“Nollywood” refers to a mode of media production fundamentally associated with southern Nigeria. Although the term was not coined until 2002, it has since been applied retroactively to direct-to-video films produced in Nigeria (and, in some cases, Ghana) beginning in the late 1980s. In 1992, the Kenneth Nnebue production of Living in Bondage, directed by Chris Obi Rapu, became the first Nollywood film to be marketed “professionally,” with shrink-wrapped videocassettes bearing the names and faces of the film’s stars. Many of these stars were familiar from Nigerian television—a medium whose major writers, producers, and directors were largely responsible for Nollywood’s emergence and solidification as a popular film industry. Generally if informally segmented along ethnolinguistic lines, Nollywood has no official language, although Pidgin comes closest to providing a point of commonality (as, at least conceivably, in Nigerian everyday life). The Igbo-language version of Living in Bondage, a smash hit on VHS cassettes, was followed by Nnebue’s English-language production of Glamour Girls (1994), directed by Chika Onukwufor. The subsequent explosion of English-language productions led some critics to suggest that the term “Nollywood” properly refers only to Nigerian productions, with Lagos functioning as the industry’s sole fount. This article takes a somewhat more capacious approach, understanding Nollywood as a mode of production, distribution, and reception that, although fundamentally associated with Lagos and the markets of Idumota, is also inclusive of commercial activities in (at the very least) the eastern Nigerian cities of Onitsha, Enugu, Asaba, and Aba. Although some scholars prefer to exclude particular ethnolinguistic groups from the Nollywood rubric, an abundance of evidence points to the commercial and discursive value of cross-cultural collaborations in an industry responsive to the complex social dynamics of southern Nigeria. Rooted in the traditions and dependent on many of the key players of the Yoruba traveling theater, Yoruba-language films were produced in Ghana and Nigeria as early as 1970 and came to represent a significant branch of the Nollywood industry, which continues to thrive in the mid-2010s (inspiring the contentious label “Yorubawood”). Of arguably greater significance have been Igbo-identified contributions to Nollywood, emblematized as much by the unprecedented success of Living in Bondage as by the Igbo marketers who have served as principal sources of funding and distribution for individual projects. Despite, or perhaps because of, the ethnolinguistic diversity of Nollywood films (produced in English, Pidgin, Yoruba, Igbo, and, less commonly, Bini, Ibibio, Esan, Idoma, Igala, Nupe, Twi, and Tiv), the industry typically is distinguished from its northern Nigerian counterpart—the Hausa-language, partly Kano-based industry known as “Kannywood.” This separation reflects not only the social and political distinctions between north and south, but also significant formal and ideological differences between Nollywood and Kannywood films. The latter bear the disproportionate influence of Indian cinema and of the Islamicate cultures (and regulatory requirements) of Kano State, Kaduna State, and other areas of northern Nigeria. Nollywood is often, albeit controversially, distinguished from conventional notions of African cinema, which tend to posit an emphatically Marxist, decolonialist project firmly associated with such celebrated celluloid filmmakers as Senegal’s Ousmane Sembene and Mali’s Souleymane Cissé. Further positioning Nollywood as a particular, rather than representative, Nigerian media industry, Nigerian art films continue to be produced, albeit sporadically, outside of traditional Nollywood networks and without Nollywood stars. Such independent films tend to bypass familiar Nigerian distribution streams, including home video, for film festivals in Europe, Russia, and North America, and in some cases are never shown in Nigeria. Nollywood’s origins on VHS cassette and video compact disc and its status as a straight-to-video industry have placed it at odds with the international film-festival circuit, with its emphasis on theatrically distributed “art films.” The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Africa’s oldest and most prestigious film festival, effectively banned Nollywood until 2015, citing format incompatibility as well as persistent aesthetic and ideological boundaries. It is unclear whether and to what extent the industry will ever make inroads into such high-cultural venues. One of the most prolific film industries in the world, Nollywood defies easy categorization. The formal and ideological diversity of its output—not to mention the complexity of its crucial star system and associated global marketing strategies—merits serious and sustained attention.
