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Global Nollywood: The Transnational Dimensions of an African Video Film Industry

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Global Nollywood considers this first truly African cinema beyond its Nigerian origins. In 15 lively essays, this volume traces the engagement of the Nigerian video film industry with the African continent and the rest of the world. Topics such as Nollywood as a theoretical construct, the development of a new, critical film language, and Nollywood’s transformation outside of Nigeria reveal the broader implications of this film form as it travels and develops. Highlighting controversies surrounding commodification, globalization, and the development of the film industry on a wider scale, this volume gives sustained attention to Nollywood as a uniquely African cultural production.

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1. From Nollywood to Nollyworld: Processes of Transnationalization in the Nigerian Video Film Industry

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ALESSANDRO JEDLOWSKI

IN THE PAST TEN TO FIFTEEN YEARS, THE NIGERIAN VIDEO industry has grown exponentially. According to a UNESCO report released in 2009, it is now the second-largest film industry in the world in terms of the sheer number of films produced. Nigerian video films travel all over the world, transforming Nollywood into a transnational and global phenomenon. Like the Indian film industry, the role played by diasporic audiences in the production, circulation, and consumption of Nigerian video films became progressively more influential in the past few years. In their 2005 collection of essays, Raminder Kaur and Ajay Sinha suggest that Bollywood is now considered a transnational industry, a “Bollyworld,” as they dub it, in which local and transnational aesthetics and narratives and formal and informal modes of production and distribution find original interceptions. A look at the contemporary Nigerian video film industry reveals a similar process, even if it is still in its early stages.

 

2. Nollywood's Transportability: The Politics and Economics of Video Films as Cultural Products

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JYOTI MISTRY AND JORDACHE A. ELLAPEN

THE OPPORTUNITY IS RIFE FOR A CRITICAL ENGAGEMENT WITH the central ideas espoused in contemporary writing on Nollywood as it relates to the broader historical and political concerns of African cinema and Third Cinemas as canonized through cinema and film studies. According to Larkin, both “form and industrial organization” of Nollywood filmmaking “represent a radical reworking of the basis of African cinema and visual culture” (173). The canon of African cinema when discussed in the context of Nollywood has easily been conflated with reference to a move from celluloid to video. Even though there are significant differences, broader philosophical and epistemic issues that have informed scholarship on African cinema appear to have eroded an ideological and aesthetic analysis of Nollywood. This chapter aims to open up the debate past the euphoria and celebration of Nollywood as a place of self-representation and its significance as an entrepreneurial endeavor that subverts conventional modes of exhibition and distribution. The intention of our analysis is to reflect on the vital and productive contradictions that have enabled the development and evolution of video films as a site for significant cultural production on the African continent. It is clear at the outset that the success of Nollywood marks a radical intervention to how video technologies can be mobilized to enable self-expression. However, the delimitations and implications in terms of how this informs content and aesthetic developments are less apparent.

 

3. The Nollywood Diaspora: A Nigerian Video Genre

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JONATHAN HAYNES

THE PRODIGIOUS SPREAD OF NOLLYWOOD FILMS AROUND THE world has been accompanied by the spread of Nollywood filmmaking around the world, as Nigerian actors and directors have traveled abroad to make movies and Nigerian expatriate communities have sought to participate in this most powerful of Nigerian cultural forms. This essay analyzes a number of Nollywood films set partly or entirely overseas. One of my themes is how Nollywood imagines the foreign; mostly, my project is to define the films set abroad as a genre, with a typical story arc, moral and psychological themes, and formal features. It is a distinctly Nollywood genre, directly derived from some of the most fundamental conceptions in Nigerian filmmaking. The distinctiveness is not, however, a matter of melodramatic excess in story or style, or of the prevalence of occult elements – two elements many observers of Nigerian and Ghanaian video films have taken to be defining of this film culture, myself included. I was arguing along those lines in an earlier study of the theme of Africans abroad, contrasting the way the theme has been handled in celluloid African filmmaking with its treatment in the emerging popular video tradition (“Africans Abroad”). The more recent films surveyed here are substantially different on both scores, being generally much more restrained in style and seldom making reference to the supernatural.1

 

