'Give Me One Word That Describes Africa!'- Firdoze Bulbilia in Filmtalk.
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
Efefiong: Welcome to from FilmTack on FilmLab Nigeria, We Entertainment Productions. My name is Efefiong Akpan. My Filmtalk guest today is a South African-Indian (I learnt that yesterday), who has become a Nigerian. Because she's been visiting: coming and going. I believe she's tasted Nigerian food. Yeah, she's indeed also a global citizen, an activist, creative artist, producer, director, educator, mediator, trainer, writer and a mother.
You shouldn't expect any less from a woman, whose mindfulness about children, human, and gender rights speak louder wherever that filmmaking essence takes her across our world.
Therefore, as Chairperson at CHILDREN & BROADCASTING FOUNDATION FOR AFRICA (CBFA), Managing Director at MOMENTS ENTERTAINMENT, Former President (title) at CIFEJ- International Centre of Films for Children and Young People; who studied Art and design school at University of Johannesburg; Speech & Drama (Trinity College, London) at Transvaal College of Education; also qualified with Masters African Studies from Ohio University following BA Dramatic Arts (Honors) at Wits, South Africa; she's going to guide us through her understanding of media impact for pro-social children, especially in Africa; really given her exceptional focus on nurturing the African child out of unfair media portrayal. Emptied of achieving what most of us either missed or have had while we were children.
A lot of things have passed, you know, by these days, when mothers probably don't know what to do with children and society itself probably doesn't know what to do with children. So welcome to Filmtalk, Firdoze…
Firdoze: Bulbulia. I was explaining, if you recall yesterday, that a Bulbu is a nightingale. It's a, it's a bird!
Efefiong: Okay. That's Indian?
Firdoze: It's Arabic. Yeah. It's, uh, the name. The surname is Indian
Firdoze: My first name Firdoze is Arabic, which means paradise.
Efefiong: Okay. So, my basic issue here, or my basic understanding of what you might have to tell us today is how should we defend human ethos for pro-social childhood. Our children seem to be losing us and we seem to be losing our children. And that comes down to the fact that we have been misrepresented; even with the fact that they're all telling a single story about us. Please give us a background to your latest activity at F-Show Nelson Mandela Children’s Festival; which happened recently.
Firdoze: Okay, so as the Chairperson of the Children and Broadcasting Foundation for Africa, we have an Africa Charter on Children's Broadcasting.And Article 4, which is very important to us. It says that children could hear, see and express themselves, their languages and their life's experiences through the electronic media that reaffirms their sense of self, community and place. And for us, this is really important, because as Africans, and in my case in particular as South Africans, we know that our language and our culture was not celebrated during apartheid era.
So, it was very important as South Africa transitioned into a new South Africa from 1994 that we needed to change the landscape in the broadcasting sector, particularly as young people; as children. We're always watching content that was very Anglophone, white European, and did not deal with their own stories and their own folktales and their own worldview.
So, when we talk about losing our children in this process of what is now a global, a global concern; because the kind of social media, digital, experiences and opportunities we are getting. Even more lost in that fray of what is available for children. Now I think as firstly, just as parents, we have a huge responsibility to our children.
So, if you want your cultural heritage, your storytelling, your folk tales, your world view, if you want that expressed, you need to be fundamental. You need to be foremost. You need to be the one creating those foundations for the children in your home, or whether they are your siblings, or whether they are your own children.
And we cannot hand that over to the schools, to the broadcasters, to the platforms, you know, the social media platforms. It is our foremost responsibility to do that. Then of course, as activists, we are also inclined to challenge those platforms and to say to them, you have a role and a responsibility because, whilst you put out all of this media, you need to consider who the audience is and you need to consider that you are not losing our children in that process.
But as we know in our conversations, these are capitalistic, commercial branded content that is for a very specific reason. And the reason is not always the good reason. It's not for the reason that you and I as people working in the sector would like it to be. It is so people can make money, and the best way to make money is to be sensationalized. Sensationalistic; to be, you know, the shock factor; to see what is it, what creates a movement. And that is what takes us.
So, it's really important for us as people in the sector to take our responsibility and where possible, to use our activism to push the boundary. That is why we started the Nelson Mandela Children's Film Festival, for example. So 2018 was Nelson Mandela's 100th year, 100th anniversary. And as the Children and Broadcasting Foundation for Africa, we have hosted many festivals along the years. We started in 1994/95. And so it's a long history of ensuring quality media for African children.
And yes, you're right, when you say that I'm an Indian, African, or an African-Indian. My ancestry came from India, but I am South African, and as you know, I am married to a Nigerian. So that is my connection with Nigeria. But also, a sense of Africa that is really in our blood, in who we are, in how we are, in how we see ourselves as human beings.
