The Cultural Hybridity of Nollywood

I’m sure that anyone who is has access to the technology required to read this post would be quite familiar with the U.S. film industry of Hollywood (if you weren’t, I would be seriously surprised). Yet it’s unlikely that the average reader will know off, or even have heard of the Nigerian film industry, known informally as Nollywood. Nollywood itself is an intriguing example of cultural hybridisation.


Nollywood

In 2006 the Nigerian film industry overtook the U.S. in regards to film output numbers, making it the world’s second largest film industry, surpassed only by the Indian film industry, Bollywood. Each one of the 872 films produced that year were released direct-to-video, rather than the cinematic format favoured by Hollywood, direct-to-video format still remains Nollywood’s dominant format – with small-scale screenings being quite popular. Nollywood films are known for their comparatively low production quality – closer to an American serial drama, rather than a movie – which can be attributed to the comparatively low budgets.

While it’s not uncommon for a Hollywood film’s budget to exceed US$100 million, as of 2014, Nigeria’s most expensive movie, Half of a Yellow Sun‘s budget was approximately only US$8 million. These low budgets also prevent Nigerian film makers from accessing newer technologies (e.g. CGI) and newer device models (e.g. cameras), though as technology advances older models become more affordable for Nigerian filmmakers due to price devaluation.

Half of a Yellow Sun film trailer


Nolywood’s Cultural Hybridisation

The plots, settings, and characters of Hollywood and Bollywood films are reflections of American and Indian cultures (respectively), and thus generally made for audiences of similar cultures. Nollywood films are reflections of their creator’s distinctly Nigerian culture. They are Nigerian films made for a Nigerian audience.

Rather than following the thematic conventions of the American films that dominate the international market, Nollywood films focus on themes that are “broad and mirror Nigerian society” (Alamu, O., 2010, pg 166) such as “infidelity, treachery, lust, hypocrisy, armed robbery, marital problems, murder, cultism and occultism, witchcraft, polygamy and so on.” (pg 166) They look into both quintessential issues, such as family relationships, and more contemporary Nigerian societal issues, such as “HIV and AIDS, cultism and ritual killing, armed robbery and […] kidnapping” (pg 167).

This focus on issues and themes relevant to the local Nigerian population has also allowed Nollywood to gain popularity and appeal in other African nations, such as Ghana and Botswana (Onuzulike, U., 2007), due to cultural proximity. However, there has also been some backlash to this popularity.
In this sense, Nigerian film producers have taken the film and drama format popularised by the United States, and incorporated aspects of their own cultures in order to make something new and distinctly their own.


Ultimately, while Nollywood film’s are not as well known, or possess as high production value and quality as the films of other nations, Nigerian filmmakers have managed to adapt the film format to fit within their own socioeconomic difficulties and unique social and cultural worlds.

 

Some extra reading on Nollywood can be found here.

International Students and Cosmopolitanism

In June 2017 Australia was host to a bit over half a million international students, according to the DET, with 49% of these students being enrolled in higher education course. These international students have the potential makings of cosmopolitan citizens, however difficulties within host nations have meant that, as Simon Marginson put it, “international education [has not been] the rich multicultural experience it could be”[1].


Cosmopolitanism

Cosmopolitanism is the ideological belief all humanity is united in a shared sense of morality and global citizenship. Attributes of the cosmopolite include:

  • A sense of responsibility to humanity in general
  • Valuing and acceptance of diversity and differences
  • A willingness and openness to being changed
  • An engagement and understanding of global injustices and the politics that shape them

In the age of rapid globalisation wherein the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, so too are the attributes of the cosmopolite becoming increasingly relevant. Those who go out of their way to learn within differing cultures (i.e. international students) are naturally, key candidates in adopting the multicultural worldviews of the cosmopolite.


Value in International Students

International students will have wilfully made the decision to (temporarily) displace themselves from near everything they’re familiar with – language, culture, place, family and friends – so it stands to reason that they possess admirable levels of perseverance and fortitude for being able to make these decisions. Living within a different culture will also enable these students to develop the general attributes and ability to work within various cultures around the world; or as Marginson put it, to become cultural negotiators by attaining the cultural competency characteristics of multiplicity and hybridity.


