My post on the CNN story about Nollywood illustrates a very problematic situation that confronts African culture workers when they try to get their stories into the international news media. The author of the story, Mairi Mackay, interviewed me extensively for this story both by telephone (we spoke for close to one hour on an international call from London), and by email (read the CNN story here). Mairi Mackay sent me a list of twelve questions on various aspects of Nollywood-The Nigerian Film industry, and I responded to this by sending her a six-page, 2000-word document with detailed answers based on ongoing research I have conducted on Nollywood since 2005 when I convened and hosted the First Nollywood Convention in Los Angeles, USA. Afterwards Mairi asked me to put her in touch with a producer in Nollywood who can give her some additional information and I put her in touch with the Nollywood producer Emmanuel Isikaku.
I have had some negative experience in the past with reporters who sideline me from stories after mining me for information. I made this concern clear to Mairi and asked her to specifically credit me by name for all the information I provided for her story. However, her published story on CNN mainly attributes all the information I provided to someone else and I was mentioned in what amounted to a footnote with no attempt made to clarify my role in sourcing information for the story.
I am happy that Nollywood is gaining international visibility and that reporters are interested in covering this phenomenon. However, I think it is unconscionable for a CNN reporter to misrepresent my work and attribute it to someone else. My work in general is about the value of information derived from African interlocutors and of African cultural knowledge. I asked for credit for the information I provided to Mairi Mackay and CNN because it costs me a lot of money to put the information together. Over the past five years, I have incurred enormous expenses organizing conventions and traveling back and forth from Nigeria to conduct research on various aspects of the Nollywood phenomenon (I have made six trips in the past 18 months with another trip imminent). The information I meticulously gathered on this subject over the past five years cost me a lot of money, and I provided this information to Mairi Mackay of CNN London for free with the simple request that she credits me with the information. Obviously that request was too much to ask since she basically wrote a story that credits my information to someone else. Depriving me of credit for this information amounts to fraud since it now seems that Mairi Mackay sourced me for information under false pretenses.
The main issue here is lack of respect for African interlocutors as sources of information. There is a general idea in the West that African knowledge is free and easily accessible, and can be used without accreditation or consequences. This attitude towards African information simply has to stop if Africans will ever be able to benefit in any tangible manner from the effort they put into creating cultural knowledge and information in the first place.
I am posting below the full context of the email interview questions Mair Mackay sent to me and my responses, which can be compared with the context of her CNN article. Over the next couple of days, I will also post our email communications on my blog to show exactly our conversation on the subject of her interview and my specific request to be credited for my information. Compare the data and let me know what you think.
Nollywood Foundation on Nollywood: Responses to Mackay Mairi, CNN London
© Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, June 2009.
Q: How much does the average film cost to make? How many copies will they sell? Are films always self-funded by producers?
NF: The cost of production of Nollywood movies used to range about $10000 (ten thousand dollars each) but this cost has been rising lately. According to Emmanuel Isikaku, average cost of production varies according to the nature of the script but in general is around N3.5 million (three and half million Naira) which comes to about $25,000 (twenty-five thousand dollars).
Note that collaborative productions between Nollywood and foreign collaborators are generally higher in cost. A recently concluded titled Close Enemies produced in Los Angeles by Prince Ade Bamiro using major Nollywood stars cost $300,000 and was screened at the Nigerian Pavilion at Cannes. I am tracking a $6 million (six million dollars) proposed co-production between Nollywood and Hollywood, which will shoot later this year. For confidentiality reasons, I cannot divulge the name of the producers of this project but I know that they have already raised most of the required funds.
Q: Are the films in English? Any other languages?
NF: The primary context of filmmaking known as “Nollywood” comprises mostly English language films produced in Southern Nigeria, out of which a formal cadre of celebrities have arisen including actors like Zack Orji, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, and Fred Amata; plus directors like Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen and producers like Charles Novia, and many others. Many Nollywood actors of Igbo extraction also work within a vibrant IGBO language film industry that produces films on or about Igbo cultural concerns. This core constituency, mostly influenced by Hollywood genres, operates alongside many Nigerian local language film industries including a very vibrant YORUBA language film industry that has the oldest tradition of filmmaking in Nigeria. There is also “Kanowood” comprising of filmmakers working in the Hausa language, who are very much influenced by Bollywood. Recently, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen produced a Benin language film titled “Ebuwa”, according to the director, as a means of moving the Edo-Benin language into the arena of contemporary film discourse.
