Less than 24 hours after South Korean movie, ‘Parasite’ achieved the remarkable feat of clinching four prestigious awards – Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature, Best Director and Best Picture – at the 92nd Academy Awards, the country’s President, Moon Jae In, started his presidential staff meeting on Monday by applauding the movie and its director, Bong Joon Ho.
He had earlier tweeted a congratulatory message after the country won its very first Oscars: “I join all Koreans in congratulating the film ‘Parasite’ for winning Oscars in four categories at the Academy Awards … I am especially grateful to them instilling pride and courage in our people as we come together to weather difficulties.
“An amusing yet sad movie, ‘Parasite’ also conveys social messages in a novel, outstanding and successful way. It reminds us of how touching and powerful a movie can be. The Government will stand with those in the film industry so that they can stretch their imagination to the fullest and make movies free from worries.”
But he wasn’t the only one revelling in the occasion. Ordinary Koreans, too, were happy as were the country’s major political parties, who found common ground in the movie’s success on the grandest world stage.
The ruling Minjoo Party said “a new chapter of Korean film has opened”, and that the Oscar achievements were “a historical event which illustrates that Korean film has reached a world-class standard.”
The chief spokesperson of the opposition New Conservative Party, Ji Sang Wook, wrote, “finally Korean movie posters with golden Oscar trophies are available all around the world.”
Prior to Sunday’s excellent showing, ‘Parasite’ had won awards including the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film festival, SAG Award and at the Bafta.
However, the string of honours was not just luck. It was the result of years of strategic thinking and faithful implementation of a deliberate government policy that birthed the Korean Wave (Hallyu).
Hallyu is a Chinese term which, when translated, literally means “Korean Wave”. It is a collective term used to refer to the phenomenal growth of Korean culture and popular culture encompassing everything from music, movies, drama to online games and Korean cuisine.
The country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism have a division called the Popular Culture Industry Division, to fulfil its goal of becoming the world’s leading exporter of popular culture. It focuses on Korean pop music, fashion, mass entertainment, comic books, cartoons and other vital products. The division, along with three separate divisions are referred to as the Cultural Content Office.
Its budget is a staggering USD 500 million, to build a USD 10 billion cultural industry export industry by 2019. Additionally, the Korean Government sponsors 20-30% of a USD 1 billion investment fund earmarked to nurture and export popular culture. The remaining funds come from investment banks and private companies and are managed by the Korean Venture Investment Corporation.
The result of the continuous support from the Korean Government and focus on infrastructure, was what was seen on Sunday night when ‘Parasite’ dominated the Oscars.
The country’s pop industry, better known as K-pop, is also a significant beneficiary of government support. Tommy Soesmanto, an economics and business statistics lecturer in a 2018 article entitled ‘Here’s what other nations can learn from Korea’s pop music industry’, explained that the success of K-pop didn’t happen by accident.
“It is a product of the government’s effective implementation of macroeconomic growth theory which focuses on developing three key elements – physical capital, human capital and technology – to achieve maximum growth in the music industry.”
He disclosed that “an entire district in Seoul, the Chang-dong district, was developed to become the hub for K-pop. Concert halls, recording studios, restaurants and retail stores were built there to support K-pop’s growth. The Seoul arena, also located in the district, is due for completion in 2020. It will be the country’s biggest performance hall with a 20, 000 seating capacity.
“In fostering human capital, three major recording labels – SM, YG and JYP Entertainment – have been in the forefront in developing K-pop idols. Talents are placed into a rigorous training program for several years before their debuts. The training not only covers singing and dancing but also lessons in foreign languages and public speaking.
“Technology also plays an essential role in supporting the K-pop’s growth. Every corner of public places in Seoul has free Wi-Fi. This makes streaming K-pop songs and videos easy, and thus enhances the popularity of K-pop music and concert sales.
“South Korea is the world’s leader in multimedia technologies. Hologram and virtual reality concerts, where fans can digitally interact with their K-pop idols, have been used as an alternative to live performance. The Government plans to invest up to US$222 million by 2020 to develop further this cutting-edge innovation.”
In 2016, global revenue from K-pop reached $US4.7 billion. Exports of cultural content and consumer goods have also increased by at least 2% more than the country’s total export growth.
Sadly, the Nigerian situation couldn’t be more different. There’s no strategic government policy/intervention to tap into the goldmine of movies, music and other creative endeavours. Government’s thinking is addled and its vision myopic. Officials are all bluster and no action. The so-called regulatory agencies that ought to provide institutional support do not; they are part of the affliction instead of the cure. Consequently, the private sector players are left to go it all alone, with negative impacts on their purses and the economy.
PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Entertainment & Media Outlook (2017-2021) revealed that the Nigerian film industry, also called Nollywood continues to grow at a rapid pace. It is estimated to employ more than 1 million people, generating about US$7 billion for the Nigerian economy. The PwC, citing a 2016 IMF report, further notes that the industry now accounts for 1.4% of GDP.
The report further notes that the Nigerian cinema sector is also on the rebound. With new theatres opening and production quality increasing, box office revenue will grow steadily in Nigeria over the forecast period. Total cinema revenue is set to reach US$22 million in 2021, rising at an 8.6% CAGR over the forecast period as Nigerian films gain international recognition and investment increases.
However, these achievements were without government support or policy. The billions of dollars the film industry, and entertainment generally would have contributed to the GDP is best imagined if there had been a deliberate government policy and support like the South Koreans have. Nigeria needs to learn from the Koreans, and clean up our act if indeed we want a holistic development of the creative sector. Enough of handouts and other cosmetic solutions.