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Date Published: 05/10/10

What is Nollywood? By Onyechi Anyadike 


Many students like me who aspire to make a career in the media, especially the print media, often find themselves lacking behind in practising their future job by contributing to socio-political debates and issues. Combining studies with writing articles or opinions could be very tedious for them, mostly for those who sometimes have to do rigorous research to write a satisfying piece. Not to mention the regular assignments, and the tests and examinations, which often times never seem far away. Such students, therefore, find themselves lacking behind in commenting on some issues and selecting and writing only on those that do not require much research and time to comment on. That is the reason why it took me almost four whole months to comment on Luke Onyekakeyah’s submission in The Guardian of Tuesday, 15th December 2009 titled ‘Is Nollywood Giving Nigeria Bad Image?’

       I totally share the position of Onyekakeyah on Nollywood reflecting the true reality of our society, be it on dibia/babalawo or 419 themes. One does not need to over flog the fact that products of the mind like films and novels are a reflection of reality. Medicine men and 419 are realities in our society and would naturally reflect in our home videos. My only opposition to the article is the inappropriate or wrong comparison of our so-called Nollywood with Hollywood and Bollywood.

       I have noticed a very high level of ignorance on our comparison of these three national movie industries. We tend to jump to easy and comfortable conclusions in our bid to criticise our government and our home-video industry. Two of such easy and convenient conclusions are that the government does not support the industry, unlike the US government for Hollywood and the Indian government for Bollywood, and that government should establish a specific location for our so-called Nollywood, again like Hollywood and Bollywood.

       If we may see the specific paragraph, the sixth, in Onyekakeyah’s piece to refresh our mind and for a better understanding before using it as reference:

       ‘While Hollywood is located in Los Angeles and Bollywood in Mumbai, where is the Nigerian Nollywood located? Is it in Enugu, Obudu, Calabar or where? Nigeria’s Nollywood at present has no location. The actors and actresses are scattered all over the country from where they take pains to travel all over the country to shoot films. Is it not time to have a location for Nollywood like its counterparts elsewhere? The situation is like that because government has not shown any interest in Nollywood.’

       Agreed, Hollywood, being a district of Los Angeles in the state of California, USA, is a specific place, but Bollywood is not. And Hollywood was not created by the US government. Before we come to Bollywood not having a specific location, let us treat Hollywood first, against the background Onyekakeyah painted it.

       As it is common with the history of famous towns or settlements, there are various histories of how Hollywood came about. But the generally accepted history of Hollywood is that it began in 1853 with a single mud house, which grew to a flourishing agricultural community and which thrived on crops of many varieties. Later on, subdivision of the large plots and an influx of landowners would begin due to land speculation.

       Then known as Nopalera, after its famous plant, Hollywood is believed to have got its present name from bridegroom H.J. Whitley who was on honeymoon with wife, Gigi, in 1886. Whitley would eventually buy a 500-acre land known as E.C. Hurd Ranch. Thus began the gradual growth of the settlement. And by 1900, the region could boast of a post office, newspaper, hotel and two markets, together with a population of 500, though far less than its big brother neighbour, Los Angeles, which had 100,000 people at that time.

       To attract land buyers, Whitley would later build the first major hotel in Hollywood, the famous Hollywood Hotel, in 1902. He is noted for promoting the area, including bringing electricity and building a bank among others. In 1903, Hollywood was finally incorporated as a municipality. But due to an ongoing struggle in 1910, to secure an adequate water supply, and also to have access to drainage through Los Angeles sewer system, the townsmen voted for Hollywood to be annexed into the city of Los Angeles.

       That is the story of Hollywood as a distinct of Los Angeles.

