Where Do We Go Wrong in The Filming Industry?

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As I was eating the last bit of my mutura piece in my joint the other day, a group of young men and women well past their mid-twenties passed by en-route to what I supposed was to be a lit night. I felt pity and sad though, not for how their night was going to look like but for hearing how dedicated and knowledgeable they seemed on foreign films and their characters. As astonishing to my understanding as it might be, they were not wrong on that since it’s not their fault we live in a world where Hollywood runs the show. I heard them arguing between themselves on who was more powerful, superstitious, strong and intelligent in a series that seems they had watched from its 1st episode. A lot of thoughts and questions piled in me as to why with all we have as Africans from our cultures, heroes, authors with great books, kingdoms, wildlife, beautiful sceneries, politics and a fun base, we still fumble in all we do and especially the filming industry. An industry that has seen great leaps since the invention of the motion picture machine to now that almost each and every one of us has a smartphone in their pockets, and prides of it being a multi-billion dollar employer of among the most top paid acts in the world. What don't we do right?

I wonder what wrong our heroes do that we forget their impacts to the society only to read them academically if privileged. To the international world less is known about us and a lot of it is actually a misconception yet when they step in Africa, an award winning film gets produced that has all the marks of quality and the only credit we get is that of it being shot in Africa.

Dating from the evolution of man, we have been able to progress by learning and documenting things and experiences by use of different methods in order for us to understand better our environment and also to pass messages from generation to generation at ease. From drawing in caves, then the oral word of mouth to today’s digital world where selfies are the [email protected]*t, it would be hard to imagine a world where a simple act of being able to document anything was impossible. This ability alone has seen us progress from such things as having to sit around a fire in the evening for an adventure story with grandma, to a movie night out with friends or spouses in our favourite 3D Imax theatres. From here to the comforts of our LED screens, we can watch film adaptations of the passion of Christ, the German mythologies of Thor, Captain America, The Avengers, the various historical events like the rise and fall of the Ottoman empire, 300, Narcos, to the Luo mythology of Luanda Magere and my favourite series – The Mau Mau chronicles?

In reality, we have not many, if at all there are, characters in the film world that represents our rich African culture. Not that we lack such characters per se or the creative juices necessary to create them but because we seem relaxed and content with adopting other peoples cultures and talents while neglecting our very own, the very fabric of who we are - our authentic selves, an inferiority complex of the highest order.

Let us take a look at our authors for example. Most of us have read books of some of our prolific writers that we as a continent acknowledge. Some are mentors to many yet none of their efforts is put into filming production for the world, which would see us propel ourselves to greater heights and earn the respect we deserve. For example, we have Prof. Ngugi Wa Thiongo who has written a number of books that make me know him as one of the greatest writers around.

In his book – Caitani Mutharabaini (Devil on the cross), there are characters he portrays before and after colonialism on how leaders and their chain of helpers manipulate governing systems for their own interests. They become mysterious, unethical and immoral hence sparking worries, uncertainties and suffering for generations. If Terry Goodkinds book - The Sword of Truth - can be transformed to the series - Legend of the Seeker, then I wonder why Ngugi’s literal works cannot inspire us to a point where movies are created based on such characters and storylines.

Timothy Wangusa, a prolific Ugandan author whose books have been used for years as literature set books is also another in the sea of African writers. I find a mythical and fictitious storyline in his book 'Upon this Mountain', where Mwambu son of Masaba as the main character believed that reaching Mt. Elgon’s highest peak (Wagagai) meant touching heaven hence marking the end of the world. Imagine that! This alone together with the wisdom bits that are contained in that book can be crafted to fit a film and produced to the international standards that we all approve of. Why not?

Ken Walibora, a famed broadcaster cum author and currently an Assistant Professor of African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, USA, is also an author known to many especially those that have had the chance to sit in a Kenyan high school fasihi (literature) class as his books have been among the many set books that students have had to read, such as his book - Kufa Kuzikana. He reflects on communal tensions and clashes caused by ignorance, selfishness and greed by our leaders and the privileged that results to hatred among the communities breeding an unstable country that ends up with ethnic cleansings' and killings. In the midst of all these hardships, friendships are made between Akida and Tim that defy the odds and see a new hope for a bleeding country. The events described in this book, though fictional, depict the current state of many of our countries and, as ironical as it might be, are the same events that affected Kenya during the 2007-2008 post-election violence, only a year after the book was first published; an artist’s true reflection of a society.

On the other hand, we have had a fair share of our community elders and heroes/heroines that, through their commission or omission, have shaped us into who we are today as Africans. Case in point, we have Wangu Wa Makeri and Snr. Chief Odera Okang’o.

Born in 1856, Wangu graces as the first female headman of the Agikiyu community during the colonial era at a time that the post was only a men only affair. She became so authoritarian in a way that saw tax evaders become seats and transport whenever she needed to frequent her territory. She was morally concupiscence that at a point she resigned from leadership amid a cloud of controversy, for having graced an event of the Kibata dance practiced while naked, another first in the male only warrior dance. She was later replaced by Ikai Wa Gathimba who later was replaced by Wangu’s son - Muchiri - as the headman; our very own Game of Thrones, sort of.

Among many others in the region that rival Wangu are Mali ya Mungu - The Ugandan soldier under Iddi Amin that terrorized the mass, Nyungu ya mawe - Mtawala Wa Kinyamwezi (the king of the Nyamwezi kingdom, then in Tanzania) and Sekidu Semei Kakungulu - The then British collaborator prince from the Buganda Kingdom of Uganda, who left for Eastern Uganda only to settle on the Kakungulu hill in Mbale municipality. To his death he left the region green having planted mahogany and mango trees along the roads.

Odera Oka'ngo, a former Chief and an elder from the Luo community in Kenya is believed to have adopted the European formal education by 1915. He is believed to have loved farming that saw him make friendships with some of the wealthiest people of the time like the King of Buganda. He spearheaded a compulsory primary and secondary education and saw that children and youths and parents alike that ignored formal education were caned as a way of sensitizing its value, creating a culture of well educated individuals that has seen the community stand out in terms education. As to why we don’t make it a habit of promoting ourselves to a point of forgetting such great people that have impacted us to who we are today, is an answer I’m yet to learn.

In conclusion, I really wish that we can all work together to realize a better Africa where we tell our stories, with originality to the core, just like the way our grandparents did, in a way that will make sure that even with all the changes brought about by the technological advancement's and globalization, we preserve our culture so that we can always learn from the past mistakes and improve on those that befits us. Then maybe, I will live to see an Africa where her children will be discussing about her heroes in total awe, as they do to the Hollywood heroes. I mean, who would not want to live in a culturally upright and technologically powerful Wakanda, anyone?

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