Director Kunle Afolayan, on the set of his new movie, which will be distributed on Netflix. Photograph by Kunle Afolayan
Nigeria, ‘The Giant of Africa’ boasts 192 million people, with its capital city Lagos being a thriving super-city and the home of film making wonder – Nollywood! The second largest film industry in the world. Nollywood, relatively unknown to the western world, produces up to 35 films per week, that are reproduced up to 50,000 times, a staggering number that rivals other film industries worldwide. So why haven’t we heard about it?
Onookome argues that “Nollywood is commercially-savvy. It values the entertainments of its clientele.” (2007, p. 2). Nollywood’s clientele is not the rich, they are the locals. The films are not produced for export to the overseas market, they are produced by locals with a small amount of capital. Onookome also argues that “Nollywood provides the imagery for certain marginal sections of the society where it operates” (2007, p. 2). These films are not shown on television or in cinemas, as they are produced as videos, either to be watched at home, (often locals do not like to go out in the evenings because of the high crime rates in Lagos) or on a street corner with many others. Onookome states “Since the advent of popular video films, ‘street corner theatres’ have become part of the visual topography of the city…” “This act of peculiar ‘coming together’ is often effected during the evening, just when workers of the city are heading home for the day”. (2007, p. 6).
Nollywood films are filmed locally. They are often filmed in venues like the local coffee shop, or in a local hotel room being rented by the hour. Dialog used is typically Pidgin English, the costumes are typically long dresses (for the women), as they have been brought from home to wear on set. The filming itself is usually on a home video recorder or a similar device. Quality it appears, is optional. However, it is loved by the locals and watched in droves.
The narratives of the videos are created for locals based on traditional characters discussing contemporary issues. They can be up to three hours long, and do not focus on aesthetics. Alamu sates ‘Nollywood is not homologous with foreign traditions. The Nigerian film industry is instead defined and sustained by Nigerians. The commercial success and popularity of Nigerian films stem from their stories, which the audience finds fascinating and consonant with their expectations.’ (2010, p. 166). The themes are based on happenings that are close to home, stories that are typical within the daily life of a Nigerian people, making them relatable and easy to watch. These expressions of local life are often filled with magical mystic, spiritually creating enticement for the audiences.
Onookome states that ‘this pragmatic method of telling the social and economic concerns of the abject gradually builds up into neighbourhood feelings, which then offers alternative means of survival for members in these popular neighbourhoods whose social and economic interests are often left unattended in the larger political dispensation of the State.” (2007, p. 9). Because Nollywood knows its clientele, and remains focused on what its clientele wants to view, a sustainable industry generating billions each year for Nigeria has been developed and sustained for at least the past 20 years.
Alamu, O (2010) ‘Narrative and style in Nigerian (Nollywood) films’, African Study Monographs, Vol 31, no. 4 pp. 163-171. < http://jambo.africa.kyoto-u.ac.jp/kiroku/asm_normal/abstracts/pdf/31-4/31-4-2.pdf> viewed online 17 August 2017
Onookome, O (2007) ‘Nollywood: Spectatorship, Audience and the Sites of Consumption’, Postcolonial Text, Vol 3, no. 2 p. 1-21.