To fully enjoy Tolu Ajayi’s short film, Training Day helmed on behalf of Paradigm Initiative, one must do more than suspend that clichéd disbelief; one must approach it not just as a literal piece of filmic fiction but as an allegory, a cautionary tale if you will, around what happens when technology converges with sinister intentions.
This is important because while it explores topical issues around internet use – censorship, unlawful intercepts and surveillance – it speaks to a broader issue of morality in the service of corporations. In doing a job, where do we draw the line and when do we cross that line?
These concerns are amplified when you consider the chatter around twitter’s ban on Donald Trump, the rise of fake news and Deepfakes as well as the ongoing conversations around the insidious Nigerian piece of legislation called The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act, 2015.
The Cybercrime Act lays out two categories of offences – Vertical Offences which refer to those committed by a person against the State (E.g., offences against critical national information structure – Section 5, cyber terrorism – Section 18) and Horizontal Offences – committed by a person against another person (E.g., Forgery – Section 13, Fraud – Section 14, Identity Theft – Section 22, Child Pornography – Section 23, Cyberstalking – Section 24, Cybersquatting – Section 25)
By laying out offences in such a comprehensive manner it makes it almost impossible for even the casual internet user not to fall foul of one on any given day.
While The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act, 2015 is a Nigerian law, similar legislations and actions are being taken across Africa for example in Cameroun; where the English speaking part is often periodically cut off the internet and Uganda where network operators were asked to disconnect subscribers from social media sites just before the recent election that pitched incumbent Yoweri Museveni against opposition leader, Bobi Wine.
This is why this film is not just timely but topical. Produced by Paradigm Initiative the overarching objective is to advance digital rights and inclusion in Africa by examining violations such as internet disruptions, illegal surveillance, arrest of major and key players as well as the passage of hurtful legislation to check citizen’s usage of digital platforms among other issues.
Censorship as well as unlawful intercepts and surveillance are alive in Africa and the film underlines that fact by its pan-Africanist cast of characters – Rukewe to Habib, Lady Rose to Tomas, Negasi to Mensah and more.
The film opens with Jude praying. An over-achiever both in his academic and sporting endeavours – he is asking God to make him head and not tail. The prayer is valid but as the film unravels, it becomes a strong indicator of the character’s personality, his ambition, will to win and a test whether his moral compass is pointing “true North”.
Training Day tells the story of Jude’s final “chat” before he lands a dream job that pays well with “benefits, bonuses and insurance”. You can call it an induction before the dotted lines are signed. He arrives at a tall building that rears up into the sky. There is something phallic about the building in its evocation of strength and something that recalls the tower of Babel in its attempt to touch the sky which is significant when you consider that the internet is no more than a true babel of discordant voices.
Jude is welcomed by a beaming Rogers who is the man to “train” him. Roger’s sleek Mephistophelian smirk and over-eager manner paint him as the tempter.
“I used to work in admin but then I found more satisfaction in recruitment,” he explains as he takes Jude from department to department, dutifully explaining what each department does, smirk in place.
As Jude moves from floor to floor, the director seems to apply the journey motif element. At first, Jude is stuttering and apprehensive and full of questions but as the journey progresses he ditches his mother’s call which is significant because his mother represents his moral core. The journey motif also implies a descent from a level of moral certainty to amorality as seen from the move from the 7th floor down to the abyss that is the basement.
Rogers is in the film to steer Jude’s moral compass away from its “true North” and he does this through suggestions as well as through questions that demand answers and answers that become personal convictions.
“Do you know the biggest threat to a nation’s peace?” he asks Jude and then supplies the answer. “The biggest threat is the internet; an intoxicating place where people perpetuate misinformation and chaos.”
For the keen observer, there is a very telling shot in the film, where Jude is standing in silhouette by a tall window and behind him the “ship of his convictions” sails slowly away.
It is thus easy to see why at the end, Jude does not seem to need much prompting as he sloughs off the old man and becomes the man he has been led to become.
Training Day, delivers an engaging story that reminds one of the “Playtest” episode of Black Mirror Season 3. Mr Ajayi’s film, while imbued with moral gravitas, still throws up a few questions and head scratching moments.
Why is it called Training Day? Do you train a new recruit before he is hired? Would it have been better if he was already hired and was now going through an induction?
Why does Rogers share so much with a man who has not committed fully? Do we chalk it down to the devil always being able to sweet talk the ambitious and morally ambivalent into selling his soul. There is also the fact that once in that building Jude has zero chance of leaving alive if he does not commit.
For a film released in 2020, Rogers’ comment that the internet is “a place where order falls flat in 140 characters” somehow rings hollow since Twitter already moved their character count from 140 to 280 in 2018.
But head scratchers aside, this is a timely reminder of what can go wrong when technology falls into the wrong hands but it is also a sobering reminder of the fact that the use of the internet to stymie conversation by the youth of Africa is facilitated, sadly and on behalf of the ruling class, by the youth of Africa who need to survive, one way or the other as we see in Jude.