       Even before the annexation of Hollywood, movie production had begun in Los Angeles with the production of A Daring Hold-up in Southern California by the Biograph Company, in 1906. And the first studio in Los Angeles, Seliq Polyscope Company, was established in 1909. It was not until 1911 that Hollywood would be used as a location for a movie shot, where the Whitley home was used as its set. The first studio to be established in Hollywood was Nestor studio, in 1911, while the first film to be made specifically in a Hollywood studio was in 1914: The Squaw Man. Even at this time, New York still led Los Angeles in movie production. It was not until 1915 that Los Angeles would establish itself as the leading centre for the American movie industry with its concentration in Hollywood. Thus, making Hollywood the famous centre of the American movie industry in 1920.

       Now, it can be seen that against Onyekakeyah’s postulate, Hollywood was never a government creation. It grew naturally like new settlements of its time. It’s major advantage being that it was close to Los Angeles, which was a promising centre of the American entertainment industry, making it a fertile area to receive the expansion of Los Angeles.

       Regarding Bollywood, it definitely is not a specific location, unlike the impression Onyekakeyah and many others give. Bollywood, the informal term popularly used for the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai, India, does not even represent the whole of the Indian cinema. That is why it is formally referred to as Hindi cinema. Aside Hindi-language films, there are Assameme, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu cinemas, all of which are language based and popular in their ethnic regions, just like we have our Hausa-language-based so-called Kannywood in Kano.

       The name Bollywood, which is a portmanteau of Bombay (the former name for Mumbai) and American Hollywood, came to be in the 1970s, when India overtook the US  as the world’s number one film producing country. Lyricist, filmmaker and scholar Amit Khanna and journalist Bevinda Collaco are both leading Indians among those credited with coining the world Bollywood. Like Nollywood, Bollywood also had its share of critics who regarded the term as a product of colonial mentality. Some Indian critics even came up with the condemnation of Bollywood being the poor cousin of Hollywood!

       Unlike Hollywood and unlike what people like Onyekakeyah will want to have us believe, Bollywood is not physically located in any where in Mumbai, the industrial and financial hub of the Indian economy. It is just a term given to the Hindi film industry based in the city, like Nollywood is now a term given to the Nigerian film industry based in Lagos. And like Bollywood, the term Nollywood is the product of colonial mentality -- an obsession with anything West. But most government critics do not want to end with just the term, as it is in India. They want a location for Nollywood, like Hollywood, without taking our differences in circumstances and nuances into consideration.

       No country on earth makes use of symbolism in trade and especially in politics more than the US. And because of their domination of the international media, they dictate trends in virtually every industry in the world with their use of symbolism. Their collaborators in the West, especially the UK, have not helped matters as they join the US to determine international symbolism. Therefore, the American movie industry is symbolised by Hollywood. And when a newspaper writer or a news commentator or even the ordinary man on the street mentions Hollywood, everybody knows what is meant.

       As it is with Hollywood, so it is with The White House (the American Presidency), Washington, DC (the American Government), Capitol Hill (the American Congress or Legislature), the Pentagon (the American Defense), Wall Street (finance), Houston or Texas (oil and gas), Las Vegas or Nevada (gambling), Detroit (automobile), Pittsburg (steel), etcetera. And every citizen of the world, depending on his field of endeavour, is expected to recognise at least one of these symbols.

       Before the advent of Facebook and other social networking sites, Yahoo! Messenger was the vogue. I can recall as a young teenager, I often found myself uncomfortable making on-line friends with Americans. When you give them your location as, in my case, Owerri, Nigeria, some would still ask you where Nigeria is, wondering if it is in Eastern Europe, Asia, South America or Africa. And when you tell them it is an African country, they would still ask why you did not include Africa before, as if Africa is a country. But in their own case, they would give their location as Los Angeles or LA, New York or NY, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Boston or even some not-well-known cities or towns, without adding their country as if their cities ought to be known round the world. It was sickening then!

       That is the feeling I usually get whenever I hear Nollywood. And that was the same feeling I had reading Onyekakeyah’s piece. Must we relate the name of our home video industry with Hollywood to be accepted by America and the rest of the world?

