Nollywood is a sobriquet that originally referred to the Nigerian film industry. The origin of the term dates back to the early 2000s, traced to an article in The New York Times. Due to the history of evolving meanings and contexts, there is no clear or agreed-upon definition for the term, and it has been subjected to several controversies.
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The origin of the term "Nollywood" remains unclear; Jonathan Haynes traced the earliest usage of the word to a 2002 article by Matt Steinglass in the New York Times, where it was used to describe Nigerian cinema. Charles Igwe noted that Norimitsu Onishi also used the name in a September 2002 article he wrote for the New York Times. The term continues to be used in the media to refer to the Nigerian film industry, with its definition later assumed to be a portmanteau of the words "Nigeria" and "Hollywood", the American major film hub.
Definition of which films are considered Nollywood has always been a subject of debate. Alex Eyengho defined Nollywood as "the totality of activities taking place in the Nigerian film industry, be it in English, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Itsekiri, Edo, Efik, Ijaw, Urhobo or any other of the over 300 Nigerian languages". He further stated that "the historical trajectory of Nollywood started since the pre and post independent Nigeria, with the theatrical (stage) and cinematic (celluloid) efforts of the likes of Chief Hubert Ogunde, Chief Amata, Baba Sala, Ade Love, Eddie Ugbomah and a few others".
Over the years the term Nollywood has also been used to refer to other affiliate film industries, such as the Ghanaian English-language cinema, whose films are usually co-produced with Nigeria and/or distributed by Nigerian companies. The term has also been used for Nigerian/African diaspora films considered to be affiliated with Nigeria or made specifically to capture the Nigerian audience. There is no clear definition on how "Nigerian" a film has to be in order to be referred to as Nollywood.
Some stakeholders have constantly expressed their disagreement over the term; giving reasons such as the fact that term was coined by a foreigner, as such another form of Imperialism. It has also been argued that the term is an imitation of what was already in existence (Hollywood and Bollywood) rather than an identity in itself, that is original and uniquely African.
Film-making in Nigeria is divided largely along regional, and marginally ethnic and religious lines. Thus, there are distinct film industries – each seeking to portray the concern of the particular section and ethnicity it represents. However, there is the English-language film industry which is a melting pot for filmmaking and filmmakers from most of the regional industries.
The Yoruba-language cinema is a sub-industry of Nollywood, with most of its practitioners in the Western region of Nigeria. The Yoruba-language cinema began as actors of various Yoruba traveling theatre groups began to take their works beyond the stage to delve into movie production using the Celluloid format, as far back as the mid-1960s. These practitioners are considered in some quarters to be the first true Nigerian filmmakers. Movies like Kongi's Harvest (1971), Bull Frog in The Sun (1974), Bisi, Daughter of The River (1977), Jaiyesimi (1980), and Cry Freedom (1981) fall into this era of a blossoming Yoruba movie industry. Practitioners like Ola Balogun, Duro Ladipo and Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love) played a significant role when they came out with "Ajani Ogun" in 1976. This film was one of the few huge success that helped put the Yoruba-language cinema on the map, and it was followed by other productions by Hubert Ogunde and others. One of the first blockbusters from Nigeria, came from the Yoruba language industry; a notable example is Mosebolatan (1985) by Moses Olaiya which grossed ₦107,000 (approx. 2015 ₦44.2 million) in five days of its release.
The Hausa-language cinema, also known informally as Kannywood, is also a sub-industry of Nollywood, mainly based in Kano. The cinema, which is the largest in Northern Nigeria, slowly evolved from the productions of RTV Kaduna and Radio Kaduna in the 1960s. Veterans like Dalhatu Bawa and Kasimu Yero pioneered drama productions that became popular with the Northern audience. The 1990s saw a dramatic change in the Northern Nigerian cinema, eager to attract more Hausa audience who find Bollywood movies more attractive, Kannywood; a cinematic synthesis of Indian and Hausa culture evolved and became extremely popular. Turmin Danya ("The Draw"), 1990, is usually cited as the first commercially successful Kannywood film. It was quickly followed by others like Gimbiya Fatima and Kiyarda Da Ni. Sunusi Shehu of Tauraruwa Magazine created the term "Kannywood" in 1999 and it soon became the popular reference term for the industry. By 2012, over 2000 film companies were registered with the Kano State Filmmakers Association.
