African America’s Film Industry Should Look To Our Brethren In Nigeria

By William A. Foster, IV

I do not expect white media to create positive black (male) images. – Huey P. Newton

At the beginning of 2012 the release of a certain movie (remake) loosely based on historical facts created a civil war of sorts within African America. It had an all African American cast and African American director but was owned ultimately by a European American named George Lucas, net worth of $3.2 billion and creator of Star Wars franchise, and even more importantly distributed by an European American owned company that we all love to hate News Corp. (owners of Fox News). I’m sure Rupert Murdoch is thanking all of you who went out and supported the film as he can now pay Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly to stay on the air for a few more years. How many of our minds did that cross? African American supporters of the film drastically outnumbered the dissenters but most arguments in support were superficial much like measuring progress by the ability to sit at the front of the bus (instead of owning the bus company) or my favorite sign of progress African American athletes making millions (only 1 of the 92 major sports owners is African American meanwhile over 60% is African American labor). To succeed in capitalism you don’t need hard work or a lot of talent quiet as it’s kept. You need to understand two concepts and those are ownership and domination of as much of the economic food chain as possible. That is to say you need to be as close to a monopoly as legally allowed or that you can lobby to politicians to look a blind eye to. The monopoly can also be a certain Diaspora controlling the majority of an industry. An example would be the way Koreans have come to dominate the African American hair care industry. Apparently, according to many of us though you have to fight to sit at the front of the bus before you can think of owning the bus company. Imagine that.

As for Hollywood, every institution has a purpose. Every institution is owned and/or controlled by a certain Diaspora. Hollywood is an institution. Let me say again – Hollywood IS an European American institution. What is Hollywood’s purpose? Have you ever wondered why so many around the world want to come to America? Where do 60% of Hollywood’s profits come from? It comes from non-US markets. European America is “exporting” an image of paradise, its values, its idea of democrazy, and opportunity despite as we see in “America Builds an Aristrocracy”  that America is just as much an aristocracy as many other countries we claim to be anti-democratic and anti-opportunity. The social capital entertainment and movies generate make as Kanye said in his song All Falls Down “cause they make us hate our-self and love they wealth” makes many non-Americans desire for the perceived windfall of American opportunity and riches instead of staying and building up their country and its institutions. America benefits by ciphering some of the world’s best talent to become labor in its universities and businesses while maintaining a dominant European American ownership of these institutions. A domination that certainly seems to be crumbling to Asia and China more specifically but that isn’t to say they are falling far. A movie is of course more than just a story on a screen. Its shapes viewpoints and cultures. We know simplistically speaking it is why European American women have become the most desired women in the entire known world. Entertainment in general does this which is why we also see hip-hop’s presence abroad so impactful and now kids all over the world are break-dancing and have even become rappers themselves and yet African America owns and controls a marginal piece of hip-hop at best. Now, if you want to keep a people psychologically dependent and desiring to assimilate then you can’t give them strong images of themselves like stories of Black Wall Street and Harriet Tubman. Imagine that.

Nigeria has created Nollywood, which as of 2009 has become the 2nd largest film producer in the world behind Bollywood in India. Now while I personally could do without the knock-off Hollywood names they give themselves I can appreciate their desire to cultivate an industry of their own that represents them on the big screen and not waiting for Hollywood to do so. Even more so it provides counter social weight to the depiction of what it means to be a Nigerian and African which can be depicted and usually is in a negative light from Hollywood who has their own social idea of what Africa is. What is even more amazing is the number of African American actors going to Nollywood to star in films. The likes of Vivica Fox, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Tom Sizemore, Michael Madsen, and even Kimberly Elise. That is what you call true African Dispora social and economic capital circulation. Franco Sacchi, director of documentary This is Nollywood, states that it has created tens of thousands of jobs and the industry is expanding and that Nigerians have complete control of the cinematic medium. Imagine that.

We are so romanticized with the idea of ONE America sometimes I’m convinced we will forsake our own interest to advance this ideology despite the reality that no other group practices it. We are like a child playing on the playground that sees the rules of the game written down and realizes that nobody else is playing by them so we spend all of our time trying to get the other players to play by them – so much so that we always end up coming in last. Our inability or indifference in dreaming of a world where we are masters of our own fate for the sake of a “united” America despite the fact that all other groups have shown through policy and action no desire for this to truly happen and honestly why should or would they? Is it because it is the “right” thing to do? By whose definition are we using for right or for determining morality? These are things that simply vary too much from culture, gender, ancestry, and others to have some universal meaning. And while some will argue me down there can be an agreed upon definition – do me a favor and don’t hold your breath waiting on it to happen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I die (I might even get it etched on my tombstone) that no group of people in power in the history of mankind has ever voluntarily relinquished any of its power for the betterment of other groups. We get mad at groups who seek to protect their power and its self-interest ultimately because we refuse to do so. If we would spend more time doing the same we would have made real inroads to building up our institutional power as a people by now and not this as Malcolm said in jest “Progress is sitting next to white folks on a toilet” nonsense. Imagine that.

The answer is not magic. It’s simply pursuing vertical integration and ownership. This would give us a counterweight to the caricatures of how we are presented in Hollywood. As opposed to waiting on others having some moral awakening and treating us “fair”. I’ve heard the arguments well of course they have their own country in Nigeria so it’s possible. Is there something stopping us from building our own Nollywood in Atlanta? New York? Richmond? Is there not land we can buy and build? Control the medium as Mr. Sacchi stated from script to production to screen. Simply put there is no reason we can’t control the vertical integration of our movie industry from script to screen (even the vendors who serve the coffee and food on set). This would be true circulation of the African American talents and dollars. Pick any industry and repeat. Too often we are slaves to what is and don’t allow ourselves the freedom to imagine what could be. Yes, imagine that.


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