• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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New regulation in movies is not anti-creativity and self-serving, it’s for healthy screen – Hussein

New regulation in movies is not anti-creativity and self-serving, it’s for healthy screen – Hussein

Since assuming office on March 11, 2024 as the new executive director, National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Shaibu Husseini, a PhD holder, has hit the ground running, starting with the push for the replacement of censorship in NFVCB with classification, new regulations on smoking, tobacco products and money rituals and ritual killings in movies, among others.

In this interview, the NFVCB’s boss bares his mind to Obinna Emelike on topical issues, especially new regulation, why it will not stifle artistic creativity, his mandate and new work mode at Censors Board, among others. Excerpt.

As the new executive director, what is your mandate at the Censors Board?

I did not come to the Censors Board to mark the register. I came to do what the Censors Board is set out to do, I will not go out of it and I will not do short of what Mr. President and Hannatu Musa Musawa, the Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, want me to achieve.

Also, I commit to a Censors Board that will move completely away from censorship to classification, I commit to a Censors Board that will move from analogue classification to digital, I commit to a Censors Board that will be responsive to itself, to the society, to the stakeholders and to the federal government that set it up.

Why the request to remove ‘Censors’ from NFVCB acronym?

The first thing I did immediately when I took over at the Censors Board was to go to the Minister to tell her that all over the world, the word censorship is associated with dictatorship and with the military. I asked if we could do away with that word and she said yes, go ahead and that we have our bill in the National Assembly and that I should make sure that the change takes effect. So, I met all the people in charge of bills, I told them what we wanted and I succeeded in convincing them. They removed the word censorship in it. So, when the bill comes out, censorship will not be there again.

Why the proposed regulation?

The whole idea is for us to have a healthy screen and we are committed. The regulation is not about one step forward, one step backwards. It is not about me. It is about everyone, about the young people, about our children and the future of our children.

I really want us to understand that I did not ban smoking scenes and I did not ban ritual scenes in our movies.

There are aspects of our culture you need to display and they are called necessary scenes.

What we are saying is that if you have to play a necessary scene for historical accuracy, for educational purposes and to correct a negative lifestyle, you must warn people to know that these things are not real and they are not a lifestyle for you to emulate.

The other argument is that we at NFVCB don’t watch films to the end and that if we do, we shouldn’t need to make regulations. I asked those putting up the argument what they meant.

They said in the end of their movies, there used to be consequences. But the problem is that for some enlightened filmmakers, the consequences may be very high. But the bulk of the consequences I have seen, they don’t compare to the act. I will give an example. A man killed seven people in a movie, he cut their heads to become rich, with a convoy of cars and tormenting people in the village and all that.

And after sometime, one of the ghosts starts pursuing him, others join later and he becomes a mad person and starts picking things from the dustbin to eat and the next thing is “To God be the glory”. But what is the consequence of killing seven people compared to the killer who later died?

So, we need stakeholders to understand what we are doing, especially the media that reports the sector.

Can you give examples of unhealthy scenes in films?

Before I became ED of NFVCB, there were certain depictions I saw on social media, and I went to their DM or I have their contacts and I sent them a message saying, what is the moral of this genre you have shown us?

There are so many depictions like the one that I always talk about is in a skit where a man sent a 7-year-old boy to buy him a cigarette. Of course, it is wrong to send a child to buy cigarettes for an adult.

In the above case, not only did the man send the boy to buy cigarettes, but asked him to tell ‘Malam’, the seller, to light it for him.

The seller lit the cigarette according to the instructions and while the boy was coming back, he branched in an enclosure to puff a little from the burning tobacco.

When the seven-year-old boy came back, the brother called him Abel, where are you? The boy coughed and replied, I am here. At that point the man should have queried why the boy was coughing, instead he collected the cigarette and asked why it was short and that the boy should go back and ask the seller.

When you are watching skits, the skit makers will unusually put parody-like laughter to make you think that it is funny. What is funny in the above case study is that the boy is so short and has a big belly (sorry for body shaming). He went to the ‘Malam’ to make an inquiry and the ‘Malam’ asked him to ask the ‘otondo’ (stupid) boy. He pursued the boy and fell down and that was the end of the skit and we laughed. So, what is the message or moral of the skit, if I may ask?

There are so many of them like that. So, when I saw the regulation I said we must take responsibility as filmmakers.

I believe that once an artiste takes responsibility, once he does something that does not undermine national security, he does not corrupt or injure people and the rest of them, we have no need to begin to say go and cut this or that in a film.

