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Find Me in Issue 11 of the Critical Stages Journal

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So I’m super excited to have my works as a playwright be feature in an essay in the latest issue of Critical Stages – a journal published by the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC). The essay was written by Professor Emmanuel Dandaura – who, among many awesome things, is the president of the International Theatre Institute, Nigeria (ITI). Working as a research assistant on the paper was a great experience for me, and it is delightful to see the final product be so brilliant.

The essay is titled From Page to Stage: Influences and Challenges Shaping the New Generation of Nigerian Playwrights, and I appear alongside two terrific playwrights – Sefi Atta and Donald Molosi.

It’s a great read and if you are interested in theatre, playwriting and 21st century history in African/Nigerian literature, you’ll definitely be captivated by the essay. Give it a read and share a thought if you wish. Linked to the text below:

Critical Stages journal, issue 11: From Page to Stage: Influences and Challenges Shaping the New Generation of Nigerian Playwrights

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NARUTO isn’t Sexist Just Because Sakura Is Weak

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So I’m taking a scroll down the ugly-beautiful streets of Twitter when I come across a tweet that brings me to a halt:

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Tyler Perry’s Madea read this and laughed in Ancient Greek

The WORST female character EVER!

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Photo credit: Stefan Schubert

I found this very hard to ignore, especially as we live in a world where Tyler Perry’s Madea exists. A Twitter search on: “Sakrua, Naruto, sexist” led me to various tweets expressing the same sentiment:

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I guess a woman with flaws and challenges = “wretchedness”. Good to know.

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Apparently Sakura gets the same treatment as Tsunade. And Mizukage. And Grandma Chiyo. And Temari. (Maybe there’s an alternate version of “Naruto” I haven’t seen?).

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Who needs rational arguments? “I know it!”

Oh, boy! *Insert face-palm emoji here*

Now anyone who watches Naruto knows that Sakura is a frustrating character. In the first part of the series her dependence on Naruto and Sasuke drives you nuts. In the second part, her indecisiveness and clinging to a bygone fantasy exasperate you.

However, just because she is weak does NOT make the writing sexist. Just because a character, male or female, is weak does not mean he/she is badly written. The notion that: a weak female character = sexism, is, ironically, as linear as the thoughts that lead to sexist writing.

The popular opinions I came across in my search on this topic are:
• She’s weak – physically and emotionally.
• She’s just a plot device.
• She doesn’t show up often in the series.

In order not to veer into the lane of ‘personal opinion’, let me put forward an objective examination of Sakura in Kishimoto Masashi’s Naruto based on critiques of sexism. But first let’s get a definition of sexism from a couple ol’ pals o’mine.

Concise Oxford Dictionary: prejudice or discrimination, especially against women, on the grounds of sex.

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary: the unfair treatment of people, especially women, because of their sex; the attitude that causes this. (Just realised I have 2 Oxford dictionaries. Chambers, no vex.)

Merriam-Webster dictionary (ipad app): behaviour, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.

Key words/phrases: PREJUDICE. DISCRIMINATION. UNFAIR TREATMENT. FOSTER STEREOTYPES.

IT’S SO SEXIST!

Now, let’s expand those points which argue that Naruto is sexist because of the way Sakura is written:

1. Sakura is physically weak
Of the four shinobi that make up team 7 (Kakashi, Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke), Sakura is the weakest. In the first part of the series she is always the liability whenever the team faces an enemy and has to rely on her male team members to be saved.

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So what about the other males who are not as strong as Sasuke and Naruto? And what about the other females who, for most of the story, are stronger than Sasuke and Naruto?

Though in the second part (Shippuden) she grows in strength, she is still inferior to Naurto and Sasuke.

2. Sakura is emotionally weak
Love-struck to the point of servility, that is what Sakura is because of her love for/infatuation with Sasuke. We first see this attribute as a crush and after Sasuke betrays his village, Sakura struggles to come to terms with the conflict of loyalty to her village and feelings for Sasuke. She largely comes off as emotionally fragile.

3. Sakura is just a plot device
From the point of view of writing structure, Sakura’s defining role is to heighten the conflict in the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke as they seek to surpass each other.

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PSA: all supporting characters ARE plot devices. She serves her function as a device and gets character development beyond being a device. Somehow that’s “very bad”.

Naruto loves Sakura, but Sakura loves Sasuke, but Sasuke doesn’t care about Sakura. Yet she dotes over Sasuke so much you just want to pull your hair out and scream. Outside of this, her only other function is to be involved in the plot where required/suitable.

4. Sakura doesn’t show up often in the series
This fourth point is based on Sakura’s intermittent appearance compared to Naruto and Sasuke. Since she’s mainly a plot device, she only shows up when needed and a couple moments when there’s time to spare.

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So a female supporting character = sexism. That’s going to be a long list

Kishomoto involves her sparingly and it is probably so out of sexist disdain.

IT’S SO NOT SEXIST!

Examined in isolation, these points suggest Kishiomoto is a sexist myopic dude worthy of some bitch-slaps from a gender-empowered fist. However, a story does not exist in isolation, it exists in a world (in this case, the Narutoverse) and must be considered within the context of that world.

