Fictional Film and Social Change: A study of two Nigerian narratives
Abstract: Nearly 50 years ago a UNESCO paper expounded the value of film as a development tool, alongside other forms of media. Factual films were useful platforms to provide information and instruction particularly in the fields of agriculture and health, and thereby act as a stimulus for practical innovation. Motion pictures were also considered to be a potential conveyor of development knowledge, both vertically across social strata, i.e informing policymakers, governments and institutions; and horizontally across the length and breadth of countries with the potential to reach diverse and dispersed communities. More recently, scholars such as Lewis et al. (2014) have argued that fiction, whether it be literature or cinematic, could and should be considered as valuable supplements and even challenges to more conventional forms of academic or policy knowledge. This study examines that assertion with regard to two Nigerian films, Dry and Unspoken. Both films, classified under the genre of drama (IMDb), address the devastating but preventable condition known as vesicovaginal fistula and as such draw attention to other connected social concerns, inter alia, child marriage, gender inequality and the rights of the girl-child. The films are significant as cultural texts because both were authored and directed by Nigerian women, and so themes of race, gender, and shared heritage acquire greater relevance. My research was guided by theories of representation and audience reception and employed narrative analysis methods to determine if and how the two works constitute ‘development films’, and to assess their potential to transcend the screen and contribute to transforming lives. My findings show that despite cinematic constraints and the imperatives of artistic story-telling the films, through their stylistic codes and thematic unveilings, have validity as tools for social epistemology and advocacy, and the potential to influence behaviour change and institutional policy revision. These attributes put them alongside other contributions within the field of edutainment and suggest that the cinematic experience can have a legitimate role as a site of development communication.
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