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

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

by Matthias Krings
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Brian Larkin

"Reveals in fascinating detail the wild popularity, controversies, and complaints provoked by this film form as it has come to shape the media landscape of Africa." —Brian Larkin, Barnard College

Moradewun Adejunmobi

"Offers original material with respect to the transnational presence of Nollywood." —Moradewun Adejunmobi, University of California, Davis

From the Publisher
"Krings and Okome have successfully produced a volume that is simultaneously delightfully entertaining yet appropriately erudite. It is a welcome addition to the fields of film, media, African, and cultural studies. The volume is extremely accessible to both the general informed public and academic audiences and, as a research tool, can be quickly or conveniently accessed for specific information.... In the end, the volume succeeds in demonstrating that Nollywood at home or abroad is as provocative as it is popular, and as such demands sustained critical attention." —Cinema Journal

"This is a wonderful collection, bringing together a bounty of new information, descriptions and ideas.... Overall, the book brings together a set of highly original contributions that advance knowl-
edge of Nigerian video production." —Africa

"Highly recommended." —Choice

"Global Nollywood represents the most up-to-date research on Nollywood as a transnational cultural practice and is a must-read for scholars and students of African screen media." —African Studies Review

"Kring’s and Okome’s edited volume represents a new and important stage in an ongoing conversation about Nollywood’s transnational dimensions... This volume is highly recommended reading...." —African Arts

"Krings and Okome have successfully produced a volume that is simultaneously delightfully entertaining yet appropriately erudite. It is a welcome addition to the fields of film, media, African, and cultural studies. The volume is extremely accessible to both the general informed public and academic audiences and, as a research tool, can be quickly or conveniently accessed for specific information." —Cinema Journal

"Offers original material with respect to the transnational presence of Nollywood." —Moradewun Adejunmobi, University of California, Davis

Choice

"Highly recommended." —Choice

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780253009425
Publisher:
Indiana University Press
Publication date:
05/27/2013
Series:
African Expressive Cultures
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
382
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

Global Nollywood

The Transnational Dimensions of an African Video Film Industry


By Matthias Krings, Onookome Okome

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2013 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00942-5



CHAPTER 1

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


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.

Behind the rhetoric of Nollywood's UNESCO-sanctioned success, the reality of the phenomenon is complex and richly nuanced. After an initial decade of prosperity, the immense popularity of Nollywood began to waver. The market became saturated, generating a negative spiral, which brought the industry to a critical impasse. Paradoxically, the international recognition of Nollywood's success coincided with the worst crisis ever faced by the industry. This crisis hit the English video film–producing section, forcing it to experiment with new production and distribution strategies. The aim of this chapter is to analyze the role of the transnationalization processes within the broader context of the crisis.

The Nigerian video film industry has long had a transnational dimension. Thanks to the informality of Nollywood's distribution networks, pirated copies of Nigerian videos have circulated throughout the world since the mid-1990s. This informal transnationalism has played an important role in making the industry recognized on the African continent and on the global cinema stage. The main thesis explored in this chapter is that once the domestic video market started to implode under the strain of excessive informal practices and the lack of a formal distribution network, an important section of the industry decided to target the transnational audience generated by the global informal circulation of Nigerian videos.

The first section of the chapter, which draws on fieldwork I conducted in Lagos, identifies the causes of the production crisis that hit the English–Igbo section of the video industry. These include the switch from VHS to VCD technology, the emergence of new distribution channels (satellite television channels and Internet platforms), and the increasing demand for improved and diversified content among increasingly sophisticated domestic audiences.

The second section discusses the early transnationalism of Nigerian videos. They have long traveled the world via informal networks, connecting diasporic communities to the different African homelands. Although these networks of circulation did not have an influential role in the development of the Nollywood economy precisely because of their largely illicit nature, they have been the main vehicles for the transnational circulation of Nigerian videos. Producers and distributors today see the transnational audience as a potentially lucrative market, and they are trying to formalize the international circulation of Nigerian videos, especially in places where Nollywood films are already popular.

The third section looks at two significant attempts to formalize these transnational markets: the recent antipiracy campaign conducted by the Filmmakers Association of Nigeria (FAN) in the United States and the theatrical releasing system developed in Britain by a group of Nigerians working at Odeon cinemas. These two examples are particularly useful to understanding the key role of the Nigerian diaspora in the processes of transnationalization of the video industry. They also highlight the aesthetic and narrative transformations generated by transnationalization processes.

The fourth section analyzes recent films that reflect these changing conditions. The years 2009 and 2010 saw the birth of what might be called a "New Wave" in Nigerian cinema, characterized by higher budgets, improved production values, and transnational collaborations. Through a brief analysis of some of these recent releases, this section explains how processes of transnationalization in the Nigerian video industry's economy are transforming the aesthetic and narrative features of Nigerian cinema, opening up new directions for Nollywood's development.


