To me, one of the most important actions by President Mahama so far is the appointment of Mamma Dzramedo I, popularly known as Dzifa as the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts and the second most important person in the ministry after Madam Elizabeth Ofosu-Agyare.
Dzifa comes to the Ministry with not only rich experiences as an active player in the film industry but is well positioned as a queen mother for that. I hear she also holds an Mphil and BFA in Theatre Arts and Gender Studies, from the University of Ghana, Legon, and with film production experiences from the production of ‘By the Fireside” hosted by Grace Omaboe, also known as ‘Maame Dorkonoo in the 90s. With all these attributes, I hope she will accommodate my complaints in spite of the tantrums with which I express myself.
Mamma, for some time now, I have been worried about the film industry in Ghana. My worry is not about the insufficient infrastructure but by the NAME given to the movie production industry and the quality of movies coming out from the sector.
I hate the name “GHALLYWOOD” with all my heart and soul. What the hell is Ghallywood? The Ghanaian version of America’s Hollywood? What about Anansekrom? Or Anansekrom is too African and not “modern” enough? Is “..LLYWOOD” the new in-voke word for film industries because it comes from America? One thing that kills my soul is the fact that we had to wait for India and Nigeria to blindly copy the word before we followed suit. Now that India has BOLLYWOOD and Nigeria has NOLLYWOOD, Ghana should have GHALLYWOOD. Realy? When did Nigeria and India of all places become the models for Ghanaians? Nigerians and Indians are the character role models for us? I think, I need to relocate to Papua New Guinea.
Hollywood was a land development site where the American film industry got established. The developers called the place Hollywood lands. There is nothing magical to it. It was a name of a site like Legon. It had nothing to do with film industry the same way the name Legon had nothing to do with education. It is only meaningful as the site for a famous institution. Calling every film industry “..llywood” is like how our illiterate parents called University of Science and Technology, “Kumasi Legon”. It was and still is just sheer ignorance.
My father used to call every newspaper “Graphic”. Out of his lack of education, he thought the word graphic stood for “newspaper”. But because he knew he needed education but was too old to go to school, he sent me and I was very happy to show him the difference between the name Graphic and the word “newspaper” and he gladly accepted and learnt from it. What about us?
In the middle of 2013, are we going to continue to be the same “colonial mentality” people we used to be called? In our movies, our actors and actresses have become “faded carbon-copy” westerners and perpetual imitators. Everything African is regarded as backward or savage. How can such important role models be so uneducated and foolish?
My second worry is about the quality of movies coming out from the Ghana film industry. I know we are still in the developmental stage and some teething problems will be associated with our growth. I also know that government cannot and should not control the contents of films, but can’t we set some code of conduct and standards for film making? Is it like anybody with a camcorder can just shoot anything and sell it to our populace? I am not advocating for censorship, but should Ghana be the dumping grounds for movies with primitive contents from within and from Nigeria?
Most of the African movies from Ghana and Nigeria center on the themes of witchcraft, Juju, ritual killing and the miracles of Christian pastors. Are these themes being sold to our younger generation true? Or are we going to get them hook on myths and shear fantasy. In a world of creative development and the IPhone age, what kind of education do we want our youth to get from our films; spiritism?
You see, the much-vaunted contributions of the creative industries such as job creation, income-generation, product development for export markets, and the like will be meaningless if it based on promoting our archaic and primitive beliefs and blind copying of everything western. It is the duty of the arts to promote enlightenment in the age of science and technology. Witches are fairies that don’t exist. The idea of some evil spirits being responsible for every aspect of life is primitive, stupid and an insult to Africans. It will be a disservice to the country if our arts promote this nonsense. There are no miniature forms of God (mini gods) floating around everywhere causing mischief and disease and who people can consult for anything. It is sheer superstition and false.
In the developed countries, most of the programs for the promotion of patriotism and blind love for everything western don’t come from the Presidents and seats of governments, they come from Hollywood. What cultural awareness and patriotic messages have the movie industry promoted in Ghana recently. That Agya Koo went abroad to learn karate or that the spiritual church pastor is the direct embodiment of God and can perform miracles? Some of these films portray some of these pastors as more powerful than God himself. What these movies are doing is the promotion of culture of seeking miracles for every effort instead of the old-fashioned hard work. If we are copying everything “Hollywood”, why don’t we copy that too. Nobody in America has become rich or famous by consulting pastors and fetishes, no wonder they are more successful than us.
