- An Evolution in Nollywood, Nigeria’s New Wave:A Conversation with Chris Eneaji
“Aren’t we going to watch any Nigerian films in this class?” my student complained. It was the second day of my three-hundred-level Activism and Filmmaking class at Kwara State University in September of 2015. The week before we had watched Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925, Soviet Union), and I had just begun an opening lecture on Third Cinema filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino’s La Hora de los hornos / The Hour of the Furnaces (1968, Argentina). Her question struck me because it seemed so different from the approach students had taken when I first started teaching Nigerian films. In 2008, the first time I taught film at a Nigerian university, my final-year “Gender and Media” students in the Mass Communications Department at Bayero University, Kano, seemed embarrassed when I brought up Nigerian films.
Seven years later, at Kwara State University, Malete, I have not noticed this same sense of embarrassment. The students in the Film Unit of the School of Visual and Performing Arts are there because they want to become a part of the Nigerian film industry. They pass around pirated digital copies of the latest Nigerian films on laptops and phones, and they often seem slightly bored when watching films from outside of Africa. They warm up when I show them Ousmane Sembène’s films La Noire de . . . / Black Girl (1966, Senegal), Borom sarret (1963, Senegal), Mandabi (1968, Senegal), and stay after class to continue discussing them. One student noted in a response paper that the screening of Sembène’s film Mandabi was the first time they hadn’t been bored by the films we watched in the class. In Nollywood studies, we often talk about the disparities between Nollywood films and FESPACO films, of which Sembène’s work is often used as an exemplar, yet seeing the way my students respond to Sembène makes me think that it isn’t that audiences don’t like other African cinema, so much as that up until now there have been few opportunities for most African audiences to see the older films. [End Page 194]
With the coming of what is often called the “New Nollywood,” students look to a new cinema tradition, admittedly ideologically quite different from that promoted by Sembène and the activist filmmakers of FEPACI. The “New Nollywood” is not Third Cinema. Indeed, it may be the closest Nigeria has ever had to a “First Cinema” ideal. But these new cinema films draw audiences who prefer Nigerian to American films. These are not the historic open-air theatres of Ouagadougou or Kano or the video parlors that even those without televisions could afford, but instead new multiplexes in malls, tied closely to multinational businesses like the South African grocery store Shoprite or the American fast food restaurant KFC. The ninety- to 120-minute romance and comedy films are marketed toward Africa’s growing, ever more mobile, middle class.1 Viva Cinemas in Ilorin, where I live, screens at least five or six Nigerian films a week, usually for a run of two weeks to a month, alongside American, Indian, Chinese and South African films. And it is these Nigerian films that my students want to write about for their BA theses and these filmmakers they want to do their national youth service with.2 It is a film tradition that has finally been accepted by Nigeria’s once aloof middle class.3
I first saw Chris Eneaji’s 2013 thriller The Secret Room when the final-year exhibition class at Kwara State University projected it in the university auditorium for their final exhibition project in April 2015 (fig. 1).
Click for larger view
View full resolution
With the permission of Eneaji, who is a friend and collaborator with their lecturer Emeka Emelobe, the students printed big posters and advertised the [End Page 195] screening on the radio. They drew in a large crowd of students, who gasped and shouted in the darkened auditorium as the story unwound.
Much of the story...