Nollywood in Glocal Perspective

Author: Bala Musa (Ed)
Publ: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 253, 2019.  (eBook ISBN 978-3-030-30663-2)

In 2017, according to UNESCO, Nigeria had become a ‘cultural powerhouse’ with Nollywood as the second-largest film industry in the world by volume.[1] The origins of Nollywood (post-colonial Nigerian cinema) as a cultural force can be traced back to the film Living in Bondage (Dir: Chris Obi Rapu, 1992). Nearly thirty years later, Bala Musa has edited and contributed to a comprehensive collection of chapters on the film industry in Nigeria. Nollywood is robust, popular and it looks like the film industry in Nigeria will continue to thrive for many years to come.

During the colonial period, cinema in Nigeria was under the patronage of the church which was using the medium for ‘civilising’ people mainly through propaganda. Nigerian cinema is said to have been given the impetus by various travelling theatre groups in the country in the mid-twentieth century. And it is these groups that played a key role in the development of cinema in the country, following independence from the colonial administration.

Starting as home video films (the humble beginnings of Nollywood) and moving on to digital technologies, the term ‘Nollywood’ began to gain currency in the early 2000s and the nascent but, at the same time, a confident industry was making an impact. The term ‘Nollywood’ apparently appeared in the New York Times in 2002, and since then has continued to be used both in Nigeria and overseas. As mentioned above, Living in Bondage  was one of the first Nollywood films released in 1992  -a film about blood money,written andsupported by the businessman Kenneth Nnebue.

Bala Musa’s edited collection is a timely intervention in the history of Nigerian cinema, and the first part of the book starts with the historical development of the film industry in Nigeria under colonial rule, where there was little impetus to promote the national culture of cinema. This is followed by the context within which Nollywood evolved. Part two provides a socio-cultural perspective on the development of the post-colonial Nigerian cinema. And Part three maps the local as well as the global influences on the short history of Nollywood.

Setting the context and the evolution of Nollywood, chapters one and two provide a good overview, historical and contemporary, on the evolution of video and digital cinema. This started on a small scale due to the economic crisis in the country, and the necessity of earning a livelihood among the creative cinematic community.

The subsequent growth of the Nigerian video industry in the 1980s that led to the expansion of Nollywood was prompted by multiple factors: the dire state of the economy of the country, and the consequent issues relating to security, which meant that there was a demand for home videos many of which were made on small budgets and sometimes without appropriate equipment and training. This development of the home video market, impacted on the celluloid screenings in the cinemas. Additionally, the cinemas were not supportive of home-grown Nigerian cinema. They screened very few of these movies. This scenario required the filmmakers in the country to adapt to the methods of production, using video rather than celluloid. Thus, the austerity was the incubation period of the Nigerian video film industry.

Chapter three provides the historical evolution of the Nollywood industry and describes it as an ‘informal video industry’. The chapter elucidates what makes Nollywood informal by examining the relationship between the audience and the video film industry. The author of this chapter writes that when the Nigerian Film industry collapsed under the structural adjustment programme in 1986, the filmmakers joined Nigerian television. It was television that provided the impetus for the growth and success of Nollywood; it provided an outlet for the skills from the collapsed film industry, giving rise to new scriptwriters and making artists more popular. However, the relationship between the creatives and the television authorities was not always mutually agreeable; the artists would then move on to low-budget video productions that were distributed by DVDs, thus marking the beginning of Nollywood. Consequently, since 1992 Nollywood has grown and expanded, and in its early days with little or no government intervention.

The fourth chapter plots the trajectory of technological innovations in Nollywood film production.  It starts with the poor technical quality of the early Nollywood videos, to embracing the latest digital technologies that have overcome the earlier challenges of distribution.  This is turn has provided business opportunities that have led to the expansion of the Nigerian film industry, as well as increased training opportunities in terms of film schools as well as on the job training.

Under the section of the socio-cultural perspective (part two of the volume) the rise of Nollywood and, in turn, the post-colonial cinema in Nigeria is mapped by the contributors to this section.

Chapter five summarises how Nollywood represents African culture and identity, while chapter seven encapsulates the general mood of what the Africans feel about Nollywood. Whereas, previously the writers would adapt their film scripts to the ‘whims and wishes of financiers’; the industry ‘gave artists and practitioners control of their creativity’.

Chapter six provides the ‘African-feminist’ reading of sexuality. In  Keeping My Man (Dir: Ruky Sanda, 2013)negotiation among three married couples in the film critically evaluate representations of women.   The film portrays conflicts between couples, and their resolution with the intended messages that seem to have been handled in good form.

The third and the final part of the book explores the theme of local and the global influences of Nollywood. Chapter eight looks at the consumption of Nollywood among the Benin community in the context of the local influences on Nollywood. Examining the viewing tastes and preferences of the Benin people in Benin city (southern Nigeria), the study shows that most respondents stated that they regularly watch Benin language movies. This is primarily because the Benin people want to ‘reconnect and identify with their culture and history as portrayed in some Benin video-films’.

In chapter nine, the authors discuss how films can be used for multi-purposes: firstly to improve the image of a country globally and to attract tourists; secondly, it attempts to explore some of the avenues whereby the film industry in Nigeria can be consolidated and coordinated to make it a stronger cultural force, not only nationally but internationally as well.

Chapter ten discusses a case study of the film Paradise in my Mind (Dir: Emmanuel Mark Bamidele, 2015) where three African migrants with very different outlooks are searching to construct their paradise in Switzerland. Despite the huge popularity of Nollywood cinema, not only in Nigeria but the continent of Africa, the distribution channels of the cinema ‘primarily reflect an entrepreneurial, grassroots mode’. Although the local audiences in Europe may not be aware of Nollywood, it is in the informal circuits of distribution among African communities living there   that Nollywood makes the biggest impact.

The penultimate chapter maps the influence and growth of the South African media company ‘Multichoice’ in Nigeria, particularly in Nollywood.  Multichoice is a satellite subscription service that was launched in 1986. By examining the interactions between Multichoice and the practitioners in the Nollywood industry, the chapter/study draws the conclusions that Multichoice helps develop and promote the Nigeria film industry, both at home and abroad; on the other hand the Nollywood film practitioners feel that they are being exploited by the pan-African media organisation.

The last chapter is an important one; and therefore it is somewhat disappointing that it appears at the end. The chapter examines the digital areas that allow for female spaces and voices in a previously male-dominated industry, within the context of Nollywood. It is a shame that this important chapter appears at the end of the book, as the role of women in Nollywood may be small, but it is equally significant in the industry.

The growth of Nollywood has by no means been a linear one. Both the pre- and the post-independence cinema in Nigeria set the context for the growth and expansion of Nollywood. It appears to me that Nollywood is Nigeria’s ‘soft-power’ in that it expresses aspects of Nigeria, its culture and traditions, which appear much more self-assured and assertive than the earlier cinematic images that were displayed to the world.

[1] Nollywood is a $600 million industry and the driver of the creative industries in Nigeria. Source: