Nollywood | Bollywood


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 14:14 PM EDT, 25 January 2012

NIGERIA - Lagos is one of the most populace cities in Africa. It is also the seat of the Nigerian film industry which began in 1992 and is known as Nollywood. It is the third largest film industry in the world after India's Bollywood and Hollywood in the U.S. Nollywood produces 2,500 films a year most for under $15,000.

The Indian movie industry caters to a population of over 1.2 billion citizens, and Nigeria, roughly 158 million. These numbers are the reason Nigeria is the largest and most dominant film industry on the Continent. (Source: World Bank, World Development Population Indicators)

In 2011, Bollywood and Nollywood concluded plans to host a joint film festival for both movie industries to commemorate the 60th and 50th independence anniversaries of both countries respectively. As former British Colonies, this festival would have provided a venue and opportunity to strengthen the cultural and economic ties that have existed between India and Nigeria. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns the 8th ION International Film Festival was moved from Port Harcourt, Nigeria to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The first Nollywood movie, Living in Bondage, was incredibly successful and is credited with launching the booming film industry in Nigeria. The films produced in Nigeria are financed and sold by electronics merchants and sold all over Nigeria in open air markets. Prior to 1992 most of the movies sold in Nigeria were imported from America or China or other markets. Since the advent of Nollywood, Nigerians claim that they only watch Nigerian made movies because they get to watch themselves and enjoy their unique culture, jokes, and the hope for a better life these films inspire.

Nigerian producers assert that Nollywood has become the voice of Africa. Because it is such a robust market it has become the benchmark for African film industry. In the West, Bollywood films have come to define the success of a film industry in an emerging market. Even though the highly acclaimed "Slumdog Millionaire" is not a Bollywood film, many Americans with only a cursory knowledge of the industry may concur with one of the movie's stars, Anil Kapoor that the movie is reminiscent of the genre.

Indian movie stars are well compensated through lucrative movie contracts, commercial and video appearances and product licensing. By contrast, many Nigerian actors work for little or no money because many believe that investing sweat equity into Nollywood's film industry is an important contribution. These actors feel that they are part of an important social and economic movement that helps ordinary Nigerians to dream of achieving a better life.

Nigerians believe that Lagos like New York, is a place that will make you or break you. If you can make it in Lagos you can make it anywhere in the world because life there is so grueling. I remember even as a child the sprawling ghettos, the crumbling infrastructure, and how crime was a dominant feature of Lagos. It has not changed much in the intervening years despite the incredible wealth generated by the oil industry.

In the early 1970's the Nigerian citizenry were increasingly subject to wanton violence as soldiers returned home from the Biafra wars with no opportunities and weapons. These men subsequently turned to crime as a means of support and began to terrorize the population. The danger posed by these marauders crippled downtown Lagos which resulted in the closure of restaurants, movie theaters and other entertainment venues. Going to watch a movie in a theater could result in the loss of life or property.

This socio-economic reality contributed to the underground development of the film industry because it was no longer safe to go out to the theaters to watch movies. In fact, there are only three functioning movie theaters in Lagos and none of them show Nollywood films. Most of the Nigerian made films are sold directly to the consumer who then view them at home or in communal settings.

These films speak directly to this population of poor people who have come to Lagos in search of a dream. When Nigerians watch these films they not only see themselves in the characters to whom they can aspire, and it provides them with the strength to continue to strive and not to loose hope. The film "Living in Bondage," is similar to a Medieval "English Morality Play," because during the lead character's struggles to make it he is repeatedly tempted to rely on the old tradition of Juju and witchcraft. Ultimately, this path provides him with worldly riches he desires at the cost of his soul. After experiencing other challenges, the character is finally redeemed through his conversion to Evangelical Christianity.

In a nation that is 52% Muslim and 47% Christian, Nollywood producers have adjusted their product to suit consumer demand. As more and more people struggle to survive in the economic downturn that followed the devaluation of the Naira, they need more than escape, and religion has begun to fill this void.  One of the largest film makers in Nollywood is Helen Ukpabio who is the head of Liberty Gospel Church which has over 50,000 members and 78 churches. Throughout many of her films, she blames witchcraft as the source of suffering for most Nigerians and the reason why many of their souls will be damned to hell.

Her films have captured a large segment of the 80 million viewers of Nollywood by presenting stories which preach the doctrine of achieving peace, prosperity and salvation by overcoming obstacles with the help of the church and a hefty donation. Though it may not have been her intention, Ms. Ukpabio and other Nollywood directors and producers recognized an opportunity to leverage the industry by moving from pure escapism to marketing religion as the new panacea. Right or wrong, the direction in which Nollywood is moving can be viewed cynically as a ploy to fleece the downtrodden, or beneficently as a tool to bolster faith.  Only time will judge, but for now Nollywood remains a powerful symbol of Africa's ascendancy.

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