Coming home to Accra every year can be considered a pilgrimage for me on many levels. Apart from seeing the people who mean a lot to me and eating some good old spicy Ghanaian food, l also get the chance to re-immerse myself in my culture and heritage.
Being away, one better appreciates the saying that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Yes, we all tend to glorify our homes when we are away. Then again, why not?! The Akans of Ghana say “no one points to their hometown with their left hand.” Meaning, no matter how bad issues are in your home country, one will never disrespect it.
However, l am worried about the state-of-affairs of my beloved nation. Out of the myriad of issues, l will share just one of it with you.
This is more relevant to me now because l have a nephew; one who might not grow up in the world l grew up in terms of how much cultural assimilation he gets from television and society but at least he deserves to know his culture in addition to all the other beautiful cultures of the world.
Growing up, there were a good number of local productions on TV that reflected my culture. I will not go into the sociological and psychological importance of positive, realistic representation of any people in the mass-media but we know television is a powerful disseminator of information.
Mass-media shapes our way of seeing the world and influences how we understand differences. In this light it’s interesting looking back now on my experiences as a young African woman first in Ghana and later out of my home country. Seeing my own people and our stories on the screen, overtly or covertly, boosted my self-confidence and pride in who l was and where l came from.
When l watched “Thursday Theatre” or “Akan Drama” the sociologists among us will tell you, l was going through a re-immersion of Ghanaian culture. I rediscovered how traditional marriages were contracted, what system of inheritance worked with different ethnic groups, and so many other pertinent issues relating to our way of life. Mind you, l was watching foreign films and cartoon network at an equal rate.
For those of you who are not familiar with the history of Ghanaian television, storytelling has always been an integral part of Ghanaian culture. The popular Kwaku Ananse folktales have been passed on from generation to generation.
Storytelling was a regular feature of night life in villages. Ghana’s film industry dates as far back as 1948 when the Gold Coast Film Unit was set up in the Information Services Department.
African Pictures Ltd. started operations about the same time. In 1971, the Ghana Film Industry Corporation was created as a corporate body. Governments past and present have always utilized the media as a tool for development but also as conduit for propaganda as it is to be expected.
The various coup d’états that have plagued this country left us with a gradual demise of our cinema culture. The cinema houses of my mother’s era are no longer functioning. In present day Accra, l know of only one cinema facility where most young and old go to watch mostly foreign films.
These days, when l switch on my television, all l see are mostly badly produced TV shows. My mother’s usual rant when we switch on the TV is “if l were a member of parliament, l will promulgate a law that will ban half of these music videos” For any producer when a woman in her late 50s finds your handiwork this terrible then you know there is an actual cause for concern.
The number of foreign soap operas on the various television stations in Ghana is absurd to say the least. The least said about the spelling mistakes in subtitling the better. There are clearly more foreign programs than local stories.
My television doesn’t reflect me anymore.
Please don’t get me wrong. Before l ever embarked on my first foreign trip, l experienced other cultures through books and television. My world view was shaped this way but l also had a daily dose of Ghanaian cinema and television shows. While l saw other representations of other ways of life, my own life was also projected on the big screen.
Films like Baby Thief, Kakraba among many others, taught me, to a large extend how to speak better English. It was a joy to watch ace Ghanaian actor, David Duntor speak impeccable Ghanaian English not with a forced American or British accent.
Yesterday, l watched an advert from one of the most reputable finance company. The voice over said “cows” instead of cattle. It took a few precious minutes for it all to sink in.
Questions started running through my mind; did the advertising company hear this? What about the financial company in question? And the television stations, a fourth estate of the realm? Three major institutions had allowed a widely known grammatical error to play repeatedly on TV.
Our gatekeepers have fallen asleep. My fuss with this advert isn’t only about the grammatical error, my major concern is those who are supposed to know better have shirked their responsibilities.
We are now saddled with my young nephew and his peers also saying and writing cows because they have seen it on TV. How do we explain to them we have failed in our responsibility to their generation?
I cannot end this post without talking about the current state of Ghanaian films. The storylines l see sadden me. For a nation of about 25 million people who speak over 75 languages and dialects, stories abound.
Even among my close knit of friends, there are enough stories to make great movies. Unfortunately, all l see over and over again are the perpetuated, stereotypical stories about us.
I have heard some people argue that quality doesn’t really matter in our production at this stage in our film making. The fact that we are churning out bad films in large quantities now is better than nothing is their answer when one bemoans the quality of Ghanaian films. I beg to differ.
There is a complex relationship between manufactured reality and the real world and most audiences are blinded about this.
All over the world, Africans have to battle with very negative stereotypical representation of themselves and the continent. If we have the chance to tell our own stories, then we better do it right.
The world’s perceptions of us and in many ways how we are treated are based on how people see us the through the mass-media. As a country, a vibrant film industry with films and filmmakers who have won both local and international recognition is nothing new to us. My unsolicited advice is simple- sankofa. History is always a good teacher.
African literature for example is going through a revolution, albeit some might argue a silent one. We have moved on from claiming Chinua Achebe as the sole literary giant of the continent and now confidently talk of young authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Olufemi Terry among others.
In this same regard, there are emerging filmmakers in Ghana who are working hard and deserve to be acknowledged. It is a tough industry out here for artists but l don’t think it’s impossible to churn out authentic African stories. Looking at the independent film industry in the Middle East for example, most filmmakers face a similar situation.
Yes, you will find the hurriedly mass-produced films but you also find the hidden gems. I have immerse hope in Africa and her people. We have come far from the days of colonialism and have struggled to shine in a world where we are constantly defined as hopeless.
Our ancestors fought to entrench our freedom in this land; a struggle that claimed precious lives –a struggle worthy of being told.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Maya Angelou
By Ama Akuamoah