Difficulties for International Students

Naturally, this disturbance of day to day life that international students experience is not without its difficulties. From exploitation, to being forced to pay full transport fees (rather than concession fares), and general feelings of loneliness and cultural isolation, international students face a multitude of unique difficulties.

This loneliness experienced by international students is exacerbated by local students’ general apathy in interacting with them, possibly due to already having established social networks.

Most international students want closer interaction with local students and are prepared to take risks to achieve this […] most local students are not interested.” [1]

However, the most alarming difficulty experienced by international students is the discrimination they face. In 2005, The Age reported that at least 50% of international students in Australia experienced discrimination. In 2012 it was found that many international student employed in cleaning positions were paid well below the minimum wage. And there are countless other stories around the world. Rather than international students learning, interacting, and developing their cross cultural skills with domestic students (and vice versa), students are left feeling frustrated, alienated, and not receiving the cosmopolite and “rich multicultural experience” they could be.


If capable and willing students, both international and domestic, are unable to develop their cross- and multicultural understandings and negotiation abilities, due to discriminatory barriers, how can we prepare them for the cosmopolitan future that globalisation demands?

 

 

[1] – Marginson, Simon 2012, ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’

Globalization: What is Cultural Imperialism?

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The world is increasingly interconnected (src)

 

Through the effects of globalization, global trade, economies, and governments are becoming increasingly interconnected, and our ability to communicate globally and internationally has advanced. Thanks to the internet and the spread of international media, vastly different cultures are able to interact with each other with increasing ease. At the risk of sounding cliché, our world is shrinking.

Alongside this increased cultural interactivity and global media consumption, have arisen the concepts of cultural homogenization, and cultural imperialism.


Cultural Homogenization

Suggests that when differing cultures interact, they begin to adopt aspects from each other, slowly losing cultural differences and diversity. Under this theory, the interacting cultures of the world will eventually synthesize into a singular global culture.


Cultural Imperialism

Goes one step further to suggest that this global culture will not arise from equal blending of cultures, but rather a global adoption of Western (particularly U.S.A.) traditions and values. The global spread and popularity of both Western media, and corporations such as McDonalds are both seen as agents in furthering this cultural imperialism, or Americanization.

Film

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Top 10 grossing films worldwide, last 10 years (src)

Every year, for at least the last 10 years, the top 10 worldwide grossing films have come out of U.S. film studios. Films, like any medium, inevitably reflect the cultural background and ideologies of the creator. This suggests that non-Western cultures receive immense exposure to portrayals of American culture, and potentially prompting them to aspire for the glamorized ‘American way of life’ portrayed in these movies. For example, the popularity of double eyelid cosmetic surgery in East Asian nations is seen as an attempt to emulate Western beauty standards (though there are those who dispute this).

McDonalds

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McDonald’s Advertisment

On their official website, McDonald’s has a list of the 101 nations with at least one of their restaurants; meaning that you can eat at the Golden Arches in 49% (of 206) recognized sovereign states. From this global promotion and selling of American fast food arises the notion that traditional local diets are, to some degree, being abandoned in favour of a (usually cheaper) Western style diet. In this sense, the spread of McDonald’s – as well as other Western multinational corporations – become agents of cultural homogenization and imperialism.


Is This Really an Issue?

While it would be easy to condemn institutions like Hollywood and McDonald’s for Americanizing international cultures, the truth is… not so simple.
These institutes tend to change their products to appeal to the cultural values of their target audiences. If McDonald’s was to sell its largely beef based menu in India, where consuming beef is religiously taboo, it would be a pretty poor business model. In fact, to accommodate this cultural difference, the Indian menu has no beef products, and includes localized items such as the Chicken Maharaja Mac, and vegetarian burgers. In fact, a plethora of other unique menu items can be found around the globe.

If such agents of cultural imperialism are going out of their way to localize their products, how concerned (or unconcerned) should we be of global Americanization? While arguments can be made on both sides, I lean towards the idea of cultures taking in aspects of other cultures and making them their own, rather than simply adopting them and losing part of their own cultures.