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Opinions of Friday, 9 April 2010

Columnist: Abdulai , Jemila

The Letter Writing Project: Sex Sells, But At What Cost?

Dear Ghanaian Movie Industry,

Initially, I was upset because you weren't exploring your depth of potential. But now, you've done the ultimate and unleashed untold anger upon yourself. And not just from me. By sashaying your hips into the “soft porn' industry,” many Ghanaians and Africans are fuming mad! There's even a Facebook group called Ghana Movie Industry, What's Going On? Enough Is Enough. What's that you say? Who am I to dare chastise you? Well, for one thing I'm a concerned Ghanaian who's tired of seeing your tasteless movie trailers. For another, I'm your consumer and even though I'm not a big fan of your products, I have sisters, a brother, family and friends who are exposed to your latest exploit. So it ends up being my business. And finally, I'm someone who really believes that Ghanaians have a lot to offer and consequently, deserve more than you're giving. Great, now that we're well-acquainted, let's get down to the nitty-gritty.


The Issue of Scarcity & Competition

Economically speaking, you're under intense pressure. I get that. There's only so much infrastructure and income dedicated to you and you're trying to ensure that you make the most of your scarce resources. In the past, it was much easier to get by. You didn't have to do too much. Just have a good-enough story line, a couple of "big names" on your lineup, maybe some tension here and there, and you'd be fine. Not anymore. That "annoying" Nollywood had to up the game on you and now you're scrambling to catch up. Add the globalization element with Hollywood and Bollywood strutting their stuff all over Africa, and you naa, you knew you had to switch it up fast in order to keep a captivated audience. Times are hard. You are caught on the precipice of a new era and you have to act quickly. Well, my dear one, let me tell you. You're falling. Really fast. And unless you snap out of your reverie and figure out a way to grow some wings, you're going to crash badly and take the whole Ghanaian society with you.


Your Prerogative: Sex Sells, But At What Cost?

While you worry about the financial and business aspects of your industry, please spare a moment to consider your prerogative in all of this. You - like other media agents - have a special calling and privilege: the ability to influence how society thinks. You have a huge stake in how Ghana is shaped today and in the future. So before you fall for the whole notion of "sex sells", think about "at what cost?" And here, I'm talking not only to the movie producers and the entire industry, but specifically to the actors and actresses that have become your ambassadors: Jackie Appiah, John Dumelo, Majid Michel, Nadia Buari, Lydia Forson, Yvonne Nelson, etc. I know I'm treading a fine line here by calling out names -- and please, feel free to pass this on to them as they need to hear this -- but you people have a great opportunity to make a huge difference in Ghana, and unfortunately, some of you are misusing it, or rather, not making the most of it. The problem with Ghana and other African societies is we think too much about the short term (our pockets) instead of the long term (our development).


The average Ghanaian: After a hard day at work or school, Ghanaians turn to you to get their minds off their sometimes harsh realities. They welcome you into their homes, their living rooms, the very confines of their bedrooms and ultimately, into their hearts and minds. What you transmit stays with them, and if they hang out with you long enough, you significantly change how they view life. Whether knowingly or unconsciously, young people look up to the people they see on T.V. and in movies. Why do you think there's such a celebrity craze in the U.S.? Actors and actresses essentially set the tone for a lot of things - fashion, which products to buy or use, what issues get prominence on debate platforms, etc- so if our “favorite” artistes are glorifying overt sex, make no mistake, others will follow suit (as is happening now).

Africa, the Diaspora, and the World: Ghanaians aren't the only ones who find you interesting. Many Africans and people in the Diaspora take advantage of what you offer as well. Ghana has always been a trailblazer on the African continent, and even if it's not apparent, a lot of countries look up to us. We're a “big sister” of sorts. And with any sibling dynamic, the younger ones like to emulate what the big sister does. Hopefully, other African movie industries will not tread down your questionable path. Instead, they will make a well-deserved mockery of you, as I believe, Nollywood has already started doing. And guess what? Eventually, when Ghana REALLY needs her African counterparts to listen to her on issues of importance like regional integration, trade and development, they will laugh in her face. After all, we would have sold ourselves really well on the “sex'” ticket. Now, if your African counterparts don't take you seriously, how do you expect Hollywood, Bollywood, and the rest of the world to pay you mind? Even “liberal” societies like the U.S. have a bias against the porn industry. Why do you think it's taking them so long to figure out whether or not to have an “xxx” site domain or not. Goodness, wake up already!


Striking A Balance: The Case of Sparrow Productions

In my opinion, everything changed when you birthed Sparrow Productions. The quality of your movies has improved drastically. With Life and Living It, Scorned, and Perfect Picture came better viewing quality, the use of Ghanaian soundtracks, focus on African wear, and better story lines. I believe A Sting in a Tale is your best by far, although I haven't seen Checkmate yet. It focused on so many important themes - unemployment and friendship for instance - and I think it's a pretty good depiction of Ghana today. It wasn't too heavy on the LAFAs (locally acquired foreign accents) either and it had a good element of humor. Shirley Frimpong is one heck of a producer, and with movies like Turning Point Pictures' I Sing of A Well, there's a lot of potential out there. Some of these movies do have intimate scenes. But guess what? They are tastefully done with their audience under consideration. If you want to secure a spot on the global movie platform, you're going to have to use what differentiates you from others -- putting a "Ghanaian" spin on things.

