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«Carmela Garritano Ohio University Research in International Studies Africa Series No. 91 Athens Contents List of Illustrations ix Acknowledgments xi ...»

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African Video Movies

and Global Desires


Carmela Garritano

Ohio University Research in International Studies

Africa Series No. 91



List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: African Popular Videos

as Global Cultural Forms 1

1. Mapping the Modern: The Gold Coast Film Unit and

the Ghana Film Industry Corporation 24

2. Work, Women, and Worldly Wealth: Global Video Culture and the Early Years of Local Video Production 61

3. Professional Movies and Their Global Aspirations:

The Second Wave of Video Production in Ghana 91

4. Tourism and Trafficking:

Views from Abroad in the Transnational Travel Movie 129

5. Transcultural Encounters and Local Imaginaries: Nollywood and the Ghanaian Movie Industry in the Twenty-First Century 154 Conclusion 195 Notes 201 List of Films and Videos 217 References 225 Index 241 vii Introduction African Popular Videos as Global Cultural Forms The emergence of popular video industries in Ghana and Nigeria represents the most important and exciting development in African cultural production in recent history. Since its inception in the 1960s, African filmmaking has been a “paradoxical activity” (Barlet 2000, 238). Born out of the historical struggle of decolonization and a commitment to represent “Africa from an African perspective” (Armes 2006, 68), the work of socially committed African filmmakers has not generated a mass audience on the continent. Under current conditions marked by the international hegemony of dominant cinema industries, the dilapidated state of cinema houses in Africa, and the prohibitive expense of producing celluloid films, African filmmakers have become locked in a relationship of dependency with funding sources and distribution networks located in the global North. As a consequence, African films remain “foreigners in their own countries” (Sama 1996, 148), more likely to be found in Europe and North America on film festival screens and in university libraries than projected in cinemas or broadcast on television in Africa.

Though the film medium has failed to take root in Africa, video has flourished. An inexpensive, widely available, and easy to use technology for the production, duplication, and distribution of movies and other media content, video has radically transformed the African cultural landscape. In perhaps its most consequential manifestation, video has allowed videomakers in Ghana and Nigeria, individuals who in most cases are detached from official cultural institutions and working outside the purview of the state, to create a tremendously popular, commercial cinema for audiences in Africa and abroad: feature “films” made on video. Freed from the requirements for cultural 2 / Introduction and economic capital imposed by the film medium, ordinary Ghanaians and Nigerians started making and exhibiting their own productions in the late 1980s. In Ghana, the tremendous success of William Akuffo’s Zinabu (1987), a full-length feature shot with a VHS home video camera, sparked what those working in the Ghanaian video industry call “the video boom.” Local audiences, who had been watching scratched and faded foreign films for years, responded to Akuffo’s video movie with enormous enthusiasm. They crowded into the Globe Theatre in Accra for weeks to watch the video on the large screen. In a few years, film projectors in all of the major film theaters were replaced with video projection systems and hundreds of privately owned video centers, of various sizes and structural integrity, sprung up throughout the country to meet the growing demand for video viewing. Within ten years of the first local video production in 1987, as many as four videos in English were being released in Ghana each month, and over twenty years later, in 2009, Ghanaian movies appeared at the rate of approximately six per week, one in English and five in Akan, a Ghanaian language spoken across the country.

The Nigerian video industry, which began to take shape around the same time, soon became the economic and cultural power of the West African region. Now one of the largest movie industries in the world, the Nigerian industry releases a staggering 1,500 movies each year (Barrot 2009). Nollywood, the name popularly used to refer to Nigerian English-language movie production, speaks to the size and ambitions of the industry, but also obscures its diversity. Large numbers of Nigerian movies are also made in Yoruba. In fact, more Nigerian movies are produced in Yoruba than English, and in the city of Kano in Northern Nigeria, there is a well-established and prolific Hausalanguage industry, called “Kannywood.” Small numbers of Nigerian movies are also produced in Nupe and Bini (McCain 2011). Based on the models established in Ghana and Nigeria, budding industries in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Cameroon have emerged. Produced transnationally and broadcast on television, streamed over the Internet, distributed and pirated globally in multiple formats, African video movies represent, in the words of Jonathan Haynes, “one of the greatest explosions of popular culture the continent has ever seen” (2007c, 1).

The growth and expansion of African popular video has engendered a rapidly developing body of published work dispersed across three continents (Africa, Europe, and North America) and several African Popular Videos as Global Cultural Forms / 3 disciplines.1 Prominent among the numerous journal articles and book chapters on African video movies are the ongoing contributions of the pioneers in the field, Haynes and Onookome Okome, and important articles by Moradewun Adejunmobi, Akin Adesokan, John McCall, and Birgit Meyer. Noteworthy too are anthologies edited by Jonathan Haynes (2000), Foluke Ogunleye (2003), Pierre Barrot (2009), and Mahir S and Ralph A. Austen (2010), as well as Brian ˛aul Larkin’s brilliant monograph Signal and Noise (2008). Important research on African video movies has featured in special editions of the journals Postcolonial Text (2007), Film International (2007), African Literature Today (2010), and the Journal of African Cultural Studies (2010). African Studies conferences regularly include panels on African video movies, and specialists in the field have organized several international conferences dedicated to the dissemination and sharing of research on this new cultural form.2 In addition, the many documentaries on popular video in Africa indicate a solid and growing interest among nonspecialists.3 Without question, the largest part of this scholarship has concentrated on the Nigerian industry, and in particular the English-language video industry based in Southern Nigeria.4 Too readily ignored or merely absorbed into Nollywood’s dominant narrative have been the more minor industries in Nigeria, such as the Hausa-language industry, and in the region, the historically and aesthetically distinct video industry in Ghana, which is the focus of this book.