Taking into consideration key factors such as theme, message and structural cohesion, the counter arguments to the above points reveal layers which we cannot eliminate from the issue of sexism. Let us consider these counter arguments:

1. Sakura is a supporting character.
The crux of the series is Naruto vs Sasuke. This is the defining conflict, the foundation. Everything else exists to serve or expand this. Of course other conflicts and themes exist but they can’t develop fully because they aren’t central.

As a supporting character, Sakura cannot be expected to be as developed or appear as frequently as Naruto and Sasuke. (Perhaps some sexism-accusers assume that she is a lead character.) Though her role is important for the plot narrative and emotional timbre of the story, she is still a secondary character. Her limited involvement is due to STRUCTURE not PREJUDICE.

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Do I even need to …? Oh, boy.

Comparatively, the key male supporting characters aren’t developed any much more than her. In fact, her character gets developed more than the likes of Rock Lee, Shikamaru and, notably, fan-favourite Neji. It cannot be ignored that we see a variety of dimensions to Sakura – weak, strong, crybaby, determined, boychaser, intelligent, studios.

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Because supporting characters who make a fictional world come alive = “useless”

Rather than toss aside Sakura once she has served her function as a source of conflict between Naruto and Sasuke, Kishomoto goes further to add layers to her character and her journey. We see her struggle with her lack of strength then take up tutelage under Tsunade, the fifth Hokage.

But, like all supporting characters, male or female, there is a limit to which the character can be stretched. Scripts and screen don’t have the luxury of space and time you find in prose, a supporting character can’t be as developed as the leads. A casual viewer not realising this is understandable, a writer not understanding this is disappointing.

2. There are strong female characters
You can’t pick one female character out of many, ignore the way women are represented AS A WHOLE in the story, then say it’s sexist because of that one female character whom you don’t like. That, ironically, is prejudiced!

And as a matter of fact, there are more strong female characters than weak ones. Sakura (to some extent), Hinata, Ino and Tenten can be called weak. Their functions and frequency of appearance are limited, they aren’t especially strong and (except Tenten) their roles involve a lot of male acceptance/recognition.

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Apparently being a medic is “useless”. Encouraging for female nurses out there. Oh, and a shy girl who fights to overcome confidence issues is a “pussy”. Ok, then!

But on the strong list we can name female characters like: Tsunade, Mizukage Mei Terumi, Shizune, Konan, Kurenai, Temari, Anko, Kushina, Grandmother Chiyo. These women are excellent ninjas, independent, loving to their male counterparts yet not reliant on them, and highly assertive individuals. They aren’t perfect, they have their troubles and their flaws, but they certainly aren’t weak.

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Ok, so we’re selectively ignoring the tons of other female characters who can and do think and act for themselves? Ok, cool beans, yo!

In the totality of female characters in the Narutoverse, the strong outnumber the weak ones. I’m baffled over how that can be sexist.

3. Sakura fights against her weakness
The reason I added ‘to an extent’ as a condition to Sakura’s inclusion on the weak list is because it cannot be excluded from her characterisation that she recognizes and fights to conquer her weakness. There’s a whole plotline dedicated to Sakura’s frustration with her dependence on Naruto and Sasuke, leading her to seek tutelage under Tsunade.

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Yes, let’s ignore her personal achievements and what they mean to her. But let’s compare her with the lead characters whom tons of other characters are inferior to.

She develops insane physical strength, which other senior shinobi recognise, and becomes a medical ninja. Achieving this is no easy feat for her, she faces doubts and fears but keeps pushing and being pushed by her sensei. As her physical and medical training grows, so does her emotional maturity.

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A writer develops character traits he established, making a weak ninja seek to get stronger, and that is “forced, apologetic and inconsistent?” Ladamercy!

So while she is weak, it’s not just a trait slapped on her and left at that. The writer builds aspects of her character out of her weakness, out of her struggle to conquer them.

4. Sakura’s weaknesses are NOT glorified
This is, in my opinion, the most important point. Kishomoto doesn’t write Sakura in such a way that her weaknesses are lauded. They aren’t admirable qualities. They are traits which Sakura herself recognises as limitations.

Sexism, being a prejudice, is founded on exploitation. Sexism involves a glorification of negative stereotypes. But Sakura’s weaknesses aren’t advocated as traits worthy of a girl or woman. They are attributes of her character which bother her as much as they do viewers.

Neither is Sakura exalted for her infatuation with Sasuke. It’s a complex relationship the three (she, Naruto, and Sasuke) share, and I believe anyone who has been in the position of loving someone who doesn’t/can’t/won’t love you back would appreciate that Kishomoto doesn’t gloss the difficulties of the love triangle.

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So a central character relationship that develops throughout the entire series = “wasted”.

To be sexist, Kishomoto would have to be saying, through Sakura, that weakness is an admirable trait for a woman. But engaging with the character leaves viewers feeling the exact opposite. There’s more than one way to present a case for empowerment, you know.

