Access Nollywood: Nigeria’s Booming Film Industry
Many people now know that Bollywood, India’s 101-year-old cinematic tradition, is the world’s largest film industry. But surprisingly, Hollywood is not even the second largest—as of 2009, that honor arguably goes to Nollywood, Nigeria’s 2,500-movie, $600-million-per-year powerhouse, the nation’s second-largest employer after agriculture. Because Nollywood has traditionally had trouble finding markets and distribution networks for its films, it’s mostly been limited to cheap, locally-distributed fare. Over the past couple of years, though, all of that’s started to change. New Nigerian entertainment firms like iROKO have bypassed the need for DVD distribution and theatres, bringing Nollywood directly to the web and making it easier for more and higher quality Nigerian cinema to reach the world.
It’s not surprising that Nollywood lacked a real distribution network until now, given the young industry’s origins. Although Nigeria’s made films for decades, Nollywood proper only began around 1992, when a used electronics importer got a crate of outdated video cassette tapes and decided to make a quick, cheap, and simple movie to help turn them around. In a country with only 14 theaters (not counting small screens at local cafes) for a population of more than 170 million, it seemed like the only way to make a profitable Nigerian film for over 15 years was to crank out repetitive, pandering, and poorly acted films—sometimes 20 to 40 per year per producer—for about $40,000 each. These small films were a tremendous success, employing thousands of people and generating millions in profits. But in a vicious circle of mediocrity, producers never pushed for wider distribution networks, making it almost impossible to solicit funding for higher-quality films, much less get them seen abroad.