Monday, 3 May 2010

Welcome To Lagos

Welcome to Lagos from Oo Nwoye on Vimeo.

Welcome to Lagos is a three part documentary that was aired on BBC2 quite recently in the UK. It follows the lives of several slum dwellers in this Nigerian megacity and shows how resilience and resourcefulness are key to survival in the slums. Admittedly, when I first read the series byline on iPlayer I was put off and thought 'here we go again: let's glamorize these piss poor Africans', but I recently saw a piece in The Guardian in which Wole Soyinka is reported as being highly critical of the show. Soyinka argues that the show reinforces colonialist stereotypes of Nigerians which in the 21st century show the people to be primitive and extremely impoverished. This criticism prompted me to watch all three shows this morning but primarily because the dreamwell had run dry at about 5 a.m and sleep could not be summoned back.

I co-sign with Soyinka to an extent, but I also appreciate the docu for what it reinforced about the power of community, faith and culture. Significantly, the indomitable survival spirit of the Lagos slum dwellers is an observable truth that resonates in the narratives of poor people all over the planet. The docu also made a very salient point about the crucial importance telling one's own stories. Nigerian writers, Chris Abani and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie both convincingly argue that there is not one story that is truth, but many stories and stories that must be told by their owner. Given that Nigeria and its Diaspora has established media streams like BEN TV and Nollywood so why is there a continued dominance of others telling the stories of Nigerians? I find it hard, if not false to believe that there are no upcoming Nigerian documentary filmmakers (post Akin Omotoso's generation) interested in these sorts of social issues, and I find it even harder to believe that these narratives would be of no interest and/or are un-marketable to BEN TV or Nollywood. I hope I am very wrong about that.

What I found patronising about the show is voice of the narrator, David Harewood. His script and his happy-go-lucky tone are ever-so condescending and it grated on me throughout each episode! Another criticism I would make is that it felt suffocating seeing Lagos through slum eyes, like there was nothing else to the city - yes I know watching this film 3 hours straight can be a li'l 1xtra - but because there are so few documentaries on present-day Nigeria, it would have been nice to see other parts of it.
This Is Africa drops this gem of truth:
If the only documentaries about the UK seen by the world's TV viewing audience were about poverty and teen pregnancies in places like Salford, or about the country's prison population, or about football hooligans and the far-right doing Nazi salutes, I don't think the UK government would be particularly thrilled. So it is understandable that Nigeria's federal government has lodged a formal complaint against the BBC for portraying Lagos as a slum. 
Co-sign 100!

Continuous, singular narrativization of a nation as diverse and as dynamic as Nigeria, however well-meaning, is not accurate representation; potraying poverty through different lenses is still poverty porn and this has got to change. In the politrix of representation, more native playas need to step-up and assume the role of storyteller, not character and dominate these MSM platforms. I'd like to see how if presented with the opportunity Soyinka, having been involved in several documentary projects, might alternatively represent the slums of Lagos, places home to +-7 million of the city's 11 million and growing.

Best of all iLoooved the soundtrack. A few choons here n there coulda been missed, but there is some excellent Naija music out there, oh! Some of the characters and the poverty situation, I could relate to with my own country, but those gory slaughterings - JAAAH! That was much too much for me. At times some of the scenes felt invasive and glamorised these abject conditions - almost naked Black bodies bathing in a scrapyard mmm poverty porn, much? One blogger, Bunmi Olurontoba has accurately described this sort of film trend as slumsploitation, of the Slumdog Millionaire type, and unlike him, I certainly wouldn't include City of God or The Wire on that list.
But, I digress. I also wondered about the impact of all that activity on the enviroment especially episodes 2 and 3, the narrator never addressed that nor did any of the people.
I'm not pushing for a follow-up series, well maybe without David Harewood's voice, but I'd be interested to know what happened to each of the main speakers. Finally I'd like to know how the Beeb will respond to the Nigerian government's complaint...

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