Category Archives: Hausa film

STOP INTERNET CENSORSHIP: Protesting SOPA/PIPA bills currently before the U.S. Congress

 

sopa-blacout-wired

sopa-blacout-wired (Photo credit: Search Influence)

For those of you who have been waiting for my reaction (and I have a lot!) to the fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria and the #Occupy Nigeria protests (sorry, if you are trying to access that wikipedia link on 18 July 2012, it is blacked out), I am hoping to post something by the end of today/early morning tomorrow. But for now, I am writing a quick post about another protest, related to the blacking out of the wikipedia article I posted.

Wikipedia censored Jan 18 2012

Wikipedia censored Jan 18 2012 (Photo credit: PhylG)

If you are accessing this blog between 18-24 January 2012, you may notice the black ribbon that says “Stop Censorship” across the top right hand corner of the page. I am participating in a general wordpress “strike”, which is joining many other internet sites in a strike,  to protest the SOPA/PIPA bills currently before the U.S. Congress.

 

 

According to CBS:

 

There are already laws that protect copyrighted material, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). But while the DMCA focuses on removing specific, unauthorized content from the Internet, SOPA and PIPA instead target the platform — that is, the site hosting the unauthorized content.

The bills would give the Justice Department the power to go after foreign websites willfully committing or facilitating intellectual property theft — “rogue” sites like The Pirate Bay. The government would be able to force U.S.-based companies, like Internet service providers, credit card companies and online advertisers, to cut off ties with those sites.

College Candy adds that

 

The proposed SOPA bill would allow copyright holders and the Department of Justice to file a court order against websites that enable or facilitate copyright infringement. Now, that’s a broad statement. Basically, “the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites.” This could potentially shut down sites like Tumblr, Flickr, and more. We certainly don’t want people pirating, but this bill will seriously cripple the internet and our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

PIPA will also be just as damaging. It could lead to the removal of online resources and YouTubebecause any type of file sharing could be prohibited by the law. The main goal of PIPA is pretty much to protect Hollywood and the music industry. People download music, movies, and TV shows for free and “The Man” is getting angry. Most of the sites are from outside the United States, so this bill would block IP addresses from accessing those sites and allow courts to sue search engines for presenting links to those sites. Google is opposed. The bill is so vague that you could ultimately get sued for posting a video to YouTube with a song in the background. It will destroy the internet the way we use it and make it less secure in the process.

Although the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of America and other content providers are understandably concerned about online piracy and are pushing the bills, such an act risks suppressing creative new forms of distribution and expression.

 

In one of the better explanations of how these bills could affect the ordinary internet user, 1stwebdesigner.com argues that

 

These acts are stopping developers from coming up with the next big thing in the online market that could change how we use the internet. Let’s say that these acts were around back when the internet was started, how many of the most popular sites would still have come into fruition. There would be no Facebook, YouTube, MediaFire, SoundCloud, Twitter, DropBox, or any other site that can be targeted as a place where online piracy could take place. Is it even possible to think about what the internet would be like without sites like this?

As a blogger on multiple sites including this personal blog and a blog for the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre, Flickr where I upload my own photos, and Youtube which I use for research and also upload trailers and excerpts of Hausa films that help give them publicity, I am personally concerned about how this would affect my own usage, but as a “Nollywood” scholar I am also concerned about the repercussions this could have 1) on innovative development and distribution of creative content outside of the U.S, and 2) access to content for scholars and other non-commercial users. In his chapter “Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds: Nigerian video and the Infrastructure of Piracy” in Signal and Noise, Brian Larkin has pointed out that the reason the Nigerian film industry was able to spread and become popular so rapidly was that piracy networks were able to spread the films into areas legal distributers had no acess to. When I interviewed Brooklyn-based legal distributor Sal Jide Thomas, he affirmed that many of the legal distributers of Nollywood in the U.S. were once pirates, saying that though he was never a pirate, Nollywood is

 

lucky that they have a market that they didn’t create. Their product created it. So we can’t complain too much about bootlegging in the US anyway. As I tell my fellow marketers, they are responsible for the market that we have. What we can do is actually find a way of incorporating it, because first of all, they have the distribution channel. They still have more people than we do. So, if we can work with them, it’s a win-win situation. The reason that there are bootleggers is if you haven’t done your distribution properly. In the U.S., I don’t think we have a bootleg problem. We have a supply problem.

It may be that harnessing piracy websites for legal distribution is the best way to go, rather than trying to suppress them.  The Nollywoodlove site for example is bringing in legitimate funds for filmmakers through youtube advertising, while viewers watch for free–a business model the founder of the brilliant Hausafilms.tv site Mahmud Fagge is trying, with the consent of some Hausa filmmakers, to reproduce for Hausa films on his youtube channel. While concerns over piracy are legitimate, it would be much better to encourage these sorts of creative approaches than in trying to suppress them. And, come on, seriously, computer programmers/hackers/pirates are much more versatile and fast-moving than government  or laws can be, as can be seen in the hacking of the Nigerian Ministry of Transportation Site by “hactivists” on January 6. As of today, January 18, the site was still down, though the hackers message had been removed. The point is that internet technology must be harnessed for legal distribution and pirates must be fought (or attracted to the “light side”) on an individual basis. Banning sites is not going to help anyone.

 

If you would like to add your own website to the strike, find out more about it here and here.  As my blog content and so many of my readers are based outside of the U.S., I decided not to participate in the general black-out of my content, but I do urge my readers to click on the black ribbon and sign the petition to protest the bill. In addition to the petition U.S. citizens can sign to go to their elected representatives, there is also a petition for non-U.S. citizens to join the protest. This U.S. initiative could have global repercussions on how we all experience the internet.

 

(And for other news on outrageous American censorship, check out this insane ban by the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona State on “Mexican-American” studies. Among the books removed are Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Opressed and William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest!)

 

“Equestrian Elegance at Sallah-time”: a review of the documentary by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and Bala Anas Babinlata

A little late, but Barka da Sallah! Eid Mubarak. Da fatan an yi sallah lafiya.

In today’s column in Weekly Trust, I reviewed the documentary Equestrian Elegance, written, narrated, and produced by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and directed by Bala Anas Babinlata. To read the column on the Trust website, click on the link, to read the hard copy, click on the photo, or if you have slow internet, just read the piece below:

Equestrian Elegance at Sallah-time

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 12 November 2011 05:00

Before I moved to Kano in 2008, I had heard much about the Sallah celebrations as a “tourist attraction.” Expatriate acquaintances both in Nigeria and outside the country told me of travels to Kano to experience the colour and pageantry of the annual event. In 2008, I attended my first “Hawan Sallah” at the emir’s palace and two days later stood with a friend as the parade of horses and riders, hunters on foot and men on stilts, processed past her Fagge house on the outskirts of the old city. At the centre of it all was the magnificent emir Alhaji (Dr) Ado Bayero, who rode under a twirling silk umbrella. He was greeted with cries of blessing from the crowd, their fists upraised in salute. [For photos of the the "Hawan Nassarawa" during Eid el-Fitr I attended in 2010, click to my flickr album here or for the blog post about it, click here]

What most struck me as I stood with crowd on both days was the community feel of the festivities: onlookers calling out the names of the riders, riders shouting down greetings to friends, the genuine affection in the salutes to the emir. This sense of familiarity is captured beautifully in the 2009 documentary film, Equestrian Elegance: the Kano Sallah Pageantry Festival written, produced and narrated by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and directed by Bala Anas Babinlata. Professor Abdalla of Bayero University is one of the most grounded and prolific scholars of Hausa popular culture, with dozens of books and articles published both locally and internationally. His most important contributions, however, go beyond academic scholarship to actual interventions into popular culture: among which was his founding and moderation of the Finafinan Hausa and marubuta yahoogroups, important critical forums for dialogue about Hausa popular literature and film;  the organizing of concerts and award shows for Hausa musicians, and his innovative creation of what he calls “Hausa classical music” by recording Hausa traditional instruments being played without singing. Professor Abdalla also spans the world of scholarship and art with the films put out by his production company Visually Ethnographic Productions.