So, the Nelson Mandela Children's Film Festival was an important project to shine a spotlight on Tata Madiba, as we fondly called him. The father or grandfather of the African child in a way; because as you know, he started up the Children's Fund in South Africa to make sure that a percentage of his own salary went towards the fund as a president. Because he wanted to ensure that children are given the opportunities that they need. Whether it was in education, in health, you know, in all the growing up of a young person. So, we took this on in 2018 and inaugurated, the Nelson Mandela Children's Film Festival.
This year will be the fifth year, and we do it by encouraging our partners, particularly in the global role. We have more funding available to share with us the content that they produce; but our focus is very much on the Global South because. We think that our children have a greater need, because of the lack of resources.
So, as I walked around since 1993, just before the elections in South Africa, pushing the issue around children's rights, people would say to me, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no! You know, we don't have time for children rights now. We are worried about fighting the system, fighting apartheid, fighting for, you know, food security, fighting for homes, et cetera.’ And we had to say, ‘yes, that fight is as important as the fight for children's rights.’ So, all rights matter.
You don't have human rights without children's rights and women's rights and youth rights. Still, this is a long journey that unfortunately we still having to straddle. I had hoped by now as we run into 28 years of a New South Africa, that some of these issues would've been dealt with and that our children would've had the access that they needed.
You know the UN Convention on the rights of the child, say a child has a right to a name In South Africa. Many children, many particularly black African children, their names were changed. Even Tata Madiba Nelson Mandela,’Nelson’ wasn't his name. It was a name given to him by his teacher. Because they couldn't pronounce his African name.
Now, for, for us to talk about something as important as your name, which is your birthright that is stolen from you, you can imagine the damage it does to your identity, to who you are as a person. And so, part of this work is really pushing to ensure that our children have rights: a right to a name, a right to right to quality education, the right to water, you know? All of it that is inside the convention on the rights of a child. And this is really the basis of the work that we do. But we've been very lucky because we have very, very good partners.
They are partners globally, who work, whether it is the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the USA. There are partners, who come to the table and say, how can we assist you? What can we do? And we take that on; because we think that, if we have content that is produced, that is high quality that we can share with our children, we should do that.
But we should also be mindful, as you rightly said, Where is our culture? Where is our tradition? Where is our language? Because otherwise, as we see this in this global social media space, we are losing our identity and our children are being swept by whatever is bigger and better in their terms, because they're not exposed. So, when they get an opportunity to see something that comes from the North or Western or Eurocentric, they think, ‘Oh my goodness, this is what I need because I don't have it at home!’
But we jostle for that power, because we haven't really given our children the opportunity to be proud of who they are as Africans. To be proud of their language; to be proud of their culture; to sing their songs; to share their stories. And we know that it is a rich heritage.
We know that Netflix and all these other platforms are looking for African stories, because they have realized that they've reached saturation. They've reached the ceiling. They needing to look to us for good stories. But also, to say that, you know, as Africans, as Asians, we have very long storytelling ways. These are histories!
We are on the back of other very deep, entrenched cultures. Uh, if you think of the Chinese, you know. Just think of the Asian cultures. Think of the Egyptians, for example. Think of the you in Nigeria. If you think of all your history and your legacy, the gods of the ancestors; and yet we tend to look at, you know, the habit or these new, kind of films that are there for children. And you're kind of going, ‘How close is this to my reality?’ You know?
What exactly are they saying, when we talk about the fantasy world? When in fact, in our African traditions there is so much. It is so rich! So, I think that that's important for me. And so, the Nelson Mandela Children's Film Festival shines a spotlight on Africa, on animation from Africa, storytelling from Africa, and unfortunately, we don't have enough feature films produced on the African continent for children. And even with you in Nollywood, where your legacy has grown so remarkably, there is no focus on children's content. And I've had these discussions with Nollywood producers, with filmmakers saying, you know, if you are spending that time, energy, money, resource, start telling children stories.
Because that is really where we will change the paradigm. We will shift it. We will get young Africans to believe in their own stories. If you look at what Nollywood is doing, and some people can, you know, they can glorify it or they can just it and say, ‘Oh, it's always about voodoo and it's about ancestors,’ you know? But those are our histories. Those are our stories.
We need to be proud of it and we need to be able to put it. If you think about any of these global iconic productions. They talk about ancestry; they talk about fantasy. They're going into another realm. We have those within, where we come from. We need to be able to bring that home that in, and allow our children to celebrate it and to be proud of it.
So, if I move from there into, then you've asked me about the F-Show. The F show is really my name, Firdoze. But I like the ring on it, because it could mean so many other things, when you say the F-Show. And normally at the end of the show, I ask my guests to tell me what F means to them. I always say it means freedom; you know? Freedom to me as the aging activist, I will be 60 years this July.
So, it's always the activism which you had hoped at some point, you know, you'd be able to relax somewhere and say, you know, the work has been done. It hasn't, unfortunately. Usually, I would fly two weeks out of a month, I’m in another country. And when Covid happened, everything shut down. I thought the best way to do something is to go online and invite these people, whom I would normally see globally in their hometowns.
