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Nigeria's robust film industry has bright future

Opinion-Editorial

Jonathan P Hicks | 4/17/2014, 2:45 p.m.
Jonathan P. Hicks

LAGOS, Nigeria—There is a vibrant, exciting culture of young people in the film industry in Nigeria these days, and it’s time the world paid greater attention to it.

Many Americans don’t realize that Nigeria has the second-largest film industry in the world—behind India. And Nollywood, as the industry is widely known, is becoming an international force to be reckoned with. Nigerian directors and producers are winning awards all over the world, and their works are becoming of increasing artistic skill.

The industry reached a critical mass of production in the 1990s and in the first decade of this century. Before long, it eclipsed the United States in the number of films it produces. Today, the Nigerian film industry is worth roughly $3.5 billion a year and produces hundreds of home videos and film for movie theaters. It is, quite simply, an African economic powerhouse.

Of course, to many, the Nigerian movie scene is characterized by the incessant stream of DVDs that permeate African and West Indian communities throughout the United States but are largely relegated to those communities. In this part of the world, however, Nigerian films are virtually unavoidable. They are in most homes, many of the local television stations show them, and they are part of African cable offerings throughout the continent.

Many of the offerings that come out of Nollywood feature themes that are anchored in moral issues facing West Africans of today—promoting Christian or Islamic values. While many of those films are not particularly known for their cinematic creativity and artistic brilliance, a diverse landscape is now emerging in the Nigerian film industry. It is characterized by directors and producers who have studied their craft and are making internationally renowned cinematic productions.

Michelle Bello, an up-and-coming Nigerian filmmaker whose two feature films have received “international” acclaim is one to watch for. Her second and most recent film, Flower Girl, won Best African Film in the Black International Film Festival last year in England. Her previous debut film, Small Boy, became an instant success in the United States and was nominated for two awards in the American Black Film Festival in Los Angeles in 2007. She employs techniques of modern filmmaking excellence to tell stories that are uniquely West African yet universally relatable.

Bello is not alone. Nigeria has an increasing number of talented directors accomplishing spectacular feats on the screen. At the same time, Nigeria’s film industry is starting to emerge from the DVD market to movie houses not only here, but in major cities around the country.

The bottom line is this industry is a shining star in the African economic scene. And the prospects for the industry are especially bright now that economists have determined that Nigeria represents the largest economy in Africa. It would be a magnificent thing for American audiences, particularly African-American audiences, to pay more attention to this vibrant and exciting industry and to support it robustly.