Emily Witt's concise overview of Nigeria's film industry, titled Nollywood: The Making of a Film Empire (Columbia Global Reports, 2017, 128 pgs, U.S.$14.99), opens with a monologue from Nigerian director-producer Femi Odugbemi: "Up until the last 20 to 30 years the history and culture of African communities were the narratives of the colonialists. Those narratives, quite frankly, beyond not being accurate, beyond not being authentic, were political.
"Every cinema is political," he continued. "The only way cinema works for you is if you are in charge of it." Later on: "Film allowed you to be able to show, to tell, to wow, to entertain--while indoctrinating. Unless you were in control of that, your story was at risk."
Odugbemi frames the story of Nollywood's emergence as propelled by the impulse for cultural and creative autonomy for one's nation. Rather than ceding territory to foreign-produced films that advance the perspectives of Africa's former colonial powers, Odugbemi sees an opportunity for Nigerian--and, more generally, African--filmmakers to reinterpret dominant narratives to reflect the history of their communities. But these films, which are political revisionist histories, are not dry accounts. On the contrary, the compelling films of Nollywood have achieved astounding popularity despite the hindrances to financial success.
Nollywood is the second largest movie industry in the world in terms of film output, surpassing Hollywood in the U.S., and second only to Bollywood in India. The prolific industry-according to journalist Norimitsu Onishi, who helped coin the term "Nollywood"--produces about 2,500 films a year.
Nollywood is a slim travelogue recording Witt's time as she is shown various sites relevant to the production and distribution, even promotion, of Nigerian movies: a red carpet premiere at The Palms multiplex in Lagos; a film set for Queen Amina in Jos; the Alaba International Market for Electronics in Ojo; another film set in the town of Asaba. In addition, interspersed throughout the book are film synopses of six touchstone Nollywood films: Living In Bondage, Violated, 30 Days In Atlanta, Taxi Driver (Oko Ashewo), Ojuju and Nkoli Nwa Nsukka.
Despite its brevity, Witt's book addresses the major shifts in Nollywood: how the change in Nigeria's film distribution model affected both the content and the industry's digital future, among other topics. Witt, who spent five weeks in Nigeria researching Nollywood, seamlessly...