The Agenda Setting Role Of The Nigerian Filmmaker
Filmmakers have always used their craft, knowingly or unknowingly, to influence the beliefs, opinions, and behaviours of people who consume their content. They also use their work to challenge the status quo and bring controversial topics to the forefront of public conversation, besides other functions like entertainment. The agenda-setting function of the media predicates the notion that the mass media, in our case, film, sets the agenda for what people should care about. It has the power to focus discussions on specific issues. Does the film influence the community, or does the community influence the film? This paradox is similar to the chicken and egg metaphor. Which one comes first?
In the late 1990s, when Nollywood as we know it today arguably started, we were inundated with films of ritual killings for financial gain perpetuated predominantly by entrepreneurs from the eastern part of the country as its primary theme. At that time, every successful entrepreneur from the Eastern part of Nigeria was considered a ritualist who had used a family member as a means for financial gain. On the contrary, the majority were just traders with hardworking ethics, exceptional selling skills, and the grit to make a success of themselves. To date, some of our veteran actors who played those kinds of roles frequently are memes signifying sacrifices and ritual killings. The negative stereotype unconsciously became universally accepted by the majority because of how much we saw it in our movies.
Furthermore, I believe; the United States (U.S.A.) Intelligence Service and military prowess are somewhat infallible. The same goes for their Judicial, Legislative, and Executive arms of government. Also, the patriotism of uniformed men and the public is second to none. Over 100 years of their existence, this opinion, more often than not, has proved to be correct. Yet, they have had and still have challenges that prove they are not foolproof. Even though I do not live in America, this positive stereotype came from years of seeing Hollywood films that portrayed an infallible America to me.
Recently, Nollywood has presented praiseworthy movies with the secondary theme of “urban/political gangsterism”, which speaks to the societal/political issues that plague Nigeria. Some of these movies have also shown us the ineffectiveness of different sectors in our society, from the judicial to the legislative and executive arms of government. The local audience can relate to these movies, and for good reason. They identify with the theme emotionally because it is their reality. They have seen, lived, and felt the oppression from urban/political gangsterism, a true reflection of the country we have lived in, especially between 2020 and 2023. As a result of these movies, the international audience is putting us in a box that is ours. Can Nigerian filmmakers set the agenda of a better Nation by creating entertainment that fulfils other functions of filmmaking, principally the functions that encourage nation-building, foster peace, promote good morals, show the beauty of our country, intentionally guide public opinion about our country Nigeria by publicising the Nigeria we would love to see? Can we use our films as a channel to change narrative by showing what can be, rather than beating the dead horse?
A few weeks ago, the Vice-President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osibajo, special guest of honour during the formal presentation and book launch of Memories of the Season by journalist and writer Arukaino Umukoro, said— we need to talk up our Nation. I have never found a place/conference where anyone is speaking ill, negatively or running down their country. If it happens, it is usually a Nigerian. He further stated that the United States of America recorded over 150 mass shootings between January – May 2023. Yet, you would not hear or see any American attend a conference and say, “My country is unsafe or insecure”. Can Nigerian filmmakers use their creative powers to tell stories that talk-up, rather than talk-down Nigeria? Can we entertain and offer escapism for our audience without talking down the country? The best films inspire us to think about ourselves and how we can improve our lives and society. They show us how to understand challenges, stimulate critical thinking about how we got here, and point us in the best direction. Can we project the Nigeria we desire rather than the one we loathe? Possibly, if we see it more, we can become it. After all, filmmaking is make-believe.
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