A while back I did a little griping on the overindulgence with the romance genre by filmmakers and audiences alike in Ghana. This was at the turn of the year when I was looking forward to the potential of some variance from the first two Ghanaian cinematic offerings, Shirley Frimpong Manso’s Grey Dawn and Pascal Aka’s Double Cross, both films which disappointed me for varying reasons.
Love affairs appear to be very much front and center in these two films even though one of them is supposed to be a caper but for the record, I normally give Shirley a pass on the romance thing because her back catalogue does reveal some invention and they always pass the Bechtel test with flying colors in addition to the fact they are mosty driven by a nuanced female perspective.
May is upon us and a lot more Ghanaian releases have come and gone and I have spent money and time on most of the Ghanaian stuff in the cinemas and on TV and I deserve a medal for that – support made in Ghana stuff people. I feel like spending my dear money and time on our films will give me a pass to talk (more like whine) about our local productions but to be honest, complaining about Ghanaian films is so 2008 and everyone knows they suck when a lot of them can be so much better with a little injection of innovation, realism and better scripts.
A part of me wonders if we will ever develop a decent cinematic conveyer belt with the odd world class offering or the Ghanaian film industry will just make do with churning out trashy films. Maybe our portion film-wise is that of the industry driven by the production of essentially exploitation films because in the last 7 years or so, it is sure looking like it.
Exploitation films in the classical sense are generally very cheap films that look to exploit a trend or audiences vane tendencies with scripts (if they have one) heavily doused with nudity, sex, action, violence, drugs use etc. all in the hope of creating fast profits. These themes are not devoid of proper cinematic exploration as we have seen over the years but exploitation films just exploit the themes rather than tackle and provide any poignant commentary on them.
The exploitation genre is rooted as far back as the 1920s but really came to fore in the 60’s and 70’s when societies became less conservative and censorship rules were relaxed. Some exploitation sub genres include Sharksploitation (the Sharknado series, the Jaws movie sequels), Blaxploitation (Shaft, Black Dynamite, Foxy Brown) or even politically conscious SNL type films that are basically over blown skits produced and filmed quickly enough to be relevant but not on a critical or satirical level, something thriving well in Ghana.
Exploitation has kind of changed over the years though and attributing the exploitation tag to a film can be very subjective with personal perception playing a big part. I could consider films with tons of product placement or remakes or even comic book adaptations and remakes as exploitation films (and they are) bearing in mind some of them are at the right end of the quality and cinematic spectrum and on the other hand, some very cheap productions and questionable technical expertise can still deliver compelling stories.
Basically the steamy enjoyable themes akin to exploitation films and artistic content can coexist and we have seen tons of such examples over the last couple of decade with examples in some early Tarantino and Arronofsky films. These days, the small scale exploitation films have shied away from mimicking the Hollywood model and essentially embraced the idea of the trashy exploitation film and approached the film making with a degree of self-awareness garnering cult followings and sometimes big time financial reward. It could be said now that the exploitation film is no longer a type of film, but rather a type of film viewing that can make them rather enjoyable.
That assertion however does not fully apply to Ghana as a chunk of our films still appear to be in the 70’s era of exploitation film as far as the production standpoint is concerned save for the excessive themes of violence, sex and drug use which our societal norms have largely constrained. Our film “industry” is cornily split between Kumawood and Ghalywood and Kumawood appear to have embraced the exploitation tag and allow audience to lend themselves fully to the idea of the more modern fun exploitation type viewing with their cheap horror, action and sci-fi flicks and I can live with that. They are definitely crappy but also quite the experience.
They dabble in the exploitation trope of CGIxploitaion with ridiculous offerings like 2016 and The Terminator loaded with laughably hideous CGI to the amusement of audiences. The Ghalywood on the other hand enjoys a good love story, to my disdain, and it takes itself a little too seriously lending itself firmly to exploitation art circa 70’s and 80’s. I have not engaged in any research and my thoughts here are just, well, my thoughts but I feel like the development of that exploitation trope – the romancexploitation – is almost a direct byproduct of the telenovela boom of a decade ago. It may feel like a lifetime ago but there was time when Ghanaian filmmakers actually served up a variety of genres ranging from drama to comedy and even horror on a regular basis. Hell there was even the Police Officer series that was thoroughly engaging (albeit to my 10 year old self) some 12 years ago.
The telenovela era set of the trend of casting Ghanaian films with the template popular with the Latin American soaps. You get your nice guy tied down to the rich scheming girl we all dislike whilst the pure and modest beauty captures his heart to the scorn of society and let us not forget the one constant – the even more sinister and scheming maternal figure in the background pulling strings.You may have the occasional variation to the characters but it’s really just the same schematic. I could tune in to Cineafrik and watch 10 different films with characters forged from the same telenovela rock towing the same line to the inevitable fairytale ending or the more egregious Shakespearean one. I am genuinely stumped by the Ghanaian “industry’s” persistence with the said genre and I struggle to believe there that many people still into the love stories that Pascal Aka had to pull the Houdini on audiences and morph his caper, Double Cross, into a cheap romance? Are the girls (or God forbid guys) really that into the Ghanaian romances that the seemingly faceless filmmakers feel there are some profits to be had in telling the same love story over and over again?
Ghanaian films over the past couple years may have warped my view of what romance in film is or should be because I never actively seek out romantic narratives from other countries. The patriot in me wants to support the industry but 90 percent of the films released in theatres or direct to video (counting out Kumawood) ostensibly fall into the romancexploitation category and though this may be based on my layman’s assessment of affairs, it sure is close to the truth.
We deserve more than and industry fueled by exploitation and we could start by heading back to the onset of the new millennium when quality could admittedly be questioned but never invention – if we had tried to build on the Veronica Quarshiess of this world, who knows where Ghanaian cinema could have been.