Through Nollywood and other means, the Nigerian nation tries to employ the approach of a soft power foundation to export a certain form of cultural notoriety to generate the attraction and admiration of other countries towards it. It thus highlights the success of its music (Afrobeats), its fashion, its gastronomy, and above all, its cinema nicknamed “Nollywood“, which is to this day the nation’s most important cultural promoter.
Nollywood, between African-style ‘Success Story’ and dissimulation.
The economic powerhouse of the African continent (219 million inhabitants or sixth world population and a GDP multiplied by 4 between 2000 and today), Nigeria suffers from many ills : poverty, corruption, unemployment (27% of the working population), crime, terrorism (jihadism in the north of the country), its demography (60% under 25)… All of these factors are damaging to its reputation. However, it can rehabilitate its image through cultural soft-power, and this is where Nollywood comes in.
“Nollywood” (Sobriquet with the “N” of Nigeria to replace the “H” of Hollywood) originated in the 1980s on the streets of Lagos during a period when national television was subject to censorship by the military regime in place. By rebellion, independent producers make low-budget films sold on the sly on VHS. Nollywood became significant in the 2000s with the return of democracy and since 2009, is the second-largest producer of films in the world after Bollywood and just ahead of Hollywood (more than 2000 films per year).
Unlike Indian Bollywood, Nollywood does not only target the Nigerian diaspora: it produces a multitude of films or series in several languages (English, Hausa, Igbo, etc.), targeting different ethnic groups (Peuls, Yoruba, Fulani, etc. ) or religious (Atheists, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, etc.). It is therefore aimed at the entire black African population and all their respective diasporas in Europe, North America, and the Caribbean.
Like the American “American Dream”, Nigeria wants to regain control of its story and that of its neighbors. The cinema is an excellent tool of projection and identity manipulation of which Hollywood has excelled in the matter: In Europe for example, the memory of the role of Russia against Germany during the Second World War has gradually faded, to the benefit of the United States who are considered today as the main savior. The many American blockbusters having largely contributed to this story, it is indeed intoxication or even propaganda because the action of the entertainment industry implants ideas or conceptions sometimes biased within public opinion.
Nollywood, an action of influence through social unrest?
Nollywood covers a wide range of themes (soap-opera, comedy, thriller, fantasy, adventure, drama …) inducing viewers to identify with heroes and to have a positive vision of Nigerian morality or daring: In “ 93 days ” for example, we discover how the country protected itself and preserved the rest of the world from the Ebola virus thanks to the sacrifice and courage of a few heroes. If it is established that Nollywood acts in the domain of influence, its action focuses on what the African public should have of itself and Nigeria; hence, the desire to stir up public order. and intellectual.
In the same sense, the emergence of “ celebrity diplomats ” from Nollywood for Nigerian cultural diplomacy is helping to influence: Actresses like Genevieve Nnaji on feminism, Ini Edo as UN ambassador on sustainable habitat, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde as an activist within Amnesty International, but also Afrobeats singers (Davido, Burna Boy, Wizkid…) have spoken widely on police repressions and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. The official visit of President Macron in 2017 illustrates this method by which Nigeria has largely emphasized its stars in delegations to illustrate its cultural and societal dynamics.
Relations with foreign investors: allies or attackers?
The modus operandi of Nollywood (mass production with a minimal budget) allows it to not be subjected to the influence or financial blackmail of any political or religious power in particular. Also, its highly digitized mode of distribution (social networks and smartphones) allows it to access a large audience with few external controls – a challenge for private investors to control the content disseminated. However, the size of the audience concerned is so large (at least 500 million people, West Africa, and the diaspora included) that it can no longer be ignored by large groups like the American Netflix, the South African Groupe-M, Chinese Startimes, or French Canal + : attracted by the profitability of Nollywood, they began to integrate Nigerian productions into their catalog.
Nigerians, therefore, find themselves in a position of strength, by exacerbating the competition between these foreign investors who are racing to access houses that produce quality content, in quantity and quickly. This hegemony is not for all that unshakeable in a capitalist logic. Many Nigerians involved in Nollywood, do in a spirit of “start-up” (3). For example, the acquisition of the Nigerian studio’s ROK by Canal + will allow it to acquire Nigerian expertise while being involved in the content of the broadcasts. On a large scale, these types of transactions can call into question the integrity of the actions of Nollywood influences.
The Nigerian government has become aware of the risk weighing on the influence of its cinema and has begun to adopt preventive, protective, even combative postures:
- Strengthening of space projects for the orbiting of dedicated satellites to free themselves from foreign services (in particular the South African DSTV).
- Legislation on piracy and intellectual property to protect Nigerian creative interests.
- Use of censorship against foreign productions deemed disparaging towards Nigeria, such as the American-South African film District 9 .
Soft-power or illusion?
If soft power is defined by the capacity of a state to influence and orient international relations in its favor without coercion, Nollywood has indeed helped Nigeria to strengthen its legitimacy with various targets: foreign audiences, governments, NGOs. , international firms, etc. But his ambition remains thwarted by significant facts: the activities of the Boko Haram sect, corruption, drug trafficking … Some detractors consider that Nigeria’s moral authority remains illusory and that at this time, a permanent seat around it the UN table is not justified.