I’m sure that anyone who is has access to the technology required to read this post would be quite familiar with the U.S. film industry of Hollywood (if you weren’t, I would be seriously surprised). Yet it’s unlikely that the average reader will know off, or even have heard of the Nigerian film industry, known informally as Nollywood. Nollywood itself is an intriguing example of cultural hybridisation.
In 2006 the Nigerian film industry overtook the U.S. in regards to film output numbers, making it the world’s second largest film industry, surpassed only by the Indian film industry, Bollywood. Each one of the 872 films produced that year were released direct-to-video, rather than the cinematic format favoured by Hollywood, direct-to-video format still remains Nollywood’s dominant format – with small-scale screenings being quite popular. Nollywood films are known for their comparatively low production quality – closer to an American serial drama, rather than a movie – which can be attributed to the comparatively low budgets.
While it’s not uncommon for a Hollywood film’s budget to exceed US$100 million, as of 2014, Nigeria’s most expensive movie, Half of a Yellow Sun‘s budget was approximately only US$8 million. These low budgets also prevent Nigerian film makers from accessing newer technologies (e.g. CGI) and newer device models (e.g. cameras), though as technology advances older models become more affordable for Nigerian filmmakers due to price devaluation.
Half of a Yellow Sun film trailer
Nolywood’s Cultural Hybridisation
The plots, settings, and characters of Hollywood and Bollywood films are reflections of American and Indian cultures (respectively), and thus generally made for audiences of similar cultures. Nollywood films are reflections of their creator’s distinctly Nigerian culture. They are Nigerian films made for a Nigerian audience.
Rather than following the thematic conventions of the American films that dominate the international market, Nollywood films focus on themes that are “broad and mirror Nigerian society” (Alamu, O., 2010, pg 166) such as “infidelity, treachery, lust, hypocrisy, armed robbery, marital problems, murder, cultism and occultism, witchcraft, polygamy and so on.” (pg 166) They look into both quintessential issues, such as family relationships, and more contemporary Nigerian societal issues, such as “HIV and AIDS, cultism and ritual killing, armed robbery and […] kidnapping” (pg 167).
This focus on issues and themes relevant to the local Nigerian population has also allowed Nollywood to gain popularity and appeal in other African nations, such as Ghana and Botswana (Onuzulike, U., 2007), due to cultural proximity. However, there has also been some backlash to this popularity.
In this sense, Nigerian film producers have taken the film and drama format popularised by the United States, and incorporated aspects of their own cultures in order to make something new and distinctly their own.
Ultimately, while Nollywood film’s are not as well known, or possess as high production value and quality as the films of other nations, Nigerian filmmakers have managed to adapt the film format to fit within their own socioeconomic difficulties and unique social and cultural worlds.
Some extra reading on Nollywood can be found here.