Nollywood: Everybody famous in Nigeria

‘There’s no place like home’, says the manager of a Nigerian videotheque in Antwerp. The homesickness of expats largely explains the attractiveness of Nollywood: Nigerian movies who all take place in traditional villages or towns like Lagos and who all deal with tradition, murder, intrigue and love.
The first Nollywood film, Living in Bondage (1992), was a great success and ever since the Nigerian film output assumes large proportions. Anybody can grab a camera and put a life story to film with a budget of only 15,000 euro. This sector provides work to 300,000 Nigerians and the estimated value of this business is about 450 million dollars. It is the third largest movie production, after Hollywood and Bollywood. The ca. 2000 movies that are shown every year are very popular even far past the boundaries of the African continent. If a movie sells well at the box offices, producers sometimes see their investments multiplied by ten.

Much to her surprise, the Flemish Saartje Geerts found four Nollywood videotheques, in the neighborhood of the Antwerp de Coninckxplein, three years ago. In the mean time, she has filmed a documentary herself about the only Nollywood director living in Antwerp: John Osas Omoregie. Geerts: ‘I watched John’s first movie all the way through, in contrast to some other Nollywood films. Despite that, it was a rather tough assignment. The sound was abominable and John had edited a gospel over it, which continuously repeated the moral of the story like a mantra. Terrible.’

The Nollywood videos are amateurish. Even including them into the category of B-movies, would be too much honor, according to critics. They excel in simple storylines, bad dialogues, excess of violence, superstition and sexism. In Omoregie’s second movie, Desperate heart, God appears in a shimmering white suit to reprimand Naomi, the female main character.

‘Naomi has never acted before,’ Geerts knows, ‘except in church theater, in which bible sequences are depicted. But it is great that such a person can make money in Nollywood.’ According to Geerts, it’s not the quality that matters, but the possibility of identification. ‘During the shoot of Nollywood at the Scheldt, I was surprised at how many sounds Naomi used to express approval, disbelief or other feelings. In Nigeria, women do that as well.’ Cinema by Africans, for Africans, that’s what made Nollywood a booming business. Except for the Nigerian censor, there’s no interference from outside.

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