Nigeria's Silver Screen: Nollywood's Film Industry Second only to Bollywood in Scale

By Dialika Krahe

Two-thirds of its population lives on less than a dollar a day, and yet Nigeria has the world's second-largest film industry. It's called Nollywood, and it provides Africa, and beyond, with a steady stream of action flicks and love stories.

Photo Gallery: Action Flicks and Love Stories Photos
Guy Calaf / AG. FOCUS

For Dickson Iroegbu, the day he was almost killed by Nollywood began with an important decision. He could either say nothing and continue to look on as they made their trash films and shoveled money at each other, or he could put on a pinstriped suit and tell these Mafiosi that he wasn't going to play their game anymore.

It was a Wednesday morning, and the sun was barely shining through the smog-covered skies over Lagos. The most important men in Nollywood, the filmmakers, were meeting near the National Theater to elect their president, when Iroegbu, 32, a filmmaker himself and winner of the African Movie Academy Award -- Africa's Oscar -- rushed past the heavily armed police officers, took a deep breath and, with a loud voice, crashed the event.

The invited guests, men and women, were standing in front of him in their sunglasses and suits, wielding their Blackberries. Iroegbu, a slight man with light-brown skin and glasses, grabbing and shaking their hands, said things like: "Let's make Nollywood happen. We don't need politics here. Why don't you just get back to work? Enough with the greed, enough with the power games." The filmmakers shook their heads, doing their best to ignore this man, a man they despised. Some said he should leave.

When Iroegbu did leave the event and got into his black SUV, he didn't realize that someone had removed the bolts from the left front wheel. The wheel flew off while he was driving, and he was lucky to escape with nothing more than a few scratches on the car and a few scrapes on his forehead. He was also beaten up recently, says Iroegbu. "Welcome to wonderful Nollywood," he adds.

Prostitution, Oil and Cannibals

Nollywood is the massive, pulsating film industry in Nigeria, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared the world's second-largest film industry, after India's Bollywood, based on the number of films produced. Shooting past Hollywood without the world noticing, Nollywood has made it to second place with films about family, love and honor, about AIDS, prostitution and oil, and about ghosts and cannibals.

In other words, films about Africa.

At least 900 films will be produced in Nigeria this year, twice as many as in Hollywood. Nollywood is a $200-million (€148-million) business in a country where 70 percent of the population still lives on less than $1 a day, where residents can consider themselves lucky if the power is on for two hours a day, and where raw sewage runs through open canals along the streets. It is a country known throughout the world for corruption, Internet fraud, prostitution and oil, but certainly not for its film culture.

Iroegbu is determined to change this. He wants to prevent corruption from taking hold of Nollywood and strangling it, as happens with almost all industries in Nigeria. He wants to make Nollywood visible to the rest of the world by promoting quality and creativity.

Iroegbu wants to win an Oscar for his country. That's the plan.

The center of Nollywood lies in the narrow streets crisscrossing the Alaba market in downtown Lagos. The streets are lined with hundreds of small shops, the ground is muddy and tattered posters for love and action films hang between decaying buildings. The men and women portrayed on the posters are heavily made-up and wear animal skins over their shoulders. The generators hum while the vendors hawk their wares. In the Alaba market, the films that filmmakers like Iroegbu produce every year are burned, packaged and distributed.

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