       A UNESCO report in 2006 ranked Nigeria as the second largest film producer in the world, only beaten by India and coming before the US. But we did not attain that height because we named our industry Nollywood after Hollywood. We did that by production in volume. And we do not need that Nollywood name to effect production quantity or quality.

       Agreed, the US, the UK and other Western countries set many standards and precedence for us by virtue of their being far ahead of us in political and economic development, and our government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) follow these precedence in organisational structure and naming. That is why we have MDAs similar to theirs. Our National Intelligence Agency (NIS), for example, was got from the National Security Agency (NSA) of the US. And the head of the American agency is known as National Security Adviser (NSA), from which we also got ours: National Security Adviser (NSA). What about our celebrated National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)? Of course it is not original to us, but from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US. And our National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)? From the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), of course! Examples are all around us. Even our old Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has since been changed to African Union (AU), to resemble the European Union (EU).

       But we should at least, break away from this norm whenever and wherever possible. And naming our home video industry Nollywood is not helping to break away from this norm, not to mention establishing a Nollywood Town. Nollywood is located nowhere and should be located nowhere in Nigeria. It is only a concept born out of colonial mentality!

       And unlike what people like Onyekakeyah are promoting and advocating, it is not mandatory that government should set up a town, expectedly in Lagos, to be known as Nollywood. Agreed, the closeness of an industry to its raw materials, as the human resources in the form of the talents and expertise in the actors and other practitioners represent, is basically of economic and profit importance to such an industry. Therefore, having the actors and every other industry player in close proximity is understandable. But must it be another Hollywood-like settlement? Like it is in Mumbai, Tokyo, Hong-Kong, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Seoul, Rome and London, leading film centres of the world, Nigerian home video industry is concentrated in one city: Lagos. If those practitioners in Enugu, Obudu, Calabar or wherever they are located, want to survive, they should all relocate to Lagos. And that question of whether the industry is located in the National Arts Theatre in Lagos is totally irresponsible. Movie industries are not located in halls!

       Finally, regarding the cries of government critics and even industry practitioners, which were re-echoed by Onyekakeyah, over the government not showing interest in our home video industry, these cries all smack of ignorance or a misunderstanding of government relationship with practitioners of a specific industry in its policy formulation and implementation. Worldwide, the basic form which government utilises to grow an industry is to collaborate with its practitioners to formulate policies that will benefit the industry and the general public and also ensure maximum revenue for the government, if not immediately, then in the long run. Expectedly, clashes will come. It is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. Public funds are spent prudently and judiciously as there are various sectors that need government attention, but every sector requests maximum government attention. But it appears this government-practitioner relation is lacking in the industry, mostly on the part of the practitioners of our so-called Nollywood.

       Practitioners of the home video industry cry for government interests without wishing to acknowledge the characteristics of government involvement. A good example is the 2007 New Film Distribution Framework (NDF) policy of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). NFVCB is a parastatal of the Ministry of Information and Communication and whose responsibility is to preview and rate films. The thrust of the policy is to categorise film marketers into different levels. The practitioners felt good over the policy, as it would help regulate the mode of film distribution in the industry. But they felt uncomfortable with the categorisation and levies. And when efforts to accomplish a common ground failed, many of the practitioners, who seemingly lack the requisite for such rigorous negotiations, totally abandoned the industry and found solace in related sectors.

       Many of these practitioners crave for the industry to remain informal, where a film is hurriedly shot and edited in few days and quickly sent to Idumota Market on Lagos Island, Iweka Road in Onitsha and Pound Road Aba to be distributed and bingo! They get their returns. And when the quality of their films is criticised, they blame it on government not showing interest in the industry. And critics who are not abreast with happenings in the industry will re-echo it: ‘Government does not show interest in Nollywood and this affects the quality of the films and also affects returns because of piracy.’ But government getting involved makes it formal and regulated, which the practitioners are not comfortable with.

