Saturday, May 13, 2006

Guardian on Nollywood + Best American Fiction + Gatlin's record + Fox host's racist call

NollywoodWhich country has the third largest film production system after the US (Hollywood) and India (Bollywood)? Britain, you say? No. France? No. Brazil? Japan? Australia? No, no, no. China? Canada? Korea? South Africa? Well, I wouldn't have guessed it, but it's Nigeria. Actually, months ago, Mendi O. of SWEAT mentioned Nollywood (the photo at left is from in a comment, and I'd made a mental note, but in the shuffle.... Yesterday, however, I recalled Mendi's note when I came across a piece by Jeevan Vasagar from the March 23, 2006 issue of the Guardian Unlimited titled "Welcome to Nollywood" that details how extensive the film production and distribution system there really is. Vasagar writes:

Nigeria is home to one of the world's youngest film industries, but it's booming. In just 13 years it has gone from nothing to estimated earnings of US$200m (£114m) a year - making it the world's third biggest film industry after that of America and India. The films are made on the cheap, but they are big box office.

Except that there is no box office, of course. In Nollywood, as it has inevitably been dubbed, movies are shot on video and copied straight on to tapes or DVDs and then sold on from thousands of street stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops, not just in Nigeria but across the continent, as well to the African diaspora via markets in the west.

"They sell a lot of our films in Peckham and in Dalston market [in London]," says Paul Obazele, the veteran producer on American Dream, who has already turned out four movies this year, and plans a US cinema opening for this latest effort. "But Peckham is becoming too small for us. We have decided to take on the world."

There's a lot of fascinating stuff in the article, from the tight economics and resourcefulness of the industry to the role of syncretism (traditional cultural beliefs and motifs, along with Christianity) in shaping the most popular film genre of "voodoo-horror." It also got me to wondering about how extensive possible future partnerships or investments of the kind Vasagar mentions, involving African-American actors and others in the US film industry, like Wesley Snipes, might become (are Tyler Perry and T. D. Jakes, both of whom Audiologo pointed to in a recent comment, scoping out opportunities over there yet?), and whether if sufficiently financed Nollywood might eventually function as a major parallel system for the production of (quality?) films for the African Diaspora. Or will the focus remain on the domestic, Nigerian expatriate and trans-African market, even though there is a potentially vaster global market outside Africa, in Europe, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific that is only inadequately being addressed, much as Hollywood (and Bollywood) has figured out. One thing that brings this to mind is my recollection that when Brazil's new Black-oriented, São Paulo-based TV station was looking for programming, they immediately approached BET and TV One, the two US stations. Nigeria and Brazil have a special historic relationship, and I wonder if Nollywood might not someday become another source of creative production--and if the exchange with Brazil and other countries, in addition to the US, might not go in the opposite direction as well.

Best novel of the last 25 years?
I'm always skeptical of newspapers' or magazines' "best" lists, especially when the criteria are unclear, the methodology is mostly subjective and the judges or arbiters are unnamed, and yet I usually end up accepting the premises of such lists and performing my own on-the-spot comparative evaluations, especially if they're on a topic or subjects I have even a passing familiarity with. Recently the New York Times decided to ask a group of 100 culturati to rank the "best American work of fiction" of the last 25 years, and the top choice was Toni Morrison's 1987 masterpiece Beloved. I have to say that I totally agree; this remarkable novel, like the best of Morrison's works, satisfies its immense ambitions on every level. The runners up were by the usual suspects...and, as usual, contained almost no works of fiction by any other women, people of color, out LGBTs: Don DeLillo's Underworld, a tour-de-force of language; Cormac McCarthy's gory, dazzling Blood Meridian; the repellant John Updike's Rabbit novels (Rabbit at Rest is a finely written and moving capstone work, I must admit); Philip Roth's American Pastoral, which I have to say is the strongest of his semi-autobiographical wordfests of the last decade; Etc. Marilynne Robinson's brilliant Housekeeping (which the Times states it did not review!) was in the next tier of books. Tony Scott has an explanatory (exculpatory?) essay that accompanies the picks. I wonder how many of the selecters listed the brilliant works during this period by Alice Munro, John Edgar Wideman, David Bradley, Samuel Delany, Annie Proulx, Jhumpa Lahiri, Peter Ho Davies, Colson Whitehead, Michael Cunningham, Grace Paley, Gayl Jones, Louise Erdrich, Jane Smiley, Dale Peck, Carole Maso, Percival Everett, Chang-Rae Lee, and others?

Gatlin jets to new world record
Gatlin breaks record
Olympic 100 meter champion Justin Gatlin (left, photo AP Photo/Abdul Basit) set a new world record yesterday in the men's 100 m when he ran a 9.76 at the Qatar Grand Prix in Doha. The previous best was Jamaican Asafa Powell's 9.77 last summer in Athens, Greece. Gatlin and Powell will face each other at Gateshead in Britain on June 11. I would love to see this race live.

Fox host urges non-Hispanics to have more babies
Does anyone remember when the racist crank Ben Wattenberg, coiner of the phrase "birth death," was whining about the declining birthrate among (white) people in industrialized countries years ago, and urging white people to have more (white) babies? Several of the mass-market magazines and newspapers gave his argument a good amount of play, with images of little blue-eyed babies on the cover. The sort of alarmist, white supremacist-informed fear that he was articulating, however, was an integral part of this country's self-conception, and has continued to play a key role in the US's self-regard and development, informing most issues the society has faced, from immigration and citizenship to education and crime to sexual liberation and women's control of their bodies. Like a full and rancid aquifer it's still frequently tapped. John Gibson, the mummified host of Fox News's The Big Story, drew upon it again when he urged viewers (whom, I presume, he imagined to be non-Latino) on Wednesday to "make more babies" because, he warned his presumed white addressees, in "twenty-five years...the majority of the population is Hispanic." Given the Census Bureau's predictions and since mass deportations (or more horrible means) seem unlikely, his answer is to have more (white) babies. He went on to urge: "Procreation not recreation," about as succinct an echo of Pope Benedict (or Hitler) as one could imagine. Like Jean-Marie LePen and others on the European far right, Gibson also appears to have serious worries about the declining birthrate among whites in Europe, which he claims is in danger of turning into "Eurabia." Etc. Media Matters has the rank goods.... I'd add that we should probably always keep in mind the awful history of American eugenics and the period sterilization policies that've been launched against poor and working-class women of color...Norplant? Hysterectomies? Nothing is too far-fetched with this crowd.

Random photo

Young Haitian man, Calle Sanchez, Santo Domingo


  1. I heard about Gatlin's victory yesterday, but I didn't know who he was, of course you would have the photo and some background info! Thanks for the mention and addition to your blogroll. BTW Winston-Salem Journal and have an fascinating online multi-part series on forced sterilization in North Carolina with links on eugenics history and genetics and bioethics. Forced sterilization programs existed in at least 36 states in the US primarily until after WWII when the similarities with Naziism (which US eugenics programs influenced) motivated them to morph into more "respectable" entities. NC was an exception, its program continued into the 1970s and increasingly targeted poor African Americans. You can check it out here:

  2. Audiologo, thanks for the link to the Winston-Salem Journal piece. I was thinking as I typed out this entry that there have been several different strategies for implementing forms of coerced and covert sterilization in this country, and that there's been almost no public discussion of them. I remember hearing one of the scholars who wrote a book about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study speaking the lack of public accounting and discussion concerning the eugenicist history, beyond its founders and a general outline of their aims, and it wasn't until I heard Gibson's comments that I thought about what she'd said and how this remains part of the unspoken record of our public discourse.