Nollywood: Rise of Nigeria’s Booming Film Industry and Its Impact on Culture

Nollywood: Rise of Nigeria’s Booming Film Industry and Its Impact on Culture
Written by Omolola Akinyemi

In an attempt to examine the cultural impact of this booming film industry, we re-introduce you to Nollywood. 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 due to the necessity to manage resources (and the challenge of lack of funding) since inception. Nevertheless, Nollywood still manages to produce over 2000 films every year. 

However, a number of signed distribution and broadcast agreements with international streaming sites and media houses (such as Netflix and Africa Magic) came to the rescue. They have aided the exposure of Nigerian films to a broad and accepting foreign audience in the last few years. 

Thankfully, there are now larger film production budgets in Nollywood, due to increased financial aid from reputable institutions in recent years. The producers and directors in the Nigerian film industry have striven to promote their films within and beyond Nigeria (especially within the last decade thereabout). They were able to use the internet and emerging cinema houses to their advantage. And it has not gone unnoticed. 

Nollywood films have now gained widespread international acclaim and acceptance with its recent collection of interesting films, comedies, and blockbusters. 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 

Merry Men (to mention a few).

The Origins of Nollywood

The word ‘Nollywood‘ was coined by a New York Times journalist, Norimitsu Onishin 2002. He went on a visit to a film production site in Lagos, Nigeria. The word was fashioned in comparison to the USA’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood – which then were the most prominent sites of film production worldwide.  

However, Nollywood in its rudimentary form began around the late 19th Century, and developed all through British colonial Nigeria. Back then, the traveling theater groups of the Yoruba people (southwest Nigeria) eagerly moved from town to town to promote acting for entertainment. There eventually emerged notable players in the cinema and film industry from amongst them. 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 members of these traveling theater groups earned quite little, though they became increasingly popular as they moved gradually to the big screen. 

In the 1960s, the first set of Nigerian filmmakers emerged. Those were the likes of Hubert Ogunde, Jab Adu, Moses Olaiya, Eddie Ugboma, and Ola Balogun. When the 1990s arrived, 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. And by the mid-1990s, Igbo producers from southeastern 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, with poor production quality and low budgets. The poor production environment and scarce resources were observed by Onishi. For which reason the visiting journalist coined the term ‘Nollywood‘ – literally translating to ‘nothing wood‘. That is, creating something out of almost nothing.  

The Impact of Nollywood on Culture

At the onset, it was common for Nollywood producers to write or use scripts that dwelt on typical mundane themes. One could almost predict the sequence and/or climax of events; not to mention avoidable logical flaws. Such themes include 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, a strong depiction of Nigerian culture (languages, songs, dance, and creative storytelling imbued with native wisdom) in many of these movies. 

Another notable feature of Nollywood movies is the expert blend of, and switch between, different languages.  You will hear pidgin and Nigerian English; native languages; UK and US English (complete with the accents) being used altogether in a typical Nollywood movie. The blend of languages apparently thrills many local and international fans of Nollywood, and pidgin English is especially exciting to hear. It has gone as far several foreigners actually learning to speak Nigerian pidgin English. Some of them attempt to mimic native Nigerian accents. 

We should not forget to mention that many Nigerian actors and actresses waste no opportunity to display a taste for top-notch fashion. Whether in wearing native attire or contemporary clothes and fashion accessories, there is an unofficial contest for the most gorgeously dressed. Particularly among the females. The dress-to-kill culture (if you permit me) has heavily influenced young folks who are fans of these actors and actresses. 


In all, Nollywood is gradually becoming a global force – a huge income-generating machine, and an eager ambassador of Nigerian culture to the world. Nollywood has produced many celebrities and created an ever-expanding upper-middle class of creative people. And it continues to  expand and accommodate more creatives. Nollywood also exposed both the good and bad sides of Nigerian life and values. But the Nigerian film industry continues to March forward with determination. 

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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About the author

Omolola Akinyemi

A Computer Science graduate of UNILAG, I hail from Ekiti state of Nigeria. An astute teacher, learner & admin assistant of many years experience. I love technology, innovation, and Nature. A problem solving mentality is important to me. The future is only seconds away, and I believe I can define the future now. You can also.