Are there film industries across the world where the regulations are in place?

When I was telling people that this is a global practice, they were arguing, so I went and downloaded instances.

India has done it, Hollywood is a self-regulated industry, but they have also done theirs.

What they first did was that the big studios said there must not be smoking in any content for young people and even if there is going to be smoking, they will write a scene around it to discourage smoking. Maybe an actor in the film will say, “Are you still in this habit”, and the guy will say “Ahhh”, and the actor will say “You got to stop it, it is bad”. Then he coughs, this is among the effects.

They write it in the scene to correct it. Hollywood has done it and they now use more props.

Also, UNESCO said Nigeria is the second largest film producer in the world after India. India has given us an example and I downloaded Indian films and showed them. The joy for me was that one person who was saying that the regulation is law against the society and that the society will not obey it, called me two days later to ask me if I want them to do all these warnings and I asked him where he got the warnings from.

He noted that he just watched one film on Netflix and they stayed for one minute talking about warning and that there is a place in the movie where they said, don’t try this at home.

So, these things are global practice and things we should know about, which some filmmakers are ignorant of.

We are going to ensure that we pass the law, once it comes out from the Ministry of Justice, we will re-engage the platform owners. Already, some of the platform owners have told us that if there are those unnecessary scenes, they normally demobilize the content.

We are still going to meet them to tell them that this is the law in the country and you must obey the law.

What about the allegation from some quarters that the regulation is self-serving and anti-creativity?

So, the regulation is not anti-creativity and self-serving, if not my bosses would have called me to order. Each time they call me, I explain what we are doing, the level we are in pursuing that and they are excited.

There is nothing self-serving, nothing anti- creativity or suppressing creativity about that regulation. I cannot be in the Censors Board as an artiste and also suppress creativity.

People are hiding under home movies now to advertise. You will see a dustbin inside a restaurant that is donated by a tobacco company, so we need to watch out.

What are the challenges you envisage with the regulation?

The challenge we will have is monitoring capacity. But I have gone to the minister and she is helping us to see how we can address the challenges.

I promised you that we are moving from analogue to digital. This is to enable us to monitor these films because they are so many, they are everywhere, and even online.

We are going to work with CAPA too. I don’t want money, just give me the equipment, give me smart phones, laptops and others, let me give to my staff members to enable them work optimally from anywhere so that we can continue to look at those screens to monitor films to ensure a healthy screen.

Do you also seek media support for your job?

Yes, I need media support to further create awareness of the benefits of the regulation, especially the Art and Entertainment Writers because they are very enlightened. I have also been part of these incredible writers and I know what their writing can do.

Things are happening already in that respect. I was excited at the Tribune Newspaper’s editorial on the issue of smoking and ritual scenes in our films. For me, this matter is topical and that was why Tribune did an editorial on it. I expect that we will have informed commentaries on it.

What is the role of CAPPA in the regulation?

I was appointed in January 2024, but I did not take over till March. Before then, I got a letter from Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), requesting to pay me a courtesy visit. They kept asking when I was going to resume, and I told them that I had not collected my letter of appointment.

On March 11, 2024, I resumed and the CAPA team came the following week. Before they came, I had read about what they were doing and I aligned myself to it because I teach in University of Lagos as an adjunct lecturer and I found out that most of the projects that my undergraduate students even Masters students are doing are mostly influence studies; influence of this on behaviour, influence on this and that. At that point, I discovered that this thing is something we must take seriously.

So, when the CAPA team came and said that there is a regulation and that the problem is that we need to pass the regulation to the Honourable Minister for approval, I studied the regulation, studied what is happening in other parts of the world, looked at the whole industry and also put myself as an artiste, which I am.

At that point I decided that we need to take the regulation, let’s clean it up and I am sure when I said let’s set up a committee, CAPA thought that it was another kind of those committees. I told them that I want this out in a week. It worked. When I got to the board, it was a civil service setup, but we don’t work like civil servants now.

Those who followed me at the National Troupe where I worked will find out that I was working 24 hours. Maybe that was what endeared me very much to Professor Ahmed Yerima, who kept me as his personal assistant for over 10 years.

I told them at the board that this thing must come out and immediately it came out I wrote a letter to Hannatu Musa Musawa, Honourable Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and said Ma, let’s show example in Africa, India has done it, Hollywood is a self-regulated industry, but they have also done theirs.