The documentary Equestrian Elegance (1 hour 28 mins), which was shot in 2008 but has not yet been released for commercial distribution, covers the four days of parades through Kano city during Eid al-Fitr: “Hawan Sallah,” “Hawan Daushe,” “Hawan Nassarawa,” and “Hawan Dorayi,” and the additional day of pageantry “Hawan Fanisau” during Eid al-Adha. A narrative voiceover by Professor Abdalla, explains the events and an innovative animation traces along a map the parade route taken each day, but the film mostly celebrates the details of the festivities from the sunrise on the first day of Sallah to the sunset on the last day. Within this symbolic frame, the rhythm of Sallah is measured out by each procession out of and back towards the palace.

While I admittedly grew a bit weary about an hour into the film, I think the attention to detail here is important. Professor Abdalla told me that the unhurried pacing was intentional: he wanted the film to “unfold in very slow motion, so you can absorb the details.” The focus here was on capturing “the pageantry. Every horse is different. Every rider is different. People stay out there three hours watching and don’t get tired.” His goal was to show the “high level of refinement” in the Sallah parades and the “structural elegance of pageantry.”

Such elegance is captured in the beauty of the cinematography: the close-ups of the courtier crouching to perform the morning gun salute and his graceful almost balletic twirl through the gun smoke; the rich texture of both horse and rider being robed in layer after layer of damask in preparation for the parade; the hazy glow of Kano swathed in harmattan during the final day of “Hawan Fanisau.”

But beyond presenting the elegance of the event, Professor Abdalla told me that another goal was to present to a global audience that sense of community surrounding Sallah. Although Kano’s Sallah festivities are probably some of the most photographed annual events in Nigeria, the photographs taken by tourists are often formally beautiful but distancing. There is little knowledge or intimacy in them.  Here, however, as Professor Abdalla points out you “can see the sense of community. It’s like carnival, a street party, with mom and dad and kids.” And it is this sense of community and lived tradition that I like most about the film. Kano is often either romanticized by the national and international media as a place of “timeless tradition,” an ancient exotic city of fairy tale, or denigrated as, what one foreign blogger termed, “an overgrown village,” a backwards northern outpost with a medieval mentality. Equestrian Elegance explodes both stereotypes, presenting the richness of tradition from insider’s perspective. One of the moments that best captures this delightful mix of light-heartedness and ceremony is in a shot where the dignified male space of the emir’s speech at the government house is playfully undermined by the little girl playing with a balloon directly behind him. As opposed to stereotypes about Kano under shari’a, women are not excluded from the celebration. While they may not be a part of the main spectacle, they take part in the larger community event. Girls and women hang off of balconies and push into the crowds to catch a glimpse of the horses and riders. As Professor Abdalla points out, Sallah is a family affair.

Part of what contributes to this “insider’s perspective” comes from the camera operators’ ability to get up close to their subjects, not the flattened close-up of a zoom camera but the intimate close-up of someone who is a part of the celebration. The subjects of the camera’s gaze sometimes seem to recognize the person behind the camera, and the film is often self-referential. While tourist photographs often attempt to capture the “timelessness” of the event, avoiding shots of other photographers or signs that situate their subjects in a particular modern moment, this film cheerfully revels in contemporary local knowledge of the event. The parade, as Professor Abdalla points out in his narrative commentary, is located in a very specific and recent history, including a route which began as part of the current emir’s Sallah visit to his mother.

There are multiple references to the way in which the event is viewed both through foreign and homegrown eyes.  The tourists become part of the spectacle. They are depicted laughing on the palace balcony or lining up in front of the crowd with their zoom lenses. But more significant are the frequent moments of easy familiarity when local photographers and videographers enter the camera’s view. The camera repeatedly captures the parade processing past photography and video shops, a subtle tribute to the many Kano residents who use the camera to tell their own stories. Professor Abdalla himself makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the film.

The cosmopolitan mix that makes up Kano is also found in the soundtrack of the documentary. The most striking piece of music is Babangida Kakadawo’s praise song “Sarkin Kano Ado Bayero” to the accompaniment of the kuntigi, used to great effect in the moments where the emir appears. However, the soundtrack is also sprinkled with Malian musician Ali Farka Toure’s guitar pieces and another song featuring Egyptian musician Hassan Ramzy. (Professor Abdalla argues the inclusion of these tracks follows international standards of fair usage since the looped excerpts are less than one minute.) While I initially thought the use of non-Nigerian music detracted from the “authenticity” of the film, I find convincing Professor Abdalla’s argument that he wanted to expose people to music from other parts of Africa, a goal in keeping with Kano’s history as a cosmopolitan trade centre.

The borrowed music, along with the slow pace, could be an attraction or flaw depending on the taste of the viewer. I was not a fan of the digital effects in the transitions, which I thought distracted more than they added to the film.  But these moments of imperfection are far outweighed by the strength in the completeness of the film, which moved beyond the picturesque palace durbar to cover the entire procession and its connection to the people of the city. Equestrian Elegance is an important historical resource that is valuable to outsiders trying to learn about the culture and traditions of Kano but perhaps even more so to those from Kano, who want to remember the richness of a lived tradition, Sallah as performed in the first decade of the 21st century.

 

Congratulations to Kannywood actress Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello on their wedding, 9 July 2011

booklet distributed at dinner for Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello's wedding

First of all, another apology for such a long delay in updating this blog, which had to do 1) with my internet server going on a near 2-3 week near-shut-down, 2) travel to Lagos to present at a “Nollywood in Africa, Africa in Nollywood” conference hosted by Pan-African University, 3) the electricity going out in my neighborhood for 1 week and 1 day (in which case, the battery and inverter I celebrated in my last post, has it’s limitations. There has to be a certain amount of electricity for the thing to charge). 4) A nasty case of food poisoning, which put me out of operation for at least two good days.

So, I am only just now posting this piece of Kannywood news, namely, the wedding of Hausa film actress Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello on 9 July 2011. I attended two of the wedding events, an “Arabian Night” on 7 July, which I arrived scandalously late to even by “African-time” standards only about 15 minutes before the bride took off, partially because I was out shopping for the appropriate “Arabian” attire. 2) The dinner on 8 July, which I arrived on time for and got lots of photos.

So, congratulations to Sakna and Musa. A few photos below:

Sakna sings to her new husband Musa at the wedding dinner. (c) Carmen McCain

Money sprayed for Sakna, as Musa looks on (c) Carmen McCain

The beautiful bride, Sakna Gadaza (c) Carmen McCain

Camera phones were out in full force and Sakna's friend Kannywood actress Zainab Idris pulled out her best dance moves for the occasion (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood actress and comedienne Saratu Gidado was a great dinner companion. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood actors Umar Gombe and Fati Bararoji trade thoughts before the event begins. (c) Carmen McCain

Hausa novelist and film producer Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu and a friend at the Arabian Night celebration for Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello's wedding. (c) Carmen McCain

Baballe Hayatu has a quiet moment before the beginning of the event. (c) Carmen McCain

I have more photos not yet uploaded to flickr that I may add as I have internet time, so stay tuned for more pics.

The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood

Still catching up on posts I am behind on. This feature piece  “The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood” was published over a month ago now in the Weekend Magazine of Weekly Trust on 21 May 2011, but gives a good summary of the challenges faced by the Kano film industry during the tenure of former ANPP Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, and the “director general” of the Kano State Censorship Board he appointed, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. I also interviewed film practitioners about their hopes as PDP’s Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who had been governor of Kano State from 1999-2003, returns to take up another four year term, aided in his political campaign by the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria and Kannywood stars like Sani Danja and D’an Ibro. As usual, to read the hard copy of the article, click on the photos below, or scroll down to read the text I’ve copied here.