I would bring into the small screen. And we would have discussions on important issues. So, they went from kind of starting on the 16th of June, which is Youth Month in South Africa. We say the whole month of June's Youth Month in Africa. 16th of June is the day of the African child. And that was because of June 16th in South Africa when the uprisings happened.But now as part of the transition in South Africa and part of building of what we called a Rainbow Nation, we called it Youth Month.
In a way it sanitized the activism of what June 16th was about. But it also enabled other youths and other communities to be part of that process. So, I started the F-Show on the 16th of June to shine a spotlight on June 16th. And so we started off kind of with a lot of discussions that were political. But they moved, you know, into arts and culture, into the creative space, into business, into legal. So, we just bringing people in and I tried as much as possible to make it a global conversation so that I had all the continents.
So, it was Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, the USA as much as possible gender, you know; ensured a kind of gender balance and also an age balance. So that we are listening to younger people talking about important issues too. It did really well. We went through six months, kind of back-to-back, having five to six guests every week, and then eventually I'm doing now, my Ph.D. through the University of Johannesburg.
It's a focused on, in fact, my activism from the 1980s. A focus on the women, kind of the unsung heroes from my community. And that has taken some of my time. So, the F-Show, we now do not do it weekly; but do it as events and issues come up. And then we just kind of curate the show.
Efefiong: That's so exhaustive. You’ve (almost) said everything I needed to ask, but I need to be particular. You imagine a scenario when we were, maybe call it ancient scenario or maybe precolonial scenario or postcolonial scenario, immediate postcolonial scenario; where you had elders, whether they were women or men gathering children around moonlit folk storytelling sessions and children learnt from those. And knew who they were and what they're expected to do, as in accountability, all that you know.
Do you think we've lost ccompletely; given the fact that cinema, as it's being presented to us, has left that realm of folktelling and cultural accountability. Do you think we lost it all? And second question in that will be. Who do you think is most responsible for instilling that Africanity in the child? Is it the elder, who might be female or male? Is it the mother or the father; considering the fact that we always hear mother tongue?
Firdoze: Oh, thank you! I think that the issue around, whether we've lost the folktale comes, I think comes with our identity and if we consider; I think sometimes when we talk about media for children or we talk about storytelling. We talk about it very much in an urban setting. We forget that most of Africa is still rural and that children still go to rural communities; in rural school and live in those communities. That kind of setting under the tree and having conversations are still happening. We may not see it, because we are so far removed from those realities and there are no cameras.
Nobody's going into a rural community and filming what is happening. So, we assume from our lens that this is what is happening. So, I think there are two parts to that. There is the part that I am sure many of these stortelling activities are still taking place within rural communities. And then there is the part where we live in urban societies and our children have gadgets and social media and digital opportunities right at their fingertips. Therefore, they seem to be having a different worldview; a different experience.
So, if we are losing it, it is again for us as the activists, as the parents, as the community leaders, as the broadcasters, as the storytellers: it is our responsibility to make sure that it's still embedded; in the culture in the way in which we do things.
I will just give you a highlight right now. My husband's father of 103 years just passed away in Nigeria; so, I was in Nigeria very briefly, and Faith(husband) has stayed on to help to for the burial. Now I am Muslim. We bury within a day. That is my culture. So, for me to see this long process; this long process of negotiation, going to the church, talking to the elders, meeting with the village, deciding when the date of the funeral will take place is quite a kind of a challenge to who I am. And this is not so much just about being Indian or South African, but it also is about my religious views.
In many ways, we get affected by all of these things that intersect. You know you are Indian; you’re South African; you're Muslim, you're female; you are an activist. You are not a traditionalist; you're fighting a system. So, so all of this come, you know, tumbling down. It's good for me, because I can discuss this with Faith, my husband. Because he's so open minded. He's a man of, you know of the world. And I can say, where are the women? Why are you as men running around, you know, arranging all of this? Are the women involved? Why is it so prolonged? What about the cost implications?
And we had produced in 2000 a series for UNICEF on harmful traditional practices. And when it said harmful, it was violence against children. It was female genital mutilation. It was about the girl child, you know; being pulled into marriage. Marriage by abduction. It was child soldiers. So, so when I look at all of that, and we call them harmful traditional practices: I'm questioning whether some of these traditions that we have to continue, if they are also not harmful in the way that it expects the woman to have certain roles.
It expects the male to have other roles. It impacts on your livelihood. It impacts on the cost, timing. Now when you sit there, you say, okay, how much of this tradition and culture is valuable and I need to celebrate. I need to make sure it remains pure and how much do we adapt? When I think about this, because it's all happening right now, it's also impacting on me as a storyteller; me as a parent; me as an activist. And it's jarring. Because I think it's easy in isolation; as you said earlier, she (Chinamanda) talks about the single story.
