By BENJAMIN NJOKU
What is the place of women in the Nigerian film industry? How much has the industry helped in the empowerment of the womenfolk? Is it that the women have been portrayed in a bad light or that, they are made to be victims of systematic discrimination and stereotypes in Nollywood?
These are some of the questions, Dr. Akin Alao of the History Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, attempted to answer last week, while delivering a position paper at the just concluded 5th edition of the Festival of Indigenous African Language Films,(FIAF), held in Akure, the capital city of Ondo State.
His paper titled “Women Empowerment in Nigerian Film industry”, basically attempted to redefine the place of women in the nation’s movie industry. He acknowledged the fact that the film industry performs dual functions as it concerns the image of women. First, the industry mirrors the society as it is, showing the sex role division and secondly, reflects the roles which are believed to be appropriate for women.
For the university don, taking a holistic look at the industry, admitted that the Nigerian film industry has been reinforcing the social reality of stereotyping women, which he blamed on the media.
According to him, this stereotypical depiction of women in the media is a common phenomenon in Nigeria and such that reinforces dis-empowerment status in the society.
Alao, therefore advocated the need for the film industry to activate a considerable amount of attitudinal change favourable to women by attempting to set agenda or new roles women for women in other for them to effectively play their part in the twenty first century development agenda.
While calling for a greater valuation and esteem for the female gender, the lecturer stressed the need for women to move from just being actresses to moving into the more technical areas of film making which include; directing and production among other things.
“This is what communication scholars refers to as Agenda setting function of the media. The whole idea of agenda setting in the media centres on media directing the opinion of the public along the socially accepted or approved lines. Since the 1975 UN conference on women, the world has come to recognise officially women as vital development partners in the world economy.”
“That a woman could occupy central role in development agenda has been accepted at least on paper. Using the film industry, we could promote this expected role of our women until we achieve the set objective for women empowerment in our society.”he argued.
Continuing he added that “Since the whole concept of empowerment is dependent upon self-actualisation and confidence to independently take decisions without recourse to men as masters, if women are portrayed in a new light through home videos. It would have a profound implication for their status in society.”
‘In his own paper,Professor Onookome Okome of the Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, who delivered the guest lecture, reinforced the need to pay more attention to the context and content of film practice in contemporary Nigeria.
In his lecture titled “Language and Indigeneity in Nigerian Cinema”, Okome drew attention to the need to properly interrogate the phenomenon of “culture” with a view to coming to terms with its complexity, dynamism and pluralism especially when viewed against the backdrop of its enduring manifestations in Nigerian Cinema.
He also called for attention on the role of the travelling theatre tradition, the celluloid films and tele-drama for the development of contemporary Nigerian video film industry. Regardless of the language of its expression and cultural background, Nigerian films,he argued, have contributed remarkably to the world cinema and the economy of Nigeria and perception of Nigeria by the outside world. There is, therefore, the need to build upon this success and address various challenges in the industry, some of which came to the fore during the question and answer session.
The Festival, which ran from October 2nd through 5th, was declared open by Dr Olusegun Mimiko, the Executive Governor of Ondo State, accompanied by his wife, Mrs Olukemi Mimiko, and members of his Cabinet.
In his remarks, Mimiko noted that the film medium is a key propagator of indigenous languages and cultural values which needs to be cultivated towards achieving meaningful development.
According to him, for development to be meaningful and sustainable, it needs to be grafted upon cultural values of the people, drawing examples from Asian countries like Malaysia, Japan, Korea and Singapore. Such values include honesty, hard work, unity and a sense of the community as against individualism being glorified by liberalisation and globalisation.