4. Nollywood Made in Europe

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SOPHIE SAMYN

THE HISTORY OF NOLLYWOOD CAN BE TRACED BACK TO THE home video industry that emerged in Nigeria in the early 1990s. The video films rapidly reached an audience far beyond Nigerian borders, circulating throughout Africa and beyond and creating a buzz that soon became a media blitz. Over the past ten years, the Nigerian diaspora has been gradually integrated into Nollywood, a word that quickly became shorthand for the video phenomenon in Nigeria. It is now very popular fare in the diaspora due partly to the fact that some of the films are shot abroad, often in collaboration with expatriate communities. Nigerians living in Europe, who do not want to miss out on the success of this flourishing industry, have seized the initiative and begun producing their own films. As they live abroad, they feel the urge to tell their stories and often in the manner of Nollywood. With its distinctive use of cheap digital technology and video, Nollywood has made this possible. The main purpose of this chapter is to describe examples of the filmmaking by Nigerian immigrants in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium by examining the work of Tony A. B. Akinyemi, Leonard Ajayi-Odekhiran, Isaac Izoya, John Osas Omoregie, and Azubuike Erinugha who, like many Nollywood filmmakers, produce, write, act in, or direct their films. In this chapter, I aim to discuss their personal lives as migrants and what drives them to be filmmakers. I will discuss their thematic preoccupations, bringing into the debate the multiple publics that are involved in their works with an aim of bringing into sharper focus how these immigrant filmmakers negotiate the various cultural and national boundaries they cross. I will also examine the production, distribution, content, and aesthetics as they are mobilized in these films in order to uncover the similarities and differences between Nollywood made in Europe and Nollywood made in Nigeria, which I will sometimes refer to as “domestic Nollywood.” One key question that will be part of this inquiry is whether they can actually be called Nollywood filmmakers. In this process, the importance of the practices of the Nigerian immigrant filmmakers for African communities throughout Europe and their relationship with Nigeria will be unraveled. I have chosen to examine the work of these filmmakers because of the geographical proximity of their host countries and the connections they share, for they all know and inspire each other. This chapter is based primarily on the interviews I conducted with the five filmmakers in their homes in 2010 and is complemented by my textual analysis of their films with the aim of highlighting their motivations and expectations.

 

5. Made in America: Urban Immigrant Spaces in Transnational Nollywood Films

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CLAUDIA HOFFMANN

FILMMAKERS IN NIGERIA'S MEGACITY LAGOS HAVE PRODUCED astounding numbers of video films in recent decades, but the significance of the city for Nollywood film production does not stop there. Lagos itself is being reproduced, reimagined, and re-created in many of these films. The importance of the Nigerian urban center for the country's English-speaking film production is indisputable, and the production of English-speaking video films in southern Nigeria is inextricably linked to contemporary Lagos.1 This phenomenon shows that Nollywood is following the cinematic tradition of using the cityscape as a setting and as a symbol of national cinemas, such as Rome for Italian, Berlin for German, and Paris for French national cinema. In the development of Nollywood as a thriving and distinctly Nigerian film industry, Lagos has become the icon and symbol for modern Nigerian filmmaking: “[Nollywood] is a medium of the city. It is only a city like Lagos that could have engineered and nurtured its birth” (Okome, “Nollywood”). In recent years, not only the distribution of Nollywood films, but also their production have become transnational, and Nigerian filmmakers based in cities around North America have produced Nollywood-style videos that are set in urban centers such as New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Through diasporic filmmaking, these globalized cities and their immigrant communities become cinematic manifestations of transnational movements of money, labor, goods, media, and people, and the actual city space, with its buildings, streets, sidewalks, cars, and other symbols of urbanity, is a place where social actors “negotiate the relationship between the local and the global” (Mennel 201).

 