If nothing at all, Sparrow Productions has shaken up the competition. So much such that Frank Rajah Arase came out with Heart of Men. While Heart of Men had a good enough story line, they got one major thing "wrong": marketing. Deciding to go the “sex sells” route by putting a lot of focus on the movie's sex scenes helped build anticipation and ultimately made the movie a grand success in terms of viewership. But it also had a probably unintended effect: the current 'viral strain' of trailers which have eerie “soft porn” undertones. I say trailers because from what I hear, the movie itself wasn't as sex heavy as the trailer made it out to be. However, the damage has been done and with the movies you're currently outdooring - Kiss Me If You Can and 4Play for instance- I can only hope they are not as sex heavy as they appear to be. What happened to a suggestive look or a hand on a thigh being enough indication for a sex scene? Even if you want to get all hot and heavy, there's no need to “go all the way”! Whatever the case, one thing is certain: you have a lot to learn about being creative and striking a balance when it comes to how you present yourself and your movies.

? Let's Talk About Sex

Regardless of what anyone says, sex is an important element of human societies. To some degree, it's what keeps us in existence. Without the stork who delivers the bouncy babies, you and I - all of us - probably wouldn't be here. So yes, you're going to have to talk about "it" at one point or another. Whether in an awkward setting with your parents as they have "the talk" with you, or in bemusement as you listen to your friends detailing what they think they know about sexuality. Alternatively, you can have it tossed rudely in your face - like we're seeing today - as you watch what you expect to be an audience-worthy movie.

Point is, Ghana Movie Industry, I DO think you should cover the question of sex and sexuality. No doubt about that. However, I also think you need to think twice about how you're presenting these issues to the Ghanaian and global publics. It's one thing to try to encourage confidence in one's sexuality by talking about the inherent issues, and it's another thing to go the overt sex or “soft porn” route. One - the actual sex act- belongs in the private domain, while the other - sex education -is in the public domain. Education concerning sexual reproductive health and rights is just beginning to take root in many African societies and that's precisely because of the fabric of those societies. You need to keep that in mind the next time you decide on a detailed threesome or office tryst. And for heaven’s sake, keep the buttocks-showcase to a minimum. This whole soft-porn business might not be too bad for the male actors, but with the double-standard society we live in, I can only imagine the havoc it's wrecking on the females' reputations. That statement might sound sexist, but it's the truth. And worst of all, with this focus on sex, less attention is going to be paid to talent, as some have already pointed out.

? Flippin' the Script: Forget Porn, Welcome a New Dawn! While you might think you're capitalizing on a niche in the movie industry - because at the end of the day it’s about competition - the American porn industry already beat you to the punch and there's no way you can compete there. So instead, I'd suggest you use your scarce resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. Now, after my ramblings and criticism, here are some suggestions for themes that can be covered in your movies, other than sex, sex and more sex.

Ghanaian culture: Use what you've got. Ghanaian culture is so rich and diverse; you could come up with endless scripts on that alone. How about a film that focuses on the different wedding traditions across Ghana and even the tensions that exist concerning marrying between ethnic groups? You might say that that's already been done, but in this day and age of globalization there are interesting new dynamics going on there. African relations: We've seen the movies about Ghanaians traveling to Europe and the U.S., can we have some about Ghanaians moving around the continent? And I don't mean Nigeria, the Ghana-Nigeria collaborations pretty much have that covered. Apparently a lot of Ghanaians go to South Africa. And what about something with our immediate neighbors Cote d'Ivoire, Togo and Burkina Faso? You’ll not only be doing something different, but also increasing your viewership across the continent.

High School & University: High school in Ghana has a lot to offer that is yet to be covered by the movie industry. What about a focus on the way Ghanaians are taught to study - chew and pour - and how that impacts us in the long run with regards to taking initiative and being entrepreneurial? Or even a dramatic comedy about “surviving” high school?

Amazing Ghanaians & Africans: For heaven’s sake, when are we going to see a movie about Kwame Nkrumah? Or are we waiting for Hollywood to do that one for us? What about all those successful Ghanaians and Africans? We need to inspire ourselves!

Development Issues: If we did movies that really highlighted the socio-economic situations in Ghana - as opposed to the current showcase of primarily rich Ghanaians - we would not only gain a better understanding of the issues ourselves, but would also draw better understanding in global circles.

Alors voila, those are just a couple of suggestions. The movie industry might not be the richest in Ghana, but if a group of independent film makers with an even more constrained budget was able to pull off something as amazing as Bronx Princess, you guys have no excuse. So, let's flip the script and start making some real movies! Lights, Camera, and Action!


P.S.: You'll notice that I didn't really link to any of the 'questionable' trailers. Yes, they are THAT bad and I for one don't think it necessary to promote the likes of such. Go figure.


This article was written by Jemila Abdulai and was initially published on the web site Circumspect –