Illustration for article titled Nollywood Confidential

Via Foreign Policy's Passport blog, here comes the news that ought to have US moviemakers quaking in their shoes: Nollywood is officialy bigger than Hollywood. John Boonstra at UN DISPATCH reports:

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) survey, Bollywood – as the Mumbai-based film industry is known – produced 1,091 feature-length films in 2006. In comparison, Nigeria’s moviemakers, commonly known as Nollywood, came out with 872 productions – all in video format – while the United States produced 485 major films.

“Film and video production are shining examples of how cultural industries, as vehicles of identity, values and meanings, can open the door to dialogue and understanding between peoples, but also to economic growth and development,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.

“This new data on film and video production provides yet more proof of the need to rethink the place of culture on the international political agenda,” he added.


On behalf of my Nigerian bloodlines: BOOYAH. The most populous nation in Africa has been flexing its muscle in the entertainment industry for over a decade, producing films both comedic and tragic, full-length and serial (one of my favorites, "Two Rats", has made its stars into some of the highest-paid actors in Africa). As silly as these films are, Nollywood is a wonderful, above-board form of economic activity that's sorely needed in a country where upwards of 90 percent of the national GDP comes from oil.

And Matsuura's point is certainly true—America's "soft power" can largely be attributed to the 20th-century exportation of concepts like Mickey Mouse, the Marlboro man, or that mermaid that lives on Starbucks merchandise. But this new statistic presents definitive proof of Hollywood's decline in cultural influence.


What does this mean for western norms, so outpaced? Well, the decline is probably a result of the ADHD-inspired requirement for blockbusters like "Wolverine", "Star Trek", and "Harry Potter" to deliver huge returns on their opening weekends. This crowds out the number of films annually, and also produces unpopular clunkers like, oh, everything Nicholas Cage produces. Whether the movies are as good is not really the issue—Nolly- and Bollywood haven't gone the way of big budget bets, instead relying on word of mouth, endless straight-to-video circulation, and only sometimes big-name stars. That's a fairly good recipe for longevity.

In 2006, TRANSITION magazine ran a great overview of the juggernaut industry, including interviews with stars like Ajoke “Joke Silva” Jacobs and Tunde “TK” Kelani. It's not online, but here's a taste of "Nollywood Confidential":

When the oil boom went bust, so did the rest of Nigeria’s economy—it seemed as if the country’s once-flourishing cinema culture would among the casualties. Filmmakers couldn’t afford to buy film from abroad; bankrupt theaters shut down for good. But thanks to a revolution in consumer electronics, West Africa’s answer to Hollywood (and Bombay) is bigger than ever. These days, Nigeria’s leading artists produce straight-to-video movies, produced on the cheap and sold in market stalls and kiosks. The movies sport sensational plots, hamfisted acting, and outrageous stereotypes—is it any surprise they’re selling by the million?? Some critics bemoan the eclipse of Africa’s high-art cinema. Others hail the birth of a new African popular culture.


(NOLLYWOOD photo via

Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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