NAI guest researcher Senayon Olaoluwa. Photo: Johan Sävström

Nollywood reflects Nigerian society

Predictable storylines and low technical quality characterise many Nollywood movies. At the same time, their themes accurately reflect Nigerian society.

Going to the cinemas was a popular pastime in Nigeria during the 1950s and 1960s. Foreign films were screened in sold-out theatres. In the 1970s, a general economic downturn related to the global oil crisis hit Nigeria hard. People had less money to spend and many cinemas closed. However, people still longed to watch movies.

“In the early 1990s, it became common for friends to meet at home and watch low-budget video films. Ironically, it was because of the bad state of the economy that the domestic film industry in Nigeria took off,” NAI guest researcher Senayon Olaoluwa says.

It was not until the 2000s that the Nigerian film industry earned the nickname Nollywood. By then, it was already a huge industry involving millions of dollars. “Living in Bondage,” from 1992, counts as the first Nollywood film. People loved it and it was a tremendous success. After that, thousands of low-budget films were released yearly.

Although these movies were extremely popular, they were unlikely to appeal to serious cineastes. “Scripts were ridiculous and predictable, image and sound of low standard. Yet the films earned a certain reputation and spread beyond Nigeria, first to other countries on the continent, but later also among the Nigerian diaspora elsewhere,” Olaoluwa remarks.

Twenty years after the release of the first Nollywood film the industry has entered a second phase, according to Olaoluwa. The general quality is better, professional actors are hired and many films have big budgets similar to those encountered in Hollywood. Now the films are back in the cinema theatres, and not only in Nigeria ‒ Nollywood movies have also premiered in London and New York.

Olaoluwa’s research focuses on the movie “Osuofia in London,” from 2003. It is about a man who travels to England to claim his part of the inheritance of a wealthy emigrant relative. The film coincided with the African Union’s recognition of the African diaspora as a serious development partner. In Nigeria alone, relatives working abroad send US$ 80 million back home annually to families and friends. Thus, the film’s major theme is highly relevant to a large part of the population.

“Migrants are expected to send money home. In many cases, whole villages join forces to pay one person’s travel expenses. They later expect a return on their investment. ‘Osuofia in London’ was much enjoyed, both by workers abroad, living with the pressure of repaying their debt, and by people back home waiting for their relative’s contribution to their economy,” Olaoluwa concludes.

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