The Corleonisation of Nigeria
No film and novel has influenced the psyche of the Nigerian male as much as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Many of the leaders of the various fields of activity today dreamt of and mimicked the characters from The Godfather (especially Don Vito and Michael Corleone) for many years and it remains the default preference of action of millions.
Even strong women in positions of power are affectionately referred to as the Don Corleone of “this or that organisation” by males. How did a ‘fictional’ novel about sheer crime, violence and death come to produce the role models by which Nigeria is endued?
The introduction of VHS and Betamax in the early 1980s in Nigeria is one reason. There were few films on the first generation of home videos back then and The Godfather, Saturday Night Fever and James Bond movies proved to be by far the most popular. With most Nigerian male cinema audiences fed on a staple of Chinese Kung Fu, Indian Bad Guy and American Blaxploitation movies throughout the 1970s, a film without a good fight, violence or a ‘hard-core deal’ was considered ‘boring.’ Nigerian guys even wanted to do legitimate business the hard core way in a facsimile manner to film formulae. Such approaches were even employed wholesale by youths in the 1983 general elections.
While Kung Fu and Indian movies provided mostly abstract entertainment, Blaxploitation movies had actors whom Nigerian males could identify with. Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree starring in films like Shaft, Three the Hard Way, Superfly, Across 110th Street became instant and enduring role models with Nigerian male audiences. It was amazing to see urban male graduates and undergraduates wearing an Afro and dressed-up in US East Coast winter clothing in hot tropical Nigeria! However, it was the ‘hard guy’ in Blaxploitation image that interested the Nigerian male the most. Unsurprisingly, being a hard guy in Nigeria has been fashionable ever since then.
However, the Blaxploitation hard guy invariable died cheaply or went to jail within a white justice system. This hard guy could fight well, was insular, debonair, care free, adventurous, ruthless, street smart, brutal but also was fun to be with, attractive to women (who often he treated badly) and did not do a 9-5 job to earn his income.
He was a crook who was unmarried at a time when marriage was the inflexible destiny the Nigerian male. He was also not college educated at a time when all Nigerians wanted a qualification from higher education. Identification with the Blaxploitation hard guy was strong, but the acceptance of his way of life not completely desirable.
Dramatically, in one film-novel people now saw ‘Mafia’ hard guys that did not run away from police and Blaxploitation hard guys but actually controlled them. The mafia hard guy did not have to be apparently hard or boastful, his reputation spoke for him. He was a Machiavellian operator not a hustler or small time crook. He owned regular businesses as a front, sent his kids to university (if they were willing), had influence in many spheres of life and have a strong cohesive family. In a nutshell, The Godfather story line made the workings of the mafia family look so glamourous and so easy. The Nigerian male fell for it.
It is fair to say films have had a very strong influence on the psyche, preferences, expectation and taste of Nigerians in numerous ways. The film Saturday Night Fever produced a strong commercially-profitable fad in shiny polyester and silk shirts; Fame and Soul Train (TV series) created dance crazes; The Professionals: CI5 (TV series) made risky street car racing and tire screeching fashionable; Pretty Woman helped glamourise the ‘club girl’ sex worker; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was another justification for the desire to be a hard guy etc. It is unfortunate that foreign film and TV has not helped to introduce positive role models, attitudes and aspirations in Nigerians, male or female, outside fashion, food and drink.
Nigeria has definitely been ‘Corleonised.’ The implications of this Corleonisation are immense but yet to be measured or thoroughly understood.
- PERSPECTIVE is published every Monday. Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist. Follow him on Twitter: @Grimot