Goodbye Nollywood, hello CineNaija

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Bubacarr Sankanu argues for a new name for the Nigerian film industry


THERE IS no law or convention that compels every film industry in the world to use the suffix “wood”. That’s why I want to rebrand Nollywood as “CineNaija” to underline the fact that it is a Nigerian product and a highly successful one at that.

As a close observer of the African film industry, I have been pushing the idea since 2008 and I believe that now, 2015, its time has really come.

For me, the Nollywood tag is a transitional term in the constant evolutionary process of the history of Nigerian film, in the same way as the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) described a genre of films coming out of France in the 1970s. CineNaija, on the other hand, is a timeless term, referring to the origins of the industry, while making use of the popular name Nigerians use to describe their country. 
There is no reason to bring Hollywood into it, or to believe that people have more respect for imported concepts than they do for home-grown ones.

Since the 1980s, the Nigerian film industry has proven to the whole world that Africans are capable of telling their own stories successfully in their own vocabulary and styles. Why do we then have to call it “nothingwood” – for that is what it is – just because of Hollywood and Bollywood?

Nigerian films are largely accepted across Africa and in the diaspora because they tell the stories that are missing from the global mainstream media.

We should therefore have a name that is authentically Nigerian without trying to ape other film industries. It is about the celebration of creative excellence from Nigeria and not from the US or India. My CineNaija aims to be the generic nationalist film brand in the Nigerian creative economy.

In fact, one cannot talk of a single homogeneous film industry in Nigeria, India or America and if we look deeper, we will discover heterogeneous and diversified film cultures. I am therefore promoting unity amid diversity in an attempt to help the world see Nigeria as a united federation of vibrant civilisations. We should not fall into the trap of the African pessimists who see any advancement of the indigenous languages and ind­igenous cultures as divisive, backward or ethnocentric.

Nigeria has more than 200 ethnic groups and I understand the concerns of some people. But the reality on the ground between Katsina and Calabar is that we have very lively Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Ijaw and Efik lifestyles – to name but a few – that are positively interacting and re-shaping Nigeria. This contemporary reality should be manifested by the cultural products coming out of Nigeria, be they film, radio, TV, literature, music, dance, fashion, photography or art.

In this age of globalisation, only the most vibrant cultures will survive and if we are to heal the psychological wounds of colonialism and get rid of our sense of inferiority, we need to actively promote the best of our own creative wealth.

Nollywood is a neo-colonialist term and self-defeating to the creative energy and dynamics of Africa’s largest economy. The idea of a serious name for the Nigerian film industry has been with me since I first came across it in 2004.

The Nigerian home video phenomenon started in 1984, but it really gained momentum in the early 1990s when DVDs were gradually replacing VHS and cinema-hall patronage. It ended with the 2015 edition of the Pan African Film and Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Burkina Faso, earlier this year when the main prize and competition categories were finally opened to digital films. The theme for this 24th edition of FESPACO, African Cinema: Production and Distribution in the Digital Era, reflects the contemporary dynamics of filmmaking across Africa.

Indeed, for years now, Nigerian home video practitioners have been complaining about their supposed marginalisation by film festivals but at last the organisers have embraced the format. This, for me, marks the symbolic, actual, historic, theoretical and political end of the Nollywood phenomenon and hype. It is time for serious change or re-branding.

Nollywood denotes a phenomenon that started with either Alade Aromire’s Ekunv (1984) or Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage (1992) and ended with Desmond Ovbiagele’s Render to Caesar (2014/2015).

The name Nollywood can be used for a particular kind of sub-genre. Aside from this, beyond 2015, there is nothing to keep the Nollywood zombie alive within academic and popular discourse on contemporary African digital cinema.   
Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu (pictured) is chief executive producer of Afromedia Film & TV International Group in Germany and founder of Sanxaanu Kaggoro Film Institute, a thinktank on African cinema

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