The list of Nollywood stars who are going into politics is growing longer by the day.
Kate Henshaw, Desmond Elliot, Bob Manuel Udokwu, Okey Bakassi, Patience Ozokwor and Julius Agwu are some of them.
As Nigerian citizens, they do have a right to a piece of the political action, but I don’t think they should just walk out of movie sets into government houses. I think they can wield their popularity more effectively in other ways, especially on the younger generation of Nigerians, before they cut their political teeth. One only needs to attend an event which they are part of in other to understand the kind of adulation the public feels for them. That kind of obsession should not be taken lightly, if you ask me.
Instead of seeking for political positions, wouldn’t it be more laudable if people like Elliot and Agwu worked directly with these youth through seminars and workshops, science clubs, literary clubs, drama societies, competitions and debates, field trips and excursions, boot camps, mentorship programs, etc. The options are many. In other parts of the world, celebrities often take on causes for which they become advocates and ambassadors, as opposed to getting on the campaign trail. I believe they can impact society more this way.
I’ll take Patience Ozokwor as another example. She’s usually cast as the overbearing mother-in-Law, wicked step-mother, difficult wife and such other roles. In spite of this, she has a very huge following and is well loved. What is wrong with her converting that fame to activism against the numerous negative cultural practices and attitudes that women and the girl child in our society are subjected to, some of which she portrays in her roles? As women, we constantly complain about our experiences with patriarchy, gender inequality and victimization. But some of the worst forms of sexism perpetuated against women have been by their fellow women. How about Ms. Ozokwor, and others like her, using her powerful “voice” to teach women to eschew some of these oppressive practices they inflict on fellow women; rather than seek for political posts that would have them mostly sit in air-conditioned offices, attend endless meetings and sign memos which may or may not affect the lives of their constituents? How about somebody like Kate Henshaw working to dismantle some of society’s standards of self worth for women, such as physical beauty?
Even more important than getting involved in social causes, Nollywood stars should have been agitating for a change in the content of Nollywood productions, most of which are extremely orthodox and mediocre. This should be their first mandate; of more concern than seeking political positions. They need to insist that Nollywood tells the world realistic stories about Nigeria. Do they not cringe at the messages these movies project to the world? How can they be so content with the subject matters of the movies they feature in? How can we, the viewers, be comfortable with what Nollywood dishes out to us? Why are we so complacent about the extreme stereotyping that we see in these movies? Most house boys or girls have to be Calabar, just as every Mai-guard is a Hausa man. Most of the male protagonists are either business men or traders. They are also either Igbo or Yoruba. One would think the whole of Nigeria was made up of the Igbo and Yoruba tribes only. These young men either live in posh duplexes in high-brow neighbourhoods, or they’re doing everything possible to come to Lagos and get rich quick. Their wives must wear weaves or braids that drop to their waists, and are usually gorgeously dressed, even when they’re sweating in their kitchens. We’re hardly ever shown young men or young graduates who are holding down professional jobs but who still live in small apartments, drive small cars and wade through puddles of water on bad roads to get to their houses after the day’s work. The mother-in-Laws always hate their sons’ wives; the uncles in the villages are all using juju to wreak havoc on the wealthy young men living large in big towns; the pastors are always lecherous, plus Aki and Paw-Paw always have to act as kids or young adults. Nowadays their bodies are showing all the signs that come with age and material comfort, and suddenly, the parts of kids/young adults doesn’t sit too well on them any longer. Why will the two of them not champion movies that will highlight some of the medical conditions that leave children malformed and physically challenged? Why does Nollywood not cast them and other physically challenged people in more respectable roles? Because the truth is, most actors/actresses who are physically challenged are still cast in less-respectable roles than their colleagues; roles such as pranksters, jesters and truants, the kind of roles that Aki and Paw-paw are usually cast in. When these stories are told differently, the Nigerian society will be able to embrace more closely people who are different among us. Or do they simply assume that people will not be interested in such stories? I do not think so.
Still talking about the content of Nollywood productions, there’re never any middle grounds; everything is on the extreme. When our stars are angry, they shout too much. When they’re happy, they laugh too much. The comedians, like Osuofia and Mr. Ibu tend to be “over funny”. There’re no women-next-door, like me and you, who leave the house without make-up in other to drive to the supermarket down the road and buy bread. When they do, they have to be dressed to an inch of their lives, I’m guessing, in case they run into their future husbands at the car park. And why do all the single women have to be frustrated, aggressive and desperately searching? These stereotypes can be very tiring!
Even though the morals behind the movies are usually good, the themes are often bland and predictable, with storylines and plots bordering on the surreal and ridiculous. In Nollywood movies, people turn to animals, and vice versa, as though it was going out of fashion. Trees talk, masks appear in the air breathing fire, bird-like creatures swoop down from the skies and carry people away, some dead people even start to decay immediately they take their last breath, and my favourite was when a corpse jumped out of its grave when lightning struck and just at that moment the movie ended with TO GOD BE THE GLORY.
People have argued that the subject matters of these movies are influenced by what the public will put their money down for. This argument tends to look at entertainment from a purely commercial angle. I believe the reason the Nigerian public craves these kind of stories is because that is what they have been fed on right from the onset of Nollywood. But status quos can, and do, change. Movies [and the electronic media] are powerful tools to talk about who a people are. Nigerian movies should be used to correct impressions, dismantle deeply entrenched practices and behaviours, encourage shifts in attitudes and mind-sets, and even force legislation in some cases. We saw these with the robust and dogged HIV/AIDS media campaigns of the 90’s which have largely changed the way Nigerians perceived issues about HIV/AIDS.
Our beloved Nollywood stars should consider this of more importance than the quest for political positions.
Written by Vivian Ogbonna, tweets @vivianogbonna8 and blogs at undertheinfluence.wordpress.com