Third cinema and national transformation

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Nigerian musician and composer Fela Anikulapo Kuti performs on September 13, 1986 at the “Party of Humankind” of the French Communist Party at La Courneuve in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

When it comes to revolution and the arts, there has been no other in Nigeria like Fela Kuti.

His persona and music addressed the state of the nation making powerful people uncomfortable – leading to threats, raids, arrests and even the death of his mother at the hands of the men sent by the state.

With songs like; ITT, Army Arrangement, Suffer Head, his music was meant to awaken the everyman at the lowest levels of income and education and spark a paradigm shift.

While Cinema is about entertainment and commerce in some countries, in others it was a tool of communication and a weapon to fight oppression.

In Latin America where many nations experienced oppression from Neo Colonial policies, Third Cinema was the answer.

It was seen as the voice of the people, the repressed who saw their country being colonized and their culture being eroded by Western ideas and practices.

The founders saw their culture, land, economy, and business being stolen by European and North American culture and they realized a revolution was required.

The manifesto, “Towards a Third Cinema” was formulated by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino and it was a protest against colonialism, capitalism and Hollywood through the medium of film.

Third Cinema sought to expose the process by which oppression occurs and to criticize those responsible for social inequality in a country or community.

The mission was to: raise political consciousness in the viewer/spectator, expose historical, social, political and/or economic policies that have led to exploitive conditions for the nation, engage spectators in reflection which will inspire them to take revolutionary action and improve their conditions, create films that express the experiences of the masses of a particular region and to produce and distribute films that are uncensored by oppressive entities

The influence of Third Cinema would reach Africans who identified with the struggle against cultural and political oppression.

One notable early film, The Battle Of Algiers, was one of the most influential political films in history.

It re-created life in Algeria in 1965, full of bombings, assassinations and police torture (sound familiar?). It’s said that it was so effective that the Black Panthers in the US used it as a training video.

Senegalese film Legend, Ousamane Sembene at age 81 made Moolaade (2004) to address the cultural practice of female genital mutilation in showing how four young girls flee their own ceremony and take shelter with an older woman.

Moolaade won first place in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes but, with exception of Morocco, it was never screened anywhere in Africa.

Roger Eber rated it 5 stars, saying “Moolaade is the kind of film that can only be made by a director whose heart is in harmony with his mind. It is a film of politics and anger, and also a film of beauty, humour, and a deep affection for human nature.”

In a country like Nigeria, where Murphy’s Law seemed to have taken residence, Nollywood is the one thing which influences people the most outside of religion.

Yet, it is a First Cinema industry – the Hollywood production model that promulgates bourgeois values to a passive audience through escapist spectacle and individual characters.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with that (Viva Capitalism!) that power should also be used to influence, educate, and instigate a lot of the changes we as a nation have been crying about since the Jurassic age.

The populace can be shown what those they elected or worship as their leaders have done to keep the nation stagnant, one wrapped in a culture of corruption where a public servant without an asset to their name can come out of public service eight years later with the net worth of a Forbes 100 CEO.

Yet, there are no consequences, no audit from tax authorities to make him account for the astronomical increase; the cycle continues.

It’s become a broken record at this point, “Nigerians love to laugh. So why not plug into that?”

These situations are ripe for black comedy, satire and allegory if the full adoption of Third Cinema is not possible.

A Man of the People, The Trials of Brother Jero and so many others are ripe for adaptation to the silver screen.

Films can lead to taking action, massive changes, if not of the situation but in our paradigm and deal a crushing blow to the audacious nature of how we are taken for granted.

While not Third Cinema, Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia (1993) changed the way the general public saw the AIDS epidemic, humanizing it cinematically, something research papers and newspaper reports can’t achieve.

Industries stay self-sufficient through First Cinema, but nations, ideologies and paradigms shift through Third Cinema.

While third cinema will never happen on a mass scale in Nollywood, because, well, capitalism, however, if just one out of every 30 Nigerian filmmakers can achieve the cinematic equivalent of what Fela did – the message, the impact, and the resonance – there is a real possibility of film changing Nigeria as a country on a fundamental level.