Note also that there is a very lucrative practice of films targeted specifically to religious constituencies of which Christian-themed films are quite prevalent. In this regard, Nollywood is best described as the “Nigerian Film Industry” to recognize the various tendencies and language orientations within this context of practice.
Q: Is it true that Nigerians will sometimes watch three and four films a day? So there is massive consumption of movies in the country
NF: Yes. Nollywood and other aspects of the Nigerian film industry enjoy very popular support among Nigerians and other African peoples in Africa and the African Diaspora. Nigerians watch many Nollywood movies frequently and the same practice applies even among Nigerians abroad. There is massive movie consumption in the country and a rise in the number of Video stores where these movies are sold and where they are also sometimes screened for mass audience consumption. Nollywood movies are now frequently aired on television across the continent and on some international cable channels.
Given the large population of Nigeria (circa 140 million people), there is a sustainable indigenous market for these movies and this is reflected in the overall success of Nollywood as a context of filmmaking and social life.
Q: What is different about Nollywood compared with the world's other big film industries, Hollywood and Bollywood?
NF: Film is a global mass medium. Nollywood is the first pan-African mass medium of the modern age. Hollywood is obviously the bid dog in the global film market, with Bollywood recently mounting a credible challenge to Hollywood’s dominance, at least in Asia and non-Western (South South) countries. I think what’s different about Nollywood is that it is the first film industry in the world that is completely owned and operated by Africans (or black people in general), which speaks to African concerns and afford Africans an opportunity to see themselves represented in ways that go beyond the notorious black stereotypes of Hollywood. If one surmises that the primary focus of Hollywood is visual effects (the dream machine as it were), and that Bollywood focuses on performance (the ubiquitous dance sequences of Bollywood are about pure performance), then we can say that Nollywood’s great strength lies in narrative: the medium extends the African predilection for complex narratives into the contemporary world of film. Of course, narrative is a part of all film cultures but in Nollywood, it is placed above all else. The films tell stories that use structures familiar to most Africans from their oral traditions of storytelling, which is why the films resonate with all peoples of African descent across the world.
Q: Is it true to say that in Nigeria while there is a huge culture of movie watching, there is NOT a culture of going to the cinema? Is this the same in Africa in general or a particular part of Africa or purely restricted to Nigeria?
NF: There WAS a huge culture of going to the cinema in Nigeria prior to the economic meltdown of the 1980s. Nollywood emerged precisely in response to the demise of this cinema culture and has done very well by targeting its movies directly to an audience geared toward home entertainment. There is an ongoing effort to revive the cinema chains but I don’t think this will create enough platforms for movie lovers as the home-entertainment platform Nollywood already enjoys.
Across Africa, there seems to be a new development in terms of audiences for Nollywood movies. These movies are frequently shown in video clubs and bars where people congregate to watch them. At the ongoing Los Angeles Film Festival, the Nollywood Foundation (in collaboration with South African Airways) co-hosted a film by Jean-Marie Teno titled Sacred Places (Lieux Saints). The film looked into a Burkina Faso practice of showing movies in “cine clubs”, which are basically micro-film theaters where people pay very little sums of money to watch movies. We are hearing of similar practices across Africa.
In sum, Africans are very interested in movies and in Nollywood movies in particular. The economics of everyday life means that people with limited resources find ways to create new audiences for these films and filmmakers are increasingly interested in these new audiences.
Q: How is the industry changing currently?
NF: There is a generational change going on. The first generation of Nollywood actors, directors and producers tend to be those present at the founding of the industry in the early 1990s. Younger directors, actors and producers are emerging with new ideas and new orientations, which suggests that the structure of the industry may confront rapid change soon, along with the kinds of movies made. Ancillary industries are thriving and there is a growth of celebrity culture-related economics.
The Nigerian government has recently moved aggressively to formalize the Nollywood industry, especially through the activities of the Nigeria Film and Video Censors Board led by Emeka Mba who is doing a fantastic job in this regard. Formal guilds and associations are active and very involved in global filmmaking issues worldwide (Nollywood personnel are frequent visitors to Cannes for example).