It is not a single story. It is a complicated complex story; because of who we are as individuals. So even when you have children in that process of trying to say, this is a Nigerian culture, it is African. It is Nigerian; but it is southern Nigerian, not northern Nigerian. It is Christian, not Muslim. You know? So, you just begin to see how we are not a one-story.
Efefiong: Layers! Layers! Layers! I want to recall Homi Bhabha, a cultural theorist, who says there's what he calls the Third Place (Space) of Culture; where all cultures come and they struggle to override other identities. Before I go on, I'm still talking to Chairperson at Children and Broadcasting Foundation for Africa, Managing Director, Moments Entertainment, South Africa; an activist, creative artists, producer, director, educator, mediator, trainers, writer and mother, Firdoze Bulbulia. Thank you, ma’am. I mean, this is very rich.
So, I was saying, Bhabha said there's a place he calls the third place of culture, where all cultures come together. He muted this theory regarding colonialism and struggle against colonialism. So, colonialism, you know, evolved with educated intelligentsia middleclass Africans. These Africans in trying to tell the African story; in trying to struggle within that space, to have the identity more or less happen to even use Anglo-American metres or metrics to tell their story. And so, it is a constant struggle, you know, for culture to evolve; which one should be at the top. So now this is what is happening in Nigeria for example.
You talked about Nollywood. We are struggling to whether be Americans or whether be Britions or whether be Nigerians. We don't even know what is happening. So, what prosocial memories have you retained as a person, despite all your travels around the world since childhood into adulthood, that you could say in that space, you'll insist, this is my identity, this is who I am?
Firdoze: Wow, that is quite a question; because I think that it is the influence from everywhere that eventually makes your identity. But for me, as an activist, and I think that is the one throughline for me. I was a student activist. I fought apartheid. I went to prison. I spent time in jail. Yes! I was in solitary confinement; in jail. And the prison was called John Foster Square, which is Johannesburg Prison.
It's the same prison where Steve Biko died, you know, from the 10th floor where, another, Ahmed Timol died from there. So, it was a notorious space. It was a scary space. We were activists and we believed that we needed to change the political situation, the scenario around education for us as young Africans in South Africa. And so that is my throughline.
When I come to Nigeria or I go to the US or I go to Europe, that is my throughline. I talk about being an African in that context as a political African. The traditional African, I think sometimes gets a little bit muddy; because what is my tradition? I'm Indian, my ancestry. I do not speak an Indian language, and when my dad used to try to speak to us, we used to close our ears; which was really very silly, because we should have learnt the language.
Efefiong: Sorry to cut; sorry to cut in. It is happening now in Nigeria. Even parents are the ones doing it. You hear Nigerian parents sound like. ‘My child doesn't speak vernacular.’ It's terrible. I am from Akwa Ibom in the South-South. I went to a friend's house and I heard the daughter speaking English, very fluently, very sweet. And the father was talking about a particular yam specie. And I asked the daughter, ‘Have you eaten that yam specie before? She said, ‘No, we don't eat us sort thinking home!’
So now, sorry, reconnecting your childhood, therefore you refusing to listen to your father speaking your language: how is it now going for you?
Firdoze: I want to say that in the South African context, my understanding at the time, was probably not very well articulated. I felt I was an African child in South Africa. I do not speak in African language either. So, it's not that I, that, you know, I was closing my ears to listen to Zulu. I was closing my ears, but I was only listening to English and Afrikaan. So that, for me, is a travesty. And it's exactly what you're saying about this daughter who says, ‘We don't do this in this house.’
When we had a housekeeper and you know? Her children grew up in our home and went to the same school as my own daughter. I would say to her, ‘Speak in mother tongue!’ Which is what you said earlier. And she'd get really upset with me and say, ‘No, no, no. They must learn good English.’ And I'd say, ‘I will speak English, but you will speak Sotho.’
They will get both languages proficiently, because that's the thing about language. If there are two parents with two different linguistics, different languages, each parent should speak their language, not a broken; but of each other's language. Because the child will learn that one language from that parent and they will become fluent in that language.
These are also basics that we are not taught. We don't understand it; but the richness of South African culture is that most black African children, and now younger people and older people speak several languages; because they grew up together. Whether there was Zulu being spoken or Sotho, depending on which region of South Africa, they are fluent in those languages as well as; because they were forced to speak in English and Afrikaan. So, there's a richness in language and when you ask how do I feel really bad that I was not at the time educated enough to say, actually, I should be listening to all these languages. Language is important.
The problem in South Africa is also that after we transitioned from ‘94 into the New South Africa, we said we have 11 official languages. But actually, we pushed English, not even Afrikaans. We pushed English and people begun to say it's an international language. If you want to travel, you need it, if you want to work somewhere else. But what is the reality really? People work and live in the same country. They don't necessarily I mean, there's a percentage of people who travel or who moved to another country.
