The following is mostly based on an article in The Economist. Corrections are gladly accepted:
Nollywood (1992- ), short for Nigerian Hollywood, is the Nigerian film industry, based in Lagos. It is the world’s second largest film industry. It passed Hollywood in 2009 but Bollywood in India still turns out more films. Across Africa Nollywood films now do better than Hollywood ones.
- Main language: English
- Format: straight to DVD
- Length: 50 to 75 minutes
- Price: $1 (1.8 p)
Some are complete on YouTube (with ads).
Nollywood puts out about 30 new films a week – about 1500 a year. Because there are few cinemas in Africa and because many people make as little as a dollar a day, they go straight to disc and sell for a dollar. Producers have two weeks to make back their money and turn a profit – after that the pirates will have taken over, selling copies of their own.
The pirates are not all bad: they have helped to spread Nollywood films to Anglophone Africa and beyond, something Nollywood would not have done on its own so quickly.
The films seem to be cheaply made compared to Hollywood ones – because they are! It is unwise to make a film for more than $100,000 (3,000 crowns) because of the pirates. Most films are made for much less than that, being shot on location in Lagos, not in studios or back lots. Nollywood did not take off until digital cameras and computers brought down the cost of shooting and editing a film.
Nollywood is helped by the fact that most African television is state-run and therefore generally terrible and that the Internet there is slow. They are also helped by Hollywood’s high prices and lack of interest in producing entertainment for African families.
Unlike Hollywood, Nollywood films have known African actors, and not just those from Nigeria either (whites, when they appear, play bit parts). They also deal with common African themes, like moving from the country to the city, and feature more witchcraft and open Christian faith.
It also presents Africa in a truer, more everyday light than the apocalyptic American stereotypes of war, famine, disease and bad rulers. As one director, Lancelot Idowu, put it:
Nollywood is the voice of Africa, the answer to CNN.
That is a Nigerian point of view: other Africans fear Nigerianization. Their children, for example, pick up the Nigerian accent and snap their fingers like Nigerians do.
Most films are in English even though most producers are Igbo. That allows them to be sold throughout Nigeria and beyond. Over 125 million people in Africa know English, the most widely known language in Black Africa. In Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone and southern Africa it is not just a language of the well-to-do.
Nollywood as we know it started in 1992 when Kenneth Nnebue in Lagos bought too many blank videotapes from Taiwan. To sell them off he made “Living in Bondage” with the help of a theatre director. It became a hit, selling more than a half million copies.