Q: How popular is Nollywood outside of Nigeria? There is talk of the industry gaining a foothold outside of Nigeria. Is this true? and if so, could you give me some examples.
NF: Nollywood is massively popular outside Nigeria and across Africa, the fame of Nollywood stars approaches mythic proportions. Nollywood films played a major role in the social and economic recovery of Liberia after its recent civil war, and the Nollywood model of filmmaking and economics is being exported to other African countries where efforts are underway to replicate its success. Nollywood films are used in some African countries to teach English (apparently, Africans learn English and French better from other African speakers due to shared grammatical and syntactic references). Finally, Nollywood is the first global pan-African film medium to cut across social, cultural, economic and national boundaries. It is enjoyed in Africa, in the Caribbean, and even in Latin America where Telenovela culture finds important correlations in Nollywood films.
The industry’s global footprint is increasingly significant. There is a major buzz about Nollywood in Hollywood where most of the people I am in contact with for my Nollywood Foundation program know of Nollywood. There are many collaborative projects emerging, with Nollywood filmmakers working in Europe and the USA. Above all, the industry is poised for significant expansion is its global audience.
Q: What are the challenges that face the industry? What is being done to try to overcome these challenges?
NF: Nollywood is a young industry, barely two decades old. Some major problems include:
• lack of credible financing for film projects
• Need for increased technical competence among filmmakers
• Need for greater government support for the industry
• Lack of credible distribution and rights management protocols
• Lack of access to international travel emerging from the constant refusal by Western embassies to grant visas to Nollywood personnel to participate in global forums.
• The repetitive nature of many Nollywood films (which is compounded by shoddy technical handling of the medium)
• PIRACY (see more on this below).
Q: Nollywood producer Lancelot talks about being invited to come to Hollywood to direct a movie in 2006 called Close Enemies. A Hollywood producer wanted to experiment with Nollywood in Hollywood. Was that a success? Are there other examples of this crossover?
NF: The production of Close Enemies is a first of such collaborations and it was successfully completed. The movie screened in the Nigerian pavilion at Cannes this year. I am tracking many new projects of this nature but cannot divulge information about them.
Q: Has the global financial downturn affected Nollywood?
NF: Yes. The existing anemic financing of Nollywood films has been further reduced which means that many films are not being made. This has the impact of sidelining work in the industry. However, Nollywood personnel are optimistic this situation will soon improve.
Q: How much of an issue is piracy? What is the Nigerian government doing to solve this problem? What are producers doing to solve these problems?
NF: Piracy is a global issue for all industries and Nollywood is not exempt though it is seriously affected. In fact, Piracy robs Nollywood of close to 50% of its profits. Nollywood movies are freely pirated and sold, even on the streets of Lagos. During my most recent trip in March, I noticed a new format for pirated movies that uses video compression digital technology to compress 5-20 movies (both Nollywood and Hollywood movies) into one single disc that is then sold on the streets for very little sums. This new development in piracy has the potential to kill off the industry completely.
The Nigerian government is unfortunately not capable of solving any problems for Nollywood, mainly because they won’t enforce existing laws. In a country where the government cannot even guarantee a steady power supply, I’m afraid people no longer look to the government for any solutions. Nevertheless, the government has great power and in cases where relevant ministries are staffed by ethical administrators, credible efforts can be made to curb piracy and other social ills. In this regard, the able administrator of the Nigeria Film and Video Censors Board (NFCVB), Mr. Emeka Mba, deserves great commendation for his ongoing efforts to attend to piracy and other ills that plague Nollywood.
Q: In 10 years where would you hope to see the industry?
NF: Hopefully doing very well and with a significant global footprint. The Nollywood Foundation was set up precisely to assist Nollywood create global awareness and direct attention and resources to its endeavors. We are however worried about the Nigerian penchant for being disorganized. You need a basic level of structure to profit from the global economy, actualize the promise of one’s products and above all, manage ancillary benefits arising from such products and commodities. Right now, the Nollywood Foundation thinks that in 10 years, Nollywood can become a major player in the global film industry. It represents a very clear example of an industry developing mainly through the model of the free market. Since the industry emerged IN SPITE of acute social and economic problems in Nigeria, one is wary of recommending the usual solutions to its problems. Nollywood will survive and as it grows, needed structures will develop and enable further growth. I think its future is very bright (no pun intended).