6. Reversing the Filmic Gaze: Comedy and the Critique of the Postcolony in Osuofia in London

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ONOOKOME OKOME

SOMETIME IN 1999, I RAN INTO ONE OF THE ICONS OF NOLLYWOOD, Sam Loco, at a bar located close to the University of Calabar, and I engaged him in a lively discussion about everything from his drinking history to his place in Nollywood. I asked him to explain why Nollywood dubs one category of film as “epic” and another “religious video film” when it is obvious these categories are hardly different in any significant way.1 His response was: “You university people are always asking questions that do not make any sense.” In his explanation, he made reference to Battle of Musanga, 1 and 2 as the major “epic video film” in Nollywood, explaining that the phrase is an illustration of a certain category of film in the industry. He insisted that the “naming” came from those who work in the industry. The “epic video film,” he told me, is “like the history film. It deals with history, things of the past.” He emphasized the pastness of this kind of film, stressing that it is merely a dramatization of history as truth. To make the point stick, he said, “dis na how we dey describe dis kin film in the industry, no be how una see am.”2 Sam Loco's definition reiterates the possibility of thinking (and writing) about the emergence of genre in the art of Nollywood, and the acknowledgment of the “epic film” as a separate narrative entity is interesting for the reason that it explains the presence of a set of formal rules, which is consciously articulated by those who make Nollywood films. I would argue in this chapter that the recognition of the “genre” of the “epic video film” demonstrates “an area of agreement between audience and the text” (Kitses 24) that releases a distinct “pleasure” of seeing. Indeed, as E. Bascombe argues, “popular arts, in fact, have always depended on this” (qtd. in Neale 8), the manipulation and enhancement of its own language of articulation. It follows, then, that Battle of Musanga, which is the exemplar of this genre of Nollywood film, entails the reiteration of certain qualities of the pro-filmic world in Nollywood. In other words, like other forms emerging, my main argument is that Osuofia in London, the subject of this analysis, codifies and establishes the format of comedy in Nollywood. This argument pays special attention to the exploration of its peculiar narrative signs, outlining how the singular and distinct narrative item, the reversal of the filmic gaze, is ordered as a discourse that uses Osuofia as the agent of that narrative reversal. The intention is to discuss how the spoken and narrative languages of this film articulate a specific sense of the postcolonial discourse. Can we, for example, read Osuofia in London as the comedy of the rustic fellow who is conscious of the history of colonialism? How is he framed as the vehicle of this discourse?

 

7. Nollywood and Postcolonial Predicaments: Transnationalism, Gender, and the Commoditization of Desire in Glamour Girls

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PAUL UGOR

AS I REVISED THIS CHAPTER FOR FINAL PUBLICATION, CNN America's international cable TV network and perhaps the world's most powerful media empire, aired a heart-wrenching documentary titled Nepal's Stolen Children, featuring the American film star Demi Moore and Anuradha Koirala, India's anti–sex trafficking activist and CNN'S 2010 Hero of the Year.1 The documentary itself was part of a larger global campaign mounted by CNN, CNN Freedom Project, aimed at eliminating the transnational trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls all over the world.2 According to the documentary, at least 3 million women and girls from Southeast Asia are being exploited by powerful and vicious cartels that lure innocent and trusting females into forced prostitution all over the world. Obviously framed as a politically motivated media war against modern-day slavery, Nepal's Stolen Children came fifteen years after Nollywood took up the same social concern in one of its earliest power movies, Glamour Girls, 2 (1996). Appropriately subtitled The Italian Connection, this first Nollywood English feature dealt with what has come to be known internationally (although coined in Italy) as “the Nigerian woman problem” – the transnational sex trafficking of girls and women from southern Nigeria to Europe and North America.

 

8. Nollywood in Urban Southern Africa: Nigerian Video Films and their Audiences in Cape Town and Windhoek

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HEIKE BECKER

ON A BALMY SPRING EVENING IN SEPTEMBER 2008, I WENT TO visit Kondjeni Nghitevelekwa, a young engineer working with NAM-POWER, the state-controlled Namibian electricity provider, in his apartment in Windhoek's Dorado Park. This is one of several residential areas for lower-middle-class people and young upwardly mobile professionals that have been built on the outskirts of the Namibian capital since independence in 1990. These relatively new residential developments are designated “multiracial,” which means that – unlike in the racially segregated townships of the apartheid era – both black and colored people live there; only rarely, however, will white singles or young couples consider them a place to start out.1

On entering Dorado Park from the older, formerly “white” suburb of Hochland Park, this area at the foot of the hilly Khomas Hochland appears almost barren. Dorado Park, like other similar residential developments, comprises modestly sized bungalows and blocks of apartments, locally known as “courts.” These apartment complexes are closed off from the street by a remote-controlled gate. About half of the apartments in Evamaria Court had a satellite dish on the roof, I noticed when I arrived, and in front of many apartments were parked medium-size, relatively new sedans, such as Kondjeni's Opel.

 

9. Religion, Migration, and Media Aesthetics: Notes on the Circulation and Reception of Nigerian Films in Kinshasa

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KATRIEN PYPE

MEDIA AESTHETICS IN KINSHASA HAVE SEEN TREMENDOUS changes since President Mobutu opened up the Zairian mediascape in 1996. This newly declared freedom of the press made possible alternative patterns of media patronage. At the same time, and coinciding with the charismatic renewal in urban centers throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Kinshasa's public culture, and in particular its broadcast media, have become more and more charismatic.