Everybody's right here. So had they pushed like they did in East Africa, where Kiswahili became the lingua franca, that would've been fantastic in South Africa. We should have four local indigenous language. I like when people talk about vernacular, because that's how we were brought up. You know, talk about, ‘Oh, we don't speak Vernac!’ And my partner, Faith always laughs and say, ‘What is Vernac?’
How do you think about even the concept of how you sterilizing in a way your rich language. And you push it to the side and say, ‘Oh, no, no, no. That's not what we speak.’
Efefiong: Yeah; as it is young people are cloth in a collage of cultures that seem to, do I say limit the definition of their identities. But in the South-West where your husband comes from, you know, they're very conscious.
Sometimes when I want to switch off from bad news on CNN or BBC, I just decide to watch Yoruba movies. You know why? Because they never forget their spirituality, you know? But then even at that, other regions of Nigeria seem to be lost in that collage of culture; where your identity is not very prominent; like I said, according to Homi Bhabha who discusses the Third Place of culture.
So, in this loss; in this identity loss; in this illusion of ‘I’m global citizen,’ what would you recommend for the young generation, for them to wear that culture? Just like the Yorubas are doing. You hear their that music. Yoruba music has really, really influenced what they call Afro-beats now; which is global now. So, in that case, if you are to regard me as a young person, what would you clothe me with; for people out there to see me as an African?
Firdoze: I think it's the home. It starts at home. What is the home language? What is the home culture? What is the home tradition? What is the home religion? But if in the case where you say your friend's daughter is not interested in that; and those adults are also not interested in that; because the child learns what they see. They experience what they see.
Firdoze: So, the beginning of your experience is your home. Whether your home is in a palace or your home is in a hut that is your home. And that is your palace; because that's all you know. And it's what you identify with and what you believe in. They don't think, ‘Oh, that palace is bad, or that place is ugly, or this is smelly.’ They don't know that until you as the parent infuses it. So, if you were to ask me, I would say that we need to celebrate first, our own. And when we are comfortable with it, we are open to other, you know?
We spoke about; and I’ll digress a little. Just yesterday because, it’s Ramadan and we are fasting and I was saying to someone, you know? I always travelled and it didn't matter to me. I would never say to people, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I'm fasting!’ or, ‘Oh, no, no, you know, it's halal.’ I just went with the flow. I was fasting and I would just eat bread. I didn't need to eat the meat if I wasn't sure, you know, if it's not allowed.
Somehow after 9/1 1 and the whole Islamophobia; suddenly I was saying to people, ‘Uh, sorry, excuse me, I'm Halal. Or excuse me, uh, I'm fasting.’ Suddenly, I thought it was necessary to stamp my mark, because I felt threatened in a way by being taken over by something that was a ‘phobia.’ ‘Ooh, these Muslims, ooh, move away from them.’ So, you begin to say, I need to tell you who I am somehow.
In the social media space, we tend in to say,’ No! No! No! Don’t identify me. I'm a global citizen.’ What does it mean to be a global citizen? You have to come from a source. Where's your source? What is your source? And you need to really drink. I mean, we talk about that. You drink from your source. You get filled up by your source.
You are saying you go back to your Yoruba movies. It gives you. It reminds you of the beauty; the sounds; the textures; the tastes. it takes you back home. So, when we talk about going home, what is home? Home is my identity. Home is where I am. Home is where I belong, and then I can embrace and I can bring and I can share and I can go out. So, I would say that we have a responsibility to the young people to feel at home, to feel what home is.
To be able to smell it; to taste it; to wear it, to really drink from that source. Thereafter, yes, we need you. You don't want people to be insular. You don't want them to be stuck in a corner. You don't want them not to experience the world, and that's when you have all this other content that you share.
But if you look at, for example, African-American culture and you think of that kind of hip-hop culture in particular. Where they were fighting a system for whatever reason. But the kind of nuances that came out of it; the language that came with it; the dressing that came with it, that a lot of African kids are aspiring to. So, when I would go into a training with journalists, my first thing would be, Is, give me one word that describes Africa. You know, they'd say things like, poverty, starvation, disease. And you'd say, guys, this is a rich continent. Where are the minerals, the volcanoes, the forests, the beauty, you know? So, the media, whatever that is, had already defined our continent.
So hip hop music in a way, defined a particular era of storytelling, which our children kind of jumped onto. And then when you said to them, give me a name of a musician. The musicians were from the US. The musicians were not from Africa or from home. They don't even know anybody from home. So, what I think that is happening in Nollywood and in the Nigeria, you know, just having returned a few days ago, is the explosion of the Nigerian culture.
And whilst you say that it's being taken over by the European, you know, the Western, the US, the UK, it is still a very strong culture that you have to protect. Because even our children, who have moved to the UK or the US to study have been influenced. And they will come back home and they will try to influence what is at home, which is good.
