African movies are changing the narrative of the African story. For the first time, other parts of the world are seeing Africans tell their own stories as their films are shown globally. They are having an impact on the continent and abroad.
Underscoring how powerful movies can be, Joseph Stalin, Soviet Union leader in the 1920s, stated, â€œIf I could control the medium of the American motion picture, I would need nothing else to convert the entire world to communism.â€ and â€œEducation is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.â€ Hollywoodâ€™s film and TV production are among the most important elements of Americaâ€™s soft power of persuasion, attraction, ideas and ideals which has helped to make America a great nation.
A few areas of what we now know today as the African movies industry, the Lollywoods, Gollywoods and Nollywoods started in small sparks. Movies made in Africa that cater to the local population have been made for years in Liberia during the late â€˜80s before the birth of Nollywood. The most popular TV show was a comedy drama called Malawala Balawala. It happened in the waning days of the former President Doe regime. For 35 weeks this sitcom aired on the Liberia Broadcasting Service on Wednesday nights at 8:30pm. The show was the most watched show on TV. Bars emptied, university students cut classes, and anyone well off enough to own a TV became a 30-minute celebrity. Everyone who could made time to watch Malawala Balawala, However, Liberiaâ€™s civil war brought an end to that.
In 1948 in Ghana, the Gold Coast Film Unit was set up in the Information Services Department by the government and African Pictures Ltd. started operations about the same time. In 1971, the Ghana Film Industry Corporation was created as a corporate body but ceased to exist in 1996. The existing entities produce local movies that service the local market but were unable to maintain the infrastructure to continue production for export from Ghana.
Nollywood, the dominate player in the African movies industry, started in1992 when an electronics salesman Kenneth Nnebue shot a straight- to-video movie in one month on a budget of just $12,000 U.S.
â€œLiving in Bondageâ€sold more than a million copies, mostly by street vendors, thus giving birth to Nollywood.Â This industry was created out of necessity; legend has it that he had purchased the DVDs to sell to individuals who wanted them for weddings and other special events.Â By 2009, Nollywood had surpassed Hollywood as the worldâ€™s second largest movie industry by volume, right behind Indiaâ€™s Bollywood. And in 2014, the Nigerian government released data for the first time showing Nollywood was a $3.3 billion sector, with 1,844 movies produced in 2013 alone.
The African movie industry has had its share of struggles. A variety of challenges has haunted Nollywood and the African movie industry since inception, but two of the most important challenges spoken about for the past 10 years are poor distribution and piracy. The hunger of Africans in the Diaspora for homegrown content and the resourcefulness of online entrepreneurs who stream African movies content on the internet without permission or a license have led to a surge in online piracy.
Online Services and Investors
This also led to the birth of online sites such as iRoko, Afrinolly, Pana TV and doBox, which serve a dual purpose â€“ making African movies accessible to the masses and sustaining the industry through the signing of revenue sharing agreements with the content owners. Outside investors are starting to see the potential. Tiger Global Management, a $9 billion hedge fund and early investor in Facebook, is also investing $8 million U.S. in Iroko.
Overcoming Identity Crisis
The older crop of Africans grew up watching Indian films and cowboy films from America; then the Chinese came in with their kung-fu fighting. This left a slight identity crisis on the African continent. However, the younger generation of Africans have grown up watching African movies. They have a different perspective of the world; they have seen their stars that look like them and sound like them.
When these movies were first made the writers and directors were new to movie making and script writing. They simply wrote about things happening around them. Now the industry has grown into a massive export of culture and is taking sophisticated shape at an unprecedented pace. It is also undergoing a change where the focus is shifting from quantity to quality, from tape to big screen, from local to global.
African movies have spread to the Caribbean were they have gathered a huge following. The director Oscar de la Renta once said that as he was growing up in the Dominic Republic he thought that all ofÂ the homes in the U.S. had huge balconies because thatâ€™s what he saw in the American movies. On social media chats, people from the Caribbean speak of how most of the homes in Africa are huge- -because thatâ€™s what they see in the African movies. Now instead of seeing Africa as a far-away jungle, they see thriving cities filled with people that have similar day-to-day problems as themselves.
Now Africans are Telling Their Stories
The African story is being told againâ€”this time the Africans are telling their own stories. This time it is not about Tarzan swinging from trees, but a lively and vibrant modern urban community with some of the same issues that are shared in different corners of the globe.
Frederick Robertson is from Liberia living in Philadelphia, PA, an event promotor specializing in the Afro Urban market. He has promoted various events in the U.S. and consulted on several events in Africa. He has done concerts with various Mega African super stars in the U.S. ranging from Alpha Blondy, Meway, the Late Lucky Dubee, Davido to Flavour Nâ€™Abanai, and events with African actors such as Van Vicker and John Dumelo. He is passionate about introducing positive images of Africa to the rest of the world. Contact Robertson at lilrabow@ hotmail.com; IG/freddyrabow; FB/ freddierobertson