'The Nigerian video phenomenon is one of the truly successful strategies in the postcolonial agenda of constructing a sovereign framework in spite of the cultural and economic imposition of the West’ (Okoye 2007). The video-film trend in the Nigerian film industry can be seen as part of an ongoing decolonisation process. The industry has adopted a model which bears no relation whatever to the colonial filmmaking structure that was handed down. Rather, its success could be said to arise from its very ability to overcome the strictures of the inherited approach to filmmaking. (Obiaya 2011)
examples of films produced by the colonial film unit
One example of the videos produced to support of the war efforts, 'Africa Fighting Men' (1943), produced by the Colonial Film Unit.
An example of the so called instructional films, Day Break in Udi (1949) which promoted health and wellbeing in rural villages.
As WWII ended, independence was looming and the British officials wanted to stay on friendly terms with its former colonial subjects. As a result, the CFU became the Federal Film Unit (FFU) in the 1950s, incorporating and educating Nigerians in the unit, albeit only in junior positions. Even though the incorporation and education of Nigerians in the FFU was a step forward, the FFU largely followed the CFU in terms of the themes presented in film as well as the patronizing stance towards Nigerians and Africans in general. Certain cinematic techniques such as, dolly shots, montages, mixes and wipes were deemed too sophisticated for Africans. At the same time, the patronizing stance by the British towards Africans was increasingly contested. Despite the changing attitudes and incorporation of Nigerians in the FFU, the true problem was the control over the cinema technology and institutions. After independence the Americans came to Anglophone West-Africa and reigned supreme over the cinema market.
The movie Living in Bondage, produced in 1992, is perceived as the beginning point of the Nollywood era. Initially shot only in Igbo, later English subtitles were added to the film, clearly contributing to its enourmous nationwide success. While there have been other productions prior to Living in Bondage, it is regarded as the pioneer of Nollywood films "because it was the first to be packaged in a full-colour printed jacket and wrapped in cellophane, like an imported American or Indian film" (Haynes 2007, 137).
Interestingly, the name Nollywood was first used in an article written by Norimitsu Onishi and published in the New York Times in 2002. Onishi's wordplay derived from a statement made by the Nigerian actress Emeka Ani:
"This is Hollywood in Nigeria"
The plots of Nolywood productions vary a lot, as the industry has developed a number of genres over the years. Nevertheless, love, conspiracy, class and culture, religion, the supernatural and spiritual are reoccurring, popular themes. Moreover, Nollywood movies often tend to have a moralizing mission, teaching the audience lessons about ethical life.
Criticisms and limits of Nollywood
Why is it important to look at limitations and downfalls of Nollywood? Does that undermine the decolonisation potential?
The critics of nollywood perceive their task as one to correct the erroneous and banal way that nollywod films represent nigeria to its own public, to africa, and the rest of the world. (Okome 2010, p.28)
However, despite Barber's argument, some critics go beyond simply attacking those seemingly 'naive' depictions and themes within Nollywood films, and instead call out patriarchal representations featuring too heavily in Nollywood films, thus constructing a damaging feature of this film industry. Ogunbiyi (2010) exemplifies this by explaining that women in a majority of Nollywood films are represented in situations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse that are not realistic. Although true, trends are showing a move away from this. Both social media, such as VICE, and academic literature are praising how women are increasingly at the forefront of Nollywood - in front as well behind the camera. Further, here we draw back to McLuhan's point that the 'medium is the message', and that perhaps the themes addressed don't matter so much for the decolonisation aspect. For McCall, the fact that Nollywood films reach all social classes and that critics will still watch all the films (in order to engage in debate about them) is enough to prove its success.