In 2008, the Germany-based Gambian film scholar, Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu, came up with the idea of changing the name of the Nigerian film industry as he considered “Nollywood” to be neo-colonialist and self-defeating to the creative energy and dynamics of Africa‘s largest economy. Seven years into his silent 10-year “Nollywood re-branding project 2008-2018”, Prince Sankanu explains in this extensive interview why he is floating “CINENAIJA” as an alternative to „Nollywood“ which he says ends in 2015 with the opening of the main competitions of the Pan African Film and Television of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in Burkina Faso to digital films. Sankanu argues that the name Nollywood can be used to define a wave or phenomenon in the annals of African cinema history that started either in 1984 with Alade Arorime’s “Ekun” or in 1992 with Kenneth Nnebue’s “Living in Bondage” and ends with Desmond Ovbiagele’s “Render to Caesar” film in 2014/2015. He explains how Nollywood signifies the film industry segment or genre within the creativity mix of Nigeria. The “CINENAIJA” Sankanu coins out of “CINE” from Cinema and “NAIJA” from the local parlance of Nigeria should be, according to his concept, the generic nationalist film industry brand in the Nigerian creative economy for infinity.
There is no intentional law or convention that makes it compulsory for every film industry in the world to copy the “wood” suffix. The idea of a serious name has been with me since 2004 when I first discovered the Nigerian home video film industry. I subsequently visited Nigeria on several occasions between 2004 and 2008 to personally study the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the Nigerian video phenomenon. During the visits, I posed as an innocent research student in order to get unbiased first-hand information on the happenings in Idumota, Alaba International Market, Ibadan, Enugu, Kano, Jos, Abuja, Aba and other melting pots. As I am preparing to set up new operations in Nigeria by the end of this project, I decided to float this re-branding concept for the Nigerian motion pictures sector to, among others, officially introduce myself as the new kid (Johny just come) in town, though I have been in the shadows since 2004.
The Nigerian home movie industry is the product of indigenous Nigerians I hold in the highest esteem known to mankind. I am preserving their legacy by building a global branding and distribution system that will feature Nigerian videos prominently. For the Nigerian home video art is an African Living Heritage that deserves to be promoted and developed in our African terms. This naming exercise is about finding a solid common denominator with the passionate stakeholders.
This “Nollywood” tag is just a transitional term in the constant evolutionary process of the Nigerian/African film history system from the arrival of the magic lanterns during the colonial era, the postcolonial productions of the first indigenous “back to the source” African films, the digital film era to future innovations. So without wasting time, I would like the stakeholders, policy-makers, researchers, fans, critics, consumers and other lovers of Nigerian/African films to always remember the these four (4) premises whenever they hear “Nollywood” or any digital film from other African countries with the “wood” copycats:Just like the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave), the British Free Cinema, the American „New Hollywood“, Nollywood is a term to define a short evolutionary phase in the development of cinema within the geopolitical and cultural scopes of Nigeria and by extension, Africa.
The home video phenomenon started in 1984 or 1992. For those consider with the VHS era, they can count from ALADE AROMIRE’s indigenous film “EKUN.” Others might be interested in KENNETH NNEBUE’s “LIVING IN BONDAGE” released in 1992 when mass consumption of DVDs/VCDs was gradually replacing VHS and cinema hall patronage. Regardless of the starting point taken, this wave or phenomenon ends with the 2015 edition of the Pan African Film and Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Burkina Faso when the main prize and competition categories were finally opened to digital films. The theme for this 24th edition of FESPACO, “African Cinema: Production and Distribution in the Digital Era” reflects the contemporary dynamics of film-making across our African continent. For years, some Nigerian home video practitioners have been complaining about their supposed marginalization by FESPACO but in year 2015 the organizers of embraced their format. I was expecting the Nigerian home video pundits to win with the entry of Desmond Ovbiagele’s “Render to Caesar” but they faltered. This for me marks the symbolic, actual, historic, theoretical and political end of the “Nollywood” phenomenon and hype. It is time for serious change or re-branding. In summary, I mean “Nollywood” as a phenomenon started with either Alade Aromire’s “Ekun” (1984) or Kenneth Nnebue’s “Living in Bondage” (1992) and ends with Desmond Ovbiagele’s “Render to Caesar” (2014/2015).
The name “Nollywood” can be used for kind of genre just like the American Western, Indian melodrama, Italian Spaghetti Western sub-genre, Chinese Kung Fu, Japanese monster, Thai „bomb-the-mountains, burn-the-huts“ styles and the like to describe the types of quickie video films that use the Lagos-imitated segments with the stereotypical narratives that are not limited to the ridiculing of Indigenous Africa as evil and inferior to the religions of the Western colonial masters and Eastern slave traders, excessive materialism, obsession with the American way of life and so on.
There is nothing like “New Nollywood” as an essentialist way of keeping the dead “Nollywood” zombie alive within the academic and popular discourse on contemporary African digital cinema beyond 2015. The all-encompassing and timeless name of the Nigerian national film industry with various segments, genres, dynamics and confrontations should be CINENAIJA. CINE is from CINEMA and NAIJA is from the authentic name Nigerians use to describe their great nation. CINENAIJA is timeless while Nollywood covers a given period in Nigerian/African film history as explained above: from 1984 to 2015 starting with “Ekun” or 1992 to 2015 with “Living in Bondage” and ending with “Render to Caesar” in 2014/2015.
By and large, I am not a fan of copycats and bandwagons. If we look the African audiovisual media, we will just see exaggerated “copycatism” in the forms of the reality TV, telenovelas, the modelling jobs, the industrial beauty ideals and so on. People seem to have more respect for the imported foreign content/formats than their own creative wealth. The Nigerian home video industry has however proven to the whole world that Africans are capable of telling their own stories successfully in their own vocabulary and styles. Why do we then have to call the Nigerian home video industry „nothingwood” because of Hollywood and Bollywood? The Nigerians video films are largely accepted across Africa and in the Diaspora because they transport the African messages that are missing from the global mainstream media. It should therefore be natural for us to have globally recognisable serious names and logos for the Nigerian creative wonder without jumping into the Hollywood/Bollywood bandwagon. It is about the celebration of African creative excellence from Nigeria and not from America or India! My proposed “CINENAIJA” aims to be the generic nationalist film brand in the Nigerian creative economy for infinity. In effect Nollywood is under the “CINENAIJA” brand.
One cannot talk of a single homogeneous film industry in Nigeria, India or America. If we look deeper beyond the senseless „wood” titles, we will discover heterogeneous and diversified filming activities. I am therefore promoting unity in diversity by following the natural heritage of Nigeria. I am trying to help the world understand Nigeria as a united federation of vibrant Africa civilizations celebrated through the rich Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and other nations. We should not fall into the traps of the Afro-pessimists who see any advancement of the indigenous languages and native cultures as divisive, backward or ethnocentric. Nigeria has over 200 ethnic groups and I understand the concerns of some people. But the reality on the ground between Katsina and Calabar is that we have very lively Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Ijaw, Efik lifestyles, to name a few, that are positively interacting and shaping Nigeria. This contemporary reality should be shown on all arts products coming out of Nigeria, be they through film, radio, TV, literature, music, dance, fashion, romance, photography or painting. In this age of globalization, only the most vibrant cultures will survive and if we are to heal the psychological wounds of colonial African inferiority complex, we need to rediscover and modernise our Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo and other indigenous ancestral archives first before talking about other related issues.
.Sankanu is a scholar on African cinema, Chief Executive Producer of Afromedia Film & TV International Group in Germany and founder of SANXAANU KAGGORO FILM INSTITUTE, a think-tank on African cinema.