BEYOND THE VIDEO BOOM: PRODUCTION CRISIS AND EXCESS OF INFORMALITY

From an economic perspective, the Nigerian "video boom" is the result of two factors: the informality of the Nigerian economy and the adoption of digital technologies. These two factors are also the main drivers of the production crisis that has plagued the industry in the past few years. According to Jane Guyer, Nigeria has a commercial economy in which projections suggest that the largest part of the population will earn their money in the informal sector by 2020 and that "at least 60 percent of the currency, once issued, never goes back through the banking system again. These two economies – that in which the formal financial institutions monitor the entire money issue every day, and that in which 60 percent of it is never monitored again in its entire life in circulation – coexist, interrelate, and reconstitute one another" (3). The video industry developed along the interfaces between these two economies. Its structure is rhizomatic, similar to most informal economies, and it relies upon unregulated interactions among many small segments. Whereas film industries elsewhere in the world tend to be organized around the activity of a few big production and distribution companies, the Nigerian video industry comprises a constellation of small enterprises, which disappear and reappear according to the economic conditions. There are no formal contracts or insurance arrangements. Transactions are based on systems of solidarity and (mis)trust. Furthermore, as Brian Larkin demonstrates, the video industry evolved from the infrastructures provided by media piracy, and thus its position between legality and illegality has always been fluctuating.

The flexibility of this system allowed the video industry to cope with a highly unstable and potentially risky economic environment. But the absence of regulation, the ineffective copyright regime, and the low barriers to entry exposed the industry to a high degree of imitation and to an exponential level of competition, resulting in extremely rapid growth for video production. In fact, in less than twenty years, the output of the video industry increased from a few films per year in the early 1990s to around fifteen hundred per year by the mid-2000s. While this impressive growth attracted international bodies like UNESCO, it also brought the video economy to a point of inevitable saturation. Overwhelmed by the number of weekly video releases (in 2007 the average was five per day) and by the high level of repetition of plots and titles, the Nigerian audience progressively lost interest in the local entertainment industry.

The specificity of the Nigerian technological environment intensified the crisis. The introduction of digital technology played a fundamental role in the video industry's evolution. Home video technologies (VHS and VCD) generated a straight-to-video distribution model that was resistant to the devastating effects of the structural adjustment programs on the Nigerian entertainment sector at the end of the 1980s (Haynes, "Nigerian Cinema"). Going straight to video allowed Nigerian cultural entrepreneurs to cut the unaffordable costs of celluloid production and bypass the problem of theatrical release in the context of collapsing cinema infrastructures. But this solution made the video industry particularly vulnerable to piracy. Unlike other high-piracy film industries – for instance, Bollywood and the Hong Kong film industry, which can rely on income from a regulated system of cinema screenings – the Nigerian video industry has no window of distribution other than the video format (in VHS, VCD, or DVD).

Within this system of structural vulnerability, each shift from one technological format to another has its own consequences. Amaka Igwe, for instance, made this point clear when she told me in a recent interview that the switch from VHS to VCD technology created unexpected problems. During the VHS era, producers tended to make between 100,000 and 150,000 copies per film. If a film flopped, they would recycle the unsold tapes for another release, thereby cutting their losses. When VCD was introduced, this was no longer possible. According to Amaka Igwe, "You couldn't invest on 100,000 copies because if you don't sell them, you are in trouble, so people started making just 5,000, 10,000 copies, but for a market of 150 million people, what is it to make 5,000 copies? And meanwhile, we didn't create a solid distribution. And a VCD, as soon as you buy it, you can put it in your computer and dump it, so piracy became a big problem." The small number of original copies available in the video market opened up unexpected opportunities for pirated products. In a context in which legitimate distribution could not reach the majority of the population, piracy filled the gap.

The introduction of the satellite channel Africa Magic in 2003 and rising Internet piracy sent sales of original Nollywood film copies plunging. This in turn led to increased audience engagement with Nigerian videos. But because a structured distribution policy was lacking, the industry was unable to transform this popularity into solid economic growth. When Africa Magic was introduced, industry practitioners were unable to agree on a collective response. This gave the channel a good bargaining position. Negotiations were conducted on an individual basis and in most cases resulted in very low acquisition prices for screening rights. At the same time, the availability of a 24/7 pan-African Nollywood channel reduced the sale of original copies, especially among the expanding Nigerian middle class that enthusiastically bought into satellite television technology. The middle class accounted for the largest percentage of the industry's income, considering that the most important section of the Nollywood audience, that is, housewives and unemployed youth, rented movies from video clubs rather than buying original copies.

