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Censorship and Artistic Freedom: an interview with the NFVCB Director of Film Censorship & Classification

After engaging the twitter handle of the Nigerian film and Video Censors Board on twitter, they were kind enough to grant me an interview with Mrs Alonge Oyadiran, The director, Film Censorship & Classification.

We talked about a lot over a 40mins phone conversation. This interview is almost verbatim. It will educate you on what the board does but will also help you understand their position on a lot of things including classification types and criteria and “freedom of artistic Expression”. Enjoy!

Me: what exactly is the job of the national film and video censors board?

MRS OYADIRAN: Essentially, we regulate the film and video industry, monitor and license all the outlets. Our main role is censorship and classification of film and video works, locally produced or foreign ones that are for commercialisation in Nigeria. We censor them and classify them as well.

Me: A lot of people find it hard to understand what the Government means by the word “Regulate” or “Regulation”. They think it means you are telling people what kind of art they should make. Do you want to clarify more on what regulation means in this context?

MRS OYADIRAN: Regulation means letting them do what is right, making sure that whatever goes out there is the right thing for anyone to consume, not just churning out anything in the name of  “I’m making films, whatever I think is right I just put it there” so we are there to control, making sure that whatever goes out there is the right content for people to consume.

Me: The argument a lot of filmmakers make is that, as long as there is classification, there shouldn’t be control. What some film makers think is you can say a film is for 12yr olds or 18 yr olds but you can’t say don’t put out this or don’t put out that. So, do you want to clarify that?

MRS OYADIRAN: Don’t forget that we have values and cultures, these are things that we need to take into consideration no matter what, so that we don’t go overboard in doing things. Yes, we classify them but when issues get out of hand, even the classification might not make sense at the end of the day or you want to tell me if you make an X-rated movie/pornographic movie, you would want the board to classify?

Me: if anyone is making a pornographic movie, I don’t think they will come to the board, that is black market kind of stuff

MRS OYADIRAN: Exactly.

Me: How would you define explicitly what is morally wrong or right in a work of art?

MRS OYADIRAN: A lot of us have actually gone overboard. We rubbish some of our values. The dressing, language, sex scenes, nudity, violence and all. some of these things are not really us but we imbibe them.

Me: Another argument is that we allow commercial Hollywood films with all those things we refer to as amoral. We allow them in the cinemas and they make money, why aren’t we keeping same energy as we do with Nigerian films

MRS OYADIRAN: Don’t forget that sometimes it erodes our culture. There was a particular film that had things to do with LGBT. I think it had gay marriage. It had to be expunged before it could go to our cinema. Despite the fact that they are foreign movies, we tell them that certain things don’t agree with us and has to be removed before we can allow them bring it to our cinema.

Me: Don’t you think this poses a problem as to who decides on what is morally good or morally bad?

Mrs Oyadiran: what kind of problem is it going to pose?

Me: Some people might say it is important to show the sex in the film or show nudity or some violence because it is critical to the story and that person is willing to defend it as art. Who decide what is too much?

MRS OYADIRAN:  There are regulations and guidelines

Me: Are these things legal? Or they are moral frameworks created by people’s assumption and orientation?

Mrs Oyadiran: No. We have a culture, we have our norms and there are certain values we have to follow, I wouldn’t say because I want my film to sell, I will make a film where people are kissing on the street. This doesn’t happen in Nigeria. When we travel abroad, a white man can slap his wife’s butt on an escalator, if this happen in Nigeria, how will an African man look at you? We try not to expose our children to wrong things. Film is meant to educate.

Me: I believe film is meant to educate and also entertain. Don’t you think we should do more of classifying them than censoring or taking them out

Mrs Oyadiran: Yes, classify them but if it is too explicit or gets too long, it becomes a problem

Me:  With Hollywood films, how do you draw the line? for instance there was a film last year (Hustlers)  that showed stripers as protagonists, sleeping with men to collect their money. There were a lot of strip scenes including nudity showed in the film and it made it to the Nigeria cinemas and made a lot of money. Nigerian filmmakers believe that if they made a film like that, the censors board won’t allow it to show and it is for the same audience, how do you defend such?

Mrs Oyadiran: uhmmmmm…. That is a big question 

Me: There was a film “Joker” that stirred up a lot of controversy and talks of inciting violence in some countries but it was allowed in Nigerian cinemas

Mrs Oyadiran: I think we have a query there

Me: The Nigerian filmmakers are saying there can’t be double standards, the same hammer should be used on the foreign movies

MRS OYADIRAN: I agree there shouldn’t be double standards. I think…hmmmm

Me: can you explain all the different classifications and what it means?

MRS OYADIRAN: Right now, we have

G- For general viewing

PG- Parental and Guardian is required i.e children can come but an adult must be by the child

12- for persons aged 12 and above

12A- for persons aged 12 and above but accompanied by an adult

16- for persons aged 16 years and above

18- mature audience – persons aged 18 and above

Restricted exhibition- films that are not suitable for persons under 18 and might include brutal graphic violence, excess horror, explicit sexual scenes and other disturbing content

Find a detailed breakdown here

Me: Are all these classifications currently enforced on all the movies in cinema?

Mrs Oyadiran: Yes, this is why we monitor where films are being sold, exhibited and rented

Me: At what point do films get censored?

MRS OYADIRAN: It depends on the individual, you can bring in your film the moment you finish production or you can wait till when you are about to release. The most important thing is that we look at the finish product

Me: What is the process?

