Nollywood: a Hip-hop Story

Nollywood image
Netflix have now started buying Nollywood titles

Nollywood originated from Lagos, Nigeria. Since 2000, it has experienced consistent growth with an estimated worth of $3.3 billion dollars and 1844 movies made in 2013 alone.

On hearing the Nollywood story I was struck by the familiar. Black people constructing a grassroots movement to fulfill their own needs to creatively express; make money and reflect their own life experiences. Sounds remarkably like the Hip-hop movement for black America.

“During the 1980s and 1990s, before the wholesale commercialization of hip-hop, mixtapes were sold on street corners by the DJs themselves, or in the back of record stores. The notion of self-production was crucial to the early hip-hop cultural movement, and its origins were also ‘organic and indigenous to the community in which such culture found its subsistence, with the idea of self-sufficiency and self-production. (Maher, 2005: 150)’(Lamotte 2014).

Like US Hip-hop, Nollywood is quickly becoming a financial tour-de-force, being hailed the second largest movie industry by volume in the world after Bollywood. (Fortune Magazine, 2015)

Hip hop success stories (50 cent, Eminem, Dr Dre, Kanye West, Jay Z)

The American Hip-hop industry still exists at both a commercial and grassroots level. Individuals such as; Dr Dre, Jay-Z, Kaye West and Russel Simmons are examples of what a financial and cross cultural success hip-hop has become. (Time Magazine) There is still a rich grassroots Hip Hop culture with regular bedroom artists being still making CD’s and/or videos at home and distributing them to the local corner store for purchase by other members of the community, or even being boxed up and sent overseas to eager customers who want to hear something raw and new. This is the same way the Nollywood empire works, the only film industry that goes straight to video, without the benefit of Hollywood-esk film distribution networks. The coverage both in Nigeria, greater Africa and the rest of the African diaspora speaks of how people crave films that reflect their own identity and tell their stories.

The Nollywood distribution structure depends heavily on the street audience and video parlour to show their films.

‘There are two main kinds of “street audiences”: the “street corner” and the “video parlour” audiences. “Street audience” is an umbrella designation for a special kind of audience that congregates on the streets.’ ‘The video parlour is a simple location where members of a community congregate for the sole purpose of consuming video narratives.’(Okome 2007)

Whilst watching the small number of clips that I have in classes and lectures, I noticed a format or theme to the films that was not unlike early Hip hop filmography. Guns, girls, drugs, betrayal and larger than life characters locked in a struggle for survival. I know how African-American academics viewed much of the Hip-hop movements film, feeling that it was progressing the culture backwards by focusing on the negative, low socioeconomic and loosely moralled aspects of a society, creating an imaginary culture that only has some relatable landmarks left. I found that academic critics of Nollywood were feeling that same sense of moving backwards. Here Omoera and Anyanwu critique Nollywood in their paper on Morality in Nollywood films:

‘Now, having fought and overcame most of the vagaries of an upstart, as it were, one would have expected that filmmakers or videographers would have risen beyond a certain level of viewer/audience discomfort by doing movies that would be considered averagely above board. But sadly, the bulk of the pantheon of Nollywood remains at the level Osha (1998 p.48) refers to as “once you have seen one, you have seen them all”, suggesting that the industry is stuck with predictability in its storyline, action, and photography’ (Omoera and Anyanwu 2014)

On the whole, Nollywood seems to be unaffected by its critics, still on a steady climb upwards. In 2014 Nollywood released it highest grossing movie of all time, 30 Days in Atlanta is directed by Robert Peters and is set in Atlanta Georgia, USA. It tells the story of Akpos, who is described as Warri’s own Chris Rock and Rowan Atkinson rolled into one. Akpos wins a 30 day, all expenses paid trip to Atlanta Georgia. He is hailed as a celebrity almost immediately due to his ‘Warri accent and instincts’. ‘He would have his high and low moments. He would fall in and out of love. He would break hearts and get heartbroken himself. He would make mistakes and learn from them. And at the end of the day, he would remain a Vintage Akpos – the boy from the World’s only WARRI’. (

Overtly displaying the patronising methodology that Omoera and Anyanwu accuse Nollywood of, it is obviously not a problem for their viewing public after having the highest grossing Nollywood film in history. It is also proof that Nollywood features are starting to make a bid for the African-American population first by filming the feature in Atlanta Georgia city where 54 percent of the population is Black or African-American (United States Census Bureau), secondly by making the language a hybrid of both pidgin and English, and thirdly by casting two very high profile African-American female actors in Lyn Whitfield ( Josephine Baker) and Vivica Fox (Kill Bill, City of Angels, Arsenio). This appears to be a good start to expanding their market beyond Nigeria and the diaspora by making Nollywood films a hybrid between Nigerian and American black culture. One can only wait to see what’s next.

Other References

Lamotte, M. (2014). “Rebels Without a Pause: Hip-hop and Resistance in the City.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38(2): 686-694.

Okome, O. (2007). “Nollywood: Spectatorship, Audience and the Sites of Consumption.” Postcolonial Text 3(2): 1-21.

Omoera, O. S. and C. Anyanwu (2014). “Moral Dilemma in Nollywood: Virtue Celebration or Vice Glorification.” Journal of Pan African Studies 7(3): 135-145.


At this stage of life

Community theatres sprinkle the city and country in Australia and places around the world.  For many people it’s their first experience of theatre on stage and off.  In Campbelltown NSW,  in one of the oldest buildings in Sydney, we speak to Nicki James as she reveals the place Campbelltown’s Town Hall Theatre has reserved in her Australian story.