The ‘second coming’of Kannywood

Saturday, 21 May 2011 01:42 Carmen McCain

Wednesday evening, April 27, 2011, Zoo Road in Kano, the street lined with Kannywood studios, exploded into celebration. Young men pulled dramatic stunts with motorbikes and shouted their congratulations to Hausa filmmakers. “Welcome back home, brothers. Welcome back from Kaduna,” directors Falalu Dorayi and Ahmad Biffa recall them saying. “We embrace you ‘Yan fim.’ We are together with you. We are happy that he has returned.”The win of PDP

Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, incoming governor of Kano State, and also governor from 1999 to 2003 (Photo Credit: Nigerian Best Forum)

candidate Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as governor of Kano, his second tenure after a four-year term from 1999-2003, had just been announced.  INEC figures listed PDP as winning 46% of the vote with 1,108,345 votes, closely followed by Alhaji Salihu Sagir of ANPP with 43.5% of the vote with 1,048,317 votes.  To anyone familiar with the Hausa film industry, which according to recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board figures makes up over 30% of  the Nigerian film industry, this association of a political win with film was no surprise. Some of the most visible Hausa filmmakers have become increasingly politically active following a crackdown by the Kano State Censor’s Board, during which many practitioners and marketers of Hausa films had been fined, imprisoned, and harassed. While many of those associated with the film industry supported CPC and Buhari for president, the feeling among many filmmakers in Kano was that for governor any of the candidates would be better than ANPP. The two term ANPP governor and presidential candidate Ibrahim Shekarau, who had initially been passionately supported by

CIMG2970

Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, governor of Kano State fro 2003-2011, and ANPP presidential candidate in 2011. (I took this photo during his trip to Madison, Wisconsin in 2007)  (Photo credit: talatu-carmen)

at least some of Kano’s writers and artists, was now deeply disliked by most film practitioners, in part, for appointing Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim former deputy commandant of the shari’a enforcement group hisbah as director general of the Kano State Censor’s Board. Malam Rabo, as he was known, regularly went onto the radio to denounce film practitioners for ostensible moral defects and had overseen a board which often arrested filmmakers.

After surveying candidates in the gubernatorial race for how they would support film, the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), as the association’s president Sani Muazu reported, publically campaigned for Kwankwaso. Movie star,

Comedian Klint de Drunk, with Kannywood stars Sani Danja and Baban Chinedu at an Abuja press conference for NAISOD, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

producer, director, and musician Sani Danja, who founded Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (NAISOD), and comedians Rabilu Musa dan Ibro and Baban Chinedu were among those who lent their star power to the new  governor’s campaign. This public support for PDP among some of the most visible film practitioners had put Kano based filmmakers in danger the week before. Angry about the announcement of PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the presidential election, area boys hunted for Sani Danja, threatened other recognizable actors and vandalized studios and shops owned by Kannywood stakeholders. (For this reason, while some filmmakers have come out publicly in support of candidates, there are others who are reluctant to speak openly about politics. The Dandalin Finafinan Hausa on Facebook has banned discussion of politics on its wall, requesting members to focus on discussions of film.) By the next week, however, as Falalu Dorayi relates, the same area boys who had been hunting Sani Danja were now celebrating him.

Producer and makeup artist Tahir S. Tahir with Director Falalu Dorayi celebrating Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

While Governor-elect Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was seen as the champion of the filmmakers during the 2011 election cycle, it was under Kwankwaso, who first served as governor of Kano from 1999-2003, that the first ban on Hausa films was announced and that the Kano State Censor’s Board was created. Abdulkareem Mohammad, the pioneering president of MOPPAN from 2000 to 2007, narrated how in December 2000, the Kano State Government pronounced a prohibition on the sale, production and exhibition of films in Kano state because of the introduction of sharia. MOPPAN  organized and “assembled industry operators in associations like the Kano State Filmmakers association, Kano state artist’s guilds, the musicians and the cinema theatre owners, cassette sellers association” to petition the government to either allow them to continue making films or provide them with new livelihoods. It was the filmmakers themselves under MOPPAN who suggested a local state censorship board, which would ensure that film practitioners were able to continue their careers, while also allowing oversight to ensure that their films did not violate shari’a law. The censorship board was ultimately meant as a protection for the filmmakers to allow them to continue their work.

Outgoing President of MOPPAN, Sani Muazu points out that MOPPAN’s support of Kwankwaso was because he had promised re-establish the original intent for the censorship board, with a Kannywood stakeholder in the position as head of the Kano State Censorship Board, rather than an outsider who did not know the industry. Most Hausa filmmakers speak of the censorship board as a compromise between the film industry, the community and the government. Director Salisu T. Balarabe believes then Governor Kwankwaso was trying to follow the demands of those who voted for him, “If the government wants to have a good relationship with people it has to do what the people want.” Kannywood/Nollywood star Ali Nuhu said, “I won’t forget how in those three or four months [during the ban], they sat with our leaders at the time of Tijjani Ibrahim, Abdulkareem Muhammad, Hajiya Balaraba and the others.  They reached a consensus, they understood the problems that they wanted us to fix and the plan they wanted us to follow.”

Nollywood/Kannywood star Ali Nuhu on set of Armala with Executive Producer Aisha Halilu. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

Although the censors board had banned several films, such as Aminu Bala’s 2004 cinema verite style film Bakar Ashana, which explored the moral complexities of the world of prostitution, and enforced rules on censorship

Aminu Bala’s film Bakar Ashana that was banned by the Kano State Censor’s Board in 2004.

before marketing, filmmakers for the most part did not seem to have major problems with censorship until August 2007, when a sex scandal broke out in Kannywood. A privately made phone video of sexual activity between the actress known as Maryam “Hiyana” and a non-film industry lover Usman Bobo was leaked and became one of the most popular downloads in Kano. Alarmed by what some were calling the “first Hausa blue film,” although the clip was a private affair and had nothing to do with other Hausa filmmakers, critics called for serious measures to be taken. A new executive secretary Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim (his position soon

Maryam Hiyana, who was seen as a victim in the scandel, became an unlikely folk hero with stickers of her likeness on public transport all over Northern Nigeria. (c) Carmen McCain, 2008

inflated to the title of director general) was appointed by Governor Shekarau to head the Kano State Censor’s Board. He required each film practitioner to register individually with the board, an action he defended as being provided for in the original censorship law. Not long after Rabo was appointed, actor and musician Adam Zango was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for releasing his music video album Bahaushiya without passing it through the Kano State Censor’s Board. He was the first in a series of Hausa filmmakers to spend time in prison. Former Kano state gubernatorial candidate and Kannywood director Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama was arrested in May 2008 on his return to Kano from Abuja’s Zuma Film Festival where his film Tsintsiya, an inter-ethnic/religious romance made to promote peace, had won best social issue film. He was accused of releasing the film in Kano without censorship board approval.  Although Iyan-Tama served three months in prison, all charges were recently dropped against the filmmaker and his record cleared. Popular comedians dan Ibro and Lawal Kaura also spent two months in prison after a hasty trial without a lawyer. Lawal Kaura claims that although they had insisted on their innocence, court workers advised them to plead guilty of having a production company not registered with the

FIM Magazine feature on Ibro’s time in prison, November 2008.

censorship board so that the judge “would have mercy” on them. These were only the most popular names. Others who made their livelihoods from the film industry, from editors to singers to marketers, spent the night in jail, paid large fines, and/or had their equipment seized by enforcers attached to the censorship board.

Although Governor Shekarau in a presidential debate organized by DSTV station NN24 had claimed that “the hisbah has nothing to do with censorship,” Director of Photography Felix Ebony of King Zuby International recounted how hisbah had come to a location he was working on and impounded four speakers and one camera, telling them they had not sought permission to shoot. Other filmmakers complained that there was confusion about under what jurisdiction arrests were being made. Although in a February 2009 interview with me, Rabo

Felix Ebony, director of photography with King Zuby International. (c) Carmen Mccain

also claimed that the censorship law was a “purely constitutional and literary law […] on the ground before the shari’a agitations,” the public perception seemed to be that the board was operating under shari’a law, perhaps because of Rabo’s frequent radio appearances where he spoke of the censorship board’s importance in protecting the religious and cultural mores of the society. Director Ahmad Bifa argued, “They were invoking shari’a, arresting under shari’a. If they caught us, we all knew, that they had never taken us to a shari’a court. They would take us to a mobile court [...] But since it was being advertised that we were being caught for an offense against religion, we should be taken to a religious Islamic court, and let us be judged there not at a mobile court.”

