Nollywood Is Not The Nigerian Creative Industry

Let us excuse the clickbaiting headline. It is so crafted to attract some conversations on an issue as telling as I intend to intimate the reader.

Firstly, “Nollywood” as used in this piece defines the Nigerian movie industry including its regional siblings like Kannywood and any other Nigerian "-wood" out there.

Anyone who follows the Nigerian art and the business of creating is familiar with how Nollywood seems to have assumed a synonymous status to everything creative in Nigeria. At best, it is treated as a category marker, and maybe, also closely followed by the pop-music industry. This is very much a well-deserved status for both industries. They have earned this, at least, by the sheer amount of young people that the industries parade and to the extent to which they play soft-power roles for the country's image.

But given the relationship over the years between government and Nollywood, it is easy to conclude that the relationship has been somewhat more tokenistic than substantive. The news is replete with stories of government disbursement of funds and couched in a contrived language as "an effort to boost the creative industry." This also includes partisan relationships between stakeholders in Nollywood and the government in power. The results of this are still open questions.

Equating the Nigerian creative industry to Nollywood is a disservice to other aspects that form the nation's creative repertoire. It cheapens the potentials of these other aspects and ascribes a rather smug reputation to Nollywood. The point here is a call for a democratization of the investment and attention for the entire creative industry, which, for the sake of listing, includes: architecture, publishing, photography, design, fashion, software development, advertising, crafts, journalism, broadcasting, language technologies, performing arts, etc., etc. (We may treat the literati as an exemption, a commendable one at that. It is pretty vibrant, even with or without government’s support. Some Nigerian writers, almost like some famous Nigerian footballers, enjoy rock-star status in the international scene, most of it through sheer hardworking outside a structured industry).

The combined efforts of the creative industry for both cultural and commercial benefits cannot be overlooked. Sometimes, a nation is as good as the sum of her creative and cultural ideas, which justifies the existence of cultural equities like The Goethe‑Institut, The British Council, The Alliance Francaise etc., etc. Even if we do not aspire to exporting such institutions, we can at least aspire to become Africa's creative capital – a claim that is quietly being ascribed to our brothers on the down South of the continent. They boast robust creative hubs e.g. Creative Nestlings, and adjuncts ones like Design Indaba etc., patronized by the best creative minds from all over the world, including us.
I do not mean to imply that even if a project conceptually requires a foreign destination, it should still be implemented by-fire-by-force in Nigeria. That will be insular and a tad stupid. The point is for us to up our game and develop our creative industry to a standard and excellent level and, hopefully, reverse the deficits that go to foreign coffers. Well, I will be quick to admit that the definitions of standard vary as they are subjective but every creative professional or anyone with an eye that appreciates beauty can differentiate between horrible from awesome.

Achieving these standards will require forward-thinking policies and conditions. It will require recognition of the roles of the creative industry, not just as mere parchments of our national existence but one that understands the industry’s dynamics. These policies should articulate the importance of skillsets – educational development in the arts and artistic technologies, encouragement in artistic collaborations, an emphasis on the beauty of creating, and, why not – a consolidation of native knowledge with contemporary thinking.

Speaking of beauty, we must endeavor to filter mediocrity from quality. We have to discourage a reasoning that justifies supposed mediocrity as an exemplar of the Nigerian creative character. Again, Nollywood: lately, there has been a considerable improvement in movie production but there are still distasteful plots or visually nauseating executions that are sometimes justified – over chitchats - as the “nature” of our people and what sells. This reasoning takes a marketing stance to justify defecations. And by all means, it trivializes efforts of those who try their best at home-runs and our capacity to create the type of beauties that earn market, or if you may - global acceptance. A country similar to us in social and economic appearance – India, has nurtured and continues to nurture its creative armaments. These days, one sees uniquely Indian creations, well packaged and with a global appeal - Product designs: Titan Wristwatches; Institution: National Institute of Design; Advertising: Times of India’s “India Vs. India” Campaign etc., etc. Same as Brazil. Same as Turkey.

Again, I must emphasize that the point of this piece is not just to argue that the creative industry is an economic imperative but to also emphasize its role as an upholder of our civilization and uniqueness, which deserves to be structured to foster both individual and cultural creative expressions. For policy makers and gatekeepers, this should be a national branding responsibility - Oh, “Incredible India”. It should include investment in the country’s conceptual image and the protection of intellectual properties. For individuals, it should include crafting unique voices and élan that are disgusted by mediocre creativity.

(First Published on Thenet.ng)