This House believes Nollywood could be an effective instrument to change perceptions of Africa

We are increasingly warned that there is no single story. Narratives are dangerous, and recognition is required on the complex, dynamic experiences, and perspectives, of daily life. This debate focuses on whether Africa’s rising cultural industry provides an opportunity to rewrite Africa’s narrative.

The colonial ‘scramble for Africa’ embedded images of Africa within constructed notions of race. Further, contemporary realities characterise Africa as a continent trapped, poor, and desperate. Jeremy Sachs suggests African nations are living within a ‘poverty trap’. Media, discourse, and imagery conjure paradoxical images of a society needing ‘saving’ on the one hand, and a barren, deserted land on another hand. Stereotypical stories are becoming utilised on a daily basis without critical reflection. As the Foucauldian study of discourse shows, power is intrinsically connected to language; thus society.

The cultural industry in Africa is now creating a new platform to voice opinion and showcase the daily issues experienced by people in Africa. Whether through music, film, art, and fashion, there is a rise in African artists who are aim to change global perceptions of Africa. Nollywood has received increasing attention - a flourishing film industry, Nollywood arose as an entrepreneurial project; and has now become a leading low-budget film industry, with the films screened globally and online. Nollywood has grown to become Nigeria’s second largest employer, and creates an estimated $590mn in annual revenues (Moudio, 2013). However, is Nollywood changing western perspectives or just an emerging gold mine for the talented and beautiful? Kwame Nkrumah, former President of Ghana, once said “when the music changes, so does the dance”. Therefore is Nollywood a sign the music is changing for, and in, Africa? 

Development from within

Nollywood is showcasing Nigeria’s capability to sustain, build, and finance its own economy. Recent estimates suggest around 50 films are produced weekly, selling between 20,000 to 200,000 units, and creating jobs for around one million individuals (Moudio, 2013). The industry is initiating vital development, enabling Nigeria to have capital to change perceptions.

Nollywood is following previous cultural industry paths. Hollywood developed from low-budget films, and in 2013 the entertainment industry generated around $522bn in revenue, and is continuing to be one of America’s biggest sources of tourism (Statista, 2013). In Nollywood’s case, the industry is already proving to be of vital importance for regional and domestic tourism. 


Opportunities for development are limited as the industry continues to function informally. The informal structure means there is no legal institution controlling transactions, there is no governing body ensuring taxation is paid and revenues collected, and finally, there is little security to the workers within the industry. Financial records are limited in the industry, which makes it hard to predict the developmental scope of Nollywood and the real revenues produced.

Informality prevents legitimacy; capability to assist national development; and fundamental capital losses. It also prevents it becoming a force for changing perceptions of those outside Africa. Formalisation is required for the industry to assist developmental potential[1].

[1] See further readings: McCall, 2012.

A new perspective, raising topical issues

The first film created in Nollywood - ‘Living in Bondage’ - raised fundamental issues concerning marriage, wealth and spirituality. The film indicates the need to be aware of cults and what they can drive individuals to do. Furthermore films such ‘Street Girls’ and ‘Mama’s Girls’ provide insight into the lives of prostitutes and the sex industry. ‘Street Girls’ is enabling awareness of why girls are forced into prostitution and why they may be forced to commit criminal offences. Poverty is identified as a key driving factor.

The range of topics covered - from immigration, women, witchcraft, corruption, terrorism, and infrastructure deficits - counteract historic silences in the public sphere. The films are raising awareness to viewers by presenting the stories in a new light - understandable, humorous, and relatable; and will encourage citizens to demand change.

Nollywood is showing the limits of believing in a single perspective, the Western perspective, to stories on Africa.


Fundamentally, the topics raised by Nollywood are commercialising accepted views. The industry is building a business founded on distributing images of witchcraft, abuse, and domestic violence.

