Nigerian Cinema's Nominal Headache

by Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Nigerian cinema has moved so much in one direction that in the last few years, some filmmakers, new, young, at once freed and craving to be freed from their forebears, have begun to react to this seemingly inexorable movement. They push against it nominally and in practice, by rejecting the nomenclature Nollywood, and by adopting filmmaking techniques alien to Nigerian cinema.

Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

For these newer filmmakers ‘Nollywood’ far from being just a name, represents a certain aesthetic—inclusive of, but unlimited to, melodrama, bare bones cinematography, and a fascination with the occult. Armed with foreign tools of filmmaking, these filmmakers consider Nollywood the embarrassing uncle; his famed idleness has permitted theirs but they can't be seen with him in public.“All art is an ethnic game,”Vernon Young observed. Viewed a certain way, this disavowal is in keeping with the Nigerian fascination for foreign objects. As ironies go, the more vehement the disavowal of Nigerian cinema, the clearer the nationality of these filmmakers.

With only a twenty year history, a complete dissociation from Nollywood may be unnecessary. Better to think of the status quo of Nigerian cinema as a rebirth, not a conception—neither of which obviates the need for chroniclers and critics. And for the latter, it is imperative to look outside of the country for a model with cultural currency.

That model, because of a shared language, English, and the dominance of its cinematic export, is likely to be the US. Unfortunately, film criticism in the US has, over the last few years, come into an existential crisis, with its practitioners losing jobs, drowning in the internet's democratization of criticism, and worrying over its future.

For the Nigerian critic, American handwringing is perplexing, but far from dire. And despite its need to be deep into pathos, American film criticism has a claim to certain venerable publications, created by luminaries of the form from yore in what is now that culture's golden age of film criticism. There is a significant difference between that and the Nigerian situation where the position still has to be created.

One way by which this lack of models in Nigerian film criticism (or film reviewing, if you please) can be seen is to scour the internet. Over on YouTube, films from the early nighties, representative of the start of Nollywood can be seen by any number of interested people. Reviews of those same films, if ever written, are impossible to obtain. Thus it can be surmised that the consumption of early Nollywood was without input from critics. Whatever the reason for this, it stands to reason that today's critic, shaping to take a place between filmmaker and the Nigerian audience is perceived as an interloper.

As it stands, the Nigerian critic has a different worry from critics from the US and other developed cinema cultures. They contemplate their tradition. He contemplates his novelty.