A war of lies: Drugs and Australia 2017

With the War on Drugs being hailed as an overwhelming failure worldwide, why is it still waging on? US President Donald Trump and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions have thrown the media into a whirlwind by reconfirming their commitment to the failed policies, whilst other countries such as Portugal, Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Uruguay now have longitudinal data available to prove that none of what the fear-mongers have said has any statistical validity. Legalization and de-criminalisation of illicit substances is a solution that is not perfect but is proving better than the current strategies.

This report discusses the foundation of drug law worldwide and shows a brief overview of what has happened since.

Drugs and Billie Holiday

In 1939 the beautiful jazz singer Billie Holiday became one of the first celebrity targets for the unofficial war on drugs. The lately defunct department of prohibition became the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, with Harry Anslinger at the helm. What followed was symptomatic of a country at war with itself. The Holiday story exemplifies how drugs became a conduit to continue the war on black people in America and pass under the bar of civil rights. This was the war on drugs before there was one.




So What. Now What?

occupation-jpeg-860x860_q85_upscaleSo, whilst using the bathroom about 30 minutes ago (too much information, I understand), my beige vision of the cubicle door was interrupted by a wordy poster asking for participants for a research project.  It’s not unusual to find such a poster in a university campus cubicle, I guess they figure they have a captive audience. Due to a recent discussion re: ethics and methodologies around research, this one caught my eye.

According to to the poster, the research team (with ethics approval) are studying dietary habits and will require you to take a 30-45 minute questionnaire and an interview of the same length.  There was no reward or outcome stated, no clue as to what the research could be used for. So as far as I know it could be used to improve the lifestyle and eating habits for the good of all mankind OR it could be used to give McDonalds a new angle for marketing their latest an greatest to an unsuspecting population, already plagued with obesity and other malnutrition related disease. Unmoved to record the details of the project I politely flushed and went on my way.

This happy accident (I’m referring to seeing the poster) came immediately after my finishing ABC’s Four Corners documentary Growing Up Poor.  I had never seen the documentary but, as a resident of Campbelltown LGA, I have sat in courses with women from the community of Claymore NSW, the area which was the topic of the documentary.  These women over the years, have spoken at length about the media coverage that their area has received, and how they felt that it had added to their struggle as well as to their children’s perception of their own disadvantage. And was not a balanced portrayal of their community.

2015-09-17 11.11.27-2Both these encounters have made me think hard about the liberties that we as researchers and journalists take with other peoples time and/or lives. Sometimes quite irresponsibly not taking into account the value of other peoples time. And the possible fall out into the lives of people, not only those we are engaging with but the wider community. A ripple effect if you please, that may not be what was intended, but never the less is coke bottle that we leave behind for someone else to swallow.

It should be a matter of vigilance and consciousness of those who dare to act on another’s behalf without be asked by the party being acted upon. Let us not forget all those children seized from their parents across the world. The stolen generations who were ‘better off’ not being left with their indigenous community. So much of what we do including small projects on weight gain, are birthed through the eye glass of privilege and/or power. Isn’t it time that we put down the eye glass and just sat together in the grass with our shoes off, ready to listen and grow?


Nollywood: a Hip-hop Story

Nollywood image
Netflix have now started buying Nollywood titles

Nollywood originated from Lagos, Nigeria. Since 2000, it has experienced consistent growth with an estimated worth of $3.3 billion dollars and 1844 movies made in 2013 alone.

On hearing the Nollywood story I was struck by the familiar. Black people constructing a grassroots movement to fulfill their own needs to creatively express; make money and reflect their own life experiences. Sounds remarkably like the Hip-hop movement for black America.

“During the 1980s and 1990s, before the wholesale commercialization of hip-hop, mixtapes were sold on street corners by the DJs themselves, or in the back of record stores. The notion of self-production was crucial to the early hip-hop cultural movement, and its origins were also ‘organic and indigenous to the community in which such culture found its subsistence, with the idea of self-sufficiency and self-production. (Maher, 2005: 150)’(Lamotte 2014).

