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Exploring messages of identity and race through Nigerian media

UC communications professor Omotayo Banjo begins seven-month Fulbright study

Since she was a girl,  Omotayo Banjo has been intrigued by questions of cultural identity, race and assimilation.

The University of Cincinnati communication professor takes her questions to Nigeria, where she will conduct research under a Fulbright scholarship for the next seven months, extending her inquiry into the context of Nigerian film and popular media.

Banjo, an associate professor in UC's College of Arts and Sciences, comes by her interest naturally. As a first-generation American with Nigerian parents, “I grew up around a lot of Nigerians — and Africans in general — who would come to the states and they would, from my observation as a child, take on this performance of what it means to be an American,” she said. “I always found that so fascinating. Of course, I never intended to study it when I was 8 or 9 years old.”

Since entering academia about 12 years ago, Banjo has focused her research on how media messages shape cultural and self-perception. Much of her work has been published in scholarly journals including the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, Communication Theory, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Media and Religion, and Race and Social Problems.  

For her current Fulbright research, Banjo plans to explore media impact on individuals and groups through the lens of African populations, specifically Nigerians.

“I am interested in looking at how exposure to Western media may or may not have an impact on how Nigerians may see themselves, white Americans and black Americans. That’s the major question. A secondary research question has to do with the growth of Nigeria’s media industry.”

I am interested in looking at how exposure to Western media may or may not have an impact on how Nigerians may see themselves.

Omotayo Banjo, UC communication professor

UC assistant professor of Communication Omotayo Banjo

UC associate professor of Communication Omotayo Banjo

Banjo has fertile ground for her research: The Nigerian film industry, known as Nollywood, outpaces Hollywood, producing 50 movies per week. With production levels second only to India’s Bollywood, the Nigerian film industry generates an estimated $590 million annually.

In addition, she says, their music industry is really taking off. She points to emerging artists Davido, an American-born Nigerian singer, songwriter and record producer, and Nigerian singer-songwriter Wizkid, a rising global star who has racked up Pepsi and Nike promotional agreements. 

“Nigerian musicians and their music are being played around the world. They’ve been collaborating with American artists so I’m curious about the popularity of their film and music industry. How does that relate to their sense of self in the global sphere?”

Back at UC, Banjo also serves as an affiliate faculty member in the departments of journalism, Africana studies, and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, while she adapts to her latest role as a mom to a 2-year-old girl. With so much on the agenda personally and professionally, the Fulbright Award came as an unexpected surprise, Banjo says.

“This was my first time to apply,” she says. “I thought, ‘Let me just see what feedback I can get so next year I can prepare.’ So, I was surprised! I didn’t really expect to get it.

“And being a mom, I started thinking about taking my daughter overseas and what that meant. But once it all sunk in, I felt pretty proud of myself — and thankful.”

Featured image at top: Crew on a film set in Awka, Nigeria. Photo/Bestvillage/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.