The Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is becoming famous for its sexually explicit scenes.
Should The Gambia government start screening imported films before they enter the market? What’s On-Gambia contacted film producer, Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu to gauge his opinion on the issue.
Whats-On Gambia: Should Nigerian films with explicit sex scenes be banned or censored in The Gambia?
Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu:In The Gambia, we are witnessing how the morality topic is dominating our national discourse and overshadowing other relevant subjects of nation-building.
Recently, the Gambian National Assembly approved an anti-pornography bill. Now, the new trend of sexually explicit scenes in Nigerian films gives the supporters of this new anti-porn law the chance to prove themselves by checking those films that are entering The Gambia.
It will be unfair to penalize Gambian film-makers and allow the Nigerians to flood the Gambian market with their nude videos. I am yet to study the new law but I hope during my next Gambian visit, I will review it carefully to know how it could impact film-making in the country.
Is it possible for the government to influence the content of Nollywood films sold in The Gambia?
In my current engagement as a film scholar, I also analyse the roles of governments or the State in the film arts and industries. The draft national film policy document I prepared and submitted to the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) in Banjul clearly outlines the role of the government in the Gambian film industry.
Yes, the Gambia Government can do something about Nollywood content if the political will is there but since the Nollywood film-makers are given red carpet treatment in The Gambia with free money to dominate the domestic scenes, they could get away with their content. The Ghanaian, Nigerian, Kenyan, Sierra Leonean and Liberian authorities did something for their domestic markets against the “Nollywood invasion” first before allowing the Nigerian brothers and sisters in, within the spirits of African solidarity and cooperation.
It is very important to understand that Nollywood spent the last 20 years focusing more on the quick money and fame that the arts and culture. When the evangelical churches and Islamic “daawa” groups were throwing money on video productions for their mass religious propaganda, you saw Christian and Islamic themes dominating the Nigerian home videos that present African Spirituality as the evil witchcraft and the men or women with the Bible and the Quran as the saviours. A number of Nollywood film-makers and actors were queuing to take the money and enact the religious propaganda stories.
As the more artistic Ghanaian film-makers started introducing sex scenes in their films to satisfy the demands of a lucrative niche market, Nollywood is rushing in with sex content just to get a share of that market.
How do you think explicit sex scenes affect society?
It depends on where one is coming from. The morality police will always be schizophrenic and call for censor or outright ban.
Sex is part of the human nature and thus universal. No one can tell them that Gambians don’t engage in sex. The question is: how do we reproduce sexuality in our films within our socio-cultural sensitivities? Before rushing with harsh laws, fines and selective penalization, film industry practitioners need to be exposed to the local sexuality aesthetics. The “jeli-jeli” waist beads and the skimpy “bin-bins” are for example, part of our cultural and sexuality aesthetics. Packaging them in sensual film scenes cannot be considered pornographic or un-Gambian.
That said, every serious film industry has a structured adult entertainment segment. In the USA, we have the San Fernando Valley which is seen as the pornographic division of Hollywood producing countless sexually explicit content. In the European Arts house cinema theory, sex scenes are part of the aesthetics. Indian censor does not allow sexually explicit scenes but the Bollywood film-makers find a way around it by using too much water or wet scenes. You will hardly see nudity in the Mumbai segment of the Indian film industry but the female actors will be framed in a romantic way that stimulates sexual pleasure in the minds of the spectators.
Back to your question, there are more nasty things happening in our society that conscientious film-makers will never adapt to the screens. There were recent reports of men raping little kids in Gambia. No one can say that those perverts got their inspirations from sex scenes in films. There are ugly things taking place in our society independent of the sex scenes of the cinema. When Sharia was introduced in Northern Nigeria with a rush, many film-makers were censored but the morality police realized they were wasting their time since the people who were enforcing the laws have proven to be more morally bankrupt than the film-makers they have been trying to muzzle.
In my next Gambia trips, I will continue to work my two major films on gender based violence and President Jammeh's rule. Added to that, I will make a small sex movie to help set the standard for the adaptation of our traditional Gambian sexuality for film. So any brave person who wants to play a role in this taboo-rattling sex flick is free to get in touch. I am dead serious! My names are Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu. No manku manku, no haraba haraba!
Is it fair for the government to interfere in what people choose to watch in their own homes?
Well you have to ask those politicians or bureaucrats who try to usurp the roles of the morality police. The privacy of a human being is sacrosanct up to the grave.
Let us take the case of the censoring of internet cafés. The argument advanced was that, the government wanted to protect young people from consuming sexually explicit content from those cafés. But with the ubiquitous smart phones, under-age boys and girls can consume pornographic videos through the data service packages their mobile operators’ right from the centre of their bedrooms without going to the cyber cafés.
On the streets of The Gambia, you can find people covered from head to toe like ninjas or with wild bears like Taliban jihadist commanders but in the privacy of their homes they could be consuming obscene foreign media content that they would publicly condemn as immoral and sinful.
Anything more you want to add?
Allow me to express my sincere gratitude to the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) for doing its best in developing our national film industry in spite of its limited resources. Since I started engaging the NCAC in year 2012 for a common mission of building our domestic film industry, I can see encouragements and seriousness. The draft film policies and codes of ethics submitted were seriously studied.
The capacity building aspect is also happening in earnest. At the time of granting this interview, the NCAC is organizing the Motion Picture Arts Certificate (MPAC) training for local film talents at the tourism school in Kanifing. I would have attended it as a possible resource had I not suspended my Gambian visit due to the anti-Ebola precaution. However, one of resources persons of the MPAC training is the respected Senegalese film-maker Moussa Sense Absa who was my guest in Germany. If you check my Facebook albums, you will find our pictures together.
I hope to be in Gambia in 2015 to continue with the NCAC from where we stopped in building our film industry. The draft code of ethics will help guide film-makers in dealing with sex scenes in their films in accordance with the laws, traditions and religious sensitivities of The Gambia. Banning film-makers from framing sex scenes is counter-productive. Guiding and training them on how to do it responsibly, is the best option.
Thank you and the What’s On- Gambia team for asking be amount this sensitive topic. My doors are open. Whenever you have tough, crazy or controversial questions that you feel require my unconventional response, feel free to buzz me.
Keep it up.