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INSIDE NOLLYWOOO: What is Nollywood?

By Alex Ayengho

Welcome to ‘Inside Nollywood’, a new column in your choice newspaper. The idea is to, on a weekly basis take you through the world of Nollywood (never mind, you’ll get to know what that means shortly), from the perspective of an insider, through the eye of a practicing filmmaker and administrator in Nollywood. The aim is to inform, educate and entertain readers with goings- on in this popular sector of Nigeria’s economy. This shall almost always be done in an analytical, yet incisive format.

I chose to start with the assumption that not all my readers know exactly what Nollywood is or means. This is to fairly put everybody on the same page, from the outset. I apologize in advance to those who may perceive my take-off topic as rather pedestrian, even though I still hold firmly to the view that you cannot begin to talk about a phenomenon and indeed a paradigm shift which Nollywood is, without defining and historicizing, albeit in capsule.

For those who fancy definitions, Nollywood can be defined as the totality of activities taking place in the Nigerian movie/film industry, be it in English, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Itsekiri, Edo, Effik, Ijaw, Urhobo or any other over 300 Nigerian languages.

However, contrary to popular view, the historical trajectory of Nollywood started since the pre and post independent Nigeria, with the theatrical (stage) and cinematic (35mm) efforts of the likes of Chief Hubert Ogunde, Chief Amata, Baba Sala, Ade Love, Eddie Ugboma and a few others.

Then came the 1990s with a video film shot in VHS format and in Igbo language, ‘Living in Bondage’, produced by Kenneth Nnebue/Okey Ogunjiofor and directed by Chris Obirapu (1993). Though there were some video films shot in Yoruba language and released into the market in VHS format before ‘Living in Bondage’ but, in terms of mass appeal and commercial success, ‘Living in Bondage’, opened the eyes of practitioners and investors to the viability of film business in Nigeria.

These individual efforts at different locations and time, laid a solid foundation for the Nigerian movie industry, which has since metamorphosed into the brand today known as Nollywood. Nollywood is so big now that it is today the most prolific movie industry in the world, number one in quantity of films and the third largest with USD $500 million.

It is the biggest employer of labour after agriculture and indeed provides over one million jobs. It is the fourth biggest economic sector in Nigeria (5% of GDP). It produces low cost movies averaging USD $25,000. Nollywood movies are ubiquitous, globally. Some of the challenges of Nollywood include piracy, the near absence of copyright protection, absence of formal distribution channels, lack of business planning skills, and lack of funding among others.

It is instructive to point out that while all these activities were going on during the formative stage of the Nigerian movie sector, there was no word like Nollywood. How then did the name come about, you may wonder. Just as Nigeria as we know it today was named by a foreigner, so was Nollywood! After what was considered a commercial success story and mass appeal of ‘Living in Bondage’, the demand for cultural goods in VHS format for home viewing, was triggered off. Other movies followed: ‘Circle of Doom, Living in Bondage 2, Sorrows of Ken, Evil Passion, Taboo, Ikuku, Battle of Musanga, Nneka the Pretty Serpent, Domitila, Rampage’, and many others.

These were the boom days of the industry, a development that attracted the attention of the international community, particularly journalists. Then came a journalist from the ‘New York Times’, USA who arrived Nigeria for the purpose of doing a special feature story on the revolution in the Nigerian film sector.

In the process, the journalist interacted with practitioners in Lagos including Chico Ejiro, who as at then was arguably the busiest movie director in the nascent industry. In the report, the journalist concluded that since Hollywood (USA) and Bollywood (India) were already in existence, perhaps it would not be a bad idea to name the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood.

That was it! The name stocked and spread like wild fire. Practitioners, journalists, viewers, government and the corporate world fell in love with the name. However, there are a few people today who still feel that the name (Nollywood) is not suitable for the Nigerian movie industry. They argue that it is a name imposed on us by a foreigner and as such must be changed or localized. My take here is: should we now change the name (Nigeria) imposed on us by a foreigner?

The important thing and indeed the reality today is that, both locally and internationally, one word to describe or capture the Nigerian film/movie industry is nothing but Nollywood. It is easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for this position to change, period.

Also, the currently booming Nigerian indigenous language movies (Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Itsekiri, Effik, Edo, Ijaw, Urhobo, Isoko, etc) are all integral part of the Nigerian movie/film industry otherwise known as Nollywood. Make no mistake about this and don’t ever, ever be deceived!


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.