Apparently we do.
A quick search on Ghana google trends shows that over the past twelve months, terms relating to “dragon” have been more popular than Anansi/Ananse. The same is true when one considers data from the past five years as well.
Anansi/Ananse and the Dragon
It is easy to explain this away by referencing the HBO hit series, Game of Thrones. Other films like How to Train Your Dragon, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s LOTR and Hobbit, etc., have been popular in this part of the world. Indeed, the marketing clout of Hollywood can not be overemphasised. Shows like ‘Breaking Bad, How I met your mother, and hostoric hits like Friends and Star Trek continue to be regular on our menus. While the quality of such franchises, sometimes involving insane amounts of costs and revenues, ensures their preference over our own productions, it can be argued that a collective, national effort can be made toward garnering more viewership for local content.
Take the Chinese position for example, an extreme tactic aimed at condemning such ‘western’ values as overnight success and sensationlising private affairs, aims at promoting the Chinese narrative. With China becoming an important market even for Hollywood filmmakers, the government has taken steps to position its own values as against the creator’s freedom to portray events. In 2012 when China opened its market further in compliance with its WTO membership, the Chinese regulators allowed the screening of only 34 American films per year. Censorship notwithstanding, China is projected to become the world’s largest film market.
Indian films are also making a splash on American moviegoers due to changing demographics. With a population growth rate of almost 70% between 2000 and 2010 among Indian-Americans, Indian language films are raking in millions of dollars at the box office. This is in contrast to a sub-par performance in revenue back home where corruption and politicization of language are suggested as factors hindering growth of a potential USD 10 billion industry. Where China is indirectly promoting its content and raking in billions in revenues by restricting foreign content in its cinemas, Indian filmmakers are exporting movies to North America…and Ghana.
Which brings us back to dragons in Ghana. The trends show that not only was the flying reptile more popular than our very own Anansisem, it had more online hits than Chale Wote Street Art Festival over the same period. Contrasting this to the successes of imported shows like Veera and Kumkum Bhagya, and we have further proof of our own insatiable love for foreign goods.
There is no denying our love for the mystical and fantastic elements of film. Our own histories and lore are filled with the mysterious heroics of characters like Okomfo Anokye and the whispered evils of Mame Water. The Dodowa Forest is steeped in ancient happenings, while all around us, quack medicine men and magicians promise to conjour money for the unemployed and also create love potions for the desperate. We are, like the world at large, victims of our desires. Yet, while others have managed to build billion dollar industries that taps into such readily available market, we seem to thrive on little else than the comedies and dramas of Kumawood.
Which is not a bad thing, except we are obviously scratching just the surface of it. The African film market is huge and still growing. Writer Binyavanga Wainaina has suggested we use Nollywood (and African film industry in general) as a tool for development and literature advancement. In the creative industry, like in all endeavours of the private sector, the ability to protect private capital and, in this case, private content, is key to the industry’s growth. Facebook and Twitter might offer an avenue for showcasing talent and all, but it has serious repercussions for ownership and monetization.
To get to a point where the country’s budding creators earn as much as they invest in time and resources, a coherent structure has to be made of our creative industry. Copyrights should be enforced properly. The media houses should pay for content created by individuals. We need more cinema houses. More theatre locations. Our penchant for sticking to mainstream elements of the film and music scene should equally be questioned. Kumawood stars, Nana Ama McBrown and Kwadwo Nkansah are among the more popular elements of our pop culture. The twelve month trend indicates they recorded more online hits than ‘mainstream’ actors John Dumelo, Yvonne Nelson, and Yvonne Okoro.
What these suggest is that we can create our own dragons, or at least nurture the ones we have. The internet is not the future as some would have us believe. With 5 million internet users, we might not have the market Nigeria and Kenya have. But we have the stability and predictability that our vibrant democracy gives us. It is why I am particularly encouraged by the presence of Iflix. With competitive pricing and more content options, it should be possible to leverage our collective talents for the benefit of the otherwise ‘underground’ creative industry. The internet is the present, and the earlier we manage to make use of it, the better it will be for our tourism, film industry, education, and overall development as a country.