Seeking an end to harmful cultural practices through the screen

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Usman Aliyu

By records, some cultural practices in most African countries including Nigeria are violations to the rights of women as guaranteed in the international human rights declaration.

These age-long harmful practices also hinder their potentials for political and economic empowerment and emancipation.

The albatross is known to be discriminatory and differ from one region to others, particularly in Nigeria.

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Women’s rights advocates corroborated that the customs have bad effects on women and obstruct the goals of equality, political and social rights as well as the process of economic development.

Some of these practices according to them are forced or early marriage; Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also known as female circumcision; preference for son child and lack of access of women to land among other inheritance.

It is in view of this that theatre experts at a colloquium organised by the Igbinedion Uinversity, Okada in Edo state, clamoured for the transformation of bad cultural practices in Nigeria through the use of film.

The experts, at the event organised in honour of an ace Nollywood director, Lancelot Imasuen, to mark his 50th birthday celebration, urged Nollywood artistes to always use this medium of Mass Communication to raise advocacy against those aspects of the culture that violate human rights particularly women’s, without leaving out the revival of dead good ones.

Prof. Irene Agunloye of the University of Jos noted that the call became imperative as some cultural practices posed a threat to the empowerment of women, hence there is a need to fine tune them to suit logical reasoning.

Agunloye, a professor of African Drama, Gender, Women and Film Studies, described film as a powerful tool for cultural influence and took a stance that since culture is man-made and not God-ordained, it was amenable to change.

“Some practices, no matter the intention, pose a threat to the empowerment of women.

There is abundant evidence to show this.

“Since culture is man-made, reconstructing the harmful practices such as female circumcision, forced or early marriage short-change of women in inheritance issue will never be to destroy it, but to reinvigorate in line with new thinking and stimulate the society to become active and agent of change,” she said.

She also called on theatre practitioners in the country to work with the government in term of archiving their films.

Getting the old films, according to the guest speaker was becoming a problem and creating a way for archiving would be fined.

Nevertheless, Agunloye hailed the celebrant for his commitment to the promotion of rich Nigerian culture as well as correcting some of the ills inherent in some practices.

While analysing the Imasuen’s production titled Wede, the lecturer said the Nollywood director demonstrated his commitment to women-centred issues which he projected unequivocally in the movie.

“His message in this film is that though leadership in our society is generally patriarchal, it does not imply that women are powerless, passive, silent and ineffectual.

“In challenging the repressive traditional culture of female genital mutilation (FGM), Imasuen shows that social change is inevitable in every society.

“He advocates for a constructive and contemporary use of tradition. Imasuen has shown his commitment in using film to campaign against harmful cultural practices that inhibit women from developing their full potentials,” she said.

Prof. Barclays Ayakoroma of the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, Bayelsa State in his presentation, also shared a similar sentiment with Agunloye.

He claimed that culture is not static, and therefore, it could be panelbeat to reflect the desired social, political and cultural life for people in a given society.

He submitted that filmic statement ought to be words on marble meant to reflect the society as well to mobilise for change of social ills, thus the contribution should be indelible.

Ayakoroma, Head, Department of Theatre Arts in the university, alluded to the fact that Imasuen had carved a niche for himself in the Nigerian movie industry, because of his contributions to the revival of the culture.

He cited Invasion 1897, Adesuwa, Issakaba 1-5, Private Sin, Masterstroke, and Games Men Play among others as films from the stable of the Benin-born artiste that would remain indelible as they are words on marble.

According to him, if there are 10 of Imasuen, the Nollywood will be strategically elevated and will not only be second to Bollywood in terms of production quantity but second only to Hollywood in terms of production quality.

He applauded the iconic filmmaker for being the first movie director in Nigeria to initiate cross-border relations in film production.

In her diaspora view, Ms. Brandi Callum, Founder, Brandi Callum Group International, Georgia, United States of America, said she had developed apathy r Hollywood movies because they always fail to represent Africa and its people in the right way.

This, she attributed to her fondness for Imasuen’s productions, even long before deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) traced her origin to Nigeria.

Callum, an African-American woman commended the renowned film producer for creating dignity for African culture through his movies.

“I am happy that the celebrant is making the kind of movies I would have loved to make as a black woman; they are films that are creating dignity for the African culture,” said Callum.

Justifying the birthday honour for Imasuen, Prof. Lawrence Ezemonye, the Vice-Chancellor of the Igbinedion University, said a man who has given so much to society like the movie icon deserved recognition while alive.

“It may interest you to know that for 25 years now, this creative artist, accomplished movie maker, and Director per excellence has traversed gallantly the terrain of his chosen field of endeavour with great success.

“You will all agree with me, for a man who has given so much to the society, by way of affecting the type of conscientization geared towards social edification and sustainable national cohesion, no amount of recognition or honour bestowed on him while alive should be considered too great.

“The Benin Film Academy under his leadership has received over 50 local and international awards including the most recent, Zuma International Film Festival finalist Best Film titled ‘Depression’ (2009) and Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival Finalist Best Short Film ‘Stoic’ (2020),” the vice-chancellor said.

Ezemonye, said as the premier private university in Nigeria, Igbinedion University’s commitment to academic excellence and scholarship remained unshaken.

“Nollywood Project 101, functioning under the auspices of the Benin Film Academy, in affiliation with Igbinedion University, fits into this bill and is well-positioned to enhance the skill acquisition of the Theatre Arts Department of our great University, as well as others willing to carve out a career for themselves in the entertainment industry,” he said.

The University also used the occasion to launch Nollywood Masterclass for its students in Theatre Arts and Mass Communication, the step, the VC explained was to provide a unique opportunity for the students to come face to face with veterans of creative arts in the film industry.

In his remark, the celebrant, Imasuen commended the University for the honour, pledging that he would be more committed henceforth to pursue social change through the screen.

He expressed optimism for a greater Nigeria, saying the youths were not lazy, rather they are enterprising and creative.

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