It's not a bad thing, but it's how much do you allow of that and how much do you lose? And you know when you are young and you are a rebel and you are pushing, you know, and you are saying, this is old and I don't want this and this is, doesn’t work. I think when we open up to conversation and dialogue, even those young rebels will realize that this is who I am. This is what I have. And then I express myself in a way that, where you talk about a collage or a mix, you know? You’re bringing; youre curating, it’s really curating.
If you look at me today on the screen, I'm curating myself in the space. I'm wearing, you know, an Egyptian head here. This is Egyptian. People don't know what this is. And I have a Palestinian scarf. I have at the back Zanzibari artwork. I've got Africa Tanzania. When you look at the mountain of Kilimanjaro, but you see the animals and you see, you know, pictures of myself and my daughter, Emma are Indian and African.
You curate your space. It's the mise en scene. You know, when you make a film, you talk about what is in the scene. How much of that do you want to see? And I think that is what you want to say to our children, to the young people. How do you curate who you are? Some people might say, this is too much. You know, my daughter says it to me often, she's a lawyer, and lawyers see things in a different way.
You know, things are sometimes blacker and whiter than they are bold and colourful. But as creatives and as artists as storytellers, we choose from these different cultures of who we are, and this is who we make. This is how we make ourselves.
Efefiong: I’m talking to prisoner of conscience. I'm so shocked that you went to prison. Yeah! Yeah! Moving on, it is an interesting conversation here, but the point here is now, I'll tell you. From a personal perspective, I'm doing a movie story called Okanube. Okanube is supposed to be a deity belonging to the Awka people in Anambra, Southeast Nigeria. Now I tried; somebody’s just said, come up with a magical child, boy who does wonders and I'm asking myself, Do I behave like, Sesame Street? Do I tell Sesame Street Street story? I said no.
So, I took it back; fortunately for me, the guy is an Igbo; so, I took him back to this homeland in Igbo. I started examining deities; origins. And I was able to enclothe this boy in the dress of the deity. So, he's able to do wonders. But then I also remember that there is Ozo title in Igboland.
Ozois very, very important. It's like a titled royalty. So, for you to be an Ozo, you must have certain values. You must have integrity. You must be honest and all that. So, my point here is in a way, I have come up with a personality that is subsumed in a modern situation. That is supposed to resolve a conflict between his father, who's an antivist and a government official, who stole money. And the father is insisting you must account for this money. And the little boy says, look, this is not how we did it in the ancient times. You don't come out and rattle about somebody's sin; trying to disgrace the person on social media. There's a way we resolve African conflicts.
You've seen many times in our movies, where we tell stories and it’s so much like westernize stories; whereas we're trying to tell African stories. Now, how can we find a balance like that, so that we can tell our genuine stories; even though we're subsuming it in a modern setting. Or what we are taking a modern setting and subsuming in an ancient setting. How do you find that balance; so that in a long way we can build on projects, build on intellectual property. As far say, we're not telling the Nigerian story yet until we are able to marry that essence and present our identity; find the balance. So, in your, in your opinion, how do we find that balance?
Firdoze: I think it's difficult. I think it's a give and take. And I think it will depend on how much of the one involves the other. So, I think co-production is a good way. You bring people together. You put the ideas in the box and you say, well, you know; because even amongst the Ibos or amongst the Yurobas, there will be somebody, who will say, ‘No, no, no, but we in my family, we did it like this, you know?’ Maybe you did it like that, but we did it like this. So, it will always be a mix of, of different people.
And what happens in many cases; sometimes co-productions don't work, because co-productions depend on a very kind of commercial thing. You put in X-amount; you are allowed to speak that much. So, if you giving me more, I'm gonna give you more. That's the kind of thing, unfortunately. But I think in, in a perfect world, it would be bringing together and really cutting that slice up so that everybody feels that tthey’re comfortable; because sum of what they bring is important.
I read something somewhere, somebody said; it was a Twitter feed. A white South African said he recalled, and this is very interesting, because I don't think white people generally just talk about a part era, in which they were probably responsible for some activity. So, he is now an older person, maybe in his forties, and he's talking about when he was a young child. What his father did in a situation that embarrassed him in the way that the father treated a fellow black South African. And he put it out there. And then I read the whole, the whole thread; because everybody was saying something. And for example, somebody said, you know, I walked with my grandmother, who was so old and tired, but she couldn't sit on the bench, because you're in South Africa the bench said whites only on the bench.
At the park; at the railway station, you know? So, he said, you know, he remembers grandmother being bent over and tired, but she couldn't sit in and him saying, ‘But sit on the bench.’ And the grandmother says, ‘Are you crazy? I'll end up in jail.’ So simple, simple, shocking things like that, that happened.