5. Bonus: male characters are just as goofy, inept and have unappealing traits as well
Naruto is dumb, Kiba is uncouth, Shino has insecurity issues bordering on inferiority complex, Guy sensei is ditzy, Jiraiya and Mizuki are perverts, Sasuke is cold hearted, Iruka is a weak/failed ninja. Kishimoto does a great job overall of not judging characters based on their attributes (not even the core evil ones like Orochimaru) but just presenting them as who they are and letting them unravel as events build. That leaves it up to us to see what we want to see, feel what we want to feel.

Last thoughts

Kishimoto, like all writers, has his flaws. I particularly don’t like the way his plot lines lose tautness when he stretches them beyond necessity. And I haven’t (probably never will) forgive him for that atrocious twist in the climax (who kills the lead villain at the final minute just to introduce a whole new villain with a rushed background story!?!?). But what he does handle well are the characters and character relationships in his Naruto verse. It’s a world rich with people, male and female alike. And we get to learn a lot about each of them.

I understand why many consider Sakura weak, but personally I consider her human. The fact that she doesn’t surrender to her challenges but fights to surmount them has to count for something! Who isn’t struggling with some fear or flaw or personal challenge? It’s called intrapersonal conflict and Sakura has it in loads, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

A weak character, male or female, doesn’t automatically mean a poor character. You must assess the character within the context of the story. I mean, what if it’s a story that needs a man or woman to be weak so as to get its message across? Can I as a man seriously call Dickens’ Great Expectations sexist because in it a woman turns a man into her plaything? Is it really sexist to have fictional characters that are as flawed and complex as real women (and men!) are?

Good female characters can’t all be Ripley or Wonder Woman. Just as good male characters shouldn’t all be Superman or Rambo. Replacing the ‘flawless male’ character with the ‘flawless female’ character does not solve the problem of sexism in fiction, it just changes the form.

NOTE: There is a case for sexism in Naruto, and shounen manga as a whole. But if you’re going to put forward an accusation, you must get your argument right. Just because you are ‘standing for something’ doesn’t mean you should lose your objectivity.

TIDAL Troubles: Jay Z’s New Enterprise and the Artist-Audience Disconnect

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Stream of consciousness blog post coming in 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …

Friends, Romans, Tweeters, lend me your ears!

Jay Z took to Twitter yesterday to defend his new streaming music enterprise TIDAL, an attempt to counter criticisms and what he claimed to be a heavily sponsored smear campaign labelling the venture a flop. It was a rare sight, prior to the so-called rant (didn’t seem like a rant to me) the @S_C_ account had only tweeted 215 times since 2008.

Jay Z who NEVER tweets actually turning to Twitter to try and connect with people (which he – not that I mean to be cynical – may only see as connecting with the ‘market/customer’) garnered your typical internet trolling reactions, a lot of insightful opinions, and even business advice.

“TIDAL is for all” … No?

Jay Z’s tweets re-emphasised TIDAL’s selling points: it aims to empower artists, connect them directly with their fans (cutting off the middle man) and give music lovers more and better music. TIDAL is pro-artist and fan.

For now, it seems most people aren’t buying it. Among the many rebuttals three popular opinions stood out to me:

  1. At $20 per month TIDAL is too expensive.
  2. We see what TIDAL will give to the artist but we don’t see what it will give to the fans/audience.
  3. Even if I wanted to spend that amount of money, today’s mainstream music isn’t worth it.

These opinion reflect a deep disconnect in the relationship between artist and audience, which, in my opinion, has been present for a long time but masked by systematic marketing.

Is it worth it? Did I put enough work in?

The artist-fan relationship is founded on a special bond. Though one (artist) delivers a service (music) in exchange for capital ($) from the consumer (audience/fan) what actually connects artist and audience is sharing the experience of art.

This shared experience is amplified by the cultural ties of a music genre to its fan base. Thus the value of country music, hip hop, punk rock etc, extends beyond just music. (This is one reason why some artists despise referring to audiences/fans as ‘customers’ or ‘the market’.)

For the most part, people don’t mind paying for music so long as in return they receive an experience they consider equal or superior in value. This return in value is extremely important because it is the pivot around which the business of show business revolves.

Though a portion of audiences have for long expressed discontent with the value of mainstream music, producers and (in some cases) artists have been able to ignore the pressure to create music with more value. Two reasons why this was possible: 1) the proliferation of free music on the internet 2) marketing developed to such a systematically efficient state that sub-par products/services (the music) could be sold successfully despite discontent from the buyers.  

Once the pressure to create great music was no longer a motivational factor for mainstream success, a disconnect was inevitable. In this light, one key problem facing TIDAL is that it is trying to cash in on an artist-audience connection which no longer exists.

Devaluation

Take rap music for example, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s rap music wasn’t just music, it was a movement, a voice for a generation. The heavily ideological music of rappers like Tupac and Nas were an affirmation of the African American identity. Even the ‘I’m flossing like a boss’ music of rappers like Jay Z and P.Diddy were essential parts of the movement – they affirmed financial success as part of an African American’s identity.