The focus on Nollywood, moreover, has overlooked the transnational interaction between the two industries and has tended to simplify and reify “the local” that Nollywood is said to represent, flattening the multiplicity of transnational cultural articulations that move through regional cultural economies in Africa and often in relations of disjuncture and competition. By subsuming all West African video under the example of Nigeria, the region’s dominant national power, critics have erased the movement, complexity, and contestation that mark the West African regional videoscape, where “the local” remains a contested signifier, not a self-evident descriptor. Faced with the relentless onslaught of Nigerian videos in Ghana, some Ghanaian videomakers have come to regard Nollywood as a far more pressing threat to their survival than Hollywood. Seen from this point of view, Nollywood looks a lot like an invader, a regional cultural power whose success has endangered local production. This study of Ghanaian video, including its points of intersection with and divergence from Nollywood,

4 / Introduction

reminds us that margins, like centers, are multiple, relational, and shifting. African Video Movies and Global Desires: A Ghanaian History accounts for the singularity of the history of Ghanaian film and video as it has been shaped by national and transnational forces and strives to enrich our understanding of the diverse cultural ecology of West African screen media.

African Popular Video and African Film Scholars:

A Brief Historical Overview I first learned of the emergence of the local video industries in Ghana and Nigeria at the 1997 Annual Conference of the African Literature Association (ALA), the theme of which was FESPACO (Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ouagadougou) Nights in Michigan, a decade after Akuffo screened Zinabu to audiences in Accra.

Organized by Kenneth W. Harrow and hosted by Michigan State University, where I was a PhD student at the time, the conference was unprecedented: the first conference of the ALA dedicated to screening, discussing, and celebrating African cinema. Many African filmmakers were in attendance, and so not surprisingly, discussions and debates concerning the obstacles impeding African film production and distribution in Africa consumed a fair amount of time and energy. Looking back, it seems remarkable, given the preoccupation with funding and the limited availability of African films and functioning cinema houses in Africa, that not one paper was proposed on the thriving local, low-budget, commercial video industries in West Africa.5 In the margins of the main event, video, mentioned by chance, came to represent little more than a notation. It was at the Women’s Caucus luncheon that I initially heard about African video movies and only during the question and answer session that followed the well-received talk by Tsitsi Dangaremgba, the Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker, who spoke on the making of her first feature film Everyone’s Child (1996).

After commending Dangaremgba for her sensitive and honest representation of AIDS and its impact on families and communities, an audience member who had recently been to West Africa spoke briefly about the booming market for locally produced videos in West Africa.

Unlike Everyone’s Child, an artistic African film animated by social justice and activism, the videos, she claimed, were brazenly amateurish and profit-driven. Influenced by Hollywood, they promoted stereotypical and extremely negative images of Africa. She reached out African Popular Videos as Global Cultural Forms / 5 to the audience with a sense of urgency, as if this example of local cultural production were a harmful, invasive pestilence that needed to be eradicated. She wondered how we, the experts and intellectuals, could intervene in the local cultural scene on behalf of Africa.

I have included this anecdote because it expresses the moralistic overtones that dominated the initial responses of African film and literature scholars to popular video and that, although far less frequently, continue to color criticism of the videos. Carmen McCain’s (2011) description of the position assigned to Nollywood at FESPACO 2011 attests to its ongoing marginalization. The founding figures of African cinema set the still widely held notion that popular or commercial cultural products were little more than imitations of Western forms that provided distraction in the form of cheap entertainment, and as Alexi Tcheuyap notes, these governing ideologies mandated that African cinema “was meant not for pleasure, but for (political) instruction” (2011, 7). Unabashedly commercial and melodramatic, video movies have frustrated expectations of what African film is supposed to be. Frank Ukadike has described video productions as “devoid of authenticity” (Ukadike 2003, 126), and Josef Gugler argues that these “market-driven” products promote the “political processes that engender extreme inequalities” (2003, 78). Lindiwe Dovey states that commercial videos “tend to affirm” violence, while serious and oppositional African films “[explore] restorative, nonviolent means of resolving social and political problems” (2009, 23). Most problematic is that these generalizations are stated without substantiation or reference to any of the thousands of popular movies that have been released in Ghana and Nigeria since the late 1980s. They demonstrate little awareness of the incredible range and variety of popular movies or interest in the audiences who consume and take pleasure from them. These criticisms, it seems, have functioned chiefly to produce and police a particular idea of what African screen media is or should be.

African film scholars’ reluctance to engage popular video in a serious way explains why the earliest and some of the best work, with the noteworthy exceptions of writing by Haynes and Okome, has been done by anthropologists. Tcheuyap (2011) has shown that the governing ideologies of African cinema, though animated by proletarian and emancipatory desires, were instituted and have been policed by elite intellectual institutions, which I would emphasize, remain detached from African sites of cultural consumption. Like the makers of other popular products in Africa, the producers of popular videos,

6 / Introduction

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