Nollywood Affairs | 24 January 2009 15:38 CET

Nollywood in the university


One prevalent trend in the Nigerian film industry, called Nollywood, is the portrayal of under-graduates in Nigerian films as everything but a student. An example many followers of Nigerian home video will be familiar with is Jenifa. Widely regarded as one of the most successful films in 2008, Jenifa shows under-graduates at their very worst. The film is funny, no doubt, and is a good example of how successful the incongruity of humour placed with an otherwise serious character can be. Yet, it is worrying in the light of the fact that it portrays the Nigerian female under-graduate as academically wanting and immoral; and the male, in the few scenes they appear, as violent.

The same goes for The Faculty, Ajegbodo, Omoge Campus and many others. I don't believe the film makers mean any harm to the Nigerian university. Their business is to sell films and if such will portray undergraduates adversely, then too bad for those whose ego is gored. These films, more or less, are based on stereotypes about the average under-graduate life and they thrive on it. The problem with stereotype is that they tend to take a life of their own and thus subvert reality in the process.

For instance, when Eedris Abdulkarim's Mr. Lecturer was highly in demand, a lecturer friend who visited South Africa came back to say how much he was embarrassed when people who had listened to the song stopped to ask him if that was how Nigerian lecturers behaved!

While some will readily argue that, yes, there is prostitution on Nigerian campuses, the point here is that Nollywood makes it seem as if that is what defines Nigerian academia. Hardly ever in a Nigerian film would one find an undergraduate as a dignified person who seeks or dispenses knowledge. One would never find in their dialogues, statements that show depth of understanding and exploration of the world of books. Even for those studying law, there is nothing that marks them out as law students.

Lecturers in Nollywood, even if they are professors, hardly exhibit knowledge. They are either being threatened by their male students who are cultists or their female students who harass them sexually. Lecturers also prey on their female students.

Usually, the films are domiciled in the university without the environment resonating within these films. It seems the film- makers are convinced that there is a dearth of values in the nation's university system and they have rightly assumed a didactic posture to put things right. In blaming filmmakers for the poor portrayal of the university, they are likely to point to the audience's preference as responsible for what they dish out. For one, they are businessmen and anything that will sell must be sold. If the audience wants a film that portrays the Ivory Tower in the negative light only, why would they do it differently?

However, the bigger blame rests on the fact that the films and their makers hardly make use of research. There is hardly a film based in the university (or even anywhere) that makes use of research to aid what it is talking about. The script writers don't seem to know what the university system is about and would not be bothered to find out.

Lack of research constitutes a major problem in Nollywood. It is the reason a gynaecologist would say his job is limited to helping women to deliver babies. It is the reason another doctor would use the XY chromosome to explain to a woman why her children are all albinos. It is the same malady that was responsible for two lecturers' catching a student red handed in an examination hall for cheating, one of them sleeps with her and both lecturers are still the ones to sign her expulsion letter.

It is the same reason our court scenes are not vibrant and after watching them, we still do not have any idea of the law and how it works. In One Careless Night, a woman gets pregnant and, to save face, alleges that her boyfriend raped her. The poor man is thrown in police custody where he rots away. Anyone watching that film that does not know anything about how rape cases are proved would still not know that it involves more than getting knocked up by a boyfriend.

If a film would not do more than entertain, why, in the name of all that is good, should it misinform the public? For many years, the filmmakers have gotten away with poor or no research at all and do not even seem willing to improve the content through it. I first learnt about DNA while watching The Nutty Professor. Curiosity made me to look for books that say more on the subject. Up till now, I am yet to find a Nigerian film that throws such challenge my way.

The filmmakers are likely to cite fund paucity as the reason for working with vague knowledge; but given the volume of films churned out by Nollywood regularly, does it not make sense for them to come together, synchronise their efforts and produce fewer but more qualitative films? Must everybody be a film-maker and saturate the market with films that have no cerebral value? Do the filmmakers know that their portrayal of these vices sometimes celebrate what they set out to vilify?

If Nollywood must know, there are thousands of undergraduates out there who genuinely seek knowledge that the university offers. They are serious-minded and, like the law students in Paperchasers, another American film, are dignified. One thing that filmmakers who try too hard to be didactic should know is this: people do not always learn from films. If sermons that come with the fear of God and hell have not caused a revolution or moral rearmament, how much less can these film achieve?

Watching a film where an undergraduate prostitute is infected with HIV won't deter others if they have chosen to tread that path. We all know that the prostitute will come to a bad end. The cultist will end up in police custody. So, why can't the filmmakers try a more positive approach? Why not give a picture of an undergraduate we all want to aspire to be like -- one the 'Jambites' will rather emulate?

On a final note, there have been stories of cast couching in Nollywood, but I am yet to find a film that reflects that. Won't it do a world of good if Nollywood can turn the light on itself for once?

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