Sunday, June 2, 2013
People Swallow Nollywood Like Gospel.- Odia Ofeimun
This past summer on a rainy June afternoon, I spent a few hours
interviewing Nigerian poet and critic, Odia Ofeimun. I met him while
co-producing a radio documentary about Nollywood (streaming in full here).
Odia has been writing about life in Lagos for the last forty years. His
observations reflect many of the key tensions in contemporary Nigerian
life. The following quotes are culled from my interview with him (some
audio of that interview embedded below) at his home in the Oregun section of Lagos.
“When Nollywood gets it right, there is something marvelous in having
your stories told in a way that you can just lap up like syrup. Even
when you know that the story has been badly told, you still want to know
what comes next. There is a self-flattering in it for many Africans.
And beyond that, people are generally looking for answers for questions
that they don’t have answers to, and you can’t be too sure whether the
next film might provide an answer.
People swallow it like gospel. In some African countries, when an
original film star is visiting, you would think it is a head of state —
and that is part of what makes it bothersome for me. Young people don’t
get their own history told in the right way. In many Nollywood films, it
is not about getting it right. It’s not about representation.
Many people do not like the word representation. But there is a need
for us to know what a human face looks like before you bring to it all
the jazziness that artists sometimes bring to it. In art, if you did not
have those well-realized Roman noses and facial structures, the kind of
things that Picasso had to do would be more difficult to understand.
It’s like trying to understand African art without seeing those original
Ife forms that were styled to match nature.
The standard Nollywood narrative pays very little attention to
knowledge as knowledge, in which case you are not allowing the
storytelling to dictate what is knowable. There is a reality before the
Recommended Reading on Nollywood: