Here’s How The Nigerian Film Industry Became Known As Nollywood

Despite the industry being around for years before then, the term “Nollywood” was first used in 2002 by Norimitsu Onishi who was a journalist in the New York Times.

And here is how that happened.

This Japanese-Canadian journalist worked as the New-York Time’s Bureau Chief in West Africa (at that time) although he currently works as the publication’s Paris correspondent. At that time he was based in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. He focused on Nigeria’s filmmaking industry coined this term in his article for the first time after observing the overwhelming filmmaking activities in Lagos, Nigeria.

During his time in Surulere Lagos in 2002, he was in the heart of the Nigerian film making industry. He wrote on how filmmakers were referring to their works as the Hollywood of Nigeria and his editor (Matt Stein Glass) published the article and tagged it, using the word in the headline of the article. And that was the birth of Nollywood.

Onishi said:

Back in 2002, on a phone call to an editor, I was trying to explain that I’d been working hard, really, during a visit to Lagos, my favourite city in West Africa, the region I was covering at the time. I’d spent a few days hanging out in the district of Surulere, which had emerged as Nigeria’s moviemaking capital. It seemed filmmakers were busy shooting on every street corner, frantically churning out what were then called home videos…It’s like Hollywood or Bollywood but in Nigeria — Nollywood! I told my editor. A few days later, my article appeared on the front page, under a headline that christened the world’s newest movie powerhouse: “Step Aside, L.A. and Bombay, for Nollywood.”

Apparently, the term “Nollywood” follows on two of the world’s two most famous filmmaking industries: Hollywood in the United States of America and Bollywood in India. The term does not have a clear and agreed-upon definition until now and still generates tons of controversies even among practitioners. A few people think “Nollywood” covers the really impressive body of work being turned out by Nigeria’s filmmakers. Some others believe, however, that it is a term that is not all-encompassing and doesn’t fully represent the entirety of the Nigerian motion picture terrain.

There are also tribal controversies around the name Nollywood because it was largely dominated by Igbo filmmakers, and the other tribes chose to remain as Yoruba filmmakers and English filmmakers. There was also controversy about the name coming from a stranger, a foreigner and the fact that the Nigeria film industry might loose authenticity because of the nature of the name Nollywood.

Norimitsu Onishi later said:

I’ve received occasional queries over the years from the growing cohort of academics doing research on Nollywood: “Was I the one who had coined ‘Nollywood’?” I’d reply that a copy editor had written the headline, but, yeah, sure, “Nollywood” appeared for the first time with my article.

To read the article that first called the Nigerian film industry “Nollywood”, click HERE.

‘Segun Odejimi is a writer and film critic.

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