Summer Stories from Africa is a series of fresh reflections from our students, faculty, and alumni researching and studying on the continent.
Segun Soetan is a graduate student in the Department of African Languages and Literature where he teaches as a Yoruba T.A. This summer, Soetan conducted research in Nigeria on the country’s film industry, Nollywood.
Summer Tales from Nollywood
I was glad when our plane from Atlanta, Georgia, finally touched down at the Murtala International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria around 4pm on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Feeling nostalgic, and for the umpteenth time, I ran through the research itinerary in my head – I will rest for two days, visit friends and family over the weekend, and then hit the road the following Monday. I was so elated to begin my first overseas research. My research was about the Nigerian film industry –Nollywood—which has been rated the second largest film industry in the world after America’s Hollywood. For the research, I had to meet with four prominent filmmakers in Nigeria, possibly to interview them and follow them to film locations.
Stuffing my backpack with media equipment – audio recorder, video recorder, my Sony Alpha 390 DSLR camera, laptop, emergency light and writing pads—I began my research journey on Monday, June 15, 2015. Crisscrossing the undulating Lagos terrain and the hilly landscape of Oyo state, I followed filmmakers around from one location to another—most times, frustrated from aborted schedule plans, and at other times, famished from waiting endlessly beyond schedule. I gradually became aware of how the gigantic film industry work; traveling almost every day, I learned more about the nation in commercial buses and taxis through various gossips and political discussions around the new government that was just formed, the president, and other aprocos about popular individuals that were indicted by the Nigerian Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).
My experience with the Nigerian film industry first hand contrasted sharply with the glamorous life the Nollywood stars displayed on social media sites. Meeting them personally introduced me to their world and the reality of their hyped status. I realized that the social media sustained their dreams and not the reality of their living conditions, especially actors and actresses from the Yoruba language genre who relied more on the goodwill of their patrons for sustenance. More than I had anticipated, I realized that film making in Nigeria, especially for upcoming artistes and filmmakers, is very daunting and not so lucrative. Film marketers and pirates appropriate the larger chunk of the gain. In most of the film locations that I visited, there were no proper planning – time, logistics and equipment. Imagine having to wait for an actor for more than 5 hours before he sauntered in without any apology! What you cannot take away from the industry though, is a mixture of joke and sweat from the crew members as they set up equipment in the blazing tropical sun, which altogether, set their spirits sailing while working uncompensated. The conviviality, audience supports, and the desire to ‘make it,’ form the actual spirit behind Nollywood and its accentuated glory. Oh Nollywood! I promise to see you next summer, but not without my helmet, in case I’ll still ride on those frenzied ọ̀kadà.