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(93): Kannywood: Hypocrisy, Sycophancy and Criticism

Muhsin Ibrahim

Almost every positive adjective one can think of has, today, been used to refer to Nollywood especially in places outside Nigeria. For those who perhaps don’t know, the film industry is the second biggest after Bollywood in the world; it is, arguably, however, the second largest employer after Agriculture in Nigeria; and is now regarded by many observers as not only a Nigerian film industry but a pan-African cultural phenomenon. Beside all these glories associated with Nollywood, the Northern part of Nigeria has its distinct and distinctive film industry, which is even historically older. Kannywood, as it’s tagged, nevertheless, still struggles for recognition and acceptance within and outside the country. This is, however, due to a number of reasons.

The biggest of them all is what I bluntly call “hypocrisy”. Although not the main focus of this piece, this refers to the way and manner many people in the North disown the films and their makers in the name of safeguarding their religion and culture while they patronize mainly the Indian, American and Chinese films. I have argued over and again that we cannot deny the fact that Kannywood has come to stay, thus we had better make it better or keep quiet. Our “armchair” censure of their productions cannot help any matter. Again, making it better entails doing a number of things, not necessarily going on the camera.

Unfortunately, however, within the film industry itself, I was reliably told that sycophancy is the most thriving thing. An actor or actress has to kowtow, or, seldom, do worse, to get a role in a film. One’s brilliance barely plays any significant role. Some heavyweights call the shot. In other words, you have to have a master (Maigida), whom you are subservient to, to be cast in especially the huge budgeted films. Another stumbling block to their progress is their over-reliance on big names – the stars. They hardly welcome in new faces, especially of the prospective male actors. For a female, it is slightly different, and I guess you can presume the reason. Oftentimes, a lady is favoured over a guy. This is how it is.

The worst of all is how these people are so allergic to criticism. This is what triggered this very article. I have had and seen several encounters with Kannywood actors, directors, producers and other crew members where they doggedly refuse to accept any criticism. They almost always see it as an attack. But who are you to reject critics outright? How excellent is your work to be immune to criticism?

A couple of days ago, I published a widely read (and, of course quite positive!) review of the hyped film, Rariya. Nobody asked me to do that – and nobody has ever asked me to review any film. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, no one has previewed and reviewed as many Kannywood films as I have so far. Thus, it is out of passion and scholarship that I do everything I do in relation to Kannywood. To cap it all, nobody and nothing has ever influenced my review out of common sense. I think no one in the Industry can!

To cut the long story short, the film producer, Rahama Sadu, has blocked me on Twitter even though I have never followed her or any other female actor on any social media platform. I, however, quite doubt if it is in reaction to this particular review but an incident that occurred a few days ago. She infamously granted a newspaper an interview in which she mentioned that women suffer in the North. I wrote a simple Tweet to her, thus: “If women suffer in the North, why don’t you relocate to the South, dear Rahama? Best wishes”. This got many retweets. In response to that, very most likely, she blocked me.

Again, I was very reliably told that the director of the film, Yaseen Auwal was displeased by the review. Wonder, as it is said, shall never end. I hope he would read this piece. My message to him or any other director whose film I have ever reviewed or I will is: I am not a hack, thus I don’t write any review to please you! I cannot, in fact, write any to satisfy anybody in the whole of Kannywood film industry as I cannot reconcile that with my conscience.

In a saner world, Hausa filmmakers should be happy that people like me exist. Beside Prof. Abdulla Uba Adamu, all other major scholars on their film are Americans and a few Europeans who, though very well-learned, do not know everything - and nobody knows that! - in the culture, sociology, psychology and so on of Hausa people as they are not from it (i.e. the community). Criticism is meant to improve their work, and any work of art and much more. I know that they must envy Nollywood, but with this unhealthy mentality, in addition to other bedevilling problems such as lack of acceptance, piracy, etc, I strongly doubt if they stand the chance to go anywhere close to them (i.e. Nollywood films).

As a last note, I should mention that not all of them are that narrow-minded and thinly-skinned to criticism. When I reviewed the film, Hijira, its makers contacted me with a proposal to be making more of such for them. I declined for obvious reasons. Again, the duo of M.M. Haruna and Kabiru Musa Jammaje appreciated my reviews of their films, Husna ko Huzna and There’s a Way, respectively. Therefore, some of them, at least, are open-minded, receptive to criticism and understanding. I hope others, too, will learn to be like that.

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