What is Nollywood?

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The film industry of Nigeria is the third biggest in the world, after the USA and India. It is commonly known as ‘Nollywood,’ just like America’s Hollywood, and India’s Bollywood. The Nigerian film industry continues to grow rapidly and has received international recognition. Here, we will look at the industry’s past, present and future.  

Where did Nollywood come from?

As early as the 1930s, Lagos was home to many cinema chains showing a wide variety of films. However, it was in the late-1960s, following independence, when native cinema really took off. Large cinema complexes were built and brought into the ownership of locals, while Nigerians started to produce their own films. The first film produced by a Nigerian production company was called ‘Kongi’s Harvest,’ based on the play by the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Sonyika. This was released across Africa, and in countries around the world. By the 1980s, going to the cinema was one of Nigeria’s favourite leisure activities, with one recently built theatre having the capacity to hold 5000 people. 

Often, Nigerian films were not shown in the cinema, but were instead released only on video. This meant films could reach a very wide audience, becoming a form of entertainment accessible to all. By 2004, it is estimated Nigeria was producing 4 to 5 films every single day. These became very popular across Africa, and regularly outsold films from outside the continent.

Throughout the 2000s, the quality of films produced in Nigeria increased. The 2006 Yoruba-language film ‘Irapada’ was highly acclaimed, as was ‘The Figurine,’ which won Best Picture at the African Movie Academy Awards, and was complimented by both scholars and international film critics. Films like ‘Osuofia in London,’ with its international cast, show how well Nigerian films were engaging with the wider world, and how funny they could be. 

By 2014, the Nigerian film industry was the third most valuable in the world, after those of the United States and India.

Nollywood today

Today, Nigerian cinema is recognized everywhere, as it continues to produce a range of top-quality films. These belong to a variety of genres, from supernatural thrillers to family dramas, and explore a range of themes, in both serious and funny ways. The film industry is notable for its range of languages, reflecting the diversity of the country. Nigerian cinema is often produced alongside Ghana and with Ghanaian actors, and so the success of Nigeria is supporting the rise of other countries’ film industries.  

The future of Nollywood

It seems the film industry in Nigeria will only continue to grow, as it is already considered one of the world’s most important. Increasingly, other African countries are producing their own acclaimed films, and several are now represented at the African Movie Academy Awards each year. Films are not only lots of fun to watch, but are a form of art – just like books and plays – which is accessible to all, and has the power to represent many languages and cultures around the world.

If telling stories is important, so are films.

JONATHAN TEVENDALE

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