You know the bit from that James Bond film where he kills the Russian? It’s not really important which film, because for a vast chunk of the series, the Russians were the go-to bad guys. You could always count on some American actor to snarl out some badly pronounced Slavic and you would know that yes, that was your bad guy for the film. And it doesn’t stop with Bond. Russians were the potential baddies in any number of films produced during the Cold War period.
I’m not sure if it’s part of a larger trend, but it appears that film producers are gladly turning to Nigerians to fill that role of eternal evil. I bring this up because of a number of factors. The first is that I’ve recently returned from Ghana where it seems to a number of people, Nigerians are always criminals. Sometimes this is meant in a heavily joking way and more of a friendly rivalry which I assume is due to their somewhat shared history and lingua franca. Other times, with people more ignorant, it can be meant quite seriously. Of course, I found out that this attitude is often prevalent across a great deal of Africa when it comes to Nigeria, who seem to be scorned much like Albanians in Europe.
But, this isn’t my business. People will have the opinions that people will have of one another. My issue is with film. On one of my many recent flights, I watched, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Not an amazing film overall, but pretty good. Yet one bit stuck out where this early team of mutants went to Lagos to rough up some kind of diamond operation. Naturally this was a group of Nigerian thugs armed to the teeth who were soundly defeated.
Not a tremendous deal by itself, but something to note as then I watched District 9 last week. It’s quite a good film really and one of the better science fiction films I’ve seen in a long time, although it does digress in to a shoot out action movie towards the end. But it’s here where we really see Nigerians painted in such an extremely bad light that it’s hard to ignore, although some (I’m assuming Nigerians) figure that they’ve done a great deal to earn this scorn. It stems from the fact that these Nigerian thugs run an inter species prostitution ring, trade in stolen goods, practice voodoo, kill, and do any number of less-than-amazing activities.
Naturally this spurned a great many blog posts on the subject such as District 9 is racist and Is District 9 racist?. I don’t want to get in to that whole debate even though I thought the depictions were quite over the top no matter which country would have been involved. But what it does do is form a rather disturbing trend of showing one people in a continuously bad light. And beyond the fact that this is rather ignorant, it has the added issue with the fact that while white people can often distinguish Russians from other white people, white people cannot distinguish Africans from other Africans. So, while it may just be singling out Nigerians as evildoers, it makes it appear to the whites outside of Africa as if this unidentifiable African is a primitive person not to be trusted. This is dangerous on any scale and quite sad to see that we’re really nowhere near overcoming this depiction of Africans.
But that’s the one thing that’s really been strange to me with District 9 (as Wolverine was Hollywood fare and not much can be expected of them in overcoming easy stereotypes) is that the director, Neill Blomkamp, is South African. Yes, he is a white South African, but still he is from there and that being the case, for him to make any kind of negative or generalizing statement about black Africans is quite a precarious position for him to take publicly no matter what he may think privately. As it is strange that the Nigerians are not speaking Igbo, Yoruba, or Hausa (big languages in Nigeria), but it appears they are speaking some bizarre version of Swahili as noted on a comment on this article (which was rightly unhappy with certain elements of the film). So, why were they not just the “thugs”? Why were they Nigerians speaking an East African language? Maybe this was some kind of a terse joke that some people got, although most Nigerians seem none too pleased about it.
In closing, keep an eye on how Nigerians are portrayed and note that while it’s fine to show someone from a country as being bad, you also need to show others from that country as being good as those are usually the people that are the biggest part of a society.
Nigerians as the new Russians