MRS OYADIRAN: You will register and make payment after which you will be given a date and told the basic requirement for censorship, the date is to come and watch and someone who is part of the film will be present with the panel members as a presenter. There could be questions that would be raised and that person should be able to answer

Me: How much is the fee?

Please see a very detailed page of fees and charges here

Me: There is a Nigerian film in cinema “Sugar rush” which was recently being pulled out and caused a lot of drama, allegations were made that maybe the Censors Board didn’t really see the film before allowing it to air. What exactly happened? Also the board felt they needed to explain things online. Why?

MRS OYADIRAN: I think there was a mix up somewhere. I can’t really answer much on that. My Chief executive is better suited to answer. The board didn’t do any wrong. Our reaction online was because there was a lot of argument going on about it. Normally, when the board sees a film and we realize that there is a problem with the film, it can be pulled out anytime if it has not adhered strictly to whatever rules it has been told to. When we censor a movie and it has been released, It is possible we notice that an unapproved scene was included or any other thing and the board has the right to pull it out

Me: But this was not the case with Sugar Rush, was it?

MRS OYADIRAN: This is why I said you would have to speak with my Chief Executive

Me: Apart from nudity and violence are there other important stuffs that is totally not allowed. For instance a lot of film makers feel they can’t make films about the civil war because the Censors Board is not going to approve it

MRS OYADIRAN: Why would anyone say we can’t make films about the Civil War? the most important thing is being sure of what you are doing. It must not be something that will indict or incite public disturbance.

ME: But a film about the civil war…is about war

MRS OYADIRAN: Anything that can cause an uproar should not be ventured into because we know where we are as a society. There are basic criteria that we look out for, we will ask;

  • Does it have educational value?
  • Does it have entertainment value?
  • Does it promote the Nigerian culture?
  • Does it promote the Nigeria interest?
  • Does it promote the Nigerian Unity?
  • Does it have potential for undermining national security?
  • Does it have potential to induce corruption of private or public morality?
  • Does it have potential to encourage or glorify violence?
  • Is it filled with sexual violence?
  • Does it expose African people to ridicule or contempt?
  • Does it have potential to encourage illegal or criminal acts, crime without punishment or retribution?
  • Does it have potential to encourage racial conflict or discrimination?
  • Does it have potential to encourage ethnic conflict or discrimination?
  • Does it have potential to encouraging religious conflict or discrimination?
  • Is it blasphemous?
  • Does it indulge in profanity?
  • Does it promote obscenity?
  • Is it indecent?
  • Is it sadistic?
  • Could it be injurious to morality public or for minor?
  • Is it likely to encourage or incite public disorder?
  • Is it likely to encourage or incite crime?
  • Is it undesirable in the public interest?

And most recently added,

  • Is there an agreement between the filmmakers and institution represented that allows them to use their name, institution or uniform?

For instance, the NYSC has complained several times about the way they are being depicted in movies. Same goes for the military and other law enforcement agencies. We need to represent institutions properly

Me: Can we then say that Art is not entirely a freedom of expression thing in Nigeria?

MRS OYADIRAN: That we are free doesn’t mean you are free to do wrong. When you go to the court of law and you say “my fundamental human right is freedom of expression”, Does it mean you should go out there and say something like “the president’s head is not correct”.

Me: But if you say that as an artist, isn’t that your artistic expression?

MRS OYADIRAN: There was an instance where a young boy in America went on a shooting spree in his school killing people. President Trump spoke to the regulating body to work on films because that is where most children learn some of these things from. This is the America that we refer to and even they have concerns. As much as we have freedom to do certain things, we need to be careful with the way we display our freedom.

Me: What would you advise an artiste who really wants to talk about subjects that include government corruption, Abuse of LGTB people, Rape, Abortion, injustice or jungle justice that require you to be explicit In your expression because if you make light of such issues, it might ruin your art?

MRS OYADIRAN: It has to be tending to corrective sides and there must be a proper balance so it doesn’t glorify negative things which is not good for anybody. No matter how negative the issues are, you have to balance with the positives.

Me: Hmmm…ok. Most of the Hollywood films that come into our cinemas contain most of these things we’ve just talked about, Would you look into them. 

MRS OYADIRAN:  YES, we are working on them and we will do our best. For you as a producer, in most of the work you do, put our children into consideration. I have been  working with the board from the founding year in 1994 and it was a personal decision because I am very passionate about this job. I believe in using it to help guide our children. There are instances that the cartoons for children are not good for them. I heard of a young boy who fell from a story building because he was trying to act like Spiderman.

Me: That is bad parenting. Spiderman is a hero that saves people (laughs)

MRS OYADIRAN: We understand that it is make believe but we need to help our kids. A lot of them are learning the wrong things

Me: Do you think that a government body can truly regulate artistic expression and what people watch, don’t you think that the worst that can happen is that people will find other ways to get their audience?

MRS OYADIRAN: we will do our best, enough to make our conscience free. We do a lot of media literacy programs, educating the populace on what they need to protect their children from watching

Me: We hope the government would invest more in filmmakers, which will enable them regulate better, filmmakers will rather invest in films that are commercially acceptable when they are always left to using their money to make films. For instance, you have concerns about children content. The BBC invests over 100million pounds on children content. We need those discussions as well.

MRS OYADIRAN: Yes, the present government of Muhammadu Buhari have a lot of plans for the Nigeria film makers and we are hoping to see it come to light by the grace of God

Me: Thank you ma, for your time and generousity.

MRS OYADIRAN: You are welcome.

Mrs Alonge Oyadiran, Director, Film Censoring and Classification
Mrs Alonge Oyadiran, Director, Film Censoring and Classification

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