Explained: Inside Nollywood, the Fastest Growing Film Industry in the World

The Nigerian film industry is growing rapidly, producing hundreds of brilliant movies and 2500 yearly. Here’s an insight into the world of Nollywood.

The Nigerian movie business, otherwise known as Nollywood (in reference to the Indian film industry, Bollywood) has become one of the leading film industries in the world, overtaking Hollywood in terms of the amount of films they are producing yearly. They are the second-largest film industry in the world now; there is even a MasterClass hosted by Jodie Foster about the Nigerian industry.

There are many factors as to how Nigeria is finding its love for filmmaking and becoming increasingly successful in doing so, despite its economy ranking 27th globally in GDP. Let’s take a look into Nollywood and how it became the fastest growing film industry in the world.

With an annual output of nearly 2,500 films, Nigeria’s Nollywood is the world’s second-largest film industry, right behind India’s Bollywood. While Nollywood surrounds films that are made on the African continent, English-language movies made in Ghana and Nigerian movies made in the United States and other countries are also included in the Nollywood genre.

In the early stages of Nollywood, the movies were recognized with a home-video style of filming, but as the industry has grown and expanded into other genres, it has produced a wide range of comedies, horrors, period pieces, and even Nolly-noir; some notable Nollywood films include Violated (1996), Married But Living Single (2012), Ojuju (2014), Taxi Driver: Oko Ashewo (2015), and From Lagos With Love (2018).

However, the term “Nollywood” has sparked controversy. Many people will recognize the term to be a nickname for Nigerian cinema, but many have stated that it is merely a copy of Bollywood and Hollywood, and invalidates its achievements and cultural identity. Several filmmakers have also stated that the term ignores the period of Nigerian film before the epithet was created and used in Western society in the 2000s.

The Beginning of Nollywood
After Nigeria declared independence in 1960, Nigerian filmmakers like Ola Balogun, Hubert Ogunde, and Eddie Ugboma began producing movies and are now considered the first generation of Nollywood filmmakers. Movies then became incredibly popular amongst Nigerians, and they were spurred on in movie theaters, especially in the country’s largest city, Lagos, where a mix of international and homegrown films were shown.

Various reasons, including the lack of filming equipment, affected Nollywood, and Nigerian cinema declined during the 1980s. Many of the films centered around cultural and social issues, meaning that the story was more important than the production value, but the industry found itself in a bit of a rut. However, despite the lack of funds, self-made directors were using commercial cameras to capture their movies and sell them for home viewing.

Although the films were of very low production value, the original and often mythical storylines made Nollywood unique (unlike Hollywood) and the movies quickly became a hit. During the mid-’90s, filmmakers began to be able to make a living from making them and started becoming more successful with recognizable movies, one of which was Chris Obi Rapu’s 1992 blockbuster, Living in Bondage.

Even though the film was released on home video, it became a massive hit and cultural sensation. To illustrate this, and the love of Nollywood cinema no matter how low-budget, the film had a theatrically-released sequel in 1019 (Living in Bondage: Breaking Free) which was produced for $10 million Naira ($24,081 USD) but made $168.7 million Naira ($406,257 USD).

The success of these early video films transformed Nigerian cinema, and so the global movie powerhouse, Nollywood, was formed. Nollywood was so popular that Nigerian film companies were releasing four to five films per day, which were viewed by an estimated 15 million people in Nigeria and five million in other African countries.

In the 2000s, with government funding and modern theaters refusing to showcase video films, Nigerian cinema began to make industry-wide changes. The New Nigerian Cinema was full of professionally produced and high production value movies (that could then be shown in modern theaters) with complex and detailed storylines, as well as talented actors. Films like Kemi Adetiba’s 2016 The Wedding Party, amongst many other brilliant movies, set box office records and drew attention from various international film festivals.

The Second-Largest Film Industry

The rise of Nollywood has surprised critics and non-critics alike, and over the past two decades, it has become a cultural phenomenon which is continuing to attract millions of movie fans, not only across Africa, but globally. Nollywood has been producing incredible stories of both a precolonial past and present life, tensions and beliefs. The New Nigerian Cinema has surpassed the United States, making it the second-largest film sector, also making it the third most profitable industry, shown by its $5.1 billion valuation in 2013.

It has become so successful that Western streaming services have made distribution deals, allowing Nollywood’s latest movies to gain global views. While Hollywood films are shown in theaters around the world, Nollywood movies are typically just released on the internet and streaming services, one of the most popular being YouTube, where there is a channel dedicated to Nollywood films, called NollywoodLove.

The future for Nollywood is certainly bright, as it has great potential to produce high quality, brilliant films in an array of genres. With opportunities to be making professionally produced movies with skilled actors, Nollywood can surely wiggle its way towards the top of the ladder, especially with streaming services like Netflix, which opens up opportunities to young filmmakers.

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