The ‘Mobile’ Magistrate Court at the Kano Airport where Censorship Board Cases were tried. This photo was taken in July 2009 during the trial of popular singer Aminu Ala. (c) Carmen McCain

The mobile court Biffa referred to seemed to be attached to the censorship board and was presided over by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed at the Kano airport. After the Iyan-Tama case came under review, the Kano State attourney general found the judge’s ruling to be ““improper”, “incomplete”, a “mistake” and requiring a retrial before a more “competent magistrate.” Justice Ahmed was transferred to Wudil in August 2009; however, censorship cases continued to be taken to him. In January 2011, popular traditional musician Sani dan Indo was arrested and taken to Mukhtar Ahmad’s court, where he was given the option of a six month prison sentence or paying a fine of twenty-thousand naira.  The decisions made by the board and the mobile court often seemed of ambiguous motivation. In 2009, Justice Mukhtar Ahmed banned “listening, sale, and circulation” of eleven Hausa songs, citing obscenity, but obscenity was rarely as easily identified as the cutting political critiques in them.

11 Songs banned by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed. (c) Alex Johnson

The effect of these actions was to relocate the centre of the Hausa film industry away from the flourishing Kano market, to Kaduna. Many filmmakers began to claim their rights as national Nigerian filmmakers, taking their films only to the National Film and Video Censor’s Board, bypassing the Kano State Censorship Board altogether. Such films were often marked “not for sale in Kano” and if found in Kano state were known as “cocaine,” a dangerous product that could, as Iyan-Tama discovered, mean imprisonment for a filmmaker, even if filmmaker had advertised, as Iyan-Tama had, that the film was not for sale in Kano State. Another side effect of these actions was the loss of jobs among Kano youth. Ahmad Bifa pointed out that “the Hausa film industry helped reorient youth from being drug-users and area boys to finding jobs in the film profession. Sometimes if we needed production assistants we would take them and give them money. I can count many that the Hausa film industry helped become relevant people to society. But Abubakar Rabo made us go to Kaduna to do our shooting. So the young people of Kano lost the benefit of film in Kano, […] That’s why there are a lot of kids on Zoo Road who went back to being thugs because of lack of job opportunity.”

Ahmad Bifa, on set of the Aisha Halilu movie Armala, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Although the impact of censorship on film was the most well known, the flourishing Hausa literary scene was also affected, with the director general initially requiring all writers to register individually with the censor’s board. With the intervention of the national president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, writers found some relief when Abubakar Rabo agreed to deal with the writer’s associations rather than with individual writers; however, there still seemed to be a requirement, at times ambiguous, that all Hausa novels sold in the state must be passed through the board. Rabo continued to make often seemingly arbitrary pronouncements about what he considered acceptable literature. In December 2009, for example, at a conference on indigenous literature in Damagaram, Niger, Rabo proclaimed that the board would not look at any more romantic novels for a year.

Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, DG of the Kano State Censor’s Board 2007-2011, proclaimed that he would not accept romantic novels for a year. International Conference on Authors and Researchers in Indigenous Languages, Damagaram, Niger, December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

Those who protest the actions of the board do not have a problem with censorship so much as how censorship has been carried out. The original MOPPAN president Abdulkareem Mohammad argued that the intention of creating the censorship board had been one that would allow filmmakers to continue doing their work, “We really were doing things in good faith to ensure that things do work and eventually it is for the betterment of the majority.” He acknowledged wryly that there were flaws in the law that allowed for it to be abused, “I think that on insight, I would have done it differently.” Current president Sani Muazu continued in this vein saying that although the board had been meant to protect artists it had “become a weapon against artists.”  Director Salisu T. Balarabe says, “There was nothing wrong with making the censorship board but those put in charge of directing the board, sometimes put a personal interest into it.” Novelist and scriptwriter Nazir Adam Salih acknowledged “We have our faults. This is true. But the censor’s board was much harsher than it

Novelist and script writer Nazir Adam Salih passionately responds to Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, at the conference in Damagaram, Niger. December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

needed to be. They put someone in power who didn’t know anything about the film industry, Malam Abubakar Rabo, who slandered and disrespected us.” It was this disrespect and the accompanying arrests that most seemed to upset film practitioners. Danjuma Salisu, who is involved in acting, lighting, and assisting production argued that Rabo’s actions were insulting to those whose careers in film “feed our children and parents and families.” Makeup artist Husseini Tupac argued passionately, “Film is a profession. It is a career.  In the same way a normal person will go to the office everyday, we will go the office, we do our work and get paid. When the honourable Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was governor nobody ever came out on the radio and said that actresses were prostitutes, that we were making blue films, that we were rogues. No one came and arrested us.” Producer and director Salisu Umar Santa shared a similar sentiment, saying that he and other

Director Salisu Umar Santa with Dawwayya Productions, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

professionals he worked with, like Rukkaya Dawayya and Sadiyya Gyale, had registered and done everything the board required for working in Kano State and yet Abubakar Rabo continued to say that filmmakers were not decent members of society. Producer and Director of Photography Umar Gotip said that he felt like a refugee having to leave Kano. “You are practicing your profession, to the extent that some people even have a degree in it, but they say you are just rogues and rascals. We had no human rights.” Director Falalu Dorayi, claiming that the Kano State Censorship board regularly demanded bribes, asked “How can the one who collects a bribe say he will reform culture.” Cameraman, editor, and director Ahmad Gulu put it this way: “You should fix the leaky roof before you try to repair the floor.”

Despite his ostensible position as enforcer of public morality, Rabo himself came under suspicion of wrongdoing on several occasions. In August 2009, he was taken before a shari’a court by the Kano State Filmmakers Association and accused of slander for statements he had made about the film community on the radio. In May 2010, he was also sued in by Kaduna Filmmakers Association for accusations he had made on radio and television in Kaduna.  In a strange twist, he accused twelve filmmakers, several of whom were involved the lawsuit, of sending him death threats by text message. Police from Kano came to Kaduna, arresting the one person on the list they could locate—Aliyu Gora II, the editor

Editor of Fim Magazine, Aliyu Gora II, and Filmmaker Iyan-Tama, both former inmates of Goron Dutse Prison, after a hearing in Iyan-Tama’s lawsuit against the Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, 22 July 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

of Fim Magazine, who was held for a week without trial at Goron Dutse Prison in Kano.  In an even more bizarre twist, in September 2010, Trust and other papers reported that Rabo, after being observed late at night by police in suspicious circumstances with a young girl in his car, fled from police. In the car chase he was also reportedly involved in a hit and run incident with a motorcyclist. After he was eventually arrested and released by the police, Governor Shekarau promised to open an inquiry into the

Filmmakers on location in Northern Nigeria on Sunday, 29 August 2009, read the breaking news Sunday Trust article: “Rabo arrested for alleged sex related offence” (c) Carmen McCain

case [as requested by MOPPAN], but Rabo continued as director general of the censor’s board and filmmakers heard nothing more of the inquiry.

The treatment of filmmakers had the perhaps unintentional effect of politicizing the artists and those close to them. Sani Danja told me he had never been interested in politics until he saw the need to challenge what was going on in Kano State. A musician told me his mother never voted in elections but that she had gone out to stand in line for Kwankwaso as a protest at how her children were being treated. Filmmakers used fulsome praises to describe their delight at Kwankwaso’s

Kannywood star Sani Danja prepares for his the first press conference of his organization: Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (c) Carmen McCain

return. Director Falalu Dorayi said “It is as if your mother or father went on a journey and has returned with a gift for you.” Producer and director of photography Umar Gotip said Kwankwaso’s coming was “like that of an angel, bringing blessing for all those who love film.” Even those who are not fans of PDP told me they wished Kwankwaso well, were optimistic about change, and expected him to fulfill his promises in several areas: First, most of them expected that he would relieve Rabo of his post and replace him an actual filmmaker, who as Falalu Dorayi put it “knows what film is.” Secondly, several of them anticipated actual investments into the film industry “like Fashola has done for Lagos filmmakers,” as director and producer Salisu Umar Santa put it, possibly in the form of a film village. And most Kano-based filmmakers I spoke to mentioned their hopes that others who had gone into exile would come back home to Kano. Producer Zainab Ahmed Gusau, who is currently based in Abuja wrote that, “My thought is to go back to Kano, knowing there will be justice for all.We thank God for bringing Kwankwaso back to lead us.”

