Art and culture play a critical role in how a country is viewed globally. Most of the perceptions about the United States of America, for instance, were gleaned from its film industry, Hollywood. For European countries like Germany, we see that reflected in their visual art.
As a country with diverse cultures, the creative industry which has to a large extent put the global spotlight on Nigeria must thrive to understand the representative nature of art and creativity in storytelling, according to filmmaker Femi Odugbemi.
Odugbemi who spoke at the virtual Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival 2021 used this premise to tackle the theme “Made in Nigeria: Improving the Art and Craft of Our Storytelling’. Recognising the power of technology in pushing our stories beyond the shores of Nigeria, he argued that the creative industry needs to aptly articulate our cultural diversity as a treasure trove and not as a limitation.
“Our understanding of our diversity needs to grow and it needs to grow because a lot of our young people are telling stories that are sort of lacking in any kind of representation. Stories that could have been made in America, they could be told by youth in England, but we are not English people, not Americans. We are all shades and colours that make up Nigeria but there are stories that create those: our languages, fashion, our folklores.
“There are many things from our past that colour how we shape our present and our future and our storytelling is very critical in connecting the dots of all of that. That to me is where our storytelling needs to mature because it seems like the more we look like something from America, the better the chance that we have been called sophisticated or winning an award abroad. But I have been part of many of those award bodies but the truth is those awards are given when there is something like an alternative worldview, an alternative cultural connection that is articulated and espoused concerning a general human condition.”
Odugbemi emphasized that the story must be told from the worldview of our identity. Extolling the works of creatives like Kunle Afolayan, Kemi Adetiba and Steve Gukas, the renowned filmmaker pointed out that culture is about “worldviews, ethnic representations, the nature of our societies and how we inter-relate; about how we prioritise things like family and spirituality and God.”
In his estimation, there are many ways we can make our stories more healing and enriching for the country. A good place to start is prioritising how we represent wealth, success and money in our films or music.
Arguably, lavish and immoral lifestyles in films and music have in a way propagated a warped understanding of wealth and success. This becomes more entrenched through social media where filtered images alter realities.
Odugbemi believes that most of the stories today either in film, advertising, or music represent success from the perspective that whoever has it, owns it.
“And so you will find a way that young people internalise the end justifying the means. That’s not our cultural worldview.”
Therefore, as much as the Nigerian film industry has advanced in cinematography and other production values, it is equally important that it factors in our cultural representation in storytelling. As he pointed out, the world is looking for an alternative cultural view for better understanding and tolerance of all races.