconnect with his father, a man with a terrible secret. Described as “a masterpiece of popular cinema” this film pulls at heartstrings and explores themes of love, melodrama, corruption and witchcraft.

Inalé by Jeta Amata & Keke Bongos

This musical tells the story of the Princess of Otukpo, Inale, and Ode who are deeply in love. Tradition dictates he must compete against other ‘suitors’ to win her hand in marriage. Ode wins these physical contests until a masked stranger arrives, putting the couple’s love to the test and exposing communal tension and conflict.

Tango with Me by Mahmood Ali-Balogun

Lola and Uzo are the perfect married couple but their lives are turned upside down when their happiest days become their darkest. This award-winning film proves love conquers all.

Ijé by Chineze Anyaene

Anya is determined to chase her big dreams in Hollywood Hills but her younger sister Chioma warns her about the dark side of the American Dream. Years later, Anya is charged with killing three men, including her record-producer husband in her Hollywood mansion. Chioma travels to her sister’s side to help her, along with a young and disillusioned attorney, but cultural values collide and the notion of ‘truth’ is constantly questioned.

Man on Ground by Akin Omotoso

When Femi, a young Nigerian man, disappears while living as a refugee in South Africa, his brother Ade, a London broker, comes to Johannesburg to find him. A riot breaks out while he’s in the township and he has to take shelter with Femi’s employer. The film explores the brothers’ estranged and complicated relationship against a backdrop of xenophobic violence.

Last Flight to Abuja by Obi Emelonye

A flight from Lagos to Abuja goes horribly wrong when the plane teeters on the brink of disaster and passengers’ lives flash before their eyes. As the pilot fights to prevent a tragedy, the passengers on board reflect on how they came to be on that fateful flight. Will they survive?

Sources: IMDb, OkayAfrica