America in the Camera Obscura of Nigerian “Videastes”: A Study of Peters Roberts' 30 Days in Atlanta and George Kalu's Life is Hard in America

America in the Camera Obscura of Nigerian “Videastes”: A Study of Peters Roberts' 30 Days in Atlanta and George Kalu's Life is Hard in America

Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9312-6.ch004
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This chapter argues that, as a popular culture and a reflection of the Nigerian society, Nollywood films remarkably relay the popular myths prevailing in Nigeria. Their representations of foreign countries – notably America – are bound to be both a product and a reflection of popular myths shared by the Nigerian populace on those countries. In tandem with this, Peters Roberts' 30 Days in Atlanta and George U. Kalu's Life is Hard in America, mainly relay most Nigerians' perceptions of America. They present America as a promised land and a heaven, as well as a land of gun-happy people and a country of questionable freedoms. Given the fact that the stereotypes mentioned above similarly abound in many – if not the majority of – Hollywood film productions, one is tempted to argue that many Nollywood film directors' representations of America are not so much different from the ones constructed by their Hollywood counterparts. In other words, it is not incongruent that many Nollywood film directors simply relay Hollywood films' representations of America, thereby naturalizing or endorsing myths such as the American dream.
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The America-led western media have, in recent times, arguably been one of the vectors – if not the principal agency behind – the spread of America’s soft power in the world. Indeed, most of these western media have tended to portray and sell America as a giant in almost all facets of human life, starting from the level of industrialization and military might to the level of economic development. Thanks partly to these ubiquitous western media’s portrayal of Georges Washington’s country, most people in developing and emergent countries tend to regard America as an el dorado, a dreamed land and/or a land of limitless opportunities and freedoms. Briefly put, the western media have arguably made the world perceive America as a terrestrial paradise and an undefeatable super power (Ibbi, 2013; Page, 2017; Rodriguez, 2018). One of the western media projects – which have profoundly laundered or projected the image of America in the international scene – is the Hollywood film industry. Indeed, a plurality of studies have actually revealed that, rather than being an exclusively passive and lucrative entertainment industry, the Hollywood cinematic culture has, these last decades, dominantly played the role of a brand manager or public relation officer for the U.S. (Alford 2009; Bayles, 2015; Classen & Howes, 2009; Callimanopulos 2010; Endong, 2018; Ibbi, 2013). Following the same line of thought, Yantao refers to Hollywood as America’s “advertisement department”, explaining that Hollywood films (such as Cameron’s Avatar) technically “seek to brainwash audiences into believing that the peoples of other countries, especially the non-developed, non-Western ones would be much better off if they allow the much wiser Americans tell them what to do” (pp.35-36).

Hollywood films’ positive portrayal of America has in many quarters been found natural and far from being an unexpected or extra-ordinary development. This is so, not so much because of the truism that, a nationalist medium will likely function according to the xenophobic logic of “the others (them) versus us” and will thus likely defend its country of origin whatsoever be the context. Rather, Hollywood films mostly portray America in a positive light because there has always been a kind of synergy or subtle – but strong – umbilical cord connecting Hollywood filmmakers and the American government. Such a synergy has been very fruitful when it comes to constructing and projecting the image of America in the international scene. Alford (2009) canvasses this subtle synergy thus:

It is often claimed that in Hollywood ‘if you want to send a message send a telegram’. In the narrowest sense this is a reasonable characterization: films do not tend to play party politics. But movies use politics in the broader sense constantly in the way they present the US, its enemies, its victims, the effectiveness of state violence and so on. In fact, it is not politics that is absent from Hollywood movies in terms of foreign policy, it is a sense of subversive or even rational politics interrogating the representations of the US, its enemies and its use of force – that has been carefully filtered out. The decisive reason for this is that films are produced by organizations closely wedded to elite power. As Jack Valenti, long-time President of the Motion Picture Association of America put it in 1998: Hollywood and Washington are ‘sprung from the same DNA’. So, too, he could have added, are the upper echelons of corporate America. (p.153-154)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Nollywood Films: Movies produced in the Nigerian film industry. They are products of a cinematic revolution based on the use of the video technology.

Videaste: A neologism derived from the words “video” and “cineaste.” It is used to differentiate film entrepreneurs who used conventional cinematic paradigms (celluloid technology) from those who use the video technology in their production of films. The term is mostly used in a derogatory sense. Videastes are sometimes arguably viewed as “makers of images” while cineastes are “real and respectable” filmmakers.

Hollywood Films: Movies produced in the American film industry.

American Dream: An open-ended aspiration which is predicated on the concept of liberty, democracy, equality and opportunity for all. According to the American dream, America as a land of plenty, of greener pasture as well as a country full of opportunities for those who are ready and able to work hard irrespective of their social and economic status.

Popular Culture: Otherwise called “pop culture,” popular culture is sets of ideas, belief, objects and practices generally recognized in a society as being dominant or ubiquitous at a given period of time.

Stereotypes: These are traits generally associated with specific social groups based on factors such as sexual orientation, religious convictions, age, ethnicity, nationality and race among others. They can also be defined as social classification of specific communities or group of people as often simplified and generalized signs which implicitly or explicitly represent a set of values, judgments and assumptions concerning their behaviors, characteristics or history.

Myth: A culture’s way of understanding, expressing and communicating to itself concepts that are important to its self-identity as a culture.

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