“If my films make one more person miserable, I know I’ve done my job.”
In the existential eyes of Woody Allen, the world is a miserable place. As a great filmmaker, his job is to communicate the harsh realities of life in a way that the world can relate to them. To Woody, success is about making people miserable.
We often see success in economic terms: success equals money, money equals success. Such a paradigm has led to the idealization of Hollywood as the world’s most successful cultural producer. But if we define success in more than economic terms, we may see other industries surpassing Hollywood.
Here are four ways the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is more successful than Hollywood.
Democratization of the
means of production
In Nollywood, films are released straight to cassette tapes or compact discs. The low production and distribution costs of Nigerian films provides an equal opportunity for everyone to profit from the industry.
FIlms are distributed out of electronic markets, where thousands of vendors sell a variety of films. Individual vendors and groups of vendors purchase cassette tapes and electronic devices to transfer films onto tapes.
On average, it costs $1.50 to make a single film cassette, which is sold for approximately $3.00. Unlike Hollywood, Nollywood’s egalitarian production process provides an affordable opportunity for almost anyone to profit.
Independence from the government
Nollywood is a more than $4 million industry that has arisen without influence from the government. The intellectual property laws that fuel the fire of Hollywood’s corporate monopoly over North American cultural industries are non-existent in Nigeria.
Copyright laws are put in place to protect artists from having their work stolen, but now act as a monopoly tax on cultural products. Under copyright laws, access to cultural products must be purchased, and the only people who can afford to do this are corporate actors. Corporations obtain a monopoly over cultural products, and charge fees for the average citizen to access these products.
On the other hand, Nollywood has grown from the inside out. Deregulated intellectual property allows for sharing of cultural products, so all citizens have equal access to Nigerian cultural products.
Reflecting real cultural values
Human-to-animal transformations, demons materializing out of thin air, and women spontaneously growing male genitalia — these are not your typical Hollywood film scenes, but they are not uncommon in Nollywood. Such scenes may seem silly and unrealistic when taken literally, but they are in fact more “real” than most of the films that come out of Hollywood.
The cultural symbols in Nollywood films reflect genuine Nigerian values that are relevant to the country’s citizens. On the contrary, films coming out of Hollywood primarily reflect “the American Dream” — values that can only truly be associated with those with social capital.
Everyone has a voice
The open market, and low production costs of producing a film in Nigeria, mean the barriers for entry into Nollywood are minimal. The development of the Nigerian film industry has allowed any Nigerian with access to a camera and basic editing software to make significant contributions to cultural industries.
Democratization of the means of production, and independence from the government has led to an industry where everyone can have a voice which allows for the free flow of cultural products that every Nigerian, rich or poor, can relate to.