BONUS POST: I haven’t reviewed a book on this site in a few months, and wanted to do so. If you haven’t seen a Nigerian (“Nollywood”) film, just do an internet search for ‘best Nollywood movies.’ Many feature-length films are freely available.
Nigerians began making and distributing films in the 1960s, but the high cost of film production kept many out of the industry. In 1981, the Motion Picture Association of America ceased to distribute Hollywood films in Nigeria, because it believed they were being pirated. This created a vast cinematic gap that required filling. Initially low-budget films in local languages were the answer.
By the mid-1990s, those in Nigeria’s film industry, often referred to as Nollywood, realized that by changing from the use of local languages to English, that there was the potential to reach a much larger market. One of the first English language hits was Kenneth Nnebue’s Glamour Girls (1994), which explored a young woman’s attempts to adopt to city life. One of the first Nigerian movies to reach international renown was the 2003 film Osuofia in London, starring the Nigerian comedic actor, Nkem Owoh. It remains one of the highest grossing Nollywood films.
By the late 20th to the early 21st centuries Nollywood had grown rapidly and became the second largest film industry in the world based on the number of films produced, placing it just ahead of Hollywood and just behind India’s Bombay (Mumbai)-based “Bollywood.” In time, Nollywood became known not only for making a large number of films, but also for generating considerable income. In terms of dollar equivalents earned, by 2013, only Hollywood and Bollywood outranked Nollywood.
Nollywood Stars: Media and Migration in West Africa and the Diaspora by Noah Tsika (Indiana University Press, 2015) describes how and why Nigeria’s film industry has flourished. Tsika, an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Queens College, City University of New York, describes how by having stars carry VHS tapes and DVDs onto planes to publicize their new films, Nollywood was able to expand beyond having appeal in West Africa to become one of the world’s most prolific media producers.
Additional reasons for Nollywood’s growing success include that the subjects of Nollywood films have moved from local to more universal ones. From 2011 to 2012, Ubong Bassey Nya produced the BlackBerry Babes films and the melodrama Lady Gaga. Yomi Adejumo created Internet Love, the story of a Nigerian woman who impersonates a Zimbabwean in an effort to win the affections of a Nigerian-American man. The 2012 Nollywood-Hollywood co-production Doctor Bello tells the story of an Americana cancer specialist and examines the human links between New York and Lagos, Nigeria.
The style of Nollywood films also has changed dramatically from the 1990s when the Western style of filmmaking was emphatically rejected to the present-day in which the Hollywood style is not only widely embraced, but also supported by the Nigerian government. In 2010, Tony Abulu received a $250,000 loan from then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan towards the production of Doctor Bello. Mr. Abulu was the first to receive support from Jonathan’s $200 million fund that was specifically established to support the Nollywood film industry.
Nollywood Stars is a comprehensive study. It follows Nollywood stars from Lagos to London to the film festival circuit in Ouagadougou, Cannes, New York, and Los Angeles. The author interviewed “Nollywood stars, directors, producers, screenwriters, cinematographers, and costume designers” (page xvii) in person at film festivals and via Skype, email and twitter to write his book. Throughout the book, Professor Tsika examines the role that ethnicity plays in Nollywood stardom. Eniola Badmus, who is ethnically Yoruba, is one of the examples offered of the political and professional pressure that stars face to act in English and adopt a stage name that is ethnically Igbo.