Nollywood, Nigeria’s vibrant film industry, has come of age by attracting tertiary educated audiences and can be used effectively as an integration tool in West Africa and beyond, says Dr Oluyemi Oyenike Fayomi, a senior lecturer at Covenant University in Nigeria.
Addressing more than 500 delegates at the 14th General Assembly of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa – CODESRIA – held in Dakar from June 8-12, Fayomi said Nollywood productions were rapidly gaining continental acceptance.
“Nollywood video productions are not just providing entertainment to residents of mega urban slums such as Makoko in Lagos or Kibera in Nairobi, but have penetrated gated communities of highly educated people in Sub-Saharan Africa and the African diaspora.”
A success story
It is hard to avoid Nigerian films in Africa, as they have defied the concept of the developed world cinema where feature films and high-end documentaries are screened in theatres. Nollywood filmmakers rely heavily on videos that are screened in informal settings such as buses, food kiosks, hotels and restaurants, and street and home theatres.
According to UNESCO, use of video instead of film is the key to Nollywood’s explosive success, in a country that has very few formal cinemas. “About 99% of screenings are done in informal settings and home theatres,” according to the United Nations agency.
In her study, “Transnational and Integrative Cultural Roles of Nollywood Entertainment Media in West Africa: The case study of Benin Republic and Ghana”, Fayomi said Nollywood churned out about 50 full-length features a week, making it one of the world‘s most prolific film and video industries.
The Nigerian film culture cannot be compared to Hollywood – considered the global home of quality feature films – or India’s prolific Bollywood film industry, as a Nollywood feature movie costs an average US$15,000 and takes less than 10 days to produce.
Nevertheless, in the last two decades Nigerian film production has grown from almost nothing into a US$250 million a year industry that employs many people.
Crucial to the CODESRIA forum – whose theme was “Creating African Futures in an Era of Global Transformations: Challenges and prospects” – was how the nascent Nollywood film industry could be transformed into a vehicle for cultural values, identity, integration and social cohesion across educational, political and socio-economic barriers in Africa.
Elizabeth Giwa, a researcher on the rise of the Nigerian film industry, said that whereas Nollywood productions had been criticised for being unrealistic, and for having obsessive and repetitive themes, this had not stopped its movies being very popular among Africans.
In a masters study submitted last year to Southern Illinois University Carbondale in the US, Giwa found that educational background was insignificant to the motivations and entertainment focus of people who enjoyed Nigerian-produced movies.
“Ideally, the rising popularity of Nollywood productions could be attributed to the level of scholarship of film-makers who are constantly investigating opportunities, genres, production and distribution of those films in Nigeria, the rest of Africa and the diaspora,” said Giwa, who is now working as a producer with Fox, a multichannel news network in Atlanta.
Almost 98% of respondents in Giwa’s study confirmed that they were familiar with Nollywood films and 80% said they liked them. “We found that 30% of respondents enjoyed comedy, 25% drama, 18% romance, 13% action, 11% horror and 3% others,” said Giwa.
Her study was conducted in the Los Angeles area among people in the African diaspora, and 95% of respondents had tertiary education and 5% a high school diploma.
A more robust study was conducted by Fayomi on viewership of Nollywood movies in Ghana and Benin. Presenting the results at the CODESRIA gathering, Fayomi said 90.2% of her respondents from Ghana said they regularly viewed Nollywood movies, against 65.4% of Beninese respondents.
The study showed that Nollywood productions had immense value for people in West Africa. Ghanaians and Beninese found them relevant in the areas of economy, education, politics, religion and African cultural identity in matters of dressing and arts.
According to the study, 65.7% of Ghanaian respondents enjoyed how the films portrayed African traditional religions, and 78% of Beninese were impressed by how they depicted languages.
About 90% of the Ghanaian sample and 98% of Beninese liked how Nollywood films treated festivals. High scores were also recorded regarding how the films projected political, educational and morality issues.
Cutting across cultures
The impression emerging from the two studies is that Nollywood has a distinct voice that is able to cut across socio-economic strata in different African societies.
In this regard, its uppermost influence is being felt in cultural practices impacted by rituals, religion, dressing, language, morality, festivals, story and folklore, among other areas.
But in order to make inroads into issues related to African integration and social cohesiveness, the CODESRIA forum suggested that filmmakers in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa needed to widen their territory to cover the ills of corruption, religious extremism and terrorism, and environmental pollution.
They should also stand up and be counted on issues such as the untenable external and internal migrations of African youths, problems of refugees and internally displaced people, negative ethnicity and the pitfalls of falling academic standards in African higher education.
Unless such pertinent issues are brought forward, Nollywood and other entertainers in Africa are likely to lose their relevance in future, and that would be too bad for the continent.