However, the music, in its mainstream form, did not keep up with the shift in priorities of the audience. The music stopped listening to its fans. The audience’s value-needs expanded but the music stayed narrow. And when it realised it could still make money without listening to its fans, it happily jumped into that pool. (This circumstance is not unique to rap, it has manifested in rock, R & B and, yes, even pop music.)

While this circumstance offered short-mid term gains for artists and producers, it always threatened to backfire in the long-run. People have spent so long asking the music to care about them but it couldn’t give a rat’s ass. Today we have TIDAL asking people to care about it but they can’t give a rat’s ass.

Show me the money movement!

Consider the refusal to identify with TIDAL in comparison to the cult-like followership with which people received enterprises like Wu Tang’s WU WEAR or Jay Z’s ROCAWEAR. In those cases people weren’t just buying into a brand, they were participating in a movement. More importantly, they felt they were contributing to a vision.

I reiterate: the business of show-business revolves around a healthy artist-audience relationship. When selling any piece of performance art (music, film, theatre etc) the superior producer aspires to create an artistic experience which transcends the financial cost of that art.

If after listening to that album or watching that film or play, the fan/audience is still ruminating on how much was spent then the producer and artist are doing something wrong. The least aspiration is to have the audience feeling it cost a little too much but it was still worth it. The highest aspiration is to have the audience feeling it underpaid for the art.

The greatest respect a person in show business can show an audience is return artistic value for their financial loyalty. Sadly, there’s not much respect for the fans in mainstream music and honestly even the fans show a lack of self-respect. This is one reason why Jay Z, an artist renowned for his skill in business is, at least for now, being disrespected for his business.

I for Indie

Is TIDAL doomed? I don’t know. Personally, I hope not. The music industry definitely needs a structural revolution. Even if its present format fails, I hope and trust Jay not-a-business-man-but-a-business-man Z will return to base and resurface stronger.

People do want to support platforms like TIDAL it just has to offer something to the people. And so does the music. Believe it or not some people take pride buying their music rather than downloading it. But when the system seems to be exploiting them, well, torrent sites are only a click away, no?

TIDAL needs to be pushed by the RIGHT FACES and super-star-rich Jay Z, Madonna, Beyonce ARE NOT THOSE FACES. Surprise-surprise but people don’t identify with mill(bill)ionaires asking for more money. Surprise-surprise but upcoming artists aren’t excited about bigger artists eating out of their pie.

I think, as do others, that TIDAL needs to have independent artists more at the forefront. I can’t figure out if Jack White, Jason Aldean and Arcade Fire are suitable or if they’ve been tainted by being part of the TIDAL 16. What independent artists would bring to the face of TIDAL is relatability; they’d bridge the disconnect in the artist-audience relationship.

To the audience their involvement would mean/suggest TIDAL does truly have benefits for indie acts. The impact of seeing indie artists being (sort of) backed by a Jay Z, Madonna or Jack White would also help break down barriers from the artist-audience disconnect.

Another advantage indie artists would bring is using the right language in trying to get people to connect with TIDAL. From day one Jay Z’s language has been wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. It sounds like bullet points from a business proposal. Even reading about TIDAL is a bore. Nothing to get one excited about having better access to music. It’s all money, percentages, shares, subscriptions … egh! It should be about the love of music, the shared experience of art.

And just to reiterate, the artist-audience disconnect means that the super-star-rich likes of Jay Z and Madonna are not the right people to be talking about sharing the love of music (for $20 per month).

Niggas in Paris, Cousins in Nigeria

A quick word must be said on Jay Z’s comment about his ‘cousin moving to Nigeria to discover new talent. First off, his cousin moved to LAGOS, not Nigeria. Don’t get the wrong idea now, Lagos is in Nigeria (No, CNN it’s not the capital, and neither is Nairobi) but that cousin is highly unlikely to have any impact beyond specific vicinities within Lagos. Heck, beyond specific offices.

Secondly, that cousin is highly unlikely to discover any new talent. And no, not because there is no new talent but like any industry, those at the top will place a stranglehold on the cousin going beyond them – if said cousin even intended to search beyond them in the first place.

Indie artists in Nigeria are likely to gain nothing from the presence of Jay Z’s cousin, while a few already at the top will be presented to the global market as new talent. Indeed, to the global market they are new talent but it would be a deception to present rich Nigerian superstars as TIDAL’s contribution to Nigerian music.

Vulnerability: the art of empowerment

My final thought on TIDAL is this: I do believe Jay Z would put TIDAL in a better position to gain more patronage if he made himself vulnerable. Jigga maybe needs to just put himself out there, financially, reputably  – sometimes the safe card is your enemy.

If Jay Z set TIDAL up in a way that he (and all/some of the TIDAL 16) are taking some sort of pain or loss in order for new artists and music lovers to have a better artist-fan relationship (which actually means more patronage for TIDAL) people would be more willing to back the enterprise with massive support.

Vulnerability is a reverse way of being in control. It’s an art no other artist knows better than actors. In order to gain control of the audience, the actor makes him/herself vulnerable by opening up completely. This forces the audience into an emotional and psychological corner from which they capitulate by giving themselves over completely.

