The rising industry of Nollywood

Nigerian films are African products, crafted by African filmmakers with the technologies available in the continent, and distributed to African audiences.

Nollywood has made it possible for Africans “to live with themselves”. (Bond Amuera)

We are by now convinced that films always require huge investments, high-qualified actors and expensive equipments to be appreciated by the audience. The story of Nigeria is totally another kind of one. As a matter of fact, what happens when there is little resources, endemic poverty, no infrastructure and no regulation?

Nollywood, the emerging film industry in Nigeria, was born under these conditions. Nevertheless, it was able to grow fast and acquire a strong position in this environment, becoming one of the main competitors of Hollywood and Bollywod over the years.

It all started as a black market in 1992 when a Nigerian trader, Kenneth Nnebue, decided to record something on some blank videocassettes he had brought from Taiwan in order to sell them. In the late 90s, Nollywood skyrocketed in terms of dimension and circulation, and it managed to spread all over Africa as well as outside the continent. The possibility to shoot films in English, in addition to Nigeria’s two local languages, Igbo and Yoruba, represented a strong advantage on the other countries of the region which led to a rapid expansion of its market.

This developing industry is the only one that actively operates in Africa at the moment, furthermore, it is obtaining outstanding results, all things considered. It counts a consistent amount of movies produced and distributed, and it is the biggest source of entertainment all over the continent.

With a population of more than 170 million and a growth rate of 2.54%, the real problem is that 63% of the population earns less than $1.25 per day. However, the emergence of this new business has had a great social and economic impact. It has contributed to the GDP growth of 7,4% in 2013 and it has created thousands of jobs: Nollywood now employs 200,000 people directly and one million indirectly.

On the other side, Nigeria is constantly under threats of political corruption and social alienation. In fact, Nollywood was also born in response to the desire of Nigerians to tell their stories to the world. The themes of the stories they tell are rooted and focused on African culture, and most of them are related to religion and social values.

Let’s go more in detail now. One of the most relevant characteristics of Nollywood is the complete lack of regulations. Above all, due to the total absence of copyright enforcement and formal contracts, the organizational structure turns out to be very flexible, without any concern about the risk of imitations. Another important feature is the presence of very informal networks of distribution which keep prices down and allow accessible and affordable distribution.

People watch movies especially at home, in video parlors, on street corners and on TVs in shops or at the hairdresser. The 98% of Nollywood revenues come from home video and the remaining 2% from ancillary sources; theatres in the country are only 24 and producers and distributors rarely if ever rely on them as a source of revenues.

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The average budget can be estimated between $20,000 and $50,000 and films are normally shot in one or two weeks. As a consequence, many movies are produced in a very short period of time; about 50 films are released every week. Moreover, no marketing campaign is needed and directors, as well as actors, sometimes come from film-schools; most of them are self-trained with basic knowledge of the job and no previous experience. We can therefore see that Nollywood production works in a very simple and yet effective way, considering the scarce resources available.

Producers and distributors have always been obligated to collect personal savings and helps from friends to finance their movies. So far neither Nigeria’s government nor banks have helped this industry granting fundings and loans, because of the uncertainty of what they would or would not get in return. However, the situation is changing as the government has recently begun to realize the potential of Nollywood, and the Finance Minister has offered more tax relief for the future.

In conclusion, Nollywood reminds us that filmmaking is primarily about storytelling and stories with cultural values and resonance. Everything else can be arranged in many different ways, according to the resources we can benefit from.


Sofia Zanello


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