Hausa film producer Zainab Ahmad Gusai at the Savannah International Movie Awards, Abuja, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

Other filmmakers saw it as a time for reflection on how they can improve the field. Director Salisu T. Balarabe mused “If you keep obsessing over what happened, the time will come and pass and you won’t have accomplished

Hausa film Director Salisu T. Balarabe on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

anything. We should put aside what happened before and look for a way to move forward.”  Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, the politician and filmmaker who was imprisoned for three months, focused on the positive, calling on filmmakers to continue making films that would have meaning and would build up the community.

Many also looked beyond the own interests of film to the entire community.

Ahmad Gulu, Kannywood cameraman, editor, and director, on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Ahmad Gulu, cameraman, editor, and director said “The change has not come to film practitioners alone. It has come to the whole state of Kano. Back then people would accept politicians who would put something in their pockets but now things have been exposed.” Star actor, director, and producer Ali Nuhu similarly pointed out that progress was not receiving money from politicians, saying that one of the most important changes Kwankwaso could bring would be a focus on electricity, drinking water, and children’s education. Writer Nazir Adam Salih said that if Kwankwaso could simply fulfill the promises politicians and leaders had been making for the past thirty years to provide electricity and water, he will have done his job. And finally two directors of photography Umar Gotip and Felix Ebony pointed to the need for peace and unity in the state. “He should try to bring people together,” said Umar Gotip. “This kind of fighting that has arisen between Muslims and Christians is not right. We should live together as one.”

Producer Bello A. Baffancy shows off his Kwankwaso support, Zoo Road, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

‘Yan Fim on Zoo Road following Kwankwaso’s win, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Allah ya jikan Hausa film actress Maryam Umar Aliyu

FIM Magazine Cover featuring Maryam Umar Aliyu

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihirraji’un.

I’m always reluctant to post news like this. It’s bad news, and I don’t like to bear it. The Hausa film star, Maryam Umar Aliyu, who retired from acting  after she married actor and musician Misbahu M. Ahmed in December 2009, died yesterday in Kano. This is one in a long string of Kannywood deaths in the last few years, including actress Hauwa Ali Dodo (Biba Problem) in January 2010,  Safiya Ahmed and director/actor Zilkiflu Mohammed in February 2010, actress Amina Garba (Mama Dumba) in November 2010, and just last month Baballe Costume, a film costumier.

I did not know Maryam well, but I had met her on enough occasions to be completely shocked when I first found out on facebook yesterday of her death. I first met her in 2006, and the film I first remember her in is Dan Zaki. The most recent film of hers that sticks out in my mind is Sai Na Dawo. The image of her that stays with me was sometime in 2008, she came into Golden Goose Studio studio wearing long dangly earrings and a beautiful outfit–a mixture of glamour and good natured sweetness. She sat on the floor with the rest of us, laughing and talking.

According to the Leadership article I will post below, she died yesterday from lingering complications of childbirth three months ago. She was still very young. Allah ya jikanta, ya rahama mata kuma allah ya sa Aljanna makoma ita. Allah ya ba mu hakuri.

If any readers would like to leave comments about memories they have of her or of their favourite films that Maryam featured in, I will consider including comments left by tonight (my deadline) in my column published on Saturday in the Weekly Trust.I will update this post as other news comes along, but to begin with I’ll post the short Leadership article by Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz that came out today. To read on the Leadership website, click here:

Ex-Hausa Film Star, Maryam ‘Kumurci’, Dies

WEDNESDAY, 13 APRIL 2011 11:14 ABDULAZIZ ABDULAZIZ, KANO

A prominent ex-Hausa film actress, Maryam Umar Aliyu (aka Maryam Kumurci), has died. The actress died yesterday afternoon in Kano after a protected illness.Until her death, She was the wife of renown playback singer, Musbahu M Ahmed.

LEADERSHIP also gathered that she died at a private hospital in Kano where she had been battling with complications arising from childbirth. She was said to have delivered of a stillborn baby three months ago.

Burial rites for the deceased was conducted at her family’s residence located at Gwammaja quarters. Just as she was later  buried according to Islamic rites at Kofar Mazugal cemetery.

The late Maryam began her filmmaking career in early 2000s and rose to stardom by 2005. She featured in several Hausa home videos including Khudsiyya and Jani.

She later got married to an actor, Sha’aibu Lawal (alias Kumurci), following the death of his bride, Balaraba Mohammed. Maryam’s relationship with the actor earned her the same sobriquet  as him; kumurci.

UPDATE 16 April 2011

Here is my column for the week, in tribute to Maryam Umar Aliyu. It can be read on the Weekly Trust site, here or in its original format as published in the Weekly Trust by clicking on the photo below:

Honouring Kannywood: In Memory of Maryam Umar Aliyu

Saturday, 16 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain.

Kannywood received yet another blow this week when former actress Maryam Umar Aliyu died, Tuesday, April 12, after a lingering illness following a still-birth. The stylish, light-skinned actress, who was of Nigerien origin but grew up in Katsina, began acting in the early 2000s, appearing in dozens of films including Labarin ZuciyaGiwar Mata, Dan Zaki, Makauniyar Yarinya, Khudsiyya, Jani, and Sai na Dawo, among many others. She also produced one film Majiya. When a brief marriage to actor Shu’aibu Kumurci ended, she returned to acting, but retired again in December 2009 to marry actor and singer Misbahu M. Ahmad. Maryam’s death comes after a long string of losses to the Hausa film industry over the past year and a half: actresses Hauwa Ali Dodo, Safiya Ahmed, and Amina Garba, Director and actor Zilkiflu Mohammad, and producer Hamza Muhammad Danzaki all died in 2010. Last month, a costumier called Baballe Costume also died.

A fan, Khadijah Sulaiman, wrote on Facebook, that she “had never seen a film” of Maryam’s that “wasn’t good.” She most remembered her for the 2006 film Dan Zaki. Likewise, my first memory of seeing Maryam Umar Aliyu was in the Sani Danja film, Dan Zaki, with its echoes of oral literature, where she plays the role of a woman so jealous that she has a sorcerer transform the man she loves into a bird and make his wife go mad. The film had just come out when I arrived in Kano to begin my research. Maryam came to the house where I was staying to visit my hostess, and I remember thinking her quite the opposite of the character she had played in the film. She was sweet and kind and laughed a lot. I remember how, later, after my return to Kano in 2008, she came into Golden Goose Studio one day, a mixture of glamour and cheerfulness, with her dangly earrings, fashionable dress and unforgettable smile. She sat on the floor of the studio, ate kosai and fried potatoes, and chatted with everyone there.

Her laughter, patience, and kindness are what other people in the industry I spoke to remember of her as well. Aminu Sheriff (Momoh) wrote on my blog that “She was very kind and jovial person[…] May her soul rest in peace, amin.” Over the phone (any mistakes in translation from Hausa to English are mine) actress Fati Bararoji told me that Maryam was a very patient and kind person, who loved the people around her. She didn’t fight with anyone, Fati said. She’d put up with a lot. When she accepted a role in a film, she wouldn’t haggle over money but would just take what she was given. Fati remembered, in particular, Maryam’s patience and cheerfulness over a seven-day shoot in Abuja which she had been on with her, shortly before Maryam’s marriage in 2009.

Sakna Gadaz Abdullahi repeated much of what Fati had told me. “Her death is a big loss to the industry and to her family.  The day I heard of her death, I couldn’t do anything else. I was so shocked. Maryam had become like my sister. Everyone who knew her in the industry knew that she was a good and loyal friend. She wasn’t materialistic.”

Sadiyya Mohammad (Gyale) wrote me that Maryam was very nice, patient and quiet. “I really loved Maryam.” Zainab Idris simply said that she had always gotten along well with Maryam. “Her death has really affected us. But we know that God loves her even more than us, and we too are on the road to the Hereafter whether today or any other time.”

Maryam’s death comes at a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between the Hausa film industry, the wider Nollywood industry, and the role of film in Africa as a whole. In 1998, the Malian filmmaker Abdurrahmane Sissako made a film, La Vie Sur Terre/Life on Earth, which portrays a village where the news of the world comes in through international radio broadcasts, but where no information can escape. The villagers know about the world, yet the world does not know about them. The village post office can receive telephone calls but cannot call out.

