Guest Post #2: Nollywood

Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie and film industry

Time magazine named Nollywood the third-largest film & cinema industry after USA’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. However, trying to trace the history of film and Nollywood in Nigeria is rather difficult as there are disagreements about when both started; that applies especially to the latter.

There’s a wild notion that the beginning of movie and home videos in Nigeria is marked by the hit “Living in Bondage”, a movie by Kenneth Nnebue, released in 1992. However, it is important to note that there has been stage, film & television productions before then. No doubt, “Living in Bondage” started the home video film era whereby any Tom can pick up a recorder and shoot a full length film for distribution. In addition, the movie attained wide commercial success. More controversies regarding the real Pioneers of Nollywood unfolded in 2012 when the Association of Movie Producers (AMP) announced the anniversary of “Nollywood @ 20”, evidently using the same hit movie as a marker, and the Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP) sounded its disagreement with the party.

Famous Nollywood filmmaker Kunle Afolayan was reported to have said: “The whole idea of Nollywood at 20 does not make sense to me because the Nollywood that I know is more than 20 years. I remember my father shot a film about 37 years ago and I also grew up in the industry.”
Another Nollywood filmmaker/playwriter Tunde Kelani stated: “how will Nollywood be celebrating 20 years and I am over 40 years in the industry?”.

A term which came into existence only in the 2000s after it was used, in no more than a flash of inspiration, by Norimitsu Onishi to first describe the Nigerian movie industry and its ubiquitous CDs in a New York Times article on September 2002, “Nollywood” has come to assume a more decent connotation and now describes the whole of the Nigerian movie and film industry. But since a few films and play predate the hit movie “Living In Bondage”, it is believed to be unfair using this movie to celebrate the beginnings of the industry itself.

Film making and stage play in Nigeria date back to the colonial times; the first film, called “Palava” was shot in 1926 by Geoffrey Barkas. As the birth of television & broadcasting began in the 1960’s, so did the boom in the film industry, especially with the Gowon led government enacting the Indigenization Decree aim at promoting local content in film and television. Notable filmmakers of the 1960’s who transitioned into the big screen include Ola Balogun, Sanya Dosumu, Hubert Ogunde, Moses Olaiya, etc.

The second major boom came in the 1990’s with the release of “Living in Bondage.” Evidently, this was such significant boom to warrant a perception of a new beginning in the industry. Subsequently, with the introduction to the market of more films and a general acceptance by a participative public, “Nollywood”, the Nigerian film industry, has continued to soar and gain more fans across Africa and the diaspora.

If “Living in Bondage” signified a marked step in video release, “The Figurine” probably defined the industry’s crossover into adept professionalism and top quality production. Produced by Kunle Afolayan and released in 2009, “The Figurine”, a tale about the adventures of two friends with a mystical sculpture which provides luck and then takes it away, did not depart very much from the weary storylines that had become constant nature with Nollywood, but delivered an excellent job in telling the same story. It also featured prominently in popular cinemas and enjoyed a lot of views across different segments of the population. It is noteworthy to mention that Tunde Kelani, another director, had churned out impressive stories in good production before then. However, since they were almost always shot in Yoruba, one of the many Nigerian languages, viewers were often exclusively from a segment of the population. “The Figurine”, in contrast, was shot in both English and Yoruba.

Since the definition of “Nollywood” came along, there have been significant strides made in the development of films and movies in Nigerian languages. What most of the content lack in quality, they have made up in quantity. Cable TVs now house independent channels showing nothing but Nigerian movies, a thing that would have been unheard of in the past. Critics also point to Nollywood as an excellent example of non-interference in the stories told by Nigerians for Nigerians. Undoubtedly, significant trust has been reposed in industry and this does not look likely to change very much into the future.

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