       Critics of the Nigerian home video industry easily jump to compare it with Hollywood without accepting the practices that are obtainable over there. The major landmark case on Hollywood, which is known to have historically altered how Hollywood movies were produced, distributed and exhibited, by deciding the fate of movie studios owning their own cinemas and holding exclusivity rights on which cinema-operating companies would show their films, is the case which is today celebrated in the US and which is known variously as The Hollywood Anti-Trust Case of 1948, The Paramount Case, The Paramount Decision or The Paramount Decree.

       In 1938, eighteen years after Hollywood had literally been crowned the centre of the American film industry and following investigations of film companies for potentially violating the famous US Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, the US Department of Justice sued all the major movies studious in America over these issues of the studios’ unfair practices. The case would eventually get to the US Supreme Court in 1948 and the court held that the existing distribution schedule was in violation of the anti-trust laws of the US, which prohibit certain exclusive dealing arrangement. Consequently, the court’s orders forced the separation of film production and exhibition companies. Thus, in Hollywood today, production companies are separated from exhibition or distribution companies (cinemas and theatres).

       A close observation of how movies are produced, distributed and exhibited in Hollywood today to the mutual benefit of all stakeholders, will never indicate that there was indeed a time in that film-making factory-city when the major film studios partly or fully owned the cinemas where their films were shown, whereby specific cinema chains showed only the films produced by the studios that owned them. Today, no film studio solely create films, have the writers, directors, producers and actors, own the film processing and laboratories, create the prints and distribute them through their cinemas like it used to be. These changes occurred because the government and the practitioners were stakeholders who were ready and willing to embrace changes.

       But over here, when we criticise the industry, especially criticising government, and make references to Hollywood, we do not take into cognisance the sacrifices they have made over there, especially of film practitioners accepting policies that might seem detrimental to the industry in the short run but which would be very beneficial in the long run, one of which is the celebrated Hollywood Anti-Trust Case of 1948. But compare it with the reaction that the 2007 NDF policy generated in the practitioners. Some had to abandon the industry altogether and diverted to related industries like music production. What they might not be aware of is that the Hollywood Anti-Trust Case of 1948 and our own 2007 NDF policy are very similar.

       There are many forms which government can be seen to be helping to promote the Nigerian home video industry for it to measure up to international standard and be of pride to us all. These include the provision of policies to ensure accountable and profitable distribution, ensuring the films meet the requirements of the censors board like pornographic and other offensive contents for the under aged. And there is also room for improvement, like the provision of lower tariff for imported production equipment, collaborating with stakeholders to hold training workshops for the practitioners, where experts or experienced hands from overseas are invited, etcetera.

       One institution which serves as a major think thank for the American film industry is the American Film Institute (AFI), Los Angeles, founded in 1967. Recommended by the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, which also partook in its initial funding, along with the Motion Picture Association of America and the Ford Foundation, AFI has grown over the years to train and build young talents for the industry and also to recruit academicians from the arts and academia, who brainstorm on ways to grow the industry and assist both government and practitioners in policy formulation and implementation that are beneficial to all stakeholders. AFI describes itself as ‘ a national institute providing leadership in screen education and the recognition and celebration of excellence in the art of film, television and digital media’ and that it is out ‘to enrich and nurture the art of film in America.’ To a very large extent, AFI has been agreed to have served its purpose.

       Interestingly, there is an equivalent of AFI in Nigeria, the Nigerian Film Institute (NFI), in Jos, Plateau State. If our NFI serves similar aims and objectives in Nigeria, its effects are not felt. It is hoped more advantages will be taken of the NFI, where similar achievements like those of its American counterpart could be noticeably recorded.

       There are many areas where both the government and movie practitioners could improve the industry. But certainly, the establishment of a Hollywood-like settlement for the industry cannot be on the priority list of the government. Agreed, it can happen someday. Nothing is impossible. But if ever it does, either solely by the government or in collaboration with practitioners and/or private partnership, it will honestly go down well with nationalism if it is called something else but definitely not Nollywood Town!

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