Although the Hausa-speaking world is certainly no village and has access to phones, internet, radio, and other media (including a gigantic film industry which could be its gateway to the world), there is a metaphoric parallel here. Kannywood knows about Hollywood, Bollywood, and the larger Nigerian film industry of Nollywood, but they know very little about Kannywood.  Despite Maryam Umar Aliyu’s prolific acting career, when I went online to try to find photos of her to put on my blog, I didn’t find more than three or four. It always surprises me how little you find online about Kannywood stars, whose faces, blazoned on stickers, are plastered on thousands of buses, motorcycles, and taxis all over Northern Nigeria, Niger, and surrounding countries.

Hausa is spoken by over fifty million people in Africa. The Hausa film industry is, according to the most recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board statistics, creeping to nearly thirty percent of the Nigerian film industry. Beyond death, the figures and faces of these actors and actresses will keep running and clapping, speaking and laughing, singing and dancing through our lives for as long as the plastic of the VCDs last and the television channels continue to broadcast them into our homes. They are known by millions yet strangely unknown beyond a barrier of language and class, loved by those who buy stickers and films and yet often disrespected by those with the power to write about them on an international stage.

The imbalances in what the world knows about Hausa film and society have their roots in colonialism, yes, but also tend to be continued by the attitudes of an elite who keep their television stations tuned to CNN and BBC. Despite the hundreds of singing and dancing sequences uploaded to YouTube (rarely labeled with names of composer or performer), the occasional Facebook fan page, the old FIM Magazine pages or the commendable Kannywood online fan community, the lack of information about the Hausa film industry online is a sign that it is not yet appreciated by a northern elite who have the most access to the internet. And a lack of financial and moral support from an elite means it is much more difficult for the industry to break into the international film arena, as Yoruba films are beginning to do. I often hear educated members of a Northern Nigerian elite talking about how embarrassed they are by Hausa films, and yet it was these very Hausa films (and also the novels) that attracted me to learn Hausa. I am an American here in Kano because of film. I am here because I saw Ahmed S. Nuhu and Hauwa Ali Dodo and Zilkiflu Mohammed and Maryam Umar Aliyu in stories that captivated me and made me want to let the world know about them.

I am sad that I wrote of Maryam only after she died. I should have written about her while she was alive. Every time I write a tribute to an entertainer or artist gone before their time, I feel this way. Why didn’t I write more? Why don’t we all write more, in Hausa first and then English, about the young talents who surround us, filling our radios with songs, our television screens with dramas, and our bookshelves with novels, not imported but homegrown? Let’s honour Maryam by honouring, respecting and supporting her colleagues, those hard working, cheerful, and kind members of the Hausa film industry who, insha Allah, will live and work and grow as artists for years to come. Only when we respect our entertainers, will they be able to build an industry that will make us proud.

UPDATE 25 April 2011:

Other memories of Maryam Umar Aliyu sent to me:

From Auwal Danlarabawa

ina mai mika ta’aziyya ta ga rasuwar maryam umar Allah ya gafarta mata ameen, akwai wani jarumta da tayi a lokacin da muke aikin film din kanfani a lokacin da doki ya gudu da ita amma bata ji tsoro ba ta zauna daram har diokin ya kare gudunsa ya tsaya wanda ba kowacce jaruma ce zatayi hakan ba, shine babban abinda na ke tunawa a mu’amalarmu da maryam Allah ya gafarta mata mu kuma in tamau tazo Allah yasa mu cika da imani

To read other tributes I’ve written for Hausa actors and filmmakers gone before their time, see my posts on

Actress Hauwa Ali Dodo, who died 1 January 2010,

Director Zilkiflu Muhammed (Zik), who died 18 February 2010,

Actress Safiya Ahmed, who died on 26 February 2010,

Actress Amina Garba, who died on 21 November 2010,

Comedian and director Lawal Kaura, who died on 13 December 2011,

Director Muhammadu Balarabe Sango, who died on 1 December 2012

Anchor Baby and the dark underbelly of the American Dream

I’m behind at posting my old columns, but I was reminded of this article that I wrote a month and a half ago, while briefly sitting beside Omoni Oboli at the dinner after the AMAA award ceremony. Omoni Oboli was nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of the pregnant Joyce in Lonzo Nzekwe’s film Anchor Baby. She didn’t win the award, but she certainly deserved it. Her admirable acting in The Figurine and Anchor Baby puts her on my favourite Nigerian actress list. To read the article, which was published on 12 February, on the Weekly Trust site, click here. To read the hard copy of the article, click on the photo below, which will take you to a readable version of the article on flickr. To read it on this site, just scroll down past the photo.

Anchor Baby and the dark underbelly of the American Dream

Saturday, 12 February 2011 00:00 -

When anyone asks me what my favourite Nigerian movie is, I tell them it’s The Figurine, which was directed, produced, and acted in by Kunle Afolayan.

The film has a tight and continuously gripping storyline that polishes and refines Nollywood genres of spiritual thriller and family drama. But if I’m asked to recommend films, I’ll closely follow my recommendation of The Figurine with the film I went to see last week in Abuja’s Silverbird cinema: Anchor Baby, written, directed, and produced by the debut filmmaker Lonzo Nzekwe, who claims he taught himself filmmaking by reading books and watching “making of” documentaries. In Anchor Baby, which won Best film at the Harlem International Film festival among other awards, Figurine actress Omoni Oboli is compelling in her role as a pregnant Nigerian woman on the run from the American Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Anchor Baby, the title referring to the derogatory American term for babies born as citizens in the U.S. to non-citizens, is a cautionary tale about the dark side of the American dream. The disillusion of emigrants from Nigeria is a theme that has been dealt with in short stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, EC Osondu, Helon Habila, and others, and is becoming a genre of Nigerian films produced in America as well. The yet to be released film Unwanted Guest directed by Daniel Ademinokan and set in New York, for example, explores the domestic complications an already married Nigerian man faces when he marries an American woman for a green card. The 2008 Hausa film Kano to Saudiyya directed and acted by the late Ziklifu Mohammed deals with similar immigration themes of disillusion with life in Saudi Arabia.

The United States doesn’t come across in a very flattering light in Anchor Baby, but it is an America I recognize, even though it was shot entirely in Ontario, Canada. I walked into the cinema five minutes late just as we see the character, Paul Unonga (Sam Sarpong), run across a parking lot and down the grassy incline of an industrial park, chased by American Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The film is shot on the film-quality digital RED camera, but the lush colours the RED is capable of capturing are toned down here into dreary grays and browns. It is winter, and the grass is dead. Paul runs past rows of dirty semi-trucks. This is the ugly side of America, not often seen in glamorous Hollywood films. ICE officials eventually catch him at home in the bleak white hallway of his low-income housing flat. Paul’s pregnant wife Joyce (Omoni Oboli) luckily misses the immigration sweep because she has gone out for an early morning walk. The rest of the film follows the trials of Joyce, as she tries to fulfill the couple’s dream of staying in the U.S. until her baby is born, so that the baby, the “anchor” of the title, will be granted U.S. citizenship.

The celebrated comforts of American life, the film points out, are available only when one is linked into an organized system of legal identity. Once her husband is deported, Joyce finds herself in an almost impossible situation. To escape the immigration officials, she is forced to leave their apartment. The isolation of American life means she knows no one well enough to ask for assistance. She can’t get a job because she has no work papers. Staying at cheap motels becomes too expensive for the small savings she has left, but she is unable to rent a new apartment without government issued id. Similarly, she is unable to receive pre-natal checkups at the clinic, because she has neither health insurance, government id, or the large sum of cash needed to see to the doctor. Eventually, Joyce becomes dependent on the kindness of strangers, the sympathetic free lance writer Susan, brilliantly acted by Terri Oliver, and her interior designer husband, Tim (Colin Paradise). But while she appreciates their kindness, Joyce becomes increasingly uncomfortable by her benefactors’ marriage problems. Her loneliness is portrayed best as she stands on the verandah of a cheap hotel, staring out over the dead winter landscape, an American flag flapping on the railing beneath her.

Although the focus of the film is on Joyce’s experiences, there is also a brief portrayal of the coping mechanism other illegal immigrants face, in the pathos of a Mexican family who make a living out of forging government documents. The film ultimately shows the price of the anchor baby, and the ironies lurking behind the American dream.

