Who would have believed that in the 21st Century, the two dominant movie-making industries would be domiciled in the Global South? I am referring to Bollywood and Nollywood, respectively. Thanks to the digital revolution and globalization, these institutions, which began as national pop culture industries have assumed global proportion. The Information Revolution has centered pop culture, by making it both an organic and synthetic force. Third World’s emerging global pop culture are still rooted in traditional cultural values. These are usually communal norms and values that serve many essential functions, including as forces that bind the community together and stabilizing it in a geo-cultural space. Cultural norms, expressed in a people’s arts and artifacts, constitute them into a social group. Culture’s web enables people to navigate life, while suspended in space and time.
Performative culture gives a person a sense of identity and belonging. It creates meaning for both the individual and the group. Much human energy is devoted to creating, promoting and protecting the society’s assets. Arts and culture are treasured assets that, when well cultivated, enrich the social, economic, political, technological, and religious aspects of a people. In recent time, much emphasis was laid on technological and material advancement as pathways to national development. There was some validity to it, as science and technology play a vital role in our qualities of life. With time, it’s been realized that holistic living and healthy society cannot be realized if we neglect the mind, psyche, relationships, and social life that serve to lubricate the machines which drive human existence. As such, the arts are beginning to receive the appropriate emphasis, with investments being made in the STEAM disciplines. This is in recognition of how the arts compliment and complete the efforts and contributions of the STEM fields.
Arts and culture have always been invaluable components of the lifeview of traditional societies, particularly in developing nations. Because of their organic, permeative, and ubiquitous nature, they have been glossed over. Sometimes they are taken for granted. From Africa to Asia, and from the Middle-East to Latin America, governments establish ministries of arts and culture and vest them with preserving and promoting the rich cultural heritages of their nations. These acknowledgements and efforts have been regarded and treated as relevant and necessary. They are, at times, also treated as having secondary value.
The rise of the global entertainment industry, as both a cultural and economic force, is gradually shedding more light on the value and necessity of the arts, entertainment, and culture as critical components of sustainable development initiatives. It’s been observed that, in Africa for instance, ‘Content is the new crude oil’. It is underscoring the fact that Africa’s anticipated renaissance will require active participation, involvement, and contribution of the creative arts. The entertainment industry is already leading the way of Afro-futures in many ways. For the purpose of this discourse, attention will be focused on the role of Nollywood, Nigeria’s Afro-global movie and entertainment industry, in cultural dialogue, engagement, and transformation in the country, the continent, and across the globe. Nollywood’s reach, prominence, and scale is a factor of Nigeria’s market-size and the entrepreneurial drive that has propelled it to the second largest movie-producing industry, by volume of movies produced; next only to Bollywood.
As a cultural institution, Nollywood has become a major entertainment industry, exporting content and talent, while attracting investment capital and talents. It demonstrates that, for Nigeria and other developing countries of the Global South to escape their dependency on exporting raw materials, whose economic value on the world market are controlled by foreign financial powers, they must offer other products whose values are at par on the same international market currencies, regardless of place of origin. Africa’s entertainers who pack performing theatres, concert venues, and large stadia charge competitive fees and attract the same rates as, if not more than, their counterparts in other world capitals.
Countries like India, China, Singapore, the UAE, Malaysia, and Norway, to mention a few, are recharging their economies using intellectual capital, human capital, and other resources to ride the wave of the digital revolution. Africa and other continents of the Southern Hemisphere have the opportunity to take the Information Superhighway toward a new economy where creativity and talent are rewarded for the value they add to humanity. As noted, Nollywood is blazing the trail, and other African countries are catching on. It has inspired Ghallywood, Riverwood, Kannywood, and many more offshoots.
The knowledge economy affords creative industries the opportunity to transcend boundaries. Nollywood has done that. As a cultural force, Nollywood’s power and influence derive from effective commercial packaging and presentation of African content. From its inception, it harnessed low technology and mass distribution to reach a large and eager consumer market. In addition to the entrepreneurial skill and industriousness of her pioneers, luck smiled on her, with the emergence of digital and new media technology. Affordable digital technology helped address the problem of low-quality productions, while keeping to its low budget formula.
