Nollywood was born out of a society’s need to tell its stories and share them. When the industry started to take shape in the early 1990s, the nation was still getting its footing with democracy. The framework and conditions to form a proper industry did not exist.
“It developed itself, policed itself and emerged as a global force to be reckoned with,” says Ruth Okediji, a law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and leading scholar of international intellectual property law. “Other nations create laws to stimulate creativity. Here you have a country that can’t stop itself, almost despite itself.”
Nollywood, the term that refers to Nigeria’s film industry, is the second-largest in the world in terms of volume. Some 2,500 films are produced annually, well ahead ofHollywood and second only to India’s Bollywood
Fueled by an established culture of creativity – Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka are two examples – and the large audience in a nation of 175 million and a diaspora population of millions more, Nollywood took off.
Ironically, the same “longstanding ‘informal’ structure” and practices that initially helped establish the industry organically – like low-cost straight-to-DVD films – “now inhibit future domestic and international growth,” according to a 2014 report from the United States International Trade Commission
An estimated $1 billion is lost to piracy each year, with bootleg copies of a film often hitting the streets within hours of its release for a fraction of the price. The World Bank estimates that for every 10 Nigerian movies sold, only one is a legitimate sale
But if Nigeria’s film industry is to be summed up in one word, it would be resilient. And the $3 billion industry that employs some 1 million people – the second most in the country after agriculture – is finally getting some of the attention it’s due.
The Nigerian Copyright Commission is working to reform a law that governs the ways in which creative people, filmmakers and otherwise, can be compensated for their art and intellectual property. The law has remained static for decades, and according to Okediji, this is a chance to shape the cultural advancement of the country and Nigeria’s global position.
“It’s a new information age, and the government has to be future-minded,” she says. “There has to be a clear vision. The branding campaign will be critical.
In addition to a revamped copyright law, other factors are coming together to help set the stage for Nollywood’s financial renaissance.
The nation, and continent, are due for a shift in broadcast signal from analog to digital, a change that will help filmmakers be more strategic about their content and the audiences they market to, according to Dayo Ogunyemi, CEO of distribution firm 234 Films.
“The digital switch-over promises a leveling of the playing field in terms of licenses,” he says. “When selling your work to distributors, you’re not wondering if you have the capacity to reach people, you’re now wondering do I have the programming and product to appeal to a demographic.”
The World Bank, Nigerian government and a number of private international organizations have donated millions to the industry in recent years, and the number of groups that recognize Nollywood as a strategic sector continue to grow