A couple of days ago, I was watching television with my niece. A young girl just turned 10 years old and very impressionable. Her body is still developing and so is her sense of who she is. Beautiful, black, short hair, white teeth, and at this stage, not very graceful yet.
Many times I catch her talking to her imaginary friends and I happily join in, for I understand very deeply the power of the imagination as a filmmaker.
As I sat with her, I couldn’t help but notice how different the image she was watching was from her. This beautiful animated girl on TV had beautiful pink skin, flowing blond hair, blue-green eyes, honey milk voice, and everything my niece definitely wasn’t, on the outside at least.
My mind wandered to myself as a young girl growing up in Liberia. If anyone is old enough to remember the muppet show. Myself exactly at that age, I was tall, dark, and all over the place and so I have nicknamed Kermit the frog after the famous character in the show. We laughed about it and I remember laughing heartily to myself too when teased. But guess what, that image as a frog stayed with me.
As a beautiful young woman in later years, I would question my own beauty. Seeing beauty in everyone else, but seeing only the frog in me. So sitting here with my niece, my mind can only travel into her future. Perhaps, 5 or 20 years from now. She will struggle with accepting her dark skin, she will forever wish her hair was silky soft and she will look into the mirror wishing some other colour either than rich brown looked back at her.
Such is the power or imaging and the impact it has on our youth. We have witnessed a generation of young people in the last couple of years, practically embark on suicide missions to get to the promised land of Europe and Europe on the other hand, struggling to come up with ways to prevent the crossings into their dear country of these migrants who are nothing but a nuisance.
We have seen the United States of America despise the immigration process. We have also seen African countries struggle only to turn a rough diamond into crystals and nothing more than clear quartz. The question usually is; where did we go wrong? But let me ask a different question today. My question is, how can we expect that young man to be any better than the thief, the weakling, the corrupt person we always show him to be? How do we expect leaders who are any better than what we show them constantly to be, who and what they are?
After all, are we not constantly telling our young people through films and television they watch that you can only make money through the easy way and that they are good for nothing less.
Have we stopped to wonder about the reason why a young woman will sell her entire body to buy some Brazilian hair that fell off someone’s head because they no longer wanted it?
At the very least, if we wanted hair, are we not good enough to make them right here where we are? How can we when we have been told over and over again through films that our head that grows from our head is too hard and will cause your mother-in-law and society to think of you as unpolished? How will our men and women not kill themselves and sell themselves to get to the land of gold, at least as seen in the movies?
If for nothing else, 2020 has brought us an opportunity to stop and re-access. To reconsider the fact that in Africa, we have good land and good food, which is why we are still here and not spilling out dead bodies during this COVID-19 pandemic as was projected. It has shown us that we have within us the potential for good leadership and that we can manage our own affairs as Ghana has demonstrated in the region and the world by the outstanding leadership demonstrated by The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.
Africa has the fastest-growing consumer market, and we can develop what we need right here, and we have large enough a market within to trade. That is the truth right there staring us right in the face! Yesterday I was watching a documentary about the dangers of the food we eat.
As someone whose mother just died from some illness that eating bad food gives you, I wonder why a country like Ghana that has arable land will still resort to importing tomatoes that are filled with additives that kill. Why should this be the case when we can grow all the tomatoes we need right here and even process them if we want to? Africa and all its people and land that apparently consumes the most tomatoes have to import tomato paste from Italy and China, why? It is definitely not the lack of a ready market. It must definitely be the limitations we have placed on our own minds.
The question is how were we told we are incapable without even realizing it. The next time you watch a “program’ remember the word ‘program’, I beg to say they mean our minds are being ‘programmed’ Why don’t we start to think about developing a new ‘program’ that overrides the old programs we have learned and become. We now have the Africa continental free trade area.
Let’s just step back again into the film about tomatoes. The trade agreement between African countries means that if we grow more tomatoes than we need, for instance, Ghana can sell the excess to Nigeria right next door with over 200million people? Imagine if we made films that showed the beautiful places we have, the beautiful people going through all odds to feed their families. The incredible stories in every corner.
Imagine the additional stories brought on by COVID-19. Stories of survival, of strength. Stories of women who appreciated their sheep-like hair that didn’t stand in their way to greatness, but gave them confidence. If we start today, imagine what my niece will be watching and the difference your own story will make in her life. This is the time for independent filmmakers, for African filmmakers to go deep to begin to tell stories that resonate with the people and show the people how precious they are and what they are capable of becoming. Stories of rags to riches right here. The African dream can happen for us, but it needs to happen first in our minds and hearts, in our films.
The last couple of years have taught us that there is a place for our stories in the world, that the world longs for a different and diverse kind of storytelling; not the same old ones. First let’s remember that when given the opportunity, people love to hear about themselves. This means that as close as Ghana is to Nigeria for instance, When done right, Nigerians, Liberians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, and the other African countries would probably love to see a great Ghanaian film and so is the other way round and not those from other parts of the world.
What is the role that filmmakers can play? What are the opportunities out there? No one can tell your story better than you. What is your story, what story will you like to see?
Until the lion learns to tell its own story, the hunter will always be king.