Now, how much of that do you share as the other? And how much of that would this person, you know, who comes together in that amalgamation, how much do you share? Because sometimes we protect even what is not needed to be protected. So, when we talk about our cultures, and you rightly say in the Nollywood storytelling world. And it's the same in South Africa, because in South Africa we have either we are telling the political story or we are telling the crazy story that mainly white South Africans are telling; because they don't want to deal necessarily with a political story.
In your case, it's all the cultural mix. I mean, Nigeria's such a rich heritage of over 200 million. With such diversity; how do you then choose as Nollywood that this is what I'm telling. But I think I want to sell my story, so I think I have to drop in some, you know, western stuff from the US or the UK. Or my cousin, who lived in London and now has this idea. So, to find that balance is really hard and I think it takes a lot of time and energy and intelligence; insofar as we are able to give and take.
You’re giving, I'm taking. I'm giving, you’re taking. And we then working out that, ‘Oh wow, this sounds interesting.’ But then it becomes more, a kind of experiment, an educational academic thing. It loses then the entertainment value. It loses the other, the other aspects of storytelling. Because you're now trying to fit in everybody and please everybody. And that can also be a problem.
So, you know, maybe for me it's with age that I'm less prone, I suppose, in a way to conflict in that way. Less prone to have this huge bang, because you kind of say, ‘Well, it's their story. That's how they want to tell it, it's okay’’. But you can deconstruct it. You can have a conversation about it. You can have a dialogue. You can critique it. You can write about it and you can say what not to do.
There's a film right now that you probably saw the Grave Digger's Wife. That was the big story at Cannes last year and everybody was raving about it. And it's a story of, I think it's either Somalia or Sudan. I think it's Somalia. It's a young person who left his home, lives now in Finland, wrote a script based loosely on his memories of home. How, you know, things were; but the story is about grave diggers.
These people basically, sit outside a hospital, waiting for somebody to die so that they can go and dig the grave. And by digging the grave, they will earn some money. And the couple, the story is kind of love story of the grave digger and his wife. The wife becomes quite sick and he now the grave digger, wants to go back to his rural village to reclaim his inheritance, which was a kettle.
He had run away with a love interest. They ran away. They left the rural village to the city, got married, carried on with their lives. But the richness, which was interesting, the richness, their material wealth was in the kettle that was in the rural village. So, he now wants to go back to get his kettle. But the village and the family are like, ‘No, you left. This is not yours. You, you must, you know? You can't come and take your brother's kettle, you.
But the reason I bring it up is that, as he transitions, he's walking, from the city back home. And in this, I mean, it must have been days of walking. His shirt never got dirty. There was never sweat on his brow. He was like the character; the actor was perfectly clean throughout the journey.
Now, for me as a storyteller, I'm saying, but that doesn't reflect the reality. Then as soon as he leaves the city, he's wearing, you know the flip-flops that most African people wear; the sandals, the flip- flop sandals. His sandals breaks; and you know that, that is on every corner in anywhere you will find flip flops. You go to a mosque and they're all outside, you know? You'll just take a pair if you need it.
Anyway, he's walking and he loses the one shoe, the one sandal. So, he ends up at somebody's doorway. He knocks on the door and he says, ‘Please, please, I need a sandal.’ And they give him. The woman gives him a woman's red high heel sandal. And so, I was saying it's funny. It's funny for a western eye to see this African man, who wears flip-flops, one flip-flop and one western high heel sandal. But it's not real. You're not gonna put on somebody's red sandal walking to your village that's miles away.
So, you know what I'm trying to say with that, is how do we then, as African storytellers say, ‘No, no, no, this, this is not my culture. This will never happen.’ But you're inundated, because you're sitting in Finland with all these mentors and money and whatever. And they're going, ‘No, no, no. But this will make a funny aspect to the story and we guarantee you that people will laugh and we will put enough marketing budget to make, Cannes festival your spot, you know?’ And that's what happened. And you know, everybody's talking.
It was a big deal; but when we watched it at the Luxor Film Festival, we all Africans said same. But how did they overlook all these. So, what do we do? How do we find the balance? How do we say do whoever it might be Netflix, you know, because they have commissioning editors. They trying to sell a slot. They know who their audience is. They know what people want. They know how people look at us as Africans. And when they see you in that box, that's the box they want. You know?
The Zambian, former Kenneth Kaunda, the Zambian president's son once said to me, when we were filming a big series on HIV and AIDS And they were huge. The roads were really bad and you know, really like craters in the road, it was so bad. And he said, ‘You know, when white people come here, they tell us not to fix the road; because they want to feel like they are in Africa.’ I think that with you, I mean, that is so layered.
Efefiong: That's serious. That is really serious! Wow! It's so, it's such a rich conversation with you. Let me put it this way. Let's say there’s a term in cultural theory called Sankofa. Sankofa is Akan(Ghana) word, which says, ‘Go back to your roots,’ which is what you've emphasized. Which says. Yeah, that's so, that's right.