First, a majority of the films are politically incorrect and provide negative portrayals of women and sexuality. Gender roles are reinforced as women become sexualised objects, male possession, and the source of trouble - required to be put in their ‘place’. In the case of LGBT representations, homosexuality has been represented as Satanic in films such as 2010’s ‘Men in Love’[1]. Second, in the case of witchcraft, dramas have made society more accepting of, and open to, sorcery. The films show how it remains prevalent in society and can provide a tool to access riches. With the audience interested in watching stories on witchcraft the industry is feeding such demands. Witchcraft sells; and continues to remain a prominent theme justifying why people make their decisions and action.

This is not the kind of perception change Africa needs.

[1] In Nigeria homosexuality is illegal and continues to be criminalised. 

Encouraging film entrepreneurs

The Nollywood industry is providing solutions to pressing issues - including high rates of unemployment. The dynamic industry provides an opportunity for youths to explore interests and invest in their talents and creativity. The recognition gained for Nollywood has shown how Nigeria's youths can initiate, and develop, a sustainable industry. Rather than seeing the rising young population as a potential threat[1], the rise of Nollywood showcases the talent of the young population and helps overthrow perceptions of Africa just being about natural resources.

Additionally, the growth of Nollywood is continuing to encourage individuals to enter the creative industry – whether to work in production, acting or distribution, the rise of Nollywood is creating an entrepreneurial spirit, drive, and motivation to create change. Individuals are no longer relying on the government or international community to provide funds, support and infrastructure, but moulding their own futures.

[1] See further readings: Urdal, 2006. 


Although the industry has encouraged entrepreneurialism we need to recognise it is also promoting risky businesses. Firstly, the individuals working in the industry are required to produce a quick turnover. The fact that no security and support is provided by the government or state means the risk of failed entrepreneurial strategies falls on the individual. The producers and directors may be forced to borrow money from loan sharks and at high interest-rates to get capital quickly; and need to be able to ensure profits are generated rapidly. Such a tenuous industry is clearly not in a position to change opinions of Africa and may instead be creating a negative perception of risk-taking and cutthroat capitalism.

Epitomising rising Africa

Nollywood epitomises Africa, and life in African spaces. The fast-pace nature of production shows how quickly things changes and everything is on the move. The structure of production shows the dynamic nature of everyday life, action, and flow of ideas. As Rem Koolhaas’ (2002) film documentary - Lagos - showed the congestion, informality, and buzz of the city needs to be viewed positively and a sign of entrepreneurialism. The documentary suggested African cities were setting a new trend to be followed by the West, and developing a rising economy. Africa is not simply in need of assistance, but rather a fast-pace environment that needs greater understanding.

Africa is rising[1] and Nollywood acts to reinforce this reality. With more films being produced, bigger revenues made, and new investors emerging, Nollywood shows Africa's economies are changing, growing, and emerging. Interest and collaborative investments being made by the World Bank shows the industry will continue to rise. Nollywood’s growth provides an alternative to the dominant Afro-pessimism.

[1] See further readings: The Economist, 2013.


First, the narrative of whether Africa is 'rising' has been debated, and requires reflection. Second, if Africa were rising will Nollywood push Nigeria to rise in the wrong direction? Nollywood is a private-sector organisation, with concentrated profits. Inequality in Nigeria has continued to rise since 1985 as shown by the GINI coefficient (Aigbokhan, 2008); and with lavish lifestyles being created for famous actresses and directors who hit ‘big money’ will Nollywood only act to benefit elites and create a new elite class? Economic growth and revenue production cannot solve the issue of poverty without tackling inequality.

The problem of piracy

Pirated copies of Nollywood films are a key issue. Piracy emerges as an issue for two key reasons. First, the lack of the lack of legal structure - the lack of formal regulation. Legal systems and strict copyright controls are needed to ensure piracy is stopped. Second, the production system is slow - therefore alternative means of production are used to meet the growing demand for films released. New methods for distribution are required.

Calls have been made for the government to take action against piracy. However, with corruption prevalent little action has been made. Half of the film profits are lost through piracy (CNN, 2009), and piracy acts to reinforce the image of bad governance, and inadequate structures, within African states. The industry is being undermined and undervalued, through the piracy market, with high costs to the entrepreneurs.  


