A Nigerian art critic, writer and journalist, Molara Wood, has called for an objective and critical review of films being churned out by Nigerian moviemakers.
Wood said Nigerian films have little or no overarching directorial vision, or outstanding sweep of artistry which she blamed on lack of critical culture.
“Critical culture is essential to how artistic traditions are built,” she said
She made the call in a thread via her Twitter handle @Molarawood on Tuesday.
Wood said her motive for the call is towards a robust critical culture as she urged moviemakers not to see criticisms of their works as a personal attack or ‘hating’.
She also urged critics to critically engage with artistic works without fear or favour, and to speak the truth as they see it. To do this she advised them to maintain an objective distance and accept no incentives except tickets to the screenings of the film, which, according to her, will allow them to maintain professional integrity in their criticisms.
“Overdramatic, ham-it-up performances are what is celebrated as great acting, often, in Nigeria. Films without vision, deeper message or underlying meditative thought, are ‘masterpieces.’ Overhyped directors at start of journeys, still finding their voices, hailed as ‘masters’
“There’s a certain anti-poor bent to the splashy new films being churned out by many Nigerian filmmakers that suggests that only the lives of the rich are worthy of representation on film.
“In the same way, scenes of wealthy characters & surroundings become substitutes for high production values, technical achievement in filmmaking, lighting, and artistic merit. A rich home with rich people does not equate production design, artistic direction, cinematography etc.
“Many filmmakers get away with the superficiality because we have an audience that did not grow up watching films. Cinema culture was decimated in the 80s. There’s no cinematic frame of reference for many. Any new film pushed with superlative hype is the best they’ve ever seen.
“The preponderance of hyped-acting does not exist in a vacuum; it is not harmless. Watch the average Nigerian film, people are shouting constantly, even when it’s a regular conversation between a couple. This impacts how we are perceived and how we see ourselves, what we reenact.
“We’re seeing films with little or no overarching directorial vision, or outstanding sweep of artistry, no setpieces, dramatic lighting, nothing in the way a camera tells the story or directs the eye of the audience. Some actors play themselves in film after film. We say, “classic”
“What about sound? How many Nigerian films get it right? How many have heard that a film needs a score, beyond just being packed by the latest radio hits not specifically written for said film? How many contemporary setting films get costume right? A film should be a work of art.
“Before we even talk about the script. An endless topic. One thing only: if a film is packed with 100 Yoruba proverbs thrown up by a focus group and inorganically deployed in virtually every scene, often without nuance – does that in itself confer authenticity on the script/film?
“Let’s not even get into the ‘business’ of Nigerian cinema. I won’t; my business is art. But, so many films are falling over themselves claiming to be the ‘biggest budget film’ – *biggest grossing film ever at the Nigerian box office* – etc. **We need to query these assertions.
“Someone pleaded “freedom of expression” re the ‘anti-poor’ observation. Bullsh*t. Art is important. We must hold artists to some account. If 90 out of 100 celebrated films are about the stinking rich in a country of multidimensional poverty, we have a responsibility to say so.
“I’ve spoken before about some of the recent films that I found meaningful, in that they were really trying to say something profound and challenge themselves, truly, in the art of film. ‘Lionheart’, ‘Up North’, ‘October 1’, to name few. Even a comedy like ‘The Meeting’ stands out.
“I’ll end here for now. But before you declare that up-and-coming director Nigeria’s soon-to-be oscar-winner, you have a duty to educate yourself as to what makes a film great. Watch Hollywood, yes. But watch French, Italian, Korean etcetera.
“Watch the world renowned West African auteurs from Mali, Senegal, Mauritania. Heck, watch our homegrown hero, Tunde Kelani. Immerse yourself. Don’t believe the hype. A film can be just for laughs, for action, a film is allowed to be forgettable. But not all films are great.”
“My motive is towards one thing only: a robust critical culture. We have to get away from this situation where it’s seen as a personal attack, or ‘hating’, or ‘bad belle’ – if one is less than 100% enthusiastic about a film.
“Critical culture is essential to how artistic traditions are built. We have a word in Yoruba, Ojuṣaaju – without preference for or prejudice to anybody. No double standards. I don’t care who you are, I will engage the artistic merit of your work as I see it, without Ojuṣaaju.
“We need our critics to critically engage with artistic works without fear or favour, and to speak the truth as they see it. It doesn’t mean every critic will be totally right; but when you have about 10 honest reviews, a measure of the value of a given work begins to emerge.
“The convenient lies we tell about the overhyped films of today are messages to the future of the culture. Is it to be built on lies? Will the filmmakers themselves grow if a mediocre film is pronounced The Godfather? Will performers improve their craft if lauded for hyper-acting?
“If you’re engaging in film criticism, don’t be too chummy with those whose films you review; you will tie your own hand. Maintain an objective distance. Accept no incentives except the tickets to the screenings, seek no favours. Guard your independent voice/professional integrity
“The critic works with an eye on posterity. Like a teacher, the good critic’s reward is in heaven, literally. Do the work. Let the filmmakers do the work. Let the performers & all creatives involved, too. Let iron sharpen iron, so we can grow a robust film tradition together.
“A Postcript: I see gripes about need for people to enjoy things. There’s room for all manner of films, especially crowd-pleasers. I’m all for films being fun & enjoyable to all. The caution is against the ‘unmerited greatness’ being conferred on some films/directors, that’s all.
“If you’re in Nollywood and you consider critics (or this thread) to be mild irritants you’d rather do without, then we’ll be swimming in mediocrity for a long time. Besides, that’s not how the film environment works from Sundance to Cannes; all who want to up the game, know this.
See her tweet:
Overdramatic, ham-it-up performances are what is celebrated as great acting, often, in Nigeria.
Films without vision, deeper message or underlying meditative thought, are ‘masterpieces.’
Overhyped directors at start of journeys, still finding their voices, hailed as ‘masters’
— Molara Wood (@molarawood) September 24, 2019