restricted access Introduction: African Popular Videos as GlobalCultural Forms
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Introduction African Popular Videos as Global Cultural Forms The emergence of popular video industries in Ghana and Nigeria represents the most important and exciting development in African cultural production in recent history. Since its inception in the 1960s, African filmmaking has been a “paradoxical activity” (Barlet 2000, 238). Born out of the historical struggle of decolonization and a commitment to represent “Africa from an African perspective” (Armes 2006, 68), the work of socially committed African filmmakers has not generated a mass audience on the continent. Under current conditions marked by the international hegemony of dominant cinema industries, the dilapidated state of cinema houses in Africa, and the prohibitive expense of producing celluloid films, African filmmakers have become locked in a relationship of dependency with funding sources and distribution networks located in the global North. As a consequence, African films remain “foreigners in their own countries” (Sama 1996, 148), more likely to be found in Europe and North America on film festival screens and in university libraries than projected in cinemas or broadcast on television in Africa. Though the film medium has failed to take root in Africa, video has flourished. An inexpensive, widely available, and easy to use technology for the production, duplication, and distribution of movies and other media content, video has radically transformed the African cultural landscape. In perhaps its most consequential manifestation, video has allowed videomakers in Ghana and Nigeria, individuals who in most cases are detached from official cultural institutions and working outside the purview of the state, to create a tremendously popular, commercial cinema for audiences in Africa and abroad: feature “films” made on video. Freed from the requirements for cultural 2 / Introduction and economic capital imposed by the film medium, ordinary Ghanaians and Nigerians started making and exhibiting their own productions in the late 1980s. In Ghana, the tremendous success of William Akuffo’s Zinabu (1987), a full-length feature shot with a VHS home video camera , sparked what those working in the Ghanaian video industry call “the video boom.” Local audiences, who had been watching scratched and faded foreign films for years, responded to Akuffo’s video movie with enormous enthusiasm. They crowded into the Globe Theatre in Accra for weeks to watch the video on the large screen. In a few years, film projectors in all of the major film theaters were replaced with video projection systems and hundreds of privately owned video centers , of various sizes and structural integrity, sprung up throughout the country to meet the growing demand for video viewing. Within ten years of the first local video production in 1987, as many as four videos in English were being released in Ghana each month, and over twenty years later, in 2009, Ghanaian movies appeared at the rate of approximately six per week, one in English and five in Akan, a Ghanaian language spoken across the country. The Nigerian video industry, which began to take shape around the same time, soon became the economic and cultural power of the West African region. Now one of the largest movie industries in the world, the Nigerian industry releases a staggering 1,500 movies each year (Barrot 2009). Nollywood, the name popularly used to refer to Nigerian English-language movie production, speaks to the size and ambitions of the industry, but also obscures its diversity. Large numbers of Nigerian movies are also made in Yoruba. In fact, more Nigerian movies are produced in Yoruba than English, and in the city of Kano in Northern Nigeria, there is a well-established and prolific Hausalanguage industry, called “Kannywood.” Small numbers of Nigerian movies are also produced in Nupe and Bini (McCain 2011). Based on the models established in Ghana and Nigeria, budding industries in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Cameroon have emerged. Produced transnationally and broadcast on television, streamed over the Internet , distributed and pirated globally in multiple formats, African video movies represent, in the words of Jonathan Haynes, “one of the greatest explosions of popular culture the continent has ever seen” (2007c, 1). The growth and expansion of African popular video has engendered a rapidly developing body of published work dispersed across three continents (Africa, Europe, and North America) and several African Popular Videos as Global Cultural Forms / 3 disciplines.1 Prominent among the numerous journal articles and book chapters on African video movies are the ongoing contributions of the pioneers in the field, Haynes and Onookome Okome, and important articles by Moradewun Adejunmobi, Akin Adesokan, John McCall, and Birgit Meyer. Noteworthy too are...


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