Will Kannywood Retain its Censorship Tradition in the Face of Emerging Culture?

Over the last half decade, a monumental change has swept over Kannywood, the largest entertainment industry in Northern Nigeria. This change, armed with its advantages and, of course, fair share of disadvantages, was made possible, in part, by the advent of technology.

Kannywood evolved as far back as the 1960s. However, the word Kannywood was coined by one Sunusi Shehu, a journalist with a popular Northern Nigerian Magazine, Tauraruwa, from the words ‘Kano’ and ‘Hollywood’; the latter being the centre of the American film industry, while the former, from Kano State, the epicenter of the Hausa film industry. 

From its early startup as a family drama affair in the early sixties, the film industry burgeoned and viewership now span across Nigeria, predominantly in the north, and other African countries such as Niger Republic, Chad, Gabon, Ghana, Sudan as well as oversea countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, especially in the Hausa speaking communities.

Until recently, the major marketing and distribution channel of the film is physical, through VHS video cassette and DVD/CD cassettes. However, the advent of technology ushered in a new marketing channel, through the internet. The fate of this new channel seems to be cemented during the lockdown period of the coronavirus pandemic, which limited access to physical marketing of different commodities. This newfound virtual space became the tipping point of the Kannywood market layout, from physical to virtual. It is so because the use of the VHS/DVDs players were already declining.

The metamorphosis of the channels of distribution has not only provided opportunities for different YouTube channels to emerge, but has also brought the viewers more closely to the films, because people can download and view them in the comfort of their phones, saving them the trouble of going to the market to buy the cassettes, or looking for television sets to play them. 

Thus, the Kannywood industry witnessed an influx of new talent, with artists showcasing their expertise through comedy skits, dramas, and appearances in Kannywood series. This digital evolution, however, has given birth to a clash between the industry, the public and the government.

The Kano Censorship Board

As entertainment could not be completely expunged from human life, its moderation also is not a subject for debate.

In 2001, the Kano State Government established the Kano State Censorship Board (KSCB). The primary responsibility of the board is to filter any viewable, audible or readable material produced by the mass media, or via the internet or performed on the stage.

As a government parastatal, the board has representatives from other establishments such as the Ministry of Justice, Emirate Council, Producers, Marketers, among others. Therefore, it is tasked with the screening of films produced by the industry, before being released for the public to view. 

This move, though not without some religious motives, was made to preserve the cultural traditions of the conservative communities of Northern Nigeria, where the largest faction of its viewers is based.

Because Northern Nigeria, which has a greater number of Muslims compared to the other regions of the country, is culturally conservative, there arise the demand for films produced by the Kannywood to showcase moral values, piety, and good virtues. Therefore, Kannywood is traditionally a film industry that shies away from showcasing social vices such as immorality, terrorism, and kidnapping 

How long can this tradition persist?

A powerful wave of modernization and globalization is sweeping in, bringing with it a blend of diverse civilizations and popular cultures that revolve around virtual spaces. This phenomenon is often captured by the phrase “the world is a global village.”

A version of Kannywood has, therefore evolved and being based mainly online, it found itself pulled by the forces of this wave, hence, it gravitates towards it, eluding the warring clutches of the censorship board. 

Kannywood and Appropriation of Bollywood

Besides modernization,  Kannywood is also under a great influence of foreign films, most especially Hollywood. A Germany-based Nigerian Hausa Language scholar, Dr Muhsin Ibrahim Mohammed said, “The northerners draw significantly from the East, mostly from Indian and Arab cinemas and portraying what they perceive as ‘Islamic’, or, at least, ‘less un-Islamic’”.

Films like Sangaya, Taskar Rayuwa, Salsala, Kansakali, Ibro Awilo, Mujadala, etc, succeeded precisely because of their song and dance routines adapted from Indian films, rather than the strength of their storylines or their messages. Although they largely draw much from the Indian cinema, Kannywood films are more sanitized as bare body contact, not to talk of hugging and kissing among male and female actors, is still avoided. Other practices considered indecent by the general public are also avoided in the films. 

This is the genesis of the massive appropriation of Bollywood films that has now become problematic as some marketers go beyond appropriation to simply dubbing the Hindi films”. One may even overhear viewers critiquing some of the Kannywood films as they express disappointments over the films being exact copies of well-known Bollywood movies. In some instances, the difference is only slight.  Example of such films is a 2014 Kannywood film titled “Hanyar Kano” (Way to Kano), directed by Ilyasu Abdulmumin Tantiri. It was appropriated from the 2007 Bollywood film, “Bombay to Goa”, directed by Raj Pendurkar. 

Kannywood and the Public

The public’s reaction is, however, varied among different categories of people. Some are extremely averse to explicit contents in Kannywood movies, while others occupy the other end of the spectrum, either arguing that is normal or are totally indifferent. 

An online poll showed that 90% of 379 respondents strongly condemned the new trend of uncensored movies corrupting morality through portrayals of indecency and explicit contents. In the same poll, the remaining percentage expressed that they see no difference or anything to be alarmed for. 

In the long run, the public complains led the Kano State Government, in 2021, to place ban on movies that portray kidnappings, drug abuse and other public vices. This, as expected, has brought opinions with different polarities, a popular Nollywood actress, Nsikan Isaac said: “I don’t think it should be banned in any way because that is the only way you can really tell a story the way it should be told”. However, Mr. Emeka Rollas, the President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) differed in his opinion, as he said “If Kano government feels it is not helping the citizens or youths, they have the right as a government to stop it. And it does not in any way stop the filmmakers from expressing themselves.”

Ms. Isaac’s view could be brought to more light, as the Nollywood, the counterpart film industry from the Southern part of the country, which is more aligned with western cultures, rarely generate public debates for issues of this kind. The scholar, Muhsin Ibrahim also said “the division of Nigeria along religious lines brought about the remarkable difference in the films produced in the two major geographical divides. The southerners make films mainly in English, the official language of the country, with mostly Western motifs and contents, and are seen as representing the national film industry.” 

While the masses had their different opinions, the government had its own reasons and justification for its actions. Here, the concept of “Homophily” may then come to play. Homophily is the ability of people who share common attributes and beliefs to form a strong connection and bonds which includes dressings, acting and many other human activities. It is a sociological phenomenon described by the Austrian-American sociologist, Paul Lazarsfeld and other researchers in the mid-twentieth century.

Ultimately, while it is important for a society to open up to emerging innovations, technologies, and cultures, it is also very important to never forget the identity and culture that formed the essence of such society. For the Kannywood to ride aboard the train of modernization, it needs to learn new and progressive ways of preserving its tradition, that of its viewers and go on by its well-known legend which it prides on “Ilmantarwa, fadakarwa, da kayatarwa,” which means to educate, to create awareness and, to entertain. 

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