African Studies Nollywood
Noah Tsika
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0195


“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.

General Overviews

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.

    DOI: 10.1215/10757163-21-1-60

    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.

    DOI: 10.1386/jac.4.1.81_1

    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.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509200490272991

    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.

    Early exploration of Nollywood that links it to theories of African popular art (see Barber 1987, cited under Theoretical Contexts).

  • 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.

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