N is for Nollywood: Nigeria’s Massive Film Industry

In 2009, Africa’s movie industry overtook America’s in terms of films produced per year, securing its spot as the second largest film-producing continent in the world with around 200 home movies per month. Not every country in Africa is spitting out almost seven features per day, though – it’s Nigeria that has emerged as the prime filmmaking heavyweight.

Nigerian film production has grown steadily ever since the 1960s, although it is in the last 20 years or so that it has really come into its own. This is perhaps thanks to the high-tech equipment that has become available, leading to an increase in production, distribution and audience in the African film market. Nigeria’s movie business or Nollywood, as it is commonly known, has become a massive player not only in Africa, but also on the international market, raking in about $500 million annually.

Nigerian movies are now debuting in European and American cities – 2013 drama Doctor Bello was the first Nigerian film to premiere in US theaters earlier this year. Hollywood stars filtering into Nollywood may also pique the interest of Western audiences; for example, Doctor Bello features the likes of Isaiah Washington and Vivica A. Fox. Approximately 56 percent of the films produced in Nollywood are in native African languages, with the rest in English, which also probably helps the industry’s popularity abroad.

There is an ongoing debate about the ranking of film industries and their size, with some arguing that quality should be considered over quantity, some saying that it’s only the power of the dollar that should be considered and yet others thinking that the number of films produced per year should make the difference. However, whichever system we choose to rate Nollywood’s productivity, it is clear that it is not a small industry.

For a country that has had more than its fair share of military juntas and violence, the Nigerian movie industry has provided a welcome shot of glamor, hope and career possibilities. Nollywood currently employs around 200,000 people and continues to go from strength to strength, establishing Nigeria as one of the world’s biggest emerging movie producers.