Stereotyping in Nollywood

I generally enjoy watching Nollywood movies, questionable production values and all. I wouldn’t say that majority of them are good but there are quite a few that are reasonably interesting.

It will not be a surprise to anyone that most of the storylines and characters in these films are one-dimensional and predictable. However, an issue of particular annoyance is the consistent use of stereotypes by Nollywood film-makers. One instance that stands out to me is the portrayal of Hausa characters in these movies. The only Hausa people that appear in Nollywood stories are illiterate maiguards (security guards) or crooked Alhajis.  It is as though this image of Hausa people is so entrenched and accepted that the audience is supposed to laugh in recognition at the stupid security guard that can barely string a few words together to form a complete English sentence. I wonder if this results from a lack of research on the part of the film-makers and actors or whether this is what they really believe of their Northern counterparts.

Speaking of Northern actors, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Hausa actor or actress play a Hausa character (or any other character in Nollywood). They are almost completely invisible in mainstream Nigerian movies.  The same is true for other ethnic groups who make no appearance in these movies unless it is to reinforce some stereotype about their ‘people’. A good example is the way house helps are commonly portrayed as being from a particular ethnic background. How often do you see characters from Akwa Ibom in Nollywood movies that are not named Ekaete?

I don’t think that a movie must make use of people of the particular ethnicity or tribe being portrayed. After all that is part of what good acting is, the ability to convincingly play someone else regardless of their region of origin. However a good effort should include a realistic depiction of their accents and cultural mannerisms. I think it is important for film-makers to put out accurate, respectful representations of the people they purport to include in their stories. Anything less is an insult even if the person responsible does not realise it. Creating a narrative about people without making the effort to  get their input means that you end up with cheap caricatures like what we see in many Nigerian movies. It’s like watching some random African American actor supposedly playing the role of an African but the accent and everything about the character is repellent and the jokes are all about the jungle of Africa or something like that*. I’m sure the people who are behind these Nigerian movies would be as bemused as I am by such portrayals of Africans in foreign movies. If only they would apply the same reasoning to their own work.

*A good example is the ‘African’ man in Barbershop.

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2 responses to “Stereotyping in Nollywood

  1. Nice post.

    Re: Hausa actors, and stereotypical portrayals of Hausas in Nollywood

    I once wrote a post, “Where Did All The Hausa people Go?” ( probably should update it) about my reality – I don’t get to interact with a lot of Hausa people. When I was in Nigeria, I went to school with Hausas and studied the language, which I think is particularly beautiful, but as an adult living in the U.S., I only have one Hausa friend that immediately comes to mind.

    Now, consider Nollywood, if there aren’t a sizable amount of Hausas and other Northerners in the industry (outside of Kanywood, of course), it becomes easier for Nollywood writers and directors (predominantly southerners) to rely on stereotypes in the portrayal of Northerners. The question then becomes how do we include more Northerners in Nollywood? Kanywood has produced some good film, but it is hard to find and probably the majority of the Nollywood audience won’t watch it for that reason. Maybe a beautiful Hausa actress or handsome actor could do the trick, but I leave that for those more knowledgeable to tackle.

    Hope all is well!

    • I am doing great thank you, hope you are too. I’ll definitely be checking out your post.

      I think you’re right in that ignorance and lack of exposure to Northerners (and others) allows stereotypes to go unchecked. Unlike you I didn’t know many Hausa people growing up. In fact, I was a minority where I grew up as I only ever met a couple of people from the same state. The most exposure I got to the North came from visiting a few of the Northern states during holidays. We tended to take roadtrips, an experience I’d like to re-create sometime in the future. When you think about it, you realise that there is not much space for cultural exchanges in Nigeria. We might as well be a nation of strangers seeing how little we know about each other. This contributes to the distrust and tribal tensions that bubble over every so often.

      I also wonder what it would take to make Hausas and other ethnic groups more visible in Nollywood. Would a Northern actress be motivated to break into the mainstream if they’ve got a good platform in Kanywood?

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