Cultural Narration: Technology in the Media (A Case Study for Nollywood)

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Much of the sophistication in media technology like high definition cameras and production equipment deployed in mass media production or in movie making has largely helped to boost the quality of content out of the media and movie industries - most profound is the recorded progress of Nigeria’s indigenous movie industry, Nollywood. Within the context of globalization, Nollywood has gained opportunities to partner, compete favorably and cash out in close call with movies from Hollywood or Bollywood, just like in the recent adoption of Nollywood original film Lionheart on Americas movie streaming platform, Netflix. It can be said that the ‘Nigeria to the world’ concept is now nearing actualization. This much ground equally translates an increased audience across the globe and a chance to export our cultural values as best depicted in original Nollywood picture.

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While these achievements brought by technological advancements in media production is much welcome, the impact on the effective delivery of cultural narratives within the actual context of production – scripting in native Nigerian dialects, capturing original topographic settings, cultural costuming, make-up and hair styling, leaves much to concern. This is apparent from the fact that the exposure of Nigerian actors to the sophistication of modern green rooms or even the presence of an Arri Alexa on a production set changes the entire atmosphere of performance.

It is almost as if these actors are being programmed to use phonetic modifications of the distinct Nigerian native tone and adopt a totally foreign demeanor when capturing traditional settings– either by introducing modern features of hair styling and make-up or continental foods and other cultural or religious response to what should ideally be traditional instances. It can be argued that all of these responses represent the entirety of a performer’s comprehension of his native background or the dynamic set of conditions in modern society which has now influenced on the delivery of movie material. The crucial challenge that exists is that filmmakers are now responding to technological advancements, such that it supersedes the cultural demand to shape the consciousness of the global audience about Nigeria through accurate cultural representation in Nollywood original picture.

Despite the fast developing cosmopolitan status of Nigeria in accordance with these technological advancements, it is important to note that majority of the Nigerian population still reside in traditional societies that lay emphasis on traditional values, norms and practices in the education of her people. An actors’ role should therefore be to propagate and portray our cherished values rather than allow for the bastardization of culture through ample responses to technological advancements that now impact obstructive on the narrative of the Nigerian culture.

So far, the concerns for impressionism blames Nollywood for its depiction of Nigeria rather too negatively and replicating such narrations repeatedly up to a point that what is dismissed as humor [or fiction] for entertainment locally is exported as the global perception of Nigerian people. It is hard to miss the despicable and embarrassing manner in which Nigerians are depicted in Nollywood picture. Policemen are portrayed as unintelligent and unimaginative – even quite often exaggerated as murderers who connive with common criminals to orchestrate robbery, torture and rape. Businessmen are anything from dubious Igbo traders to fraudulent and unreliable CEOs, while mothers, grandmothers, step-mothers and mother-in-law’s never succeed at jobs, relationships or amass educational accomplishments but major with distinction in juju and are wicked, murderous, unrepentant witches. Nigerian men and women are almost never portrayed in Nollywood picture as compassionate or hardworking achievers neither is the very rich cultural tradition of the South or abundant mineral and natural resources in the North or creative genius of many Nigerian heroes ever converted to on-screen play for the exaltation of the Nations cultural heritage. Often, one wonders when Nollywood would capitalize on the richness of the Nigerian cultural narrative in scripting and directing original picture capable of attracting foreign investment and increased tourist activity thereby contributing in revenue to the nation’s development whilst communicating healthy narratives and positive representation globally. Let’s talk about some indigenous cultural narratives that potentially could sell out on the big screen like the Argungu fishing festival, an annual four-day festival in Kebbi state [North-West Nigeria] used in 1934 to mark the end of hostilities between the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom. The main purpose of this fishing festival is to foster unity and is marked by pomp and pageantry drawing huge national and international attention.

A metropolitan city in Eastern Nigeria, Onitsha - known for its river port and as an economic hub for commerce, industry, and education has a rich title conferment tradition called the Ozo, as one of the oldest and highest social institutions in Anambra State. It is a prestigious traditional Igbo title-taking event which has assumed an important position in the traditional inclination of the people of Onitsha and is typically organized with an abundance of yam, meat, wine and rich attire with adornments - all of which symbolizes hard work and prosperity in the Igbo culture.

Down south, the famous King ‘Jaja’ of the ancient kingdom of Opobo, Jubo Jubogha (1821–1891) leaves an untold tale of a merchant prince sold into slavery at about the age of twelve in Bonny Island, who would later return to become a successful businessman, founder and ruler of a province. The importance of this story lies in the history of freedom, resilience, political affluence and power in southern Nigeria.In addition to these and the rich traditional history of the formation of the Benin Kingdom and Calabar dynasty, one could mote that Nigeria is capable of starting her own Hollywood Marvel-type series either in animation or live-action portrayal of various traditional deities like Sango - the charming all-powerful king of the Oyo empire popularly referred to as the ‘god of thunder’ who accumulated wealth, power, and beautiful wives - Osun, Oya and Oba. There is also Amadioha - the Alusi god of thunder and lightning and then there is Ogun - the warrior and powerful spirit of metal work also known as the ‘god of iron’ and an innumerable list of other ancient deities in Nigerian folklore.

Much effort to develop writing and scripting of these movies to depict the true Nigerian cultural values have failed to advance in proportion to the dynamics of technology. It is imperative that Nigeria invests originality in its picture in order to feed healthy representations of its people as this poor communication has brought about much restriction to Nigerians in enjoying some benefit and privilege, particularly to roam freely across borders or establish profitable businesses outside the shores of the Nation without undergoing gruesome scrutiny and disregard for their integrity upon identifying as Nigerians.

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