The rule of thumb is: all things being equal, if two actors are in a scene and one is naked, that is the one who is in control because he/she is more vulnerable. However, that’s not to say I’m suggesting Jay Z should get naked on TIDAL, especially not when Alicia ‘Aphrodite’ Keys is in the building.

5 Things to Avoid When Making Your Nollywood Action Film (Part 1)

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From its inception to date, Nollywood has struggled to achieve success in the action film genre. While the industry’s releases have certainly advanced beyond the pishaun-pishaun action flicks of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, we still haven’t created that action film which stamps its authority as the groundbreaker. Why is this so?

To answer that, we must understand a defining nature of the action genre. What an action film essentially does is cinematize the presence and threats of violence (real or perceived) within a society. In other words, filmmakers take the manifestations of violence within a society, or the ways it threatens to manifest, and explore that through cinema.

Four types of violence

This presence and threat of violence can be categorised into four groups: physical, psychological, emotional and philosophical violence (i.e a belief system regarding violence and its place in that society, think the USA’s gun culture or East Asia’s martial arts culture). Thus in film industries around the world we find action movie genres reflecting a society’s experiences with, reactions to, and perspectives on violence.

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Cinematically this could result in serious cinema like Nicholas Winding Refn’s DRIVE where the film is defined by psychological and emotional violence which erupt in gory physical violence; or Yimou Zhang’s HERO (the one with Jet Li) where physical violence provides an aesthetic backdrop to the exploration of themes such as leadership/rulership, patriotism etc, underlined by philosophical violence; or any of Steven Seagal’s movies where physical violence is the defining element, underlined by a celebration of violence in heroism.

The Nollywood dilemma

Contrary to popular belief, the restraints holding Nollywood action movies back are not LOGISTICAL (budget, equipment, tech, etc) but CONCEPTUAL (idea, approach, thought). The problem isn’t HOW to shoot a Nollywood film; the problem is how to translate the presence and threats of violence in Nigeria into distinct and compelling cinema.

We could examine the four categories above in this light, but that’s another blog post for another day.

What this article aims to do is examine 5 different trends in Nigerian action films which appear to be favourable approaches when making a Nollywood action movie but actually, and slyly so, do way more damage than good.

Here I examine 2 out of these 5 things to avoid and in part 2 of this article I examine the remaining 3. So here we go!

  1. It is vital that you avoid … HOLLYWOODIZATION

Hollywoodization refers to a (Nigerian) film made with such overt use of Hollywood styles and techniques that it ends up an imitation of Hollywood cinema rather than a film with a unique identity. Hollywoodization plagues Nigerian cinema as whole (indeed it’s the defining factor behind the industry’s identity crisis) but it is especially noticeable in action films because of how distinct the genre’s nuances are.

Imitation is not to be confused with influence. Like societies, film industries are influenced by foreign cultures and cinema. Hollywood’s cowboy films where massively influenced by Japanese Samurai films, yet the former is a respectable genre in its own right.

Where an industry swerves off track is when it fails to ADAPT those foreign influences to its indigenous nuances. This is what Nollywood is yet to do successfully. As a result, rather than a Nigerian action film gaining recognition as a work of its own merit, it gains recognition for being a replica of a superior (Hollywood) counterpart.

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This is often summarised, often not deliberately, in the much popular expression: ‘they tried oh, it’s almost like oyibo film’.

Why should you avoid it?

Because art is imitation but imitation is not art. A filmmaker with any dignity in his/her art aspires to be recognised for his/her film art, not for its qualities as a knock off, no matter how impeccable the imitation.

Is an impeccable imitation even possible? The stringent circumstances of Nollywood means the imitation has almost no chance of being as good as the original. But even if it is possible, why aspire for such a lowly achievement?  Is being a second rate Hollywood knock off the best a first rate Nollywood film can hope to achieve?

On the business side Hollywoodization is also a bad idea. Why? Because you can’t outdo Hollywood. You can’t out-Keanu-Reeves Keanu Reeves, you can’t out-Statham Jason Statham, you can’t out-Woo John Woo. (Don’t get the wrong idea, this isn’t an indictment of lack of talent in Nollywood, as, from Hollywood’s perspective, the reverse is also true: they can’t out-Loko Sam Loko, they can’t out-Pete Pete Edochie, they can’t out-G Mama G.)

If you plan to market your action film to Western audiences Hollywoodization is your worst enemy. To Western audiences the imitation factor of your film will be more heightened and so will its inferiority.  Think about it, would you watch a Japanese actor TRYING AND FAILING to act like a Nigerian actor when you could simply watch a Nigerian actor?

What can you do?

There’s no definite or quick way out of this dilemma. Its solution comes down to the development of a visual and performative language that is uniquely Nigerian in the presentation of an action film.

The onus rests on directors, screenwriters and actors to explore themselves, their society and their influences so as to discover this language. Nigerian filmmakers need to find and extract the defining principle behind their influences, then filter redundant aspects. Every film industry around the world has done this at some point.

The succession of trial and error this implicates may scare off producers, but glory awaits whoever is bold enough to take on the challenge – you’d essentially be defining an entire genre!

