Author: Anu Mohammed, November 29 2013      Film is not just a big business in Nigeria. It’s huge. Every year nearly 2000 movies are made, a production rate which beats Hollywood, only coming second to the world’s largest film industry, Bollywood. But when the important topic of HIV and AIDS comes up in many Nollywood movies and Nigerian songs, it’s often not accurately - or helpfully - treated.

Our team at BBC Media Action in Abuja recently set out to tackle this by talking directly to the musicians, comedians and filmmakers behind our booming entertainment industry.

As part of the ENR (Enhancing Nigeria’s Response to HIV) project funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, we ran two workshops in Lagos. These aimed to not only inform the producers, directors, singers and scriptwriters about HIV but also encourage them to tackle the subject in their songs and films.

According to Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS, 3.5 million Nigerians are currently living with HIV. But misconceptions about HIV and AIDS are common.

Our workshops gave people - including some of the biggest names in the industry - the space to ask questions and fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

I remember one filmmaker admitting he didn’t know enough about the effects of HIV and another asking about whether hair clippers can transmit the virus.

And as well as the scientific facts, participants learned about audiences’ knowledge and behaviour - and met people living with HIV.

Producer, writer and director, Elimihe Osezuah told us that the experience was life-changing: "Opening my mind to the fact that HIV is manageable and seeing healthy HIV-positive people is mind-blowing. I shook their hands and hugged them."

By the end of the workshops, many of the participants also appreciated the role they could play in tackling HIV. One filmmaker told us that she had learned "that HIV and AIDS-related messages are not as over-flogged as I thought. Awareness [of HIV] is less than enough."

We also scored some exciting, immediate successes: two filmmakers gave their recently completed scripts to our team so they could be checked for accuracy and several of the filmmakers who attended agreed to work with us to produce scripts for four short films about HIV.  

By the end of the two days, many others had made promises to interweave information and messages about HIV into their music, films and blogs.

Nigerian/German Ade Bantu said he would "engage my audience by sharing condoms and leaflets during shows, incorporate HIV messages in our music videos and use my blog to share information about HIV and AIDS". 

Singer J’odie said she would "subtly weave in the urgency of [tackling HIV] into my work", writing a song to "inform and entertain people, nudging them towards a new mind-set towards HIV".  Another filmmaker, meanwhile, promised to write short comic skits targeted at 15-24 year olds which would be available online.

Almost all the participants told us they’d be happy for us to hold them to their promises.

And I, for one, just can’t wait to see what they create.
Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Nigeria.
Image credit: BBC Media Action Image caption: "From left to right: Musician Ade Bantu, comedian Koffi, musician KA$H-11, HIV-prevention specialist Dr S Oyedeji, music producer and actor David Nnaji, and musicians Tee-Y Mix and Daddy Showkey."

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