Nollywood or the Compelling Story of a No Copyright’s Land
Nollywood, Lollywood, Ghallywood. These witty alterations of the obvious “Hollywood” are not merely puns but they actually refer to the movie industries of, respectively, Nigeria, Liberia, and Ghana. Cinema in Africa, although a long-time relationship, has recently known some unexpected development: a movie industry has been born that is made of laymen and women, for the people, and by the people. It sounds like Western political regime, but the system is more about the negation of individual rights for the greater good.
Nigeria, the pioneer country, has turned the industry of popular movies into more than a lucrative enterprise. It all began when a Nigerian man, Kenneth Nnebue, bought blank tapes from Taiwan and found these blank tapes not to be commercially valuable unless they had ceased to be blank: true story, the Nigerian hired actors, crew members, and solicited producers just for the sake of selling tapes. It worked. The movie, “Living in Bondage”, is now a classic Nigerian movie. The story of a farmer moving to a big city after he had lost his wife and was haunted by her ghost has given ideas to many more people and has started what Nigerian elites and intellectuals see as “a travesty, a grave crime; imbeciles images [that] should not be shown in this country. They are poisoning our [Nigerian] culture.” These low-costs movies are made mostly for home consumption than for theaters, and DVDs sell for a dollar at the most. The choices of plot, actors, and sceneries are rather innovative, but the most striking element is the genuine lack of copyrights safeguards on each of those works. Nollywood is owned and controlled by traders of the Idumota market, in Lagos, Nigeria. The system works as follows: a trader will sell, on the shelves of his market stable, a plethoric number of Nollywood movies that he has bought from fellow traders. With the benefit made out of these exchanges, a trader will get enough money to finance the production of a movie, and will start recruiting crew members and actors. No need to go very far to find actresses and cameramen, Lagos is known for its workforce in the field. Discs are printed in Lagos too, although in another market called Alaba. Then comes the story’s most interesting chapter, as the “mating season” begins. Traders have around two weeks to sell their new products, as it takes two weeks for the pirates to copy and distribute the products across the continent. When the mating season is over, films become commodities, as if copyrights had such a short preemption date, admitted and agreed on by all. To summarize, films are made that are not protected, and their producers make a sufficient margin on their creations to believe the work to be worth the immeasurable loss. And producers can raise sufficient funds to finance their projects in selling works from fellow traders that are similarly unprotected. No one cares, and the example is striking, of a system that refutes the concept that copyrights protects artists and creators to allow them sufficient financial support and to free their creation from trivial considerations. In Lagos, money is made out of basic copyrights violation, but the creation seems unstoppable. But the system works, and has many a good effect on the entire continent. True or not, some say weapon dealers are not turning in the traffic of Nollywood movies, and boxes of firearms are said to have been replaced by hoards of DVDs. The Nollywood market is a successful one, and other countries have taken Nigeria’s step. Producers are now induced to choose certain actresses and actors based on the audience they would like to get in a country or another. As an article in The Economist points out, Nollywood movies are also political and religious media of expression. A Nigerian-Ghanaian production baptized “Somewhere in Africa”, to be released next year, is centered on the rise and fall of a fictitious dictator, although this fictitious dictator’s life is based on, among others, Dictator Charles Taylor’s existence. In the “President Must Not Die”, one ponders the inherent risk of assassination in an African president’s mandate, a recurrent problem in the continent that is purposely avoided by regular media. How a society can benefit from the absence of prohibitive restrictions on the use of someone else’s work, such is the most common stories in Nollywood movies.