The issue of piracy is being tackled. Recognising the potential benefits Nollywood can bring to Nigeria and the scale of the piracy problem, investments are being made to stop piracy in the growing industry.

Investments have been proposed by the World Bank to tackle piracy, and ensure profits are not lost. Further, Nollywood UP, the Nollywood Upgrade Project, is providing funding to control piracy. Nollywood UP is improving the capacity of the innovative industry - by providing solutions for distribution and vital training in high-quality film making.

Small audience viewings

In reality, Nollywood’s audience is constrained - questioning the extent to which stereotypes can be changed. First, language acts as a barrier. 56% of Nollywood films are produced in local languages - such as Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa (UNESCO, 2009). Although English accounts for 44% of films produced, the linguistic diversity may limit who sees which film and what issues are therefore discussed. Second, a majority of the films are sold in hardcopy - whether on cassette or pirate DVDs.

Finally, the industry is characterised by fast and cheap production. Quantity over quality limits popularity and audience viewings. Further, the limited attention to quality means Nollywood remains at the bottom of the global value chain for film production. It is difficult to change perceptions with poor quality films.


Nollywood films are viewed globally. Channels are dedicated to the films - such as South Africa’s MultiChoice and BSkyB’s Nollywood Movies. BSkyB distributes programmes and films directly to airlines, instantly broadening the audience. Furthermore, YouTube subscribers have sought to enhance the global viewing popularity; and recently developed iROKO Partners is ensuring internet users can access Nollywood films. iROKO Partners shows the biggest markets are based in the US, UK, Canada, Italy and Germany (Kermeliotis, 2012).

New partnerships are being formed with Hollywood and global film festivals[1], which show the future shift of broadcasting Nollywood films in cinemas. A recent film produced by Pat Nebo - ‘Dead broke’ - is set to be premiered in Lagos, Accra, and London.

[1] Cannes (2013) recently showcased ‘La Pirogue’; and in the summer of 2013 France hosted its first Nollywood Week in Paris, showcasing seven of the best Nollywood films.

Short term hype

Despite the boom in Nollywood’s industry it remains hard to get investment. With funding issues prevalent the hype surrounding Nollywood is temporary.

The difficulties in getting funding, mean films produced are often safe and politically popular - aware that funds can be gained for backing. For example, the controversial film – Boko Haram – aimed to provide an alternative perspective into the Islamist extremist group. The core subject matter was to explore terrorism; however, following the controversial story and topic, marketers dropped out, fearing a political backlash. Titles had to be changed and the film adapted to be more sensitive. The ideas behind the films, and the stories told, are being altered due to funding constraints[1]. Perspectives, on and in Africa, cannot be changed if the topics raised are altered to meet sensitivity regulations. Hegemony will persist.

[1] See further readings: Hirsch, 2013.


New funding sources are emerging. The diasporic community for example are playing a central role in funding the long-term growth of the industry. Recognising potential, and being a major consumer base for the films produced, the African diaspora is investing in Nollywood.


Aigbokhan, E, B., ‘Growth, Inequality and Poverty in Nigeria’, UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008.

CNN, ‘Nollywood Loses Half of Film Profits to Piracy, Say Producers’, CNN Entertainment, 2009,

The Economist, ‘A Hopeful Continent’, Special Report: Emerging Africa, 2013,

Kermeliotis, T., ‘’Netflix of Africa’ Brings Nollywood to World’, CNN, 2012,

Moudio, R., ‘Nigeria’s Film Industry: A Potential Gold Mine?’, Africa Renewal Online, 2013,

Statista, ‘Film: Statistics and Facts’, 2013,

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), ‘Nollywood Rivals Bollywood in Film/Video Production’, 2009,

Urdal, H., ‘A Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence’, International Studies Quarterly, 50, 3, pp 607-629, 2006,