Nollywood: a dual assessment of its emergence
Comfortably seated on the couch, a grandfather looks over at his grandson, who is in awe after watching the latest new feature from Nollywood on TV. The young man, all smiles while rereading the names of the actors on the back of the cassette, suddenly exclaims to his grandfather with enthusiasm:
“Tunde Kelani! There’s someone whose footsteps I would like to follow in.”
His grandfather stares hard at him, rolls his eyes upwards, and snaps back:
“You’ve got to be kidding! Surely you’ve noticed the lousy quality of this type of movie. When all’s said and done, the 1,500 movies produced each year are complete junk!”
“But grandfather, you’ve got to consider that these 1,500 movies were produced on a very limited budget. They are all produced without any outside financing from the government or from more developed countries. They are home-grown productions – 100% African. The unemployment problem in Nigeria is continuously in the news, yet Nollywood alone has created 200,000 direct jobs and a million more indirect ones! It’s a viable economic model in a class of its own. Nollywood is the world’s leading producer of feature-length films with an annual turnover equivalent to €300 million.”
The grandfather gave in on a number of points, but a slightly ironic smile shows that he is not yet convinced:
“Film is not a product of the economy. Because of the poor quality of these movies, Nigerian culture is looked down upon, whereas it boomed with Ola Balogun in the 1970s and ‘80s. His movie Alpha was the very first Nigerian feature-length film – but then again, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. There’s no originality in all these murders, all these women tortured by love and the trivialization of infanticide: this new generation has absolutely no respect for morals!”
“Of course I understand your point of view, grandfather. But it took courage for these filmmakers to express the failings of society without taboos and break free from government propaganda. These movies have also had a great deal of success with the Nigerian diaspora. You look puzzled. Let me explain. It’s all done through streaming. Look, Jason Njoku created the YouTube channel NollywoodLove, which is visited by a million Internet users every month, and 90% of the traffic comes from our continent. This has placed our culture on a true international footing! But more than that, while Nollywood is often criticized for copying Hollywood or American movies, Jason Njoku launched his own website, Iroko Partners, which is now completely independent of YouTube.”
As the young man becomes more and more enthusiastic, his grandfather grips his shoulder and replies firmly:
“Before talking about exporting our culture, you ought to think about your own country. Nollywood is not that cohesive. Look at the competition that it engenders among the various ethnic groups. Some people say that there may be more Ibowood movies than Nollywood movies. We need to look reality in the face. Nollywood is far from being a factor of social cohesion.”
“Even though our cohesion is not unanimous, the fact remains that we have a shared pride. In the North, a strict application of Sharia law resulted in a ban on all movies. But in 2008, the scandal created by a Nigerian star who was supposed to appear in a Hausa video created such a stir on the Internet that the filming ban was lifted for this Hausa production. This clearly shows that Nollywood contributes to more freedom of expression for all. In fact, many movies are produced in local languages, even though most of them are still made in English.”
“I understand everything you’re telling me… But don’t you see, the main problem with these productions is the way these movies are distributed: it’s all basically piracy. How can Nigeria make real progress while sidestepping the law? The State does not reap any financial returns, so it can’t redistribute the profits of this wealth created by a limited number of private citizens. Nothing can be reinvested in development, job creation, or in culture. There is no posterity,” the grandfather concluded.
But the grandson, undaunted, looks at the grandfather with fiery determination:
“No, I don’t agree; don’t you see, it’s all just beginning… We’ve got to give Nollywood a chance: it had to start somewhere – it doesn’t matter if it had very meager resources in the beginning! I think Nollywood has entered a transition period. We’re seeing the emergence of a number of promising filmmakers, such as Tunde Kelani, Tade Ogidan and Izu Ojukwu. What’s more, Nigeria, thanks to its growing population and strong economic growth, really has a leading role to play, which also includes culture, its softpower! I also recently saw a movie from Senegal that really impressed me, so I did some research, and guess what? A viable ‘Senlywood’ movie industry is springing up in Senegal, and the same thing is happening in Ghana. Nollywood is just the beginning; it’s only a seed, which will take root and cause all the diversity of African culture to burst into bloom.”
“Maybe; you’ve got me thinking, anyway. It’s like the proverb says: ‘If you want to go fast, walk alone, but if you want to go far, walk together.’”
Romane Butin is fond of plastic arts, loves painting and drawing. She has been living in Morocco for nine years and spent a year in Australia as an exchange school pupil before entering the Sciences Po Europe-Africa Program. She chairs and created the branch of the “Coexister” association in Reims. This movement of inter-religious dialogue gathers young people, believers and non-believers who act for the promotion of coexistence and living together.
Student of the Sciences Po Europe-Africa Program, Frédérique Triballeau also dedicates herself to associations. Her keen interest in theatre led her to create and teach improvisation courses in her school. She was also a coordinator for the” Nantes-Gaza-Jérusalem” association for which she organized an exchange program between an high school in Blain and a Palestinian one. Besides, Frédérique is president of two associations: « Education et Questions Africaines » and « Nuances de Gauche » - that youth organization raises awareness about the politics facilitating the debate on the Remois campus.