I will discuss Nigerian cinema with a focus on respected director Tunde Kelani, the low budget videos that make up the vast majority of movies in Nigeria, and aspects of Nigerian cinema at a national level.
I will discuss Nigerian fiction with a focus on novelist Myne Whitman, renowned literature, and contemporary writing.
This is a discussion of a range of aspects of cinema and fiction in Nigeria and is not intended as a comprehensive overview characterising the whole of Nigerian cinema and fiction.
I will finish with some thoughts on the future of cinema and fiction in Nigeria and Africa.
A special thanks to Tunde Kelani, Myne Whitman, Deji Komolafe, Adegboyega Kehinde, and Ajao Moti-deade Adewunmi for your assistance in preparing this article.
Tunde Kelani is widely respected in Nigeria and looked up to by many young Nigerian filmmakers for the quality of his movies. He has shot movies on both 35mm film and on digital video, whereas Nigerian movies are almost all shot on video. Kelani is at the upper end of Nigerian cinema in terms of finances and production ability. Many consider him to be the best Nigerian director (and cinematographer). Details of his movies – including a several paragraph synopsis of each - are available on the website of his company, Mainframe Productions, at www.mainframemovies.tv.
I was recently in contact with Tunde Kelani and he told me: “The biggest opportunities of making films in Nigeria is primarily a big population of about 150 million people, a potential huge market, a rich culture, vast literary resources and landscapes from Sahara desert, savannah, forest areas and terminating at the Atlantic ocean. The biggest challenges at the moment are lack of necessary infrastructure like electricity, running water, lack of good roads, railway service, petrol shortage and security.”
In the past month I also spoke with author Myne Whitman, who grew up in Nigeria and now lives in Seattle. You can check out her website at www.mynewhitman.com and read her blog at www.mynewhitmanwrites.com.
She told me of her early interest in writing while growing up in Nigeria: “I loved reading and was the bookworm of the house. It wasn’t long before the left over notebooks in the house began serving as jotters for my notes and short stories. […] The earliest novel I recall writing was of children’s adventure while I was in secondary school. It was a mixture of the sort of stories I read from Enid Blyton and my own experiences travelling to my hometown for the Christmas breaks with my family. I had a very active imagination but I was not a big talker and so it went into my writing. I wrote of the sort of scrapes and adventures I got into and I felt my siblings and friends would enjoy reading about.”
Whereas Tunde Kelani’s filmmaking is very much focused on Yoruba people and in Yoruba language (with subtitles available), Myne Whitman’s writing is in English and could be described as being very accessible to a broad international audience.
“I write to cheer myself and others” Whitman told me. “I write to join in the conversation on various topics going on around me. I chose the romance vehicle because it makes me happy, I know many people read romance novels and there is also a dearth of such writings in Nigeria currently.”
A Heart to Mend
There are also Nigerian novels that are considered classics and are extremely popular in Nigeria, in Africa, and around the world. The most prominent is probably Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, which is often praised for Achebe’s treatment of the people and land of Nigeria as well as his exploration of intellectual and religious understanding and misunderstanding. One aspect that stands out to me is Achebe’s treatment of characters that each hold different intellectual and religious ideas and his ability to use these characters to explore the shared aspects between these ideas and how these characters can come to understand one another or fail to understand one another.
Other prominent figures in Nigerian literature include novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (a detailed website about her is at http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/cnabio.html) and playwright Wole Soyinka (a study guide to several of Soyinka’s plays by Paul Brians of Washington State University is available at http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/anglophone/soyinka.html).
While it can be quite easy for people to characterise writing from a particular place as consistent with a few established renowned writers, I think it’s important to have a wider understanding. In the case of Nigeria, this could be through reading the work of newly established novelists such as Myne Whitman as well as the longer established and well known writers, as well as writing (and interviews etc.) on sites such as www.africanwriter.com which features writing from across Africa, with a lot from Nigeria.
The Future of Nigerian and African Cinema and Fiction
I will conclude with Myne Whitman and Tunde Kelani’s hopes for the future for Nigerian and African cinema and fiction.
Myne Whitman: I would like to see more writers and more books, and in more diverse genres. Right now, most of the authors are of mainstream fiction but I want to see fantasy, romance, mystery, sci-fi and so on.
Tunde Kelani: I would like to see the revival of a cinema culture and a chain of about 4,000 cinemas throughout Africa. I envisage that the cinemas will programme mostly African films and not Hollywood films like 2012. When I was young, I did not discover the make believe element in cinema. I thought the actors were truly killed and dead after a shootout in the Westerns. Imagine suggesting that the world will come to an end in 2012, then why bother to start a process of development? It’d hardly be worthwhile. African cinema needs to be more purposeful, more thoughtful but very entertaining.