While growing up, I was endeared to film criticism by the cheeky but fair reviews that I read in the British tabloids my father brought home. They made me realise that movies should not be fleeting images targeted at a passive audience, but should instead be instruments of ‘edutainment’ and amenable to critical analysis. Hence, my unconscious urge to assess every film I watch. How best do these films reflect the past and current state of the societies they are trying to depict and what value do they add to the teeming audiences that throng the cinemas and DVD stores just to grab a copy of the next blockbuster?
Nigeria boasts of a film industry that dates back decades, even if it just earned the sobriquet ‘Nollywood’, about twenty years ago. However, film criticism is still an emerging art, probably because it remains a largely academic field that is usually overshadowed by literary criticism. I use the term ‘emerging’ because despite being a colossal movie industry, Nollywood has been mostly neglected in terms of mainstream scholarly critique accessible in dedicated film columns. Film magazines and full-time critics are few and far between in Nigeria, although the industry churns out films in large numbers and aspires to emulate its foreign counterparts by celebrating its products with glitzy premieres, awards and festivals.
Yet this is changing as media outlets – mostly online - are beginning to dedicate column space to reviews, recaps, and rejoinders from filmmakers. Conversations about films often take place on individual social media profiles or blogs. These developments, to an extent, have reduced the impression of the critic as an antagonist who offers no meaningful recommendation. However, reviews might sometimes bear the tone of commissioned press releases or hatchet jobs that do not adequately engage the work of the filmmaker – raising the problem of objectivity among film journalists.
In addition, the critic is sometimes daunted by constraining factors such as press ownership; the horde of fans who find criticism of their beloved filmmaker unbearable, as well as the wrath of the filmmaker, distributor and commercial cinema management, who regard the critic as an agent of sabotage. Nonetheless, I believe a film critic owes the filmmaker and the average cinephile a fair opinion, withholding such would be depriving these stakeholders of a satisfactory evaluation of the motion picture.