BY NKIRU NJOKU
You know, this business of film and TV is the only thing I do for a living. I do not bring back shoes and bags for sale whenever I go abroad. I do not have a company that pursues and executes government contracts in Abuja. And painfully, I do not have any trust fund waiting to be accessed by me upon turning forty.
This that I do is all that I do. And I have as evidence of my hustle, my screen credits, some savings in the bank to purchase black-market petrol and diesel with, a bad back, and at least seven million hours in sleep arrears.
So there I was a few weeks ago, seated in my own life, trying to change my own narrative by figuring out how to make the ‘business’ part of ‘show-business’ work for me, when the (in)famous MOPICON ‘bill’ showed up and slapped me like I was an itchy butt and it is was my impatient owner. This made me so angry that I almost started considering a career-change. Okay, that’s a lie. TV/Film is what I live and breathe and I would have it no other way, but to say that I am frustrated by this proposed bill, is to grossly downplay what I currently feel.
The MOPICON document has left an ugly print on the portion of my skin where it slapped me. I am still in pain as I unashamedly personalize the matter, and consider what it means for me as an individual – a filmmaker. To do that, I’ll quickly pick on the most troubling aspects of it, which will directly affect what I will be ‘allowed’ to put out there in terms of creative content.
‘They’ say practitioners need to have filmmaking degrees/certificates, before they can be filmmakers? Do these people know that filmmaking is an expression? An art that can be presented in all sorts of ways, and interpreted in all sorts of ways by all sorts of people? Do they know that filmmaking is not Medicine or Law or Architecture?
‘They’ say that one of the things we are mandated to do as filmmakers, under this bill, is to “motivate the people by propagating ideas which promote national pride, solidarity, and consciousness.”
How about if I want to tell a story that will make people uncomfortable and force them to consider an alternative point of view even if they will not accept it? What if my story will strip us bare, push us in front of a mirror and cause us to look at our imperfections, which may bring us shame? This is a promotion of social-consciousness, but I am not sure it is in alignment with the earlier part of the above mandate, which sounds like it would prefer that we make warm and fuzzy movies from sun-up to sun-down. These movies definitely have their uses, but will we then be doomed to ‘feel-good’ movies for the rest of our lives? There’s got to be space for people who don’t want to tell stories that make us smile and nod in patronising patriotism, for instance.
Then there is this really unclear bit where the bill says amongst other things, that “complaints against practitioners may emanate from what is perceived to be offensive or an unacceptable project”. And people have asked, “who determines what is unacceptable”? The question has now become somewhat hackneyed in fact, as expected. But truth does not stop being truth because it is clichéd.
So, indeed, WHO DETERMINES WHAT IS UNACCEPTABLE OR OFFENSIVE? Even in the case of gratuitous displays, individual tastes will still come out to play. Therefore, for a council such as that which MOPICON seeks to be, how do we arrive at a decision regarding offensive content?
Besides, does it occur to the creators and propagators of that document, that stuffing unrealistic regulations down the throats of filmmakers is ultimately dictating what the audience will watch? Where do they think this is – North Korea?
Moving on, do you also know that if like me you wear more than one creative cloak, you can only be a proper member of one guild and an associate member of another? Now let us spend a few seconds considering the matter of ‘guilds’. Many years ago, an older friend and industry-colleague playfully assured me that I would never get paid for a script if I didn’t belong to the guild of writers. Now, run the fast-forward button across the last decade of my writing career and well – El Oh El!
Still, I will not throw mud at the guilds because I have never been a member of any and so cannot speak for or against whatever it is they do for their members. However, I’m just quite stunned at the fact that I might now have to join one (make that three!) UNDER COMPULSION. Otherwise I will not be able to write, direct, or produce a film? What happened to independence? This reminds me of primary school. Why do we all have to belong to a ‘society’? I remember being a reluctant Brownie who eventually flitted over to the Red Cross – the only group that eventually made sense to me. But this is not primary school. I do not have to be a member of a ‘group’. If such a guild has good intentions which can translate into benefits for its members, beautiful! But give me choice, sir, madam. Abeg! Even in university, no be by force to ‘blend confra’!
Many of us came into the industry with nothing but talent, determination, and grit. We came from the same familiar place where our families worried about us, thinking that we were mad and surely afflicted by curses from warring family members. We studied university courses that had zero to do with film. But we loved to write, to look at everything through lenses, to orchestrate or be involved in the orchestration of drama. And so we dared to dream. Ask your filmmaker friends. How many of them have gone to film school? Yes, it is becoming a fad and a not a bad one too for those who can afford the time and money. But a lot of us are doing it after the fact, so to speak, because we want to better our craft – and this is a matter of choice, just as it should be.
And what about the ones coming on our heels? How many of them can afford to go to film school? Should they be punished for arming themselves with no more than we did – untapped skill and burning ideas? The same things which our forebears came at the business of filmmaking with? I don’t understand this whole thing, I swear down. Abi what better way is there to learn than by ones own trials and failures or perhaps even early successes?
I’m all for regulating how business is done in the industry as long as such regulations will translate to the strengthening of existing guilds, victory over piracy (if that will ever happen!), and a generally friendlier atmosphere for the filmmaker where she does not have to break the bank to access funding, filming resources, permits, and whatnot, etc., and this is all even pretty basic.
Now, I have heard that the document in circulation is an old document, which we really should not pay frenzied attention to. Fair enough. I have also heard that reviews will be done of whatever is the true ‘current’ document and so we must not let ourselves lose sleep over milk that is yet un-spilled. I’m happy to ‘wait and see’. But make no mistake about it – this is a mess. I will however go about my business whilst the thing is being reviewed. I will not let it steal my sleep. But I will never be deceived into thinking that the existing document is anything but a bad guy. The proposed MOPICON bill as it stands, has no business in 2016 Nigeria and we will continue to say ‘No’ to it. Simple. Otherwise, where will we draw the line?
Today it is artistic expression. Tomorrow they might want to regulate breathing while they’re at it. And thought functions. And how many times people have sex in every twenty-four hours.
By the way, for the sake of mischief – did you ever watch Transformers? Does MOPICON not sound like it could be a Decepticon? For the uninitiated, here’s something I got for you, off www.tfwiki.net. Enjoy!
“Decepticon (di-sep-ti-con) A member of a subversive sect or society. From the noun — ‘deception’; one who deceives.
— The New Cybertronic Dictograph
The Decepticons are one of the primary factions in the Transformers mythos. They are typically concerned with such things as conquering Cybertron, defeating the Autobots, amassing large quantities of energon, developing powerful weaponry, and beating people up. Not necessarily in that order.
Unlike the Autobots, whose leader is a Prime bearing a Matrix, the Decepticons are led by the most powerful of their ranks. This tends to cause some conflict, given how generally every Decepticon thinks that they’re the most powerful. Also, the Decepticons are not exactly the most compassionate beings in the universe, but not all fight for greed.
More than a few have a sense of honor, while others believe that Cybertron would be better protected by aggressive expansion.
Ultimately, the Decepticons desire to protect their homeworld, even if it is at the expense of others. Usually.
“ The Decepticons are a malevolent race of robot warriors, brutal and merciless. The Decepticons are led by a single undeviating goal: total domination of the universe.”
— Narrator, Secret Files of Teletraan II ”
Shall I go on?