Nollywood in Danger: The need for a fresh direction
Editorial By Oliver O. Mbamara
One of the main factors that made Nollywood films popular is the fact that Nollywood films were different from films coming from Hollywood and other conventional film industries around the world. Nollywood films brought such freshness and perspective lacking or somewhat ignored in Hollywood, Bollywood, and other film industries. The irony is that after many years of popularity, Nollywood needs to inject some freshness to its filmmaking and storylines if it intends to continue to grow. This is more so as other African countries are also increasing their stakes. As seen last year, an increasing number of awards are beginning to go to other countries even at the AMA awards held annually in Nigeria. Last year, Ghana carted most of the trophies while other countries like Uganda were listed among winners. It is doubtful if many Nollywood observers were surprised by the development which is in itself a welcome one. Interestingly, Nigeria could be edged from the top winner position if Nollywood does not wake up and regenerate itself.
Growth of Diaspora Filmmakers
Many African and Caribbean people in Diaspora (especially those without the necessary immigration or residential papers to visit home) were eager to see stories that remind them of their country homes and culture. It is no wonder that Nollywood films provided such needs. Now other African countries are getting into the kind of films made ala Nollywood. Filmmakers from the Carribean are also getting on board. Only yesterday, I read a piece that referred to the Haitian film industry as “Haillywood.” The competition is getting stiffer and Nollywood has to get more serious.
Low budget Independent filmmaking and Movie Piracy
African filmmakers in Diaspora are predominantly low-budget independent filmmakers with limited distribution networks at their disposal and that is hurting the advancement of African films in Diaspora as many films being made today on the independent low-budget level do not enjoy reasonable distribution network service and therefore, they rarely make enough returns to cover cost of production. Movie Piracy has further reduced the viability of African film distribution both in Africa and in Diaspora as Movie Pirates jump on African films once they are released and reap off the films before the filmmakers would make any returns. Some marketers who are trying to stay away from selling pirated copies and stick to genuine original copies sometimes struggle to make sales and therefore they buy and set prices of movies with an approach that would benefit them. The truth of the matter is that no one really cares about the interest of the African filmmaker (especially those in Diaspora) and no one is likely to care unless the filmmakers come together to have a body that could advocate for the filmmakers’ own interest.
The same fans that throng to see Nollywood films and actors would gradually shift towards other African films and actors from other countries as those other films and actors become popular. It is a natural progression and one that is indeed healthy for the overall growth of African filmmaking. No single country should have the monopoly. The more variety of films and faces we have the more choices the viewers have to pick and choose. That in turn means that filmmakers have to be more creative and daring to beat the competition. This is why Nollywood as the torchbearer, must regenerate itself. If Nollywood wants to remain or improve its position as the third largest film industry in the world, it has to inject some new concepts, new faces, new genres, and story lines or else it would suffer the drawback of fans getting bored and looking elsewhere for variety.
Marketers and the acceptance of innovations
Dwelling in one genre of filmmaking or recycling similar film plots and same actor faces just because that is what the average film buyer wants maybe good in the short term for the marketer but it would only stifle growth and dynamism in the long run. While the marketer could make some returns despite the loss suffered by the filmmaker, the marketer has to understand that at some point, the filmmakers’ loss would definitely affect the industry which would in turn affect the marketers. That is without forgetting that the filmmakers if pushed to the wall could revolt and set up a body to protect their interest and challenge the marketers. The average marketer who cares only about his/her profit would argue that what matters is what the buyers want, but the marketer also has a responsibility to educate the average movie buyer to embrace innovations that may be introduced by new films. Sometimes the buyer has to be encouraged to look beyond what has always been and to embrace some positive innovations that are in vogue in other film industries such as Hollywood. An industry without innovation is doomed to failure. It is just a question of time.
Global market and unity
Finally, filmmakers and marketers in Nigeria and other African film industries should learn to open up to the freshness being injected from abroad by African filmmakers and marketers in Diaspora. Time is past when the local filmmakers or marketers in any particular African film industry including Nollywood could make it on their own. The local filmmakers and marketers could learn a lot if they welcome the innovations been brought in by those in Diaspora. Those in Diaspora are as relevant to those in the local African countries just as the local countries are to those in Diaspora. The market is now global and would take all the output. There is no need for infighting or division born out of the fear that one group would stifle the other. The two need to work together and grow or face the danger of dwindling fortune or the consequence of isolated irrelevancy.
This is just my opinion.
©August 2009 Oliver O. Mbamara
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oliver O. Mbamara is a filmmaker, director, and actor with such films to his credit as "THIS AMERICA,” “SLAVE WARRIOR," and "SPADE: THE LAST ASSIGNMENT," which he wrote and directed.. He is also a judge with the New York State office of Administrative hearings. For more about Oliver O. Mbamara please visit www.OliverMbamara.com