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(103): Kannywood and the Question of Reflecting the Society in Film

Muhsin Ibrahim

I posted a slightly different version of this article in two separate Facebook status updates lately. 

I critique and criticise Kannywood. I, however, incidentally promote them that way. Many people, especially those who knew me years ago, find it hard to believe that I ‘defend’ immorality that is the synonym for Hausa film and its makers in the ordinary discussion circle. I laugh at this ‘reasoning’ and move on. No doubt the filmmakers are in the wrong in many ways. But they are not what most of us think. Moreover, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say.

I understand the burden on Kannywood as an entertainment industry in an Islamicate society. However, their filmmakers should wake up to the reality that film cannot always be didactic and moralistic. While I don’t subscribe to the school of using art for art’s sake, film, as a reminder, is intrinsically an art, a source of amusement. A filmmaker can, though, gloss it with any message he/she wants to pass across.

I watched a film titled Hajjaju (dir. Ali Gumzak) a couple of days ago. It's quite fast-paced, engaging, and treats an unconventional subject matter. A widow with two grown-up kids, a son and a daughter, wants to get married again. The children object to that, seeing it as an embarrassment. The mother keeps trying up to five times; none passes their machination. She, therefore, warns them of the possible consequence of that. 

To satisfy her physiological needs, she begins an illicit affair with her daughter's boyfriend, who is also her son's close friend. When the children found out, they beat him to the pulp and regret their action towards her marriage proposals. The shame doesn't end there, though, for the mother is already pregnant with their friend.
A scene from the film, Hajjaju
Typically, the film could - should - end from that point. No, Kannywood wants to satisfy their critics. Therefore, the final scene shows the adulterous mom about to be stoned to death. This is unnecessary and has a greater implication for the filmmakers in particular and the industry in general.

First, their critics cannot be silenced because of this ‘scanty’, controversial Shari’ah portrayal. Second, outsiders may view it as an endorsement of extremism, for I think only the likes of Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Taliban do this today. Third, the industry deepens itself more into oblivion and footnotes. Etc. In all, it’s not worth it.

I have once argued that no mainstream film industry in the so-called Muslim world does films that are more Shari’ah-compliant than Kannywood. Don’t misread me, please. I didn’t say their movies are entirely compatible with Shari’ah; they are instead closer to that mark than what their counterparts’ produce elsewhere.

Often, people argue that films should reflect society, culture and religion. Admittedly, I once wrote about that, too, but advisedly. Several issues are tabooed in Hausa cultural and traditional practices and thinking. For instance, in recent, there have been cases of rape of both girls and boys; of gay and lesbian, and other unmentionable incidents in Kano. There is, yet, no film on that.

I co-write a paper on codeine-syrup with a colleague. She went looking for a well-advertised film, Wata Malama in which a female teacher consumes the deadly syrup. She comes to teach while high on the syrup. The marketers told her that the film is allegedly banned before release because of its explicit depiction. If true, this is outrageous.

Now, imagine how people would react if a Hausa film depicts a nearly normalised culture of wedding ceremonies in Hausaland today. We no longer frown at pre-wedding pictures even when the prospective couples pose anyhow, often holding themselves very tightly. The yet-to-be married also dance on their wedding night; some kiss, hug and so on. The (in)famous Fatima Ganduje’s marriage is but only one example.

Some of us are funny; many others confused as to what to do in the name of wedding dresses and other rites. In recent weeks, I have seen several brides with face veils. As I am away from home, I don't know who lifts the veil? The husband or her father as it really should be. Lol! Do people know what that means? I shall encourage Kannywood people to “reflect” this too in a film.

Honestly speaking, we have a lot to consider and correct without always scapegoating Hausa film actors. Yes, they are massively popular, therefore able to influence behaviour, especially of children. However, several other alien cultural practices are picked up as a result of acculturation and globalisation. As one scholar argues, globalisation sometimes leads to cultural uniformisation. Hausa people of northern Nigeria are a typical case study. Theirs is arguably worse. There is no uniformity in what they do – nor in their wedding or naming ceremonies; birthday parties, films, you name it.


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