The gradual charismatization of Kinshasa's public culture is inherently related to the movement of people. Many charismatic Christian leaders travel back and forth between Kinshasa and Nigeria. When they return to Kinshasa, these pastors show Nigerian films in their churches and on their television channels. The influence of West African video films is so significant that it has even altered the aesthetics of local television drama in Kinshasa. Following the tremendous influence of Nigerian films on Kinshasa's daily life worlds and also media production, this chapter scrutinizes the meanings of “Nigeria” in Kinshasa and its media world and considers in particular the various media brokers who control the arrival and interpretation of Nigerian films in Kinshasa.

 

10. “African Movies” in Barbados: Proximate Experiences of Fear and Desire

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JANE BRYCE

NIGERIA? I HEAR IT'S BEAUTIFUL,” ENTHUSES JULIET GASKIN, an ardent Nollywood fan who lives in Bridgetown, Barbados. Her passionate response may at first mystify the listener, since, in many ways, Barbados could not be more different from Nigeria. An island in the eastern Caribbean, its landmass, at fourteen by twenty-one miles, is three-quarters the size of Lagos, and in that space live only 250,000 people, as opposed to roughly 12 million – a ratio of 1:50.1 Like Lagos, Barbados was named by early Portuguese explorers, but unlike Lagos it had no prior status as a functioning and integrated social entity. Until the British declared it a colony and began settlement in 1627, it had been intermittently settled by small itinerant Amerindian groups from South America. It therefore came into being as a modern entity under the overlordship of the British Crown, a condition that lasted for more than three centuries, as opposed to Nigeria's less than six decades. And though the population of Barbados is overwhelmingly of African origin, the long history of enslavement and unbroken colonization by one power – the longest in the Caribbean – has meant the virtual effacement of recognizable African cultural elements such as are to be found elsewhere in the region. Traces do, of course, exist, as I shall discuss, but the contiguities between Nigeria and Barbados in the twenty-first century derive more from a common experience of postcolonial marginality in the face of global capital than from any superficially identifiable kinship relation. While it has been the task of pan-Africanism to reimagine and revalorize the latter, “Africa” remains a contested figure in the popular imagination, as often negative as it is nostalgic and heroic.

 

11. Consuming Nollywood in Turin, Italy

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GIOVANNA SANTANERA

THE VIDEOS MAKE YOU UNDERSTAND THAT WHEN YOU LEAVE a country and, as a foreigner, go to another, you have to respect the laws, the people, and their way of life, as well as the culture. There are a lot of things we don't do in Nigeria – they're not important – but here, instead, we have to respect them. Most of the videos teach you how to behave well in Italy, so I think they're a very good thing for us who are here.” This is how Peter, a Nigerian man who arrived in Turin in 1996, explained the importance of Nollywood in the context of migration.1 Like him, many of his fellow compatriots in Turin say they watch Nigerian video films because they resonate with their lives in Italy to a certain extent. In what way are Nollywood videos related to immigrants' experiences in Turin? What relationship do they establish with the homeland? How does this relationship vary with migration?

In this chapter, based on the results of ethnographic research that I carried out in Turin in 2008 and 2009, I will try to answer these questions by analyzing the models, criteria, and procedures by which Nigerian viewers interpret Nollywood video films and attach significance to the surrounding world starting from the reality seen on the screen. In so doing, I will draw on the idea of the “map of experience” as conceived by Karin Barber (“Introduction” 5) in her definition of African popular culture. In the author's view, African popular culture serves as a map of experience in the increasingly unpredictable postcolonial society as it focuses on matters of great interest and concern to the people who produce and consume it, giving collective voice to common fears, suffering, and aspiration for a better life. Recalling Haynes and Okome, I will apply this notion to Nollywood in the context of migration, and I will look at the videos as a map of experience by which Nigerians name the difficulties and hopes for their diasporic condition.

 