I would show this film anywhere, to Nigerians wanting to move to the often idealized U.S., and to Americans who don’t understand the challenges immigrants face. However, there are certain moments that, to my American eye, seem off. When Joyce stays in a basement apartment, the windows should be high, submerged in the ground at eye-level, yet there are points at which we see low sitting window sills and a light source that seem more appropriate for a first floor room. When Paul calls Joyce from the immigration detention centre and tells her to move out of their apartment, it seems strange that this phone call, placed from prison, is not tapped by the police and that Joyce is not picked up by immigration officials before she moves out of the apartment.

My own encounters with American immigration and customs have been few compared to what immigrants face. When I attended university in the U.S., I volunteered with Amnesty International to interview illegal immigrants being held in a prison for deportation to see if there was any way we could assist them with legal help. On a recent trip to the U.S. I wore an abaya and veil to see if I would be profiled by immigration officials at the airport. I was. The only person dressed like a Muslim in the line at a security checkpoint waiting to exit passport control into America, I was also the only one chosen for a pat-down body search. In both instances, the immigration officers I observed displayed more of a bored and unthoughtful officiousness, an institutionalized bias, than deliberate brutality, more like what is seen in the film where Joyce Unanga is denied an apartment and health care because she doesn’t have insurance card or government id. The kind but condescending and bureaucratic immigration officer in the airport, who calls up his boss and says he has an “illegal” for him, is likely more usual in America than the trigger-happy immigration officer Mark Castello (Michael Scratch), who drops racial slurs and blows cigarette smoke into Paul Unonga’s face. But the over-the-top villain works well for dramatic effect, and there are certainly many documented cases of police brutality from the assault against Haitian Abner Louima in a New York jail and the shooting of Guinean Amadou Diallo in the Bronx, New York, in the 1990s, to more recent acts of discrimination, torture, and secret extradition following Patriot Act laws of the 2000s. This is the dark underbelly of the American dream.

In terms of world cinema, Anchor Baby reminds me of the Indian film, My Name is Khan, released last year. In the film, an autistic Indian immigrant living in California is discriminated against by his neighborhood and by airport officials because of his Muslim name. Seemingly made for a non-American audience, My Name is Khan sometimes fudges geographical detail and stereotypes non-Indian characters (I think particularly of the way African American characters are portrayed) but tells a compelling story of how differences strengthen, rather than weaken, American culture. And, to be fair, the exaggeration of detail that you find in My Name is Khan or Anchor Baby are nothing so extreme as the stereotyping of other cultures and countries found in Hollywood films. There is something quite satisfying about these non-American interventions into representations of America, which like the Al Jazeera coverage of the U.S., as opposed to the glossy portrayals of Hollywood and CNN, focus on the poor and downtrodden of “God’s own country.” In a time in which the film industries of an established Bollywood and a rising Nollywood have relegated America’s celebrated industry to number three, and where an economically depressed America seems to be struggling increasingly with xenophobia against non-citizens, we can expect more of the same. I eagerly await Lonzo Nzekwe’s next film.

UPDATE: 25 March 2012.  You can rent, buy, or watch a preview of Anchor Baby, in the embedded video here (Anchor Baby).

 

Governor Ibrahim Shekarau on Hisbah, censorship, and Kannywood in the Presidential Debates

For those who did not see the Nigerian Presidential Debates, between General Muhammadu Buhari, Nuhu Ribadu, and Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, you can watch the debates online, here:

I have transcribed the questions Governor Shekarau was asked regarding the hisbah, censorship, and Kannywood during the debates. Emphasis in red mine:

Timecode: 42:56

Moderator: Now Malam Shekarau, Nigeria is a plural society and yet in the state that you govern, Kano State, the hisbah, which is the morality police, is known to brutally enforce sharia and in the process sometimes trampling on people’s rights as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution. How do you reconcile this intolerance with your desire to be the leader of a country as diverse as Nigeria.

Shekarau: Thank you very much. In the first place, I do not agree that the hisbah was brutalizing and overriding the constitutional right of our citizens. We did not just wake up and create the hisbah without going through the legislation.  We used the same constitutional provision that allowed any state to create any policy, any program, any law that will maintain law and order within the state. The hisbah is no more than what today you call community policing. We have the hisbah in virtually every community. Their duty is to ensure there is peace, there is law abiding, and this is exactly what they do. It is those who violate the rules of the land, and we did challenge anyone, whoever thinks that the hisbah has done anything to him contrary to the rules and regulations that rule the land to take his case to the law courts and challenge the creation of the hisbah. So we didn’t just by the wave of a hand create the hisbah, it went through the legislation. There was law promulgated. In fact, the first item on the law of the hisbah is that the hisbah is to assist the Nigerian police in the maintenance of law and order.  (Clapping)

Moderator: Now, you say that but in practical terms the impact of the hisbah in Kano has included killing a film industry that was providing employment, what is known in Nigeria as Kannywood. So there has been an exodus of filmmakers out of Kano, who get harassed when they are on shoots, who have been asked to submit their scripts for inspection, and a total disregard of the people’s rights to express themselves through art in that particular way.

Shekarau: No, I think that is totally wrong. The hisbah has nothing to do with the censorship. We have a full fledged censorship board, created by law through the legislation. And the censorship board has created rules and regulations that govern the conduct of any film industry. We have a right to decide what is right for the community. The government has the moral responsibility to protect the right, the interest, the instant transformation (?) of the society. (Clapping). So all we did, all we did, we said, if you want to register and run a film industry, you should comply with A,B, C, D, F, and we told anybody who feels any of these rules and regulations contradicts the provision of the  constitution of  the Federal Republic of Nigeria should challenge us in court, and nobody has done that anyhow.

Moderator: You seem to be very strong in terms of protecting the rights of the majority. What about the rights of the minority inside the state that you govern.

Shekarau: We are protecting. In fact it may interest you to know that Kano state today is the most peaceful state in Nigeria. If you ask any of the so-called minority or non-indigene, they are quite happy, they are quite peaceful. In fact, today, you will be surprised to find that those you call non-indigenes or even the non-Muslim prefer to go for settlement of disagreement within the community either to the hisbah court or to the censorship board. We don’t have any problem at all. The rules are working. The society has accepted it. The film industry is thriving very well. All we say is abide by the rules and regulations. And there is no community that will live without guiding principles, without rules and regulations and will think that there will be discipline and order in that community.

Although I thought the most impressive performance in the debate came from the moderator, Kadaria Ahmed, who had no qualms with interrupting these “big men” with hardtalk style questions (and would gladly vote her for president if I had a vote), from the feedback I saw on Facebook and Twitter, the majority opinion seemed to be that Governor Shekarau “won” the debate. He did speak eloquently and seemed well-prepared.

However, in terms of his response to the questions above, one might want to keep in mind a few things, and I will focus here only on what I know about the government’s interaction with the film industry, and leave aside the question about the hisbah, whom I’ve heard praised for their intervention in police corruption as well as railed against for alleged “abuses”.

Shekarau claimed :

“we told anybody who feels any of these rules and regulations contradicts the provision of the  constitution of  the Federal Republic of Nigeria should challenge us in court, and nobody has done that anyhow.”

And

“We don’t have any problem at all. The rules are working. The society has accepted it. The film industry is thriving very well.

From my observations of the interaction between the Kano State Censorship Board and the Hausa film industry based in Kano (and, most recently, in Kaduna) for the past three years, these statements, especially the claim that there has been no legal challenge to censorship implementation, are a bit disingenuous. Below find copied a list of blog posts I have written since 2009 on legal challenges that have been made either to the Kano State government, the Kano State Censorship Board, the Kano State police, and or the head of the censor’s board in his personal capacity.

Here are just a few examples.

On 12 February 2009, I posted an interview with Sani Muazu, President of the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria, about the various lawsuits against the Kano Censor’s Board that MOPPAN was involved in. He told me:

Well, you know, we started this whole process of going to court with our case on Hafsah when it was arrested in the market, and we challenged the authority of the Kano Censors Board to do so. We have since then initiated another suit against the Kano Censors Board, as a national body, that is MOPPAN, challenging the legality of the board as well as bringing out the issues to do with conflict between the National Film and Video Censors Board and the state Censor’s Board as enacted by the state assembly. It is interesting that ever since we did that, we expected the Kano State censors board to allow status quo to remain until when these issues were clearly explained by the legal authorities. But the state censor’s board has gone on to arrest our members indiscriminately without any cogent reasons.