Like US Hip-hop, Nollywood is quickly becoming a financial tour-de-force, being hailed the second largest movie industry by volume in the world after Bollywood. (Fortune Magazine, 2015)

Hip hop success stories (50 cent, Eminem, Dr Dre, Kanye West, Jay Z)

The American Hip-hop industry still exists at both a commercial and grassroots level. Individuals such as; Dr Dre, Jay-Z, Kaye West and Russel Simmons are examples of what a financial and cross cultural success hip-hop has become. (Time Magazine) There is still a rich grassroots Hip Hop culture with regular bedroom artists being still making CD’s and/or videos at home and distributing them to the local corner store for purchase by other members of the community, or even being boxed up and sent overseas to eager customers who want to hear something raw and new. This is the same way the Nollywood empire works, the only film industry that goes straight to video, without the benefit of Hollywood-esk film distribution networks. The coverage both in Nigeria, greater Africa and the rest of the African diaspora speaks of how people crave films that reflect their own identity and tell their stories.

The Nollywood distribution structure depends heavily on the street audience and video parlour to show their films.

‘There are two main kinds of “street audiences”: the “street corner” and the “video parlour” audiences. “Street audience” is an umbrella designation for a special kind of audience that congregates on the streets.’ ‘The video parlour is a simple location where members of a community congregate for the sole purpose of consuming video narratives.’(Okome 2007)

Whilst watching the small number of clips that I have in classes and lectures, I noticed a format or theme to the films that was not unlike early Hip hop filmography. Guns, girls, drugs, betrayal and larger than life characters locked in a struggle for survival. I know how African-American academics viewed much of the Hip-hop movements film, feeling that it was progressing the culture backwards by focusing on the negative, low socioeconomic and loosely moralled aspects of a society, creating an imaginary culture that only has some relatable landmarks left. I found that academic critics of Nollywood were feeling that same sense of moving backwards. Here Omoera and Anyanwu critique Nollywood in their paper on Morality in Nollywood films:

‘Now, having fought and overcame most of the vagaries of an upstart, as it were, one would have expected that filmmakers or videographers would have risen beyond a certain level of viewer/audience discomfort by doing movies that would be considered averagely above board. But sadly, the bulk of the pantheon of Nollywood remains at the level Osha (1998 p.48) refers to as “once you have seen one, you have seen them all”, suggesting that the industry is stuck with predictability in its storyline, action, and photography’ (Omoera and Anyanwu 2014)

On the whole, Nollywood seems to be unaffected by its critics, still on a steady climb upwards. In 2014 Nollywood released it highest grossing movie of all time, 30 Days in Atlanta is directed by Robert Peters and is set in Atlanta Georgia, USA. It tells the story of Akpos, who is described as Warri’s own Chris Rock and Rowan Atkinson rolled into one. Akpos wins a 30 day, all expenses paid trip to Atlanta Georgia. He is hailed as a celebrity almost immediately due to his ‘Warri accent and instincts’. ‘He would have his high and low moments. He would fall in and out of love. He would break hearts and get heartbroken himself. He would make mistakes and learn from them. And at the end of the day, he would remain a Vintage Akpos – the boy from the World’s only WARRI’. (30daysinatlanta.com)

Overtly displaying the patronising methodology that Omoera and Anyanwu accuse Nollywood of, it is obviously not a problem for their viewing public after having the highest grossing Nollywood film in history. It is also proof that Nollywood features are starting to make a bid for the African-American population first by filming the feature in Atlanta Georgia city where 54 percent of the population is Black or African-American (United States Census Bureau), secondly by making the language a hybrid of both pidgin and English, and thirdly by casting two very high profile African-American female actors in Lyn Whitfield ( Josephine Baker) and Vivica Fox (Kill Bill, City of Angels, Arsenio). This appears to be a good start to expanding their market beyond Nigeria and the diaspora by making Nollywood films a hybrid between Nigerian and American black culture. One can only wait to see what’s next.

Other References

Lamotte, M. (2014). “Rebels Without a Pause: Hip-hop and Resistance in the City.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38(2): 686-694.

Okome, O. (2007). “Nollywood: Spectatorship, Audience and the Sites of Consumption.” Postcolonial Text 3(2): 1-21.

Omoera, O. S. and C. Anyanwu (2014). “Moral Dilemma in Nollywood: Virtue Celebration or Vice Glorification.” Journal of Pan African Studies 7(3): 135-145.