- Nollywood Central by Jade L. Miller
Within the landscape of the fast-growing body of scholarship on Nollywood, Jade Miller’s Nollywood Central is a valuable and timely contribution. It is valuable because, as probably the first monograph dedicated (almost) entirely to the analysis of the political economy of the Nigerian video film industry, it offers a wide range of precise information on the industry’s [End Page 257] modes of operation (on the economy of video film production and distribution, the industry’s guilds and their interaction with state agencies, the political economy of online film distribution, etc.), which can help Nollywood scholars navigate the complexity of the industry’s organization when researching other aspects of the Nollywood phenomenon. It is timely because it provides a concise and well-informed introduction to the industry’s history and economy which, at a moment when Nollywood has started attracting much scholarly interest even beyond the restricted circle of African studies specialists, can easily be adopted as part of the syllabus of general courses in media studies, creative industry studies, and film studies.
The book is divided into five chapters which focus on different aspects of the industry: history (chapter 1), production and distribution (chapter 2), style, format, and audiences (chapter 3), government policies and guilds (chapter 4), and global circuits of distribution (chapter 5). The five chapters contain information that readers who have knowledge of the industry might already be familiar with. But everything is presented in a fresh, clear, and detailed way, and Miller’s analysis inspires new perspectives on the existing scholarship on Nollywood. In chapter 2, for instance, she extends the focus of her analysis beyond the well-known protagonists involved in the films’ production and distribution (the producers/directors, actors, and marketers/distributors) to consider other professionals who do the bulk of the work (make-up artists, editors, cinematographers, etc.) and on key infrastructure such as the replicating plants—sites which are as relevant for the economy of video films’ circulation as the much better known electronic markets of Idumota and Alaba, in Lagos State. In chapter 4 the analysis of the history and modes of operation of state agencies connected to the industry such as the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), and the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) is complemented by a careful discussion of the industry’s guilds. These guilds, which Miller analyzes as “contract substitutes” and “alternative distribution systems,” constitute the backbone of the industry’s internal organization. Finally, chapter 5 offers what is probably the most original contribution of the book, the analysis of Nollywood’s interactions with global media corporations, particularly the online distribution company iROKOtv and the challenges it encountered in moving its headquarters from Manhattan and London to Lagos.
Throughout the book a particularly important theme is the concept of informality, which Miller defines as a mode of operation characterized by “lack of externally verified documentation and lack of reliance on external infrastructure . . .” (32). Miller sees the the informal modes of operation that characterize Nollywood not as limits to the industry’s economic efficiency and sustainability, but rather as a strategy that the industry’s key stakeholders adopt in order to maintain control over the economy of the industry. Miller emphasizes that [End Page 258]
the marketers, both beneficiaries and architects of this system, are fully aware of the ways in which these business practices reserve power for themselves and limit opportunities for outsiders. In this way, informality in distribution is less a “challenge” for a burgeoning industry, as it is often described in development assessments, but, rather, a conscious and active strategy by networks of small-scale savvy entrepreneurs to discourage competition from better-capitalized challengers.(52)
Some Nollywood scholars might not agree fully with this point, but it clearly opens up the space for a fruitful debate on the interactions between global capitalism and the so-called “informal” economies of non-Western industries like Nollywood.
The Nigerian video film industry...