Ghanaian English-language cinema
Over the years the term Nollywood has also been used to refer to other affiliate film industries, such as the Ghanaian English-language cinema. Around the year 2006 through 2007, Nigerian filmmaker Frank Rajah Arase signed a contract with a Ghanaian production company, Venus Films, which involved helping to introduce Ghanaian actors into mainstream Nollywood. This collaboration eventually led to extreme popularity of certain Ghanaian actors, such as Van Vicker, Jackie Appiah, Majid Michel, Yvonne Nelson, John Dumelo, Nadia Buari and Yvonne Okoro, arguably as much as their Nigerian counterparts. Furthermore, over the years, due to the high cost of film production in Nigeria, Nigerian filmmakers have been forced to make films outside Lagos in order to cut costs, mirroring the exodus of filmmaking in Hollywood from Los Angeles to cities like Toronto and Albuquerque, a phenomenon known as runaway production. Several other producers, as a result, started shooting in cities like Accra, Ghana, channeling the savings into investing in better equipment, many of them trying to get their films onto the big screen. This development has created a sort of merger between the Nigerian and Ghanaian film industry, and most English language films from Ghana also started answering the tag "Nollywood". This is due to the increased amount of co-productions these films get, and the ease with which they secure distribution deals with Nigerian film production houses. This is also mainly because most non-West Africans cannot differentiate between these movies and Nigerian movies, since it became a norm for major films from Nigeria to star actors from both Nigeria and Ghana.
Nollywood USA is a broad term, that is used to refer to Nigerian films made in the diaspora. Although they are popularly called Nollywood USA, these movies can be shot in any non-African country. These films are typically made by Nigerian filmmakers living in the diaspora and they are typically made for the Nigerian audience. Like the "Nollywood" term, the definition of "Nollywood USA" is vague.
Nollywood USA movies typically tell Nigerian stories, and they usually star established Nollywood actors, alongside upcoming Nigerian/African actors living in the diaspora. The movies usually have their premieres in Nigeria and they also sometimes secure national theatrical release like the regular Nollywood movies.
Nollywood at 20 controversy
In 2012, it was announced that Nollywood would be celebrating its 20-year anniversary. This year marked the 20th year after the release of direct-to-video movie Living in Bondage (1992), which arguably marked the boom in the video film era. The anniversary was eventually celebrated in June 2013.
The event was later revealed to be a decision of a segment of the industry and not a unanimously agreed event; the event was organized by Association of Movie Producers (AMP), an association consisting of producers of video films. Since announcement of the "Nollywood @ 20" event in 2012 till its celebration in 2013, the event had sparked controversies from many stakeholders; most of whom believed the industry was much older than 20 years. Since Nollywood has been a term for the entire Nigerian film industry, it was argued that Living in Bondage cannot be used to celebrate the Nigerian film industry, stating that the film wasn't, in fact, the first Nigerian video film, neither was it the first "successful" video film, much less the first Nigerian film.
This controversial celebration also gave rise to reports that another segment of the industry, the "Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP)" are planning to rename the industry into another term which would encompass the entire history of Nigerian film industry, since the term Nollywood has allegedly become ethnically dichotomized. While it was argued by supporters of the event that it was the "Nollywood brand" that was being celebrated and not the industry, counter-arguments were made that the term "Nollywood" came into existence only in the 2000s, so explanations were needed on how the "Nollywood Brand" could be extended to the year 1992 which isn't specifically significant in any way, and why not just to the very first Nigerian film that was made.
Alex Eyengho had noted in a 2012 article that the term "Nollywood" was absent during the formative years of both the video film era and the Golden Age. Seun Apara, in his article on 360Nobs.com stated: "It's either the promoters of the event didn't do their research well or intentionally do not want to reckon with history". Adegboyega Oyeniya comments: "I don't know what they are talking about by celebrating 'Nollywood @ 20'; are they celebrating Ramsey Tokunbo Nouah or Genevieve Nnaji? Probably, they are celebrating fortune. These people should stop deceiving Nigerians". Some media outlets also reported that the event was a result of greed and selfish interests, as the organizers visited political figures to solicit funds in the name of the Industry, but allegedly shared the funds raised amongst themselves. Another issue raised to fault the event is that the real "achievers" in Nollywood were not honoured, but rather the practitioners at almost the same level with the organizers of the supposed flawed event were honoured.
Several filmmakers and stakeholders expressed their displeasure with the supposed false celebration; Kunle Afolayan commented: "The whole idea of Nollywood at 20 does not make sense to me because the Nollywood that I know is more than 20 years. I remember my father shot a film about 37 years ago and I also grew up in the industry. As far as am concerned, it's absolute crap". In another interview, he stated: "If Nollywood is the name that people decide to call the movie industry in Nigeria, then I am part of it. If Nollywood is what they say is 20 years, then I am not part of that Nollywood because I have been doing film business for more than 30 years now". Jide Kosoko also commented: "The Nigerian movie industry as far as I'm concerned is not 20 years. If we all truly belong to the same industry, then the industry I belong to is not 20 years. There is a need to tell the world the sincere story of our industry and don't rubbish the pioneers. As far as I am concerned, what they are celebrating is Living in Bondage and not Nollywood". Tunde Kelani stated: "how will Nollywood be celebrating 20 years and I am over 40 years in the industry?".
President of Actors Guild of Nigeria at the time, Ibinabo Fiberesima, admitted that Nollywood is more than 20, but gave what was considered an unconvincing statement on the reason behind the event, stating: "It's about celebrating our own even though Nollywood is more than 20 years. It's been long that people have been celebrating us but right now, we are celebrating ourselves and giving lots back to the society. It's a good step we have taken especially now that the qualities of our movies have improved".
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