The unique challenges of defining Nollywood as a historically specific, transnational, transcultural, transmedial, and multilingual enterprise demand engagement with scholarly attempts to theorize its formal and discursive contours. Adejunmobi 2007 provides an influential theorization of Nollywood as a “minor transnational practice,” one rooted in flows of culture and capital among West African countries. Adesokan 2012 considers Nollywood’s emphatically Nigerian dimensions and its relationship to various ideas (and ideals) of Nigerian national cinema. Akande 2010 examines Nollywood’s role in the Nigerian economy. Barrot 2008 provides an ethnographic account of Nollywood’s emergence as an “independent” enterprise, and Haynes 2000 collects some of the earliest scholarly essays on the industry, which adopt a variety of approaches in attempting to account for the “video boom.” Tsika 2015 offers a history and critical analysis of the Nollywood star system, with case studies of individual stars, their stardom-themed films, and roles as philanthropic agents and corporate “brand ambassadors.”
Adejunmobi, Moradewun. “Nigerian Video Film as Minor Transnational Practice.” Postcolonial Text 3.2 (2007): 1–16.
The first application of the concept of “minor transnationalism” to Nollywood. Theorizes Nollywood in terms of its West African roots and reach.
Adesokan, Akin. “A Revolution from Below: The Aesthetics of West African Videofilms.” Nka 21 (2007): 60–67.
Theorizes Nollywood’s emergence in terms of the goal of independence from neocolonialist pressures and monopolistic practices, with an emphasis on aesthetic considerations.
Adesokan, Akin. “Nollywood and the Idea of the Nigerian Cinema.” Journal of African Cinemas 4.1 (2012): 81–98.
Addresses Nollywood’s relationship to its celluloid antecedents, paying particular attention to industrial matters, using Tade Ogidan’s Hostages (1996) as a case study.
Akande, Victor. Hazy Pictures: The Arts, Business and Politics of the Nigerian Motion Pictures Industry. Ibadan, Nigeria: Kraft, 2010.
Collection of wide-ranging articles, previously published in a Nigerian newspaper column, that provide an overview of Nollywood’s solidification as a cultural form and profit-driven industry.
Barrot, Pierre. Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.
Ethnographic account of Nollywood’s first decade. Includes interviews with producers, performers, distributors, marketers, and others associated with the Nollywood film industry, as well as essays by a range of critics.
Haynes, Jonathan, ed. Nigerian Video Films. Rev and expanded ed. Athens, OH: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 2000.
Groundbreaking collection of essays on the emergence of video production as the foundation for the Nollywood industry in the 1990s.
McCall, John C. “Nollywood Confidential: The Unlikely Rise of Nigerian Videofilm.” Transition 13.1 (2004): 98–109.
Explores Nollywood’s singularity in the context of African cinema through the experiences and ambitions of a range of key players, from producers to directors to stars.
Ogunleye, Foluke. “A Report from the Front: The Nigerian Videofilm.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 21.2 (2004): 79–88.
Accounts for Nollywood’s solidification as a popular industry by offering close examinations of some of the socioeconomic scaffolds on which it rests, including those associated with state television and popular theater.
Okome, Onookome. “Video Film in Nigeria: Preliminary Notes on an African Popular Art.” Voices 2 (1999): 51–69.
Tsika, Noah. Nollywood Stars: Media and Migration in West Africa and the Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.
Exploration of Nollywood’s all-important star system and relevance to star studies, with a focus on questions of ethnicity, national and transnational appeal, and formal and informal marketing strategies.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Achebe, Chinua
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
- African Socialism
- Africans in the Atlantic World
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arab Spring
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- China in Africa
- Christianity, African
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism in Africa
- Comoro Islands
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Disease and African Society
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Family Planning
- Farah, Nuruddin
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Hausa Language and Literature
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Law, Islamic
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Obama and Kenya
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Popular Music
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- Soyinka, Wole
- Spanish Colonial Rule
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey