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History of Nollywood Film Industry

In this article, we are going to take a historical look on how Africa’s biggest movie industry came to be. Everything on earth has its own history, when it comes to us humans, we can trace the history of our existence either through the biblical approach or the evolutionary approach.

Electronics, medicine, computers etc. too do have their own history therefore Nollywood industry cannot be left out.

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Reasd Also: History of Films in Nigeria

Etymology of the term “Nollywood”

History of Nollywood Film Industry
History of Nollywood Film Industry – Photo Source: https://www.legit.ng

The term “Nollywood” is a cognomen which originally referred to the Nigerian film industry. As of now, the origin of the term still remains unclear but is thought of by others to have originated in the early 2000s, as was traced to an article in The New York Times.

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.

Later on, Charles Igwe also noted that Norimitsu Onishi also used the name in a September 2002 article which he wrote for the New York Times.

Read Also: 15 Best Movie Acting Schools in Nigeria

Meaning of the term “Nollywood”

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.

The term continued 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.

Films Classified or Defined as Nollywood

The definition of which films are considered Nollywood has always been a subject of controversy and debate. Numerous attempts have been made by renowned writers, actors, directors and other people in the industry to explicitly define which film is classified or considered to be a Nollywood movie. One of such persons is Alex Eyengho.

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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 Ugboma 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 the 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.

Read Also: Top 10 Nollywood Directors

Nollywood Sub-industries

Film-making in the Nigerian film industry 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.

Popular Nollywood sub-industries include the Yoruba-language cinema, Igbo-language cinema, Hausa-language cinema, Ibibio-language cinema, Efik-language cinema etc.

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, they later 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.

Notable 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.

Notable Practitioners in the Yoruba-language cinema include Ola Balogun, Duro Ladipo and Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love). They played a significant role when they came out with “Ajani Ogun” in 1976.

This film “Ajani Ogun” 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 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.

Read Also: How to Join Nigerian Movie Industry (NOLLYWOOD)

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.

Read Also: Film Production Companies in Nigeria

Nollywood USA

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.

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Patrick Okon

Patrick Okon is a content developer at InfoGuideNigeria.com. InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Ibanga. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Ibanga. If you need a personal assistance on this topic, kindly contact us.

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