Gone are those good old days when movies scared us like “Wili wili” (witch doctor of the living dead) intrigued us like the battle of mussanga, entertained like the masquerade, educated like Things Fall Apart or told us a part of our history like Omenuko. Times when we gathered to appreciate the heroic deeds of people from Tales by Moonlight, which to us seemed like lamb tales from Shakespeare. Times have gone when our movies were on their virgin state ,our movies have shifted from a very different culture of entertainment, education, enlightenment and historical literature to a more horrific exposition of crime, sex, violence in virtually 80 percent of our home videos.
In the late 70s, 80s and early 90s when drama was appreciated by every average Nigerian, even among the lower class who could not afford black and white television , those who owned black and white televisions were mostly from the working class or elite families. Having black and white television then was equivalent to owning a white-horse bicycle in pre-colonial Nigeria. Those elite families who were lucky to own the first set of colour televisions were held with high regards by the average citizens. Then there were such legendary names like Zebrudaya, Nati, Gringori and Clarius, Pete Edochie, Pete Eneh and many others. In the music scene, Onyeka Onwenu was our Celine Dion, while Fela Kuti was rocking the stage naked. The age of Shina Peters, Soni Okoson and many others. The age of oneness, even to an extent of sharing a television; then families had to convene at a particular house in the neighbourhood to peep through the key hole and windows to watch these legendary names perform through a black and white or colour television. This foregathering was to watch one’s favourable actor perform through the screen.
Over the years, those in the movie industry were respected even more than heads of states and executive presidents. This was because those in the industry had a motive to enlighten, educate and entertain the public which as at then was a mixture of uneducated citizens and few educated ones. The issue of mass literacy was at its embryo stage and educated average citizens mostly from the lower class were as rare as gems, jade and all sorts of precious stones; they were treasures, as many of them were educated through communal effort and sponsorship.
Another set of people appeared in the movie world and continued to carry out the purpose of the founding fathers. So many entertaining and intriguing movies were produced with this set; movies like Diamond Ring, the Captive, Arusiyi, Red Matchet, Last burial, (which eventually brought fame to Clems Ohameze for living in the coffin through most part of the movie), Most Wanted, Full Moon, the Oracle and many other movies. Then these names were legends in the screen: Liz Benson, Kanayo O Kanayo, Zach Orji, Nkem Owoh, Sam Loco Efe, Bob Manuel, Regina Askiya, Richard Oniga, Tom Njemanze, Eucharia Anunobi, Sandra Achums and a host of others who helped achieved a feat in the making of movies in Nollywood.
The late 90s and early part of the new millennium 2000, saw a shift of ideas, and story line. Education became minimal, folk-lores and folktales were seen as old and outlandish. Intrigue and suspense disappeared. The scripts began to follow a similar story line; “Love” & “Love Making” became predominant, violence was allowed and displayed as something to get you to the top – literature ceased to be shown in our screen. Though the era produced our honourable and legendary ‘lover boys’ – Ramsey Noah, Emeka Ike, and Jim Iyke. The accompanying females were Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade (Omo sexy) and Rita Dominic. These people really brought the dawn and age of lovers but with a minimal exposition of the art of love making.
Now, a new dawn has come due to the private ownership of movie production equipment and the presence of wide range of producers, directors and script writers, as well as new actors/actresses (who were willing to play any role at the rare even willing to play the role for free once they can appear on the screen) and a merger or acceptance of Ghanaians into Nollywood. Consequently, our movies became sour and visually decayed. One cannot even watch a movie comfortably with his parents without seeing one nude scene or an embarrassing sexual activity, the scenes are unspeakable. You wonder if you are watching a home video or pornography. X-rated movie are made and labeled as a home video. Would you blame a child who after being exposed to such movies would warn you “I have watched that film, it’s not sweet”. Yet the violent activities have been recorded in his sub-conscious mind, to reveal itself when their parents are away. These days, most of the movies are not even rated, given license to those below 18 to emulate the satanic deeds of most scenes.
Should the Ghanaians be blamed? In my opinion, they are not to be blamed, but we have such things as cultural diffusion, assimilation, all of which are cultural influences. Most Nigerians are blaming the Ghanaians, even though in some way they are to be blamed, 90 percent of the blame should be on Nollywood. Where do these rumours of those responsible for the decay of our movies stem from – the industry of course. This shift of blame is a kind of defense mechanism developed by the industry to shield itself from the unpleasant criticisms of the masses. In culture, especially in diffusion or assimilation (when it is not forced), you have a freedom to choose the good part of the culture while rejecting its evil part. When you pick the negative aspect of a culture and reject its positive aspect, you are to blame and not the culture itself. Something should be said about Nigeria accepting and integrating part of the negative aspects of Ghanaian movie into theirs. Now, the consequences have just begun. Our movies are losing appreciation by average Nigerians. Do good, good follows you, do bad, evil befalls you. We need a solution to redeem the image of our movie industry and restore its glory. Meanwhile, before we pose a solution, we need to identify those responsible.
The question becomes, what have we done to our movies, to the dignity of the African culture, to the sacredness of human dignity, the purity of literature and excitement of folk lore and storytelling?