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Africans, camera, action: 'Nollywood' catches world's eye

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Hurtling out of his chair into the faces of two actors, a top Nigerian movie director yells, "Cut, cut! That's not good acting. It's terrible."

It's 6 p.m. on the set of Adim Williams's new political thriller. No one has had lunch. The crew is cranky. The actors keep flubbing the scene.

With its $40,000 budget and two-week shoot, this movie is typical of "Nollywood," Nigeria's slapdash industry, where quantity has long trumped quality. But Mr. Williams's films are increasingly being seen worldwide, and he's adamant this one be top-notch. Lunch can wait.

After years as the snickered-at stepchild of global movie industries, Nollywood is blossoming. Bringing in as much as $100 million a year, it's third behind Hollywood and India's Bollywood in revenues. But more important, Nollywood's rise represents a unique cultural moment, people here say: African stories are finally being told by Africans themselves.

"These are our stories about Africa, not someone else's," exults Joke Silva, doyenne of Nollywood actors.

She cites 1997's "Amistad" as typical of Hollywood's handling of Africa: "It was a really strong story with a slave actually being the catalyst for his freedom, but somehow the Anthony Hopkins character [who played John Quincy Adams] ends up being the hero," she laments. "That was unforgivable."

Likewise, the run of Africa-oriented movies in US theaters recently - mostly notably "Hotel Rwanda" - have featured American stars or characters in lead roles.

But with Nollywood films being appreciated more widely, changes are afoot:

• Nollywood directors such as Williams are in demand across Africa. He recently got $5,000 - and red-carpet and motorcade treatment - just to schmoozein Uganda.

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