by Japheth Omojuwa
I am of the belief – like many other Nigerians and foreigners I have spoken to – that Nollywood can do more in shaping the perception of Nigeria abroad than any other Nigerian export.
The Nigerian movie industry – Nollywood as it is fancifully called – is one of the realities of the creative and entrepreneurial spirits of Nigerians. It is one of the outstanding phenomenal proofs that show that as long as government is out of the way, success will almost be guaranteed. The same thing happened with our football when our footballers out of nowhere became the darlings of European teams after the fortuitous sojourn of Stephen Keshi and those who made the long journey to Europe immediately after him. In case you are still in doubt, let me clear whatever doubts are left in you; Nollywood is a global phenomenon. This reality has been perceived at home only in its positive sense i.e. its benefits. Because of the way and manner of how Nollywood has presented itself and Nigeria to the world, there have been costs too and these costs are the reason for this piece.
Kenneth Nnebue’s cravings to sell his empty video cassettes in 1992, which resulted in him deciding to at least have something inside gave us the monster hit movie, Living in Bondage. 750,000 copies or so of the movie were sold within months and as is the case on many occasions, a business opportunity had been born for Nigerians and the rest is history. Kenneth’s fortune has today resulted in the third largest movie industry in the world in terms of revenue as Nigeria’s 2000 or so movies per year gross as much as $300 million. Note that the industry has been much about the number of films produced and not quality. Nollywood releases more movies per year than Hollywood and Bollywood. Compared to even Egyptian and South African movies, ours are cheap to produce in terms of the time production takes and the cost. Some movies have a cycle of one month! Some are less. Needless to say that this has not stopped Nollywood from dominating the continent and Nigerianising Africa. It comes at a cost to Nigeria too.
This is not a piece about the often poor sound qualities or the near zero absence of top-notch effects. It is about the continued obsession with witchcraft and over indulgence in spirituality. The story lines are in most cases weak, the themes are often unreflective of the country’s modern realities and challenges and the melodramatic effects sometimes border on absurd exaggeration. According to Nollywood, a lady can have me lose my mind just by using her handkerchief to help clean my face. Nollywood rather than help emphasize the need for hard-work sometimes gives the impression a herbalist or even a pastor will lead one to one’s dreams and prosperity. Where are the stories of Nigerians making change happen through creativity, sheer grit and persistence? What happened to stories that’d de-emphasize our society’s obsession with money and worship of anything or anyone who has it? Countries like Kenya where Nollywood is extremely popular have many of their citizens believing that witchcraft and voodoo are an integral part of everyday reality in Nigeria. I have met with diplomats who think that Nollywood is responsible for a large part of the Nigerian society’s craze for and worship of money. Are these Nigerian realities? Of course yes. Are they anywhere as pronounced as Nollywood obsessively makes them? Of course no!
There is no need to deny the primary motive of its primary stakeholders i.e. profit. Profit is a beautiful thing but if we care about creating movies and an industry that’d last the times, we must look beyond competing for profit. It is time to think about the effects of these movies on the psyche of an average Nigerian child. We need to think about how embarrassing these movies make us and our cultures look to the outside world. We need to begin to evolve from having too many poor quality movies to having more qualitative ones.
I am of the belief – like many other Nigerians and foreigners I have spoken to – that Nollywood can do more in shaping the perception of Nigeria abroad than any other Nigerian export. This would itself better Nollywood because there remains a huge market for Nollywood movies that’d not leave the mind a lot weaker after watching them. One of the biggest movies to come out of Africa is Tsotsi and there is no saying if we focus on excellence and global appeal our Omotola Jalade-Ekeindes and Genevieve Nnaji’s could indeed command something close to the global appeal of South African Charlize Theron. She is certainly not more beautiful than they are. It sounds farfetched but how can we reach what we don’t seek? Nollywood can do better and it does have a lot to do. Can we count on this industry to evolve to that much desired next level? I’d give everything to see this happen. It’d be a profitable, much more profitable reality too and brand Nigeria would be better for it.
Japheth J Omojuwa lectures on Africa and its democratic prospects at the Free University in Berlin. He writes this column Behind the Cloud every Wednesday. Email [email protected] and he tweets at @omojuwa
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.