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'Nollywood' brings home-grown success to Nigeria

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Joseph Penney

(Read caption) Most Nollywood films are distributed direct-to-disc or televised. Video piracy is a big problem: Discs like these at a video store in Lagos sell for $3. But the VCDs (an early DVD format still widely used in developing countries) are easily duplicated and sell for pennies on the black market.

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Nigeria’s “Nollywood” is massive. Filmmakers here produced an average of 31 movies a week last year, more than America’s Hollywood and second only to India’s “Bollywood.” Not that production values are comparable: The movies are low-budget affairs shot in a few weeks, and most go directly to VCD – video compact disc, a precursor to the DVD format still popular in developing countries.

Plots often center on family and rural-urban migration – a common story in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos, Africa’s fastest growing city (pop. 15 million). Often a little “juju” (magic) is thrown in.

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Dismissed as low-grade by most Westerners, Nollywood productions are very successful across English-speaking Africa. The movies are shown everywhere, from waiting rooms in Ghana to buses in Uganda. They are in stark contrast to “embassy films,” African-made movies financed by the French government that rarely reach African audiences.

Nollywood, in fact, is one of the few pop-culture media industries that is owned, operated, and directed by Africans, for Africans. Filmmakers’ ambitions run high: Teco Benson, a prominent Nollywood director, says, “We are beginning to commandeer the information flow to go from the global south to the global north. Only in Nigeria can Africans tell their own stories to audiences around the world.”


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