12. Nigerian Videos and their Imagined Western Audiences: The Limits of Nollywood's Transnationality

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BABSON AJIBADE

THE POPULARITY OF NOLLYWOOD VIDEO IS NOT NEW. ONE reason for this is that it is able to read into the souls of its audience. This popularity is also partly based on the narratives, which are easily recognized and held dear by ordinary Nigerians. It is popularity that has sustained the industry thus far. What started out as a national visual practice more than two decades ago has gained a transnational coloration brought on by an expanding diasporic spectatorship. In terms of circulation, the video film does not just move from one African migrant to another: video stores in Western cities and many Internet sites sell them in virtual marketplaces. However, with the circulation of the Nollywood videos in global spaces, producers are beginning to rethink their transnational audiences as part of the narrative and production equation. They are keenly contemplating the idea of generating a Western audience for the video film. In my interviews and discussions with the video filmmakers, they expressed hope that a Western audience would yield more profits. However, given the divergence between the Western motion picture regime and Nollywood's video practice, this chapter queries how a truly Western audience might be gained for the video film. Using the experiment undertaken at Schlachthaus Theater in Bern, Switzerland, in 2005, in which I recut Nigerian videos for a Western audience, the chapter explores one means by which Nollywood could address non-African audiences.1 While my recut made Nollywood video accessible to Western audiences, this is ambivalent because mainstreaming Nollywood videos into a Western frame might prove futile. This process is risky, as it could also disenfranchise African audiences without generating the imagined Western patronage. By recutting Nollywood to suit the West, what remains of Nollywood, and can the resultant film still be called Nollywood?

 

13. Transgressing Boundaries: Reinterpretation of Nollywood Films in Muslim Northern Nigeria

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ABDALLA UBA ADAMU

THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PREDOMINANTLY MUSLIM northern Nigeria and mostly Christian southern Nigeria reflect the different perceptions of the secular state. These differences are reflected not only in matters of state and policy, but also in how members of each region relate to the outside world. The differences are even more vivid in the popular culture industries. While they share common interfaces in terms of Western cultural products, the regional differences emerge when visually representative popular culture products are taken into consideration. In this way, and due to the British colonial precedent of encouraging mass translation of Middle Eastern folklore into the local Hausa language, the popular culture industries of northern Nigeria tends to have Middle Eastern and Asian “flavors.” Consequently, northern Nigerians tend to make films the content of which is highly influenced by Indian (Hindi) films. The latter were imported by Lebanese merchants and shown in their own cinemas.

 

14. Karishika with Kiswahili Flavor: A Nollywood Film Retold by a Tanzanian Video Narrator

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MATTHIAS KRINGS

A NIGERIAN MISE-EN-SCÈNE OF HELL FILLS THE SCREEN. WHILE Satan sends his female assistant to the world of the living, the Kiswahili voice-over announces the background to the impending drama: “Karishika was sent into a world full of evil in order to afflict people and to win them over for the devil.” A few seconds later the narrator continues: “She is called Becky Okorie, and she plays Karishika.” Now her face becomes visible, she straightens up, and the invisible Kiswahili narrator switches to direct speech in the first person: “I am here at home in Nigeria, at Lagos. I am greeting all Tanzanians who are in Dar es Salaam. May God bless you!” Meanwhile, the screen is filled with a close-up of Karishika's face, her eyes beaming in electric blue rays symbolizing her otherworldly powers, and the narrator continues: “One day, I will come, and you will see me, King Rich, with your own eyes, and I will continue to narrate Nigerian films.”

In Tanzanian video parlors, narrators are performing live translations of foreign films into Kiswahili so local audiences can follow the story. They are also ad-libbing, adding observations and personal commentary, and adapting the stories to a local hermeneutic framework. Pirated video copies of foreign films are thus subject to a profound practice of remediation. Recently, some video narrators also began selling their work as VHS cassettes and DVDS with Kiswahili voice-over. In this chapter, I will introduce one such video narrator, King Rich, who specializes in the interpretation of Nollywood films, and one of his works, the narration of Karishika – a Nigerian video film with strong Pentecostal imprint.

 

15. Bloody Bricolages: Traces of Nollywood in Tanzanian Video Films

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CLAUDIA BÖHME

DURING THE SHOOTING OF POPOBAWA, A TANZANIAN HORROR movie, the actors were preparing a ritual scene about three witch doctors (waganga) who would call upon and kill an evil spirit named Popobawa. While the actors changed into red and white costumes and painted their faces black, the rest of the crew prepared the props for the waganga. The director was concerned about the authenticity of his movie and wanted it to seem Tanzanian. When he saw cowrie shells and a small bottle of medicine arranged on a mat, he picked them up, shouting angrily, “We don't copy the Nigerians!”1

Popobawa, a myth about a batlike ghost, is one of the many orally transmitted horror stories circulating in Tanzania. These stories were, from the indigenization of media in the 1970s, turned into novels, comics, and to a lesser extent popular theater. With the liberalization of the Tanzanian economy in the 1980s, transnational flows of video film horror reached Tanzania. If seen as traveling aesthetics, the horror film started in Germany, where early horror film classics were produced, then traveled to America with the establishment of the Hollywood horror movie, and later to the African video industries, which appropriated the genre. Starting in Ghana, video horror film was established by Nollywood and eventually adapted by filmmakers on the East African coast.

 

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