Cultural development has always been central to the development of any society. In improving consciousness, books are reliant upon literacy, whereas movies speak to the whole population. Fanon and Cabral considered artistic expression as part of the liberation struggle and is still true today. Cinema is never separate from politic and development because it is a tool for mental slavery.
Comedy is good and healing. It has almost the same effect as music and sports and it should be channeled to promote the well-being of the populace. It should be a therapy for the tired worker, the young unemployed who stood in the sun all day to sell dog chains. It should be the recreation for the thinking president and the conniving opposition. It should be food for thought for the farmer after a hard day’s work planting seed and a liberation and an escape for the grieving souls. It should not be a tool to make a few people rich and the large population stupid. Comedy should be based on facts and means to ridicule primitive ideas and stupid behaviors of public figures. In a serious society, it is used to promote the development of society.
In a country such as our with failed educational systems and media houses that promote degrading and insulting language and behaviors; and secretaries of the major political parties who are competing to win the Nobel prize for stupidity, the arts are the only source of education and systems for modeling behavior. It is a betrayal and downright subversive to promote the kind of primitive ideas sold out from our films.
Whereas in the past, cultural values and tradition mores were passed on from one generation to another through stories told around fireplaces in the evenings, this option is not possible given the dynamics of our lifestyles today. Parents have increasingly become busy and they hardly find time to interact with their children and the technological fall-offs have made it hard for the children to interact with their parents to learn from them. They are, therefore, watching TVs and movies a lot. These channels have become the most important tools for receiving information and molding characters.
It is not in our developmental interest to feed the future generation with fantasies and useless information. Great thinkers have postulated that development is an act of culture. Whatever interests it serves and however it is defined, it is based on values, world-views, ideas and ideological assumptions implying that a community, a country or a region stands in need of “development”. Through the development process, the values, beliefs and ideas of the intended beneficiaries of development ARE ACTED ON AND CHANGED. Primitive and archaic values, beliefs and ideas can obstruct developmental measures, so that development and culture co-exist in a dynamic and creative tension, with each informing and sometimes giving rise to new aspects of the other. Development, if it is to achieve its ends, may rupture a community’s culture or may align with the community’s culture more organically, subtly shifting values, beliefs and ideas towards modern and fact-based trends.
Movies for the sake of making movies is not the good we are seeking, for it is merely useful for the sake of something else’, the enlightenment and, therefore, the development of the citizenry. “In a world characterized by enormous chasms between rich and poor countries, by mass poverty and desperation emanating from misery and injustice, by enormous environmental problems we need to acknowledge and promote what was called the ‘cultural dimension of development’.” UN 1987
Mamma, I am cognizant of the fact that in Ghana, Ministers responsible for culture, are generally at the bottom of the political food chain, rather than ministers with real power. But in a world with terribly skewed economic, military and power relations; where resources and cheap labour from poor countries sustain the lives of the rich; where, far from changing the lives of the poor, culture and development, intercultural dialogue, cultural diplomacy and the like can be instruments that perpetuate structural inequity, our only hope is a Ministry of culture that has a vision and is aware of its responsibilities.
Because the following are facts of our situation: Of the 75 countries in the Medium Human Development category, 25 are African, while 22 of the 24 states in the Low Human Development category are African. Of the 50 countries ranked at the bottom in terms of human development indices such as literacy, education, life expectancy and quality of life, 39 are on the African continent. In 2010, no less than 17 African countries – nearly a third of those on the continent – celebrated 50 years of independence. Sadly, in many of those, life expectancy and the quality of life have deteriorated significantly over that time. We have work to do and we don’t have time for Trokosis, prayer healing camps (Mpaeboase) and witch camps.
I very much believe that our cultural disorientation to see anything African as backward is at the heart of our underdevelopment. I belief also that the film industry can play an important role in our emancipation by being in the forefront of our liberation from cultural and mental enslavement.
For mental bondage is invisible violence. Formal physical slavery has ended in Africa but mental slavery continues to this day. This slavery affects all of us and in some forms is worse than physical slavery alone. Because people under mental bondage become self-contained. Not only will they fail to challenge the beliefs and patterns of thought that control them, they will protect and defend these beliefs virtually with their last dying effort.
The question is, are we going to learn from Hollywood or copy blindly from them including the names of where they are cited and are we going to be used as instruments for our own underdevelopment through our own movies?
Why be a sunflower and turn towards the sun? I, myself, am the sun.” These were the words of a legend and pioneer, Ousmane Sembene.