For some time now I have amused myself with a particular refrain many Nollywood home videos and popular TV drama series adopt as end line. I have often wondered if all the films are edited in the same postproduction studio or with the same editing software which inexorably inscribes ‘To God be the Glory’ just before the credits at the end of the films.
Obviously, the intention is to ascribe glory and give credit to God for the production, but I wonder if God will hardly be impressed if He condescends to watching the content. I am neither a priest nor God’s advocate, but I nurse serious doubts if God does not share my amusement with the refrain meant to give Him praise for the work. I will make no pretences to the contrary. I am only a mere consumer of Nollywood fares like millions of Nigerians who watch productions from Nollywood every other day. I don’t know if that qualifies me to make a value judgement on Nollywood’s outputs.
Like other concerned Nigerians, I am alarmed that the overall plot of many films from Nollywood unwittingly focuses on the negative when the avowed objective is to promote some positive values. Undue flamboyance, ostentatious tendencies, ‘squandermania’ and life on the fast lane are highlighted when producers want to encourage the opposite positive behaviour. Materialism, violence, vainglory, lust, immorality, secret cultism, fetishism, drug abuse, ritual killing, corruption, etc. headline the plot instead of the positive values and lessons the films were intended to sell.
All too often we see a provocatively clad lady flaunt her flesh before a male character who wastes no time in responding to satisfy not only his cravings but also those of the audience who love to see scenes that should be strictly restricted to the bedroom played out on TV screens. Isn’t it about time we began to see more of Spartan characters who show courage in the face of adversity and are able to resist the most irresistible of temptations.
For a 90-minute film, more than 87 minutes of it is spent showing us how an evil character amasses so much wealth and lives large to the point that the film’s audience are spellbound and kept drooling over the character and her style. Then the plot resolves in the last two minutes or so with the character meeting her waterloo in some dramatic death or other misfortune.
What lesson do the producers want the audience to take from the plot? The fact that crime or evil does not pay? Maybe. But is that the message that has captivated the audience attention for over 99 percent of the movie? Doubtful. I bet if most people could get away with crime or evil and not have to face nemesis until 99 percent of their lives have been well lived in comfort and luxury, there will be less of a deterrent in the natural law of retributive justice or human criminal codes to keep people from turning to evil.
Arguing that films are not real life but make-believe for entertainment makes it all the more necessary to structure the plot in such a way that it transmits the right and intended values while entertaining. Because, like it or not, home videos and TV series, like the media, schools, religious institutions, peers, etc. are agents of socialisation.
Similarly, arguing that films simply mirror what goes on in the larger society is to take for granted its invaluable role in agenda-setting, opinion-moulding and conscientising. Films play no small role in shaping or reinforcing opinions, values, perceptions, worldviews, etc. not only of impressionable young minds, as many falsely believe, but of adults as well. While an adult with an already formed positive view on an issue or way of life may not on the basis of one or several films that she has been exposed to, glorifying a contrary way of life, adopt the new way espoused by the films, she now has an alternative way planted in her subconscious. The films promote another possibility she could call upon in desperate times. It is doubtful if this is one of the intended objectives of the film producers.
What do I recommend? Producers and script writers of TV series and home videos should consider alternative approaches that shift their plot’s focus to the positive. One approach is to adopt a plot that invariably treats two main characters – one the evil guy who probably begins to pay every now and then for his evil practices early or midway into the plot before he meets his final waterloo and the other character, the guy who sets out to be good and struggles to remain so in the face of all odds and gets rewarded at the end for his decision to stay good. The plot should focus on the good guy.
Like producers, I nurse doubts if films with such plots will be as commercially successful as what currently obtains. The same ‘bad news makes news’ orientation that guides editorial judgement in the tabloids also rules the screens. Somehow, no one remembers that it was the media that foisted this attitude on their audience and now there is the subconscious expectation to see the negative – the lewd, the sexually stimulating, the bizarre, the barbaric, the horrific, the gory, etc. – in the average audience member. Producers should take up the challenge to correct this thwarted expectation. If one of the key objectives of movies, as producers always maintain, is to impart valuable moral lessons, then changing the focus of the plots is a must-do.
The alternative plot suggested above should not be seen as a template but a mere suggestion before someone accuses me of trying to stifle creativity in an industry that is badly in need of it. There are just too many copycats. However, this me-too syndrome is inadvertently a powerful factor in how movies set agenda and reinforce values. Someone releases a film on cultism and before you can say Jack Robinson, the market is already flooded with films with similar themes. If the plots are constructed with focus on the negative, it sets a negative agenda, shifting public discourse and gossips in that direction.
Maybe it is about time movie producers began putting themselves in God’s shoes by asking themselves how God, if He were a film producer, would handle a plot to pass some of the lessons they have in mind to share with their audience. Make no mistake. This is not a call for re-enactment of some Bible or other holy books’ stories. I think the world already has enough of that, and sadly enough, those that have been produced in Nollywood are a ridiculous caricature of the original stories. The executions are so poor that if that was how they were documented in the holy books, Nigeria’s devout religious adherents would have preferred instead that their spiritual leaders used local folklores to illustrate their messages.
What I am calling for is an objective and soul-searching clarification of the message. No one will disagree that God is always clear in His mind when He sets out to do anything. See the way nature works – the rhythmic regularity, perpetuity and predictability of sunrise and sunset, planting and harvesting seasons, gestation periods in the animal kingdom including mankind’s, the revolution of the planets around the sun, etc. All of those give witness to a clear, sound and purposeful mind at work.
It is the same clarity of purpose our film producers need. Once they have identified the real message they want to pass, the next question they should ask is: How can this message be effectively passed without encouraging the audience to consider the opposite values the film is meant to discourage? In other words, how can the positive message be overplayed and the negative values downplayed? Or, how can I pass the message by appealing only to people’s good nature without arousing their bad nature?
Nollywood has come a long way since the first set of home videos was produced. I expect that film producers are now more open to criticisms, constructive criticisms that is, and no longer react to any criticisms by asking, ‘Which works has she (the critic) even produced?’ That attitude will not be helpful. Its analogy would be our elected public officers asking us ‘Which state or local council have you administered?’ anytime we offer constructive criticisms on how affairs of the state are being handled.
Neither will it be helpful if film producers just simply take out the refrain ‘To God be the glory.’ That will be sheer tokenism. Film producers should sincerely consider alternative plots that, whether ending in the refrain or not, are so focused on glorifying the positive values intended by their message that God Himself wouldn’t mind taking some time off His universal duties to watch with their select audience when the films premiere.