The Rise of Nollywood:
The Social Impact of the Nigerian Movie Industry
Citing the fact that today’s average African is poorer than his equivalent of 30 years ago, economists posit that the $580 billion of Western aid given to Africa over the past half-century has had little effect on economic growth rates. Yet rising out of this dismal portrait is the incredible success story of Nollywood, the multi-million dollar Nigerian video film industry based in Lagos. Built entirely by Nigerians without loans, foreign aid, or government subsidies, Nollywood defies the belief that Africans are unable to build a successful industry without outside aid or protection from competition. It is the second largest film industry in the world in terms of volume of production– almost on par with Bollywood and eclipsing Hollywood–and the third largest in terms of revenue generation yet the social impacts of its business model have not been fully examined.
The modern Nigerian film industry was born in 1992, following a widespread economic crisis. This financial downturn significantly depleted the purchasing power of Nigerian filmmakers, causing increased difficulties in financing projects and diminished access to imported celluloid film stock. Responding to the resulting vacuüm in the leisure industry and a need to sell his surplus VHS tape inventory, an electronics dealer living in Lagos funded a feature-length film shot entirely with a VHS camera. The result was Living in Bondage: Nollywood’s first blockbuster, selling more than 750,000 copies. This VHS format–unique to Nollywood–allows films to be produced inexpensively (average budget ranges between $40,000–$200,000) and quickly (average shoots last 10 days), as well as sold cheaply (average films retail for US$2.50). Per the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), the industry is now responsible for one million jobs in Nigeria, making it the largest employer in the country after agriculture. According to The Economist in 2006, Nollywood has gone on to produce 2,000 feature-length titles per year and now generates $200–300 million in annual revenue.
I will analyze Nollywood’s social impact through the Social Return on Investment (SROI) approach by measuring its inputs, outputs, outcomes, and impacts. The following questions will guide the research framework: Inputs: What are the resources needed to produce a film, such as the cost of permits, equipment, as well as cast and crew salaries? Outputs: What are the direct results of the business’ objective, such as total unit sales and amount of revenue generated? Outcomes: What are the long-term results of the outputs, such as the number of jobs created and the value of the employees’ higher wages? How have recent interventions by formal institutions (the government’s regulation efforts, banks’ financing offers, and companies’ product placement deals) affected these outcomes? Impacts: If outcomes are adjusted to reflect estimated social, environmental, or economic value, what remains regardless of Nollywood’s involvement in the economy?
I have posed the above questions to Professor Duro Oni, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Lagos, who has agreed to support and supervise my project on behalf of the University. Through my access to Professor Oni’s ongoing project with the Open University in the United Kingdom to build a multimedia archive of all Nollywood films and related literary materials, I will have ample primary sources to conduct my research. From October 2010 to February 2011, I will work with him as a research assistant for the Nigerian extension of this project, where a series of workshops and film screenings in Lagos has been planned. This collaboration will enable me to build contacts with academics, film producers, and executives who will be in attendance at the forums. In addition to my research assistant duties, I have made arrangements to audit courses at the University of Lagos in film studies and economic development.
Because Nollywood’s basis in the informal economy corresponds with a shortage of reliable economic data, the period from March to August 2011 will be devoted to field research in Lagos. Because the SROI method measures gains to society from a singular project, I will shadow a film production through its life cycle of budget building, casting, production, post-production, and marketing processes. The resulting data will clarify the inputs based on production costs, the outputs based on generated sales and revenue, and the outcomes based on the distribution of profit among the stakeholders. Then, I will estimate the industry-wide impact through multiplying the resulting data by the number of releases for the year as calculated by the NFVCB. I will also supplement this data through interviews with filmmakers, crew members, marketers, private investors, and government officials, whom I will have contacted through my work with Professor Oni the previous semester. As a result of these interviews, I will clarify the other outcomes of the industry, such as job creation and state taxes, as well as the effect on these outcomes caused by the industry’s interaction with bank investors and government regulators.
I will document my fieldwork through a weblog which will engage both international and local readers and will archive my analysis for future publication. My research will culminate in a written report which I will submit for publication to journals such as the African Studies Review. During the next year, I intend to continue my personal scholarly investigation under the guidance of Professor Jonathan Haynes of Long Island University, an internationally renowned Nollywood expert. Tufts University professors Pearl Robinson of the Political Science Department, a former president of the African Studies Association, and Edward Kutsoati of the Economics Department are additionally supervising my explorations in the field of African development.
Nollywood, a homegrown industry that emerged without formal intervention, presents the potential for the reinvigoration of Nigeria’s challenging development climate. By measuring the industry’s social impact, my project will allow filmmakers and marketers to evaluate if their strategy is most favorable in generating social returns and will convince potential investors to invest in an industry that is aligned with their value objectives. Within the greater context of development in Africa, this investigation of a successful indigenous industry will answer criticism that calls for stepping beyond traditional aid and toward innovative and sustainable market initiatives.
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