Nollywood is both an African phenomenon and a global entertainment industry. Its model, message, and talents have expanded to Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. Nollywood diaspora films have become part and parcel of the industry. They amplify Nollywood movie-making in inspiring offshoots across the globe. In her ethnographic work on Nollywood Inspired Migrant Film-Making in Switzerland, Sandra Mooser notes how the glocalization of Nollywood film-making and film-viewing helps Nigerians and Africans in the diaspora ‘maintain a relationship with their African roots and find a sense of belonging in a life situation in which they are often identified as the “the other”.’
While the focus here is on the industry’s role as cultural force, it is worth reiterating its place as an economic institution. As at 2022, it employed over 200,000 people, produced over 2,500 movies a-year, and made an estimated $7billion income. That impact continues to grow, as the industry gains more recognition and partners with other world centres of entertainment, from Lagos to Angeles, New York, Paris, Seoul, and beyond.
Equally important is Nollywood’s influence in the commodification and glocalization of African culture. African society has always been portrayed to the rest of the world, by outsiders who see the continent as the sum of all that is primitive, poor, and uncivilized. The endogenous nature of Nollywood film-making allows the world to see Africa in a more holistic way. While wars, hunger, and corruption remain part of Africa’s prevailing narrative, they do not tell the whole story. Neither are these negative phenomena exclusive to Africa. By presenting Africa’s perspective on the continent’s realities, it is able to enter into dialogue with other cultures with a sense of agency and intersubjectivity. Nollywood movies expose and criticize the ills of Nigerian and African society, while also celebrating their rich legacies and achievements. Its capacity to speak to the African experience with authenticity accounts for its embrace globally.
Even when foreign capital is invested in Nollywood and its sister industries across the continent, local artists are given more ownership of their craft, than when Africa’s stories are told by outsiders. The lived experiences of different sectors of the society, as portrayed in Nollywood movies, bridges the divides and misconceptions between generations, genders, classes, ethnicities, countries and even counties. It dispels myths and corrects stereotypes. It gives meaning, perspective, and texture to the struggles and contributions of Africans on the world stage. African stories told by Africans, through African media benefits the world at-large. Others are able to learn things about Africa that they would not otherwise.
In its attempt to reach a wider market, Nollywood is also compelled to acknowledge the sensibilities of its global audience. It strengthens the ethos of dialogic communication. It is local narratives and experiences shared with the global community that fosters a truly global village. Local and diasporic voices and perspectives provide richer and fuller narratives.
Nollywood’s story shows that the African entertainment industry has come of age. As it is being wooed by global artists and investors, it must strive to preserve its independence, authenticity, and rich legacy. Pop culture always faces the danger of succumbing to the dictates of successful market formulas at the expense of originality, innovation, and risk-taking. It is hoped that those who enjoy the cultural wealth African arts and entertainment bring to the global arena will invest in promoting, protecting and celebrating its rich heritage of diversity, uniqueness, authenticity, and complexity.
 Nimi Princewill, ‘Content is the new crude oil’: Africa’s multi-billion dollar creative industry takes center stage at Africa Walk 2023, Connecting Africa, CNN, July 17, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/07/17/africa/africa-creative-industry-africa-walk-intl/index.html.
 Sandra Mooser, Nollywood-Inspired Film-Making in Switzerland: Practice, Performance and Meaning. New Castle, UK Cambrigde Scholars Publishing, 2022, 36-37.
 Nosa Igbinadolor, Nollywood and its glittering returns to Nigeria’s economy, Business Day, Jan. 10, 2022. https://businessday.ng/business-economy/article/nollywood-and-its-glittering-returns-for-nigerias-economy/.
 Bala A. Musa, ed., Nollywood in Glocal Perspective. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.