Whereas the introduction of Africa Magic progressively eroded the sale of original copies in Nigeria and in some other Anglophone African countries, the mushrooming growth of Internet sites offering free streaming of Nigerian videos eroded the economic potential of the diasporic market. Although Nigeria has one of the highest rates of Internet usage in Africa, the quality of the connection rarely allows people to access bandwidth-heavy content like video. Most Internet viewing of Nollywood films therefore occurs in the diaspora, with unauthorized sites eroding what used to be lucrative revenue streams. As Fred Jora emphasizes in a number of interviews with Nigerian video sellers in Europe, the impact of Internet streaming and satellite television has badly damaged their business, obliging them to cut the number of videos ordered weekly from Nigeria. Sunday Omobude, a Nigerian businessman who owns a video store in Amsterdam, for example, is reported to have cut his orders from 8,000 films a week to 1,500, while the Internet site onlinenigeria.com, which broadcasts Nigerian films for free, is reported to have up to 700,000 visitors in forty-five countries around the world (Jora). A report on an anticybercrime operation by Nigerian police said that in 2006, more than twenty-five websites broadcast Nigerian videos free of charge. According to the report, most of them were registered in Britain and the United States and were owned by Nigerians living abroad (Ezigbo).

The downside of Nollywood's excessive, informal infrastructure, the saturation of the market, and the increase of piracy together with the global economic crisis (which badly hit the Nigerian banking system) worsened during the political crisis preceding the death of former Nigerian president Umaru Yar'Adua. This pushed the industry to an economic impasse that arguably reached its nadir between 2008 and 2009. At this point, many practitioners and analysts started believing that the industry was destined to die (Husseini; Njoku, "Nollywood Is Dying"). At this stage of its evolution, and partly because of the above-mentioned factors, the video market's value was on a small-figure scale. The amount of films produced had in fact become inversely proportional to the number of copies sold and the funds available for production. An extremely large number of videos were produced during the phase leading up to the production crisis. But each of them had progressively smaller budgets and fewer legal purchases. The industry thus imploded, with average budgets falling to 2 million naira (around US $15,000) and average legal sales dropping to between 10,000 and 20,000 copies. When output started to drop as well, this economy of small numbers became unsustainable. Before the crisis, the large number of videos released by each production company in a year compensated for the small number of copies sold. When output was reduced, profit levels dropped, and the business stopped being attractive for investors.

Within this context, the diasporic market seemed to offer a viable economic solution. In the interviews I conducted during my fieldwork in Lagos, many directors supported this position. Femi Odugbemi, a director and producer based in Lagos, for instance, suggested, "Every filmmaker from Nigeria must look at the diaspora audience very carefully because that is really where the market is." Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, a very popular director, confirmed Odugbemi's point of view by reiterating the point that the "diaspora must become an important window of distribution for Nigerian videos." Emem Isong, one of the most successful Nigerian female producers in recent history, mentioned this fact, too, revealing that she releases her films first in America and then in Ghana and Nigeria simultaneously. She added, "Nigeria, at this point, is the worst market we have."

This was not the first time that producers turned their attention to foreign audiences. Diasporic and international markets had been targeted since the early stages of Nollywood's evolution. As Ayorinde reported, for instance, the Peckham market in South London was throughout the mid-1990s even "stronger than the Idumota and the Onitsha market outlets" ("Video and Celluloid"). However, since the Nigerian domestic market was still doing well, no real attempt was made to develop international distribution. The situation became different ten years later – that is, in 2009.


PIRATE TRANSNATIONALISM: BUILDING THE MARKET FOR A GLOBAL CULTURAL INDUSTRY

The Nigerian video industry developed not in a vacuum but within a system of media transnationalism, which helped to shape it in profound ways. On the one hand, informal, usually pirated networks of transnational circulation made transnational media products available on the Nigerian market and contributed to the aesthetics and narratives of the video industry. And on the other hand, media piracy and transnational informal circulation made Nigerian videos travel all over Africa and the world, transforming them into a pan-African and global form of popular culture. Brian Larkin argued that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the combination of a number of elements (the suspension of the distribution of American films in Nigeria by the Motion Picture Association of America in 1981, the evolution of digital technologies, and the effect of the oil-boom economy on the consumption of media products) rapidly pushed Nigeria into the global network of pirated goods. This provided Nigerians with "a vast array of world media at a speed they could never imagine, hooking them up to the accelerated circuit of global media flows" (297). Until the early 1980s, Hollywood, Bollywood, and Hong Kong films were available in Nigeria only a very long time after their official release and as badly damaged celluloid copies. Complex networks of media piracy, which often came through the United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi) or eastern Asian cities (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur), suddenly made them available to a larger audience in a much shorter time. The availability of these media products increasingly influenced the imaginations of video makers, who created a creole aesthetic formula in which local and transnational influences converged.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Global Nollywood by Matthias Krings, Onookome Okome. Copyright © 2013 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Matthias Krings is Professor of Anthropology and African Popular Culture at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

Onookome Okome is Professor of African Literature and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada.

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