By: Somachi Chris-Asoluka
The Nigerian movie industry is second- in terms of number of annual film productions- only to the largest film producer in the world—India’s Bollywood—a fact that is not commonly known worldwide.
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Nollywood superstar, Genevieve Nnaji, on her second interview with CNN, explained the sustainability that characterizes the industry, and no one could have summed up the creativity and prolific power the Nollywood industry better than she did.
“Nollywood is for the people, by the people,” Nnaji gushed during the interview with Pedro Pinto on the program, African Voices. Nollywood is indeed an industry for the people, and by the people employing and entertaining a plethora of Africans at home and abroad.
The industry that began with a modest, primarily Nigerian market has grown to become the second largest producer of film worldwide, shutting out global film giant, Hollywood. By no means is that an easy feat, and the producers and actors of Nollywood deserve praise… or do they?
With nearly 2,000 movies produced annually in Nollywood, the industry’s standards seem to have lagged under the massive output. Short production periods of a few weeks and sometimes even days, coupled with limited budgets ranging between $10,000 and $15,000, have put downward pressure on the quality of many Nollywood movies.
With this, the Nollywood industry seems to have traded quality for quantity. Movies are produced so frequently that some Nigerian actors boast of filming over 100 movies within a short period of time; a far cry from the average of 20 movies by some of Hollywood’s most prolific actors. But with sales plagued by piracy, Nigerian producers argue that the market must be flooded with movies for the industry to survive.
On the other side of things, many Nigerian and African households don’t seem to be complaining. They enjoy the variety and choice that heavy production affords them. Non-stop production also creates jobs for many aspiring actors and producers, making Nollywood a significant source of employment in the Nigerian economy.
Like the rest of the world, the Nollywood industry was also hit by the recent global recession, and output dropped to about a third of its usual figures. Still, Nollywood seems to have bounced back with an unexpected, but very welcome force.
Within the last year, worldwide audiences observed a general improvement in the structure and production of Nollywood movies. This resulted in increased international recognition, earning many films in the industry notable awards. Films like Ije, Mirror Boy, Through the Glass, and Figurine have received acclaim from local and foreign media. In addition, a number of Nollywood productions have premiered in western countries to more diverse audiences. Ije premiered in Los Angeles, while Mirror Boy premiered in London. Other productions like Holding Hope, Bursting Out, and Anchor Baby premiered in Silverbird Cinemas, Lagos. Through the success of these films, Nollywood has been flexing its muscles as a more organized industry, and worldwide audiences are taking note.
The Nollywood phenomenon has spread from all over Africa into the Caribbean, Europe and in most recent years, North America. With this we are brought to wonder: What is responsible for Nollywood’s popularity in Africa and beyond? What lures in worldwide audiences to Nigerian ‘home video’ (as they are fondly called), and what makes the Nigerian movie industry so appealing?
These are some of the conundrums surrounding the success of Nollywood as opposed to other African film industries. There is no single answer to this, but if one were to be formed, I would give credit to the simplicity of Nigerian productions. Nollywood movies are simple, true-to-life, and direct. This allows its audience to easily connect with the storyline that the movies convey.
The average Nigerian movie is relatable, and possibly holds storylines similar to circumstances experienced by friends or relatives you know. Audiences see a lot of real-life characters through these home videos, and thus connect to the film scenes. Nollywood movies come across like that old friend that you’ve known for a while, and audiences can feel a true connection, watching their stories being played out on screen.