I am enthralled, just like the millions across the world who shot Femi Adebayo’s Yoruba epic Jagun Jagun to the top of Netflix’s viewership list in 17 countries. It’s not without reason - the fight sequences, clever use of visual effects, well-embodied characters and the imagery-endowed dialogue work together into a show that represents another step by the Nigerian film industry in its march towards global relevance.
These heroic efforts to launch the African experience upon the consciousness of an unsuspecting world however also reveal the supreme difficulty that often exists when translating an experience the African understands as fact before an audience for whom the metaphor is completely lost. Indeed, this is a struggle every artist faces in selling to the newly-singularized global market - that audiences interpret words only from their own world-view.
So while Odunlade Adekola’s Jigan threatens to “consume the tortoise with its hard shell, and the porcupine with its quills”, my native Yoruba ears conjure a much more nihilistic image of an anger that consumes like blight - a raging furnace before which all in its wake is reduced to cinder… but the non-Yoruba listener is excluded from this visual feast. Instead, they must settle for the picture of two unlucky little creatures that become collateral damage for a warrior’s angst, the grandeur of the imagery locked behind the walls of an arcane tongue.
This is the task faced by them who have taken up the challenge to bring underserved cultures to the global spotlight - to preserve the authenticity of those human experiences for audiences who would need to feel them through the lens of a translator. For this purpose, a translation of imagery is insufficient. The screenwriter must dig even deeper to arrive at a transference of equivalent feeling. It is indeed the emotions that become images, which we describe with words. Our burden is to take those feelings and search for words for which target audiences would have an equivalent, recognizable experience so that when heard would trigger a reconstruction of those same emotions; and the transference of culture - our shared humanity- would thus be complete.
It is not a trivial ask, as custodians of culture we do all we can to keep our lenses clear. Not for ourselves, but for those who will look through them to recognize themselves. It is through these efforts that art cuts through cultural barriers to have its dance with the humanity underneath, leading to the affirmation of a truth everyone silently carries within -
We humans are not that different after all.