  1. Alert! Alert! Must avoid … CRAPPY LOOKING CGI (COMPUTER GENERATED IMAGE)

We are coming into the animation game at a very very late point in time, and we’re not moving fast enough.

The nineties were a key transition period for CGI in film. Through the 20th century groundbreaking movies like TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, JURASSIC PARK and THE MATRIX, signalled an upsurge in the quality of CGI at the turn of the century.

Today, CGI quality is so far advanced and growing so rapidly that any film industry only now venturing into animation has to climb a mountain to catch up – and, if that wasn’t tough enough, a mountain whose apex is continuously growing.

For Nollywood to catch up to the international standard of CGI in film a large scale influx of resources is compulsory. Whether the industry has a structural set up to make such a large scale influx profitable is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is that such an influx is nowhere in sight.

As such, Nollywood filmmakers who want or, more importantly, need to use CGI in their films are forced to manage standards their international peers abandoned years, maybe decades, ago.

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Why should you avoid it?

Simple, crappy looking CGI makes your film look crappy. Audiences have been exposed to high quality CGI for so long that anything below standard is instantly rejected, likely ridiculed.

When used carelessly, even good CGI can disrupt the experience of a film, how much more when the CGI sucks. Crappy CGI turns your film into an object of ridicule and in the age of the internet troll … well.

Some Nollywood filmmakers often attempt to appeal to the empathy and brotherly support of the Nigerian audience. Basically taking the ‘at least we tried’ approach, appealing – directly or indirectly – to audiences to appreciate them for at least making the attempt, no matter how low in standard.

The problem with this approach is that its impact is only momentary. Audiences continue to be fed such a rich diet of quality CGI that they can’t enjoy anything less. Appealing to audiences to tolerate low quality CGI out of some sense of nationhood is like asking a guy who’s used to enjoying more than a fine glass of Romanée-Conti to drink shekpe because patriotism.

What can you do?

First of all, DON’T USE CGI if you don’t NEED it. CGI is a tool NOT a requisite of action films, if you don’t need it, and, most especially if you’re struggling with low quality CGI, DON’T USE IT. That alternative you think doesn’t exist exists.

If you need or you (stubbornly) WANT to use CGI, then be smart about it. Your best bet is for the director, producer, screenwriter and graphic designer to work closely together. The four can optimize CGI use in relation to story, technical capacities, and budget.

It could be tricky but a good scriptwriter can craft a story such that the designer’s CGI strengths are emphasised while his weaknesses are de-emphasised or eliminated altogether.

Another option is what I call the Kill Bill approach’. This basically means using 2D instead of 3D graphics. 2D is comparatively easier to render and getting high quality 2D is very much achievable. The problem is it completely changes the visual feel and style.

I call it the Kill Bill approach’ because it refers to Quentin Tarantino’s use of 2D for the ‘Origin of O-Ren’ sequence in volume 1 of his 2003 classic. The effect is compelling and one of my favourite movie moments.

The stark shift in visual appearance, from live humans to 2D, is potentially a tough one to handle but with experimentation and bold storytelling we could create a compelling style/convention in Nollywood.

It goes without saying that if you have the financial capability to foot high quality CGI then have at it! AND DO NOT HOLD BACK! Again, if this will eat up a bulk of your budget work closely with your screenwriter so as to maximise the balance between budget and script.

No point having great CGI but a shitty story; no point having a great story but shitty CGI. If the CGI in your film cannot be ahead of its time, the least it should be is of its time. To deliberately be behind its time is inviting disaster.

NEXT WEEK ON THE PENSAGE SCROLLS …

They say the sequel is never better than the original? Well, we’ll find out won’t we? Be on the lookout for …

  1. Don’t be kobo wise, naira foolish, avoid … A Weak Ass Story/Plot
  2. Do everything in your power to avoid … Poorly Conceived Combat And Action Scenes
  3. May the force guide you to avoid … A Pointless Trailer

Movie Talk On Sundays (#MTOS) for April 26: Weird Films

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Movie Talk on Sundays (MTOS) is a Twitter chat that takes place every Sunday at 8:00pm (UK time). Fun and insightful, it’s a great hangout for cinema lovers. Just follow the hashtag #MTOS – and you can bring your own popcorn! I’m hosting this week’s chat and the topic is: weird films.

Art is founded on the unusual

The weird, the whacky, the bizarre, the quirky, the wonderful! Some films give us cinematic experiences that are nothing like the ‘typical’ encounters. Cinema as a whole was once a strange art form, in due time distinctions developed between the conventional and the not so conventional. Today there is a seeming split between the (somewhat) usual and (so-called) weird films. Whether they make us laugh, cry, grimace, puke, shock us, amaze us, or confuse us, they leave a mark. Let’s talk about weird movies!

