In an attempt to examine the cultural impact of this booming film industry, we re-introduce you to Nollywood. The Nigerian film industry, also called Nollywood, is the second largest film industry in the world as we speak. It follows closely after India’s Bollywood. It is also a huge employer of labor, accounting for more than one million jobs and generating over 1.2 billion US Dollars annually.
Nollywood: Challenges and Recent Developments
Nollywood had been producing mostly low-budget films out of the necessity to manage resources (or the challenge of lack of funding) from inception. Nevertheless, Nollywood still manages to produce over 2000 films every year.
But subsequently, signed distribution and broadcast agreements with international streaming sites and media houses (such as Netflix and Africa Magic) have phenomenally helped Nollywood. They have aided the exposure of Nigerian films to a broad and accepting foreign audience in the last few years.
Coupled with the now larger film production budgets in recent times due to increased financial aid from reputable institutions. This was not possible for many years. But the producers and directors in the Nigerian film industry strove to prove their mettle in promoting their films within and beyond Nigeria. And it has not gone unnoticed.
Nollywood Films have now gained widespread international acclaim and acceptance with its recent collection of deeply-moving films, comedies and blockbuster movies. Such high-grossing movies include The Wedding Party part 1 & 2, Half of a Yellow Sun, Omo Ghetto: The Saga, Battle on Bukka Street, Chief Daddy, Gangs of Lagos, King of Boys, Living in Bondage: Breaking Free, and Merry Men 2, to mention a few.
The Origins of Nollywood
The word ‘Nollywood’ was coined by New York Times journalist, Norimitsu Onishi in 2002 during a visit to a film production site in Lagos, Nigeria. That was done in comparison to USA’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood – which then were the most prominent sites of film production globally.
Nollywood in its rudimentary form began around the late 19th Century and developed all through British colonial Nigeria. Back then, Yoruba people of Western Nigeria and their traveling theater groups eagerly moved from town to town, promoting acting for entertainment. They eventually evolved into notable players in the cinema industry. Thus they laid the foundation for modern Nollywood.
Those were times when acting was done more for the passion than for the money. And indeed actors and actresses that comprised these Yoruba theater groups earned quite little, though they became increasingly popular as they moved gradually to the big screen.
By the 1960s, the first set of filmmakers in Nigeria emerged. Those were the likes of Hubert Ogunde, Jab Adu, Moses Olaiya, Eddie Ugboma and Ola Balogun.
In the 1990s, these traveling theater groups were able to turn their plays into recorded films and put them on VHS tape. The tapes were produced cheaply and sold to home viewers. By the mid-1990s, Igbo producers from Eastern Nigeria joined the film production industry. The first-ever film directed by an Igbo was Living in Bondage (1992) by Chris Rapu.
Most of these videos were hurriedly made, and had poor production quality and low budgets back then. The poor production environment and very little resources was observed by Onishi. Which made the visiting journalist to coin the term ‘Nollywood’ – literally translating to ‘nothing wood’. That is, creating something out of almost nothing.
The Impact of Nollywood on Culture
At its onset, it was common for Nollywood producers to write or use scripts that dwelt on the themes of love, marriage, family issues, relationships, mother-in-law blues, and the supernatural. They were often done in a traditional setting, though not always. Comedy, thrillers, primitive action movies and more of the supernatural gradually infiltrated into Nollywood scripts. There was, and still is, the strong depiction of Nigerian culture, languages, songs, dance, and creative storytelling imbued with native wisdom in many of these movies.
In addition is the expert switch between pidgin and Nigerian English, native languages, and both the UK and US versions of English (complete with the accents) in many Nollywood movies and comedies. The blend of language styles apparently thrills a good number of local and international fans of Nollywood. It has gotten to the extent that many foreigners actually began to learn and speak Nigerian pidgin English. And to even mimic native Nigerian accents.
We would not forget to mention that many Nigerian actors and actresses waste no opportunity to display affluence and a taste for top-notch fashion. Whether in wearing native attire or contemporary clothes and fashion accessories, the contest for the most gorgeously dressed is apparent. Particularly among the females. The dress-to-kill culture (if you permit me) has a heavy influence on young people who are followers of these actors and actresses.
In all, Nollywood is gradually becoming a global force, a huge income-generating machine and an eager ambassador of Nigeria to the world. Nollywood has produced many celebrities and created an ever-expanding upper-middle class of creative people, as it continues to expand and accommodate more creatives. Nollywood has also exposed both the good and bad sides of Nigerian life and values.
It is our hope that this multi-million Naira industry would be a vehicle that will liberate Nigeria from mediocrity and backwardness in times to come.
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