So, in doing Sankofa, what would you want Africans, Nigerians; South Africans to do in terms of some, Sankofa. I mean you've said it all, but I want it in some kind advisory for all of us. And in doing that, I'm going to ask a quick question. What footprints are you leaving in Nigeria? Whether in collaboration with Nollywood. Whether in collaboration with writers, as you come and go every other year?
Two questions. What are advisory in terms of Sankofa would you give to our people? And what are your imprints or footprint so far in in Nollywood before we close? Thank you.
Firdoze: Thank you. As, as I just showed you my Sankofa bird, you know, it's reaching back, moving forward. What do we take from the past and what do we take into the future? And I think what we take, for me personally, I take from the past, the politics, the activism, the fight for freedom, the fight for new South Africa. What do I take forward is to say to the current leadership that is corrupt; that is stealing, that is taking, that has lost the vision of what we were talking about for New South Africa?
I take that forward to say, think about where we came from and our dreams, our hopes, our future we wanted for the new generation of Africans. If we put the same scenario in a creative context, in storytelling, in whether we are making films or theatre or any creative work, it's the same thing.
It's the tradition. It's the culture. It's the ancestry. It's the storytelling of the past. That was rich; that was vibrant; that was amazing. You know it more than I do, because you know the culture of the masks, for example, the dancers in Africa, in Nigeria. It is that richness that you can take into the future and maybe you fuse it with something that is new with something is enlightening, because it is that mixture that kind of coming together that brings out something that is more special. And I think we have a great opportunity to do that.
Even if you consider the history of Nollywood or you consider filmmaking in Egypt or in South Africa, which has a very long tradition of a very far bygone time. You know, in South Africa, for example, feature films were made; many, right in the 1800s; because they documented what they were doing as colonialists.
Then White South Africans started to tell African stories. That was the stories of Black South Africans. Whether they wanted us to be singing and dancing and looking in a particular way. That was documented, which as Africans, we didn't document; and somehow as African storytellers, we almost copied some of you know?
If you have time, is to research Gibson Kente, for example, in the way that as a South African theatre producer, in the way that he told stories; very much like Mbongeni Ngema. When you think of Sarafina, you would know Sarafina. Just the way in which those stories were told. But how did we modernize it? How did we make it present day?
I would like to think that we can continue our partnerships, between South Africa and Nigeria. We as you know, Faith and I, me being South African, him being Nigeria have always seen this as an important connection. We partnered with MITV, where we started a children's channel.
We called it ABC, Africa's Best Channel, because we really wanted to spotlight content for young Africans. We wanted them to produce their own stories as well. Because what young people have learnt is not so much in just writing the story, it is in the editing. Who edits you in or out? Who tells your story? How do you edit that story? And I think when filmmakers and storytellers start to take it seriously and study the craft, because unfortunately many people don't study.
They don't learn. They don't find out. They come and they're like, I'm a filmmaker, I'm a writer, I'm a producer. And they've learned it from one film to the other. So, the real nuance, the real focus, the foundation is not there. So, they haven't read the people you're talking about.
They haven't learnt the basic and so they just, you know, it just plastering on top of something else. It will fester and the wound will eventually just, you know, the mark will pour out. It's how do we clean it out to make sure that those storytellers have the tools.
We always say, just because you have a pen doesn't mean you are a writer. Just because you have a camera doesn't mean you are a cinematographer, you know? So, the tools are important and I like to say that to young people. If this is something you want to do, it has to be your vocation. It has to be your life's work. It has to be your passion. That when you walk into that space, you light up because that's what you want to do.
I'm a theatre person more than a film person. When I walk into a theatres space, I get goosebumps. I feel it even today. You want to be able to do something that gives you that energy. That makes you feel that excited. Did I answer the last question?
Efefiong: You have done it in a way. But let’s have still have some advisory to Nollywood. Also, add some measure to knowing, I can say if you're looking for characters tofill your players in, to make them live. The character, tortoise can be a modern man. The character, the lion can be a modern man. The character called Awolowo in history can be a 21st Century man. Azikiwe, Mandela can be a modern man.
We don't always have to tell it literally that this is Mandela. So that's one problem. Like you said, we don't examine, we don't mix, we don't talk about it, before we even want do it. So that's my own advisory.
It’s been so good to talk to you. Thank you so much. I am so glad you eventually agreed to be on this interview. So, I've been talking to Chairperson at Children & Broadcasting Foundation for Africa (cbfa); Managing Director at Moments Entertainment, South Africa Activist, Creative Artist, Producer, Director, Educator, Mediator, Trainer, Storyteller, Writer and Mother; Firdoze Bulbulia and most of all, Prisoner of Conscience!
Firdoze: I was waiting for that one.
Efefiong: Thank you, ma’aa. I'm so happy. Thank, Thank you. Thank you so much. Lovely communication.
Firdoze: All right. Thank you!