  1. Do you love weird films, deliberately seek them out? Do you hate them, deliberately avoid them? Are you indifferent or undecided?
  2. What are the best and worst weird movies you’ve seen? What do you think made the best work and the worst fail?
  3. Sometimes ‘weird’ can stray into ‘pretentious’. Which film do you consider guilty of this? Which do you consider wrongly accused?
  4. Atmosphere is vital to film. What production designer/art director or cinematographer best captures the ‘atmosphere of the weird’?
  5. Aronofsky, Lynch, Burton, so many others. Which filmmaker is the undisputed master when it comes to making weird films?
  6. What are the best & worst weird acting performances – one male, one female – you’ve seen in a film? (Emphasis on just the acting)
  7. In your opinion, what little known weird film is an absolute must-watch?
  8. If you could live in the world of one weird film, which would it be and which character would you live as?
  9. You have a blank cheque and creative carte blanche, what’s your idea for a weird film? Who would you cast? Who would direct?
  10. Is ‘weird’ the right word to describe films that ignore convention? Is the term a misnomer? Prejudicial? Or spot on?

To Be Born Is To Die

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candle flame burn Consider this train of thought for a second. It is as much a statement as it is a question:

1. There is a theory in biology which is expressed in the slogan: “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”.

2. This means that the stages of development of the individual organism within the womb repeat the stages of development of the human species as a whole.

3. An inference from the statement above is that within the womb an individual organism goes through a complete life cycle.

4. If the above stipulations are true, then it means that birth is actually death. In other words: to be born is to die.

Consider.

James DeMonaco’s THE PURGE, Nigerian Elections and the Catharsis of the Progressive Spirit

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How does a horror thriller starring Ethan Hawke and set in the USA of 2022 relate to Nigeria of 2015 and its near future?

A pretty cool concept

2022, the United States of America. Crime and unemployment are at an incredible low of 1%, business is booming, the people are happy. To maintain this status quo, the “New Founding Fathers of America” instituted a national ritual known as: the purge. Once every year, for a 12-hour period, every conceivable criminal activity becomes legal. Kill, maim, steal, rape, vandalise! The aim is to provide an opportunity for the American people to release all repressed emotions and aggressions. This is the world of James DeMonaco’s The Purge.

Beneath the surface

But the purge isn’t actually about releasing repressions, that’s just on the surface. Its actual function is related to power and submission. In the pseudo-utopia of DeMonaco’s 2022 the purge is a socio-political structure used by the powers-that-be to keep the people under submission, a trap of docility. This is the same effect the purge of elections has on the Nigerian people.

Catharsis

In his Poetics Aristotle highlights a socio-political relevance of purgation. Watching the tragic hero suffer through torturous experiences, the audience undergoes a catharsis, purging itself of hubris. By extension, society is also cleansed.

The flip side to purgation is that it could rob society of its progressive spirit, sapping the passion needed to confront challenges of the world. Should one form of energy (angst, frustration, etc) not be separated from another (passion) catharsis would see both expunged, creating a docile populace. This is a passive catharsis.

As history piled upon itself and socio-political concerns diversified, so also did the nature of catharsis. From this arose, an active catharsis. Unlike its antithesis, active catharsis works in tandem with the progressive spirit. It is marked by a desire in the man and woman on the street to exert more influence over political structures.

We can turn to art for an example of how this works. A film, play, or song built on active catharsis deliberately leaves the experience of purgation incomplete. It engages audiences and stirs up their repressions, bringing anger, frustration, desperation and more, to the surface, right to the very point of catharsis but it doesn’t provide a release. This leaves a storm of dissatisfaction brewing in the belly of the audience. Therefore, to complete the purgation, the people must take those awoken repressions back to society and release them in their streets, homes and offices.

Whether the medium is art or something else, the process and effect is the same. In this light, we can associate active catharsis with times such as the US of the ‘60s/’70s and Nigeria of the ‘10s. Used properly, active catharsis can lead to an outpouring of the progressive spirit unto society. Of course in excess even the progressive spirit can turn destructive.

How does the interplay of power and submission manifest in each case? Where catharsis is passive, power is with the ruling elite and the people give in to submission. Where it is active, more power shifts to the people and the political elite must give more room to submission.

This is the foundation upon which the 21st century Nigerian purges have occurred – a catharsis which presents itself as active but in truth is passive, caging Nigerians in docility.

2015 Elections

The elations following the announcement of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s next president are historical for many reasons but most of all for its significance for the Nigerian people. It was the first time an incumbent president was not only defeated by an opposition, but kicked out of office by the Nigerian vote!

A resounding sense of empowerment followed: the peoples’ votes count! Democracy works! From this sense of empowerment has emerged a popular thought, one which seeks to capsule the peoples’ newfound might:

“Now our politicians know we are not joking. President Goodluck didn’t deliver and he has been kicked out of office. If the new president doesn’t deliver, in four years he will be kicked out of office. We will keep doing so until they get the message and do what is right.”

Nigeria election

The voice of the empowered?

On the surface this thought suggests empowerment, but peel at its layers and we find it is a far weaker position than its speakers realise. It presents the power of the vote as an active catharsis but in actuality it is passive. Why so?

Nigerian elections: a false active catharsis

In practice, Nigerian elections function (incidentally and deliberately) as a passive cathartic structure while masquerading as active. The elections use ‘hope’ to create a loop within which Nigerians are kept docile, submissive to oppression. At no time in our democratic history has this been stronger than in the 2015 elections.

