As humans, our minds are conditioned to form a perception of something based on what we see or what we are told and the greatest way to form a perception is through the art of storytelling. In Nigeria, the most common form of storytelling is film, this is because for decades, film has been an unassuming powerful tool that educates us even in our subconscious. While the Nigerian film industry (Nollywood) has grown to be the second largest in the world (in terms of output), it has also contributed to promoting a negative perception of Nigeria.
Currently, the United States of America is considered the greatest country in the world. This can largely be attributed to their forms of storytelling. They use what they have to give voices to their issues as well as the impact of those issues on their citizens. From music to art to film, most people’s perception of the United States is not based on the realities it exudes but the perception portrayed through films. Most of their artists use their platforms in portraying some of their socio cultural issues. For example, the music video for “This is America” by Childish Gambino, highlights the level of violence being faced by citizens in the US due to the lax policy on gun control and “Black Panther” gave an insight into what Africa can create or become if empowered with the right leaders.
In previous years, Nollywood films were majorly focused on showcasing the evils of voodoo and wicked stepmothers. This train of films brought the likes of Patience Ozokwor and Chinwetalu Agu into the spotlight. Everyone associated Patience Ozokwor with the wicked stepmother role while Chiwetalu Agu was always known as the “native doctor”. We also had the phase where we told stories about the fraudulent Nigerians popularly known as “419” as well as the money ritualists. Anytime the screen came on and you saw Nkem Owoh or Clem Ohameze, you knew for sure the film was centred on money ritual or 419 scheme. Till date, these portrayals still affect the world’s perception about us as in recent times, “receiving a mail from the Nigerian prince” is often referenced in American films when talking about money scams.
The quality of films in Nollywood has improved over the years, yet there is need to encourage artists to start using the stage to influence positive change and this is what HomeVida advocates. HomeVida aims to influence the type of films being produced in the film industry (in this case, Nollywood) by providing incentives to filmmakers to produce films that address social challenges and societal values as a contribution to nation building. For 10 years, we have put a spotlight on issues around gender equality, cyberbullying, digital economy and transparency, accountability and good governance (TAGG) amongst others. Using the HomeVida platform, we have produced 24 short films, trained about 300 young Scriptwriters on how to write scripts that focus on societal issues and inspire integrity in people.
Although we have focused on film in the past, we recognise that the world keeps evolving and we target trends to stay relevant while influencing change. The decision to change to skits and spoken words was due to the current crave of short skits, which appeals to a larger audience than films. This is why we are shifting the spotlight of this year’s competition from scripts to creative videos. HomeVida is currently running a competition with support from Google tagged: Internet For All, with the aim of shifting the focus of people from using the internet to incite hate speech, to using the internet to improve the standard of our economic and socio-cultural values. The competition is centred on engaging people through skits and spoken words to focus on the positive utility of the internet and raise awareness on the capacity of the internet to improve the quality of life from different perspectives.
Art has the ability to change the world, because it has the potency to change people. Let’s leverage on this power and tell better stories of Nigeria to the world.
Ugochi Ekwueme, Communications Lead and Homevida Program Manager at the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), firstname.lastname@example.org