On 16 February 2009, I posted another interview with Dr. Ahmad Sarari, the then Vice-President of MOPPAN and brother of the filmmaker Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama. Iyan Tama was at that time in Kano’s Goron Dutse Prison after being sentenced in a mobile court for supposedly illegally selling his Zuma-film festival award winning film in Kano. (Iyan Tama has since been cleared of all charges). In addition to my questions about his brother’s case, which you can read by clicking on the link, Dr. Sarari also spoke about the court cases MOPPAN was involved in:

What principally we needed was an injunction restraining Kano State Censors Board from attacking, harassing, humiliating and imprisoning our members. We dragged four bodies to the court.  One is National Film and Video Censor’s Board for issuing a license to our members which gives them the right to exhibit, to sell, and show their films throughout Nigeria, yet a particular state attacks or arrests them for doing that, and they have not come out and said anything. Is the registration they issue our members fake or does it not have jurisdiction in Kano? So here I’m saying there’s a clash between the national and the state jurisdiction of two boards. What we understand in accordance with discussion with our lawyers is that when there is a clash between state and federal law, the federal law takes precedence, so does the interpretation of that in the court. We dragged the Kano State Censors Board to court for its action. We dragged the DG of the Kano State Censor’s Board for the guidelines he issued out which we believe are quite unconstitutional. They contradict some fundamental human rights because the guidelines are too stringent and are quite unbearable. And we dragged the speaker, Kano State House of Assembly for allowing the section of the law establishing the board which contradicts national law. We need them to review the law. We have to look at the laws establishing the board because most of them contradict national laws.  That’s why we dragged the four of them to the court.

The case was going fine in the court. We brought our evidence. They said we had to exclude the DG of the censor’s board out of the case. Our lawyer vehemently defended that he had to be in. They said we had to include the Kano State government. We said we sued Censor’s Board and the state house of assembly, because the state assembly are the lawmakers, so Kano State Government is automatically included in the case. He slated 26 of October for the final ruling of the case, and unfortunately [Sarari laughs]… there was this strike [of court workers]. They just resumed this month. So we are just urging our lawyer to find which date are they going to give, and we are very much hoping that the ruling is going to go in our favour.

On 27 March 2009, I sat in on a case in which the Federal High Court struck down the objections filed by the Kano State Censorship Board to MOPPAN’s lawsuit.

The last I checked, this lawsuit is still in the courts, two years later.

There have been other lawsuits, such as the one posted by Iyan Tama in a personal capacity over alleged defamation of character by Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem, the Head of the Kano Censor’s Board on DITV, Kaduna. The case was settled out of court.

On July 21, 2010, I reported that a lawsuit was filed at a Kaduna State high court:

between the applicants 1. Ashiru Sani Bazanga, 2. Mohammed Rabiu Rikadawa, 3. Aliyu Abdullahi Gora, 4. Sulaiman Sha’ani, 5. Musa Aminu, 6. Jamilu Adamu, 7. Abubakar Sani, 8. Tahir I. Tahir, 9. Tijjani Asase, 10. Yusuf Haruna, 11. Yakubu Lere, and 12. Adam Zango and the respondents 1. Commissioner of Police, Kano State; 2. Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Kano State, 3. Chief Magistrate Court 25 Kano, Kano State; 4. Abubakar Rabo. The applicants are seeking damages of Ten Million Naira as compensation for the “violation of the applicants fundamental human rights.”

The Kaduna lawsuit was filed after Kano State Police were sent to arrest the above named filmmakers on an accusation that they had supposedly sent the DG of the Kano State Censor’s Board, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem, a death threat by text message. Aliyu Gora II, the editor of FIM Magazine, was the only one the police were able to find, and he spent nearly a week without trial in Kano’s Goron Dutse prison, after being transported by police from Kaduna to Kano. The suit was the latest in a series of lawsuits following Rabo’s alleged defamation of the Hausa film industry on DITV Kaduna.

Other Posts, in chronological order, that may be of interest in learning about the relationship between the Kano State Censorship Board and the Hausa film industry:

On the Current Censorship Crisis in Kano, posted13 January 2009

Kano State High Court Chief Justice Postpones Iyan-Tama’s Appeal posted 22 January 2009

2:15am Raid on Iyan-Tama’s Family posted 23 January 2009

Iyan-Tama’s Case Not Listed posted 26 January 2009

Triumph/Trust Editorial Convergences posted 29 January 2009

Interviews with Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board, and Dr. Ahmad Sarari, Vice President of the Motion Pictures Practitioners Assocation of Nigeria posted 30 January 2009

The Mysterious Asabe Murtala/Muktar Writes Again posted 10 February 2009

Interview with Sani Mu’azu, President of Motion Pictures Practitioner’s Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) posted 12 February 2009

Interview with Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board posted 13 February 2009

A Surprising Move by MOPPAN, and my friend Sulaiman Abubakar (MPEG) arrested on Tuesday posted 15 February 2009

Interview with Dr. Ahmad Sarari, Vice President of MOPPAN and brother of Iyan-Tama posted  16 February 2009

More Arrests along Zoo Road yesterday, and my article on Iyan Tama makes IPS front Page posted 17 February 2009

Update on the Iyan-Tama Case: Bail Hearing set for 5 March posted 19 February 2009

Updates on the Iyan-Tama case and other articles on the crisis in Kannywoodposted 14 March 2009

Iyan-Tama granted bail, The Judge calls for a new Trial posted 17 March 2009

Raids on a film set last weekend and other developments in “Kano State Censor’s Board vs. Kannywood” posted 24 March 2009

Federal High Court strikes down Kano State Censorship Board’s objections; MOPPAN’s Lawsuit will go on posted 27 March 2009

Mobile Court bans listening to 11 Hausa songs posted 8 June 2009

Recent news on the activities of the Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board posted 24 June 2009

Arrest of singer Aminu Ala and the most recent scuffle of MOPPAN with the Kano State Censorship Board posted 6 July 2009

Breaking News: Singer Ala denied bail posted 7 July 2009

My notes on the court case of Aminu Ala today at the Mobile court attached to the Kano State Censorship Board posted 7 July 2009

Aminu Ala given bail on condition that he does not speak with media posted 10 July 2009

DG of Kano Censor’s Board taken before shari’a court posted 5 August 2009

The latest on the Iyan-Tama case from Nigerian News Service, plus new fees from the National Film and Video Censor’s Board posted 2 October 2009

Kano State Censorship Board shuts down Kano Music Festival hosted at Alliance Francaise, Kano posted 28 February 2010

Update: 3-day international music festival cancelled by Kano State Censor’s Board posted 1 March 2010

French Ambassador rejects the conditions of KS Censorship board for lifting ban on music festival, Punch reports posted 3 March 2010

Arresting the Music. Arresting Hope. Arrested for playing at a wedding “without permission” posted 11 March 2010

Interview with Hiphop artist Ziriums in this week’s Aminiya posted 18 April 2010

FIM Magazine Editor Arrested on accusation of Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, DG of Kano State Censorshop Board posted 4 July 2010

Kaduna State Filmmakers Association take Kano State Police, Court, and DG of Kano Censor’s Board to Court over breach of “fundamental Human Rights”posted 21 July 2010

Iyan Tama takes Rabo to Court for Defamation, and Other Lawsuits posted 18 August 2010

DG of Kano Censors Board Caught in Alleged Sex Scandal with Minor, Sunday Trust Reports, posted 29 August 2010

Press Release from the Motion Pictures Practitioner Association of Nigerian (MOPPAN) Calling for Investigations into the “allegations of  Sex Scandal against Abubakar Rabo,” posted on 31 August 2010

The Latest on the Iyan Tama Case from Nigerian News Service, plus new fees from the National Film and Video Censor’s Board, posted 2 October 2010

Iyan Tama Reaches Settlement with Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board, posted on 17 October 2010.