Summarised into a historical timeline starting from Nigeria’s first democratic regime, we can examine how this loop works (note: each ‘purge’ is an election period):

  • The 1999 purge: frustrated with the terror and excesses of now-ended military regime, Nigerians are hopeful of progress under civilian rule. Nigerians vote a civilian president into power. Hopes, fears and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2000 – 2003: no major progress in the Nigerian condition. Nigerians look to the future for improvement. Hopes and frustrations climax in…
  • The 2003 purge: despite frustrations with the president, no concrete alternative presents itself. The incumbent uses power to ensure his stay in office. Deflated, Nigerians hope for progress in the future. Hopes and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2004 – 2007: no major progress in the Nigerian condition. The ills of corruption persist and new woes fall upon us. Angry we are determined to see the president not remain in power. Hopes and frustrations climax in…
  • The 2007 purge: a new president is chosen, a soft spoken apparently good-willed man (with a shoddy liver). Nigerians hope he will be the change they have been praying for. Hopes, fears and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2008 – 2010: the new leader dies. His deputy takes command. The Nigerian condition continues to worsen. Hopes and frustrations climax in…
  • The 2011 purge: the deputy is retained as president. As a man who once had no shoes, we hope his empathy will make him do right by his country. Hopes, fears and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2011 – 2014: the Nigerian condition worsens to dire and pitiful states. Woes increase: poverty, corruption, unemployment, and more. The man with no shoes now has shoes and can no longer empathise, he must leave and this time we can’t let the ruling elite manipulate us any further. Hopes, fears, desperations and frustrations climax in…
  • The 2015 purge: a new president from an opposition party is chosen. For the first time, Nigerians have made their votes count by kicking out an incumbent. We hope the new president can be the change we pray for. Hopes, fears and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2016 – ???

In generic terms, it is as simple as this:

Unending cycle

Vicious cycle

Cathartic deception

Build hope, lose hope, build angst, purge angst – repeat.  This is the cathartic deception, a loop sustained by blind hope, a rise in frustration then the calm after frustration has been released through the ritualistic purge of elections.

Tweet screenshots

The power!

This 2015 the ballot-power to eject an incumbent has given us a taste of empowerment but we overestimate the value of our votes by believing that alone is enough to effect political change. It isn’t! The passive catharsis of the elections is merely fronting as an active catharsis.

This front makes the illusion harder to spot. Have we the people not made a great achievement by demonstrating that democracy in Nigeria works? Indeed we have but perhaps an analogy will help illustrate how the illusion works.

In Krabi, Thailand, there is a place known as the Tiger Cave Temple.  To reach the summit of the temple requires climbing a whopping 1237 steps. The temple’s summit symbolises good governance and a thriving Nigeria, and so dire is our condition that we have been at the bottom struggling to climb the first 20 steps. Then, with a swift and sudden burst of energy we climbed 200! And now we celebrate this achievement ignoring the stressful fact that we still have 1037 steps to climb (Can you blame us?). Rather than continuing our climb we want to stop at the two hundredth step and hope the political elite will lift us to their backs and carry us the rest of the way. They won’t!

Beyond the purge

To expect that the fear of being kicked out of office will spur a notoriously corrupt political elite to “turn a new leaf” is grossly naive.  Revisiting the ‘popular thought’ discussed earlier, this naivety is glaring:

“Now our politicians know we are not joking. President Goodluck didn’t deliver and he has been kicked out of office. If the new president doesn’t deliver, in four years he will be kicked out of office. We will keep doing so until they get the message and do what is right.”

Nigerians' opinions

The power! The power!

The subtext of these thoughts reflect a people about to submit to the docility of passive catharsis.

The power of the vote puts a politician in office, it has no power over what the politician does in office. In the 4 year period while waiting for the next elections/purge, millions of lives can be ruined and industries damaged severely – especially taking the decades of ruination that the Nigerian economy sits precariously upon.

For the Nigerian vote to have power beyond the purge a new system of governance is vital, one which holds public office holders to account. For the Nigerian vote to be truly powerful, it needs to evolve into checks and balances which pressure politicians and public office holders to deliver on their duties regardless of elections.

Efficient governance is a system. A system does not hope for good natured hearts in order to be efficient. In fact, a system bends the nature – good or bad – of people who work under it to its order. Consider tellers at the bank, some may be saints others the biggest thieves West Africa ever saw, but they work within a system and are pressured by checks and balances to make ensure the deliver on their duties, and efficiently so.

The elections process is not inherently a passive catharsis, it is merely used in such a manner. Can we not turn this into an active catharsis? Can we not move beyond hope and passive observation to active participation?

It took 16 years before we learned the power of the Nigerian vote, a lesson we could have learned in a much shorter time. Will it take us another 16 years before we learn we need to be active participants in governance? Or will we continue to be like Ethan Hawke’s family, shutting ourselves in and hoping to make it through the 12 hour terror of The Purge?

Buhari Goodluck Jonathan

Hire and fire

The power?

The four year plan

The … the … power?

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