- Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres by Jonathan Haynes
BY JONATHAN HAYNES
U of Chicago P, 2016.
xxviii + 375 pp. ISBN 9780226387956 paper.
Perhaps no other scholar has followed the story of Nollywood, from its emergence, as closely as Jonathan Haynes. His new book benefits from years of ethnographic research, scores of interviews, and—most of all—close attention to hundreds of films. The book displays a deep and discerning command of the ways the industry has progressed, as well as the relationships that have obtained between films and filmmakers. Haynes logically organizes this material around the concept of genre, which itself entails the process of ongoing relation-making. Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres thus accomplishes precisely what its title suggests: it describes—in the most sophisticated terms to date—the origins of and processes that have determined the spectacular ascendance of video filmmaking in Nigeria.
Indeed, while the book is billed as a study of genre, it is equally a media industry analysis and film history, peppered with auteurist attention to the distinctive styles of several key figures—and not just the ones signaled by chapter titles, such as Tunde Kelani and Kunle Afolayan, but other major filmmakers like Kenneth Nnebue, Amaka Igwe, Don Pedro Obaseki, Andy Amenechi, and Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen. The great strength of the book is its fearlessness at being encyclopedic, while simultaneously being pleasurably readable. It feels at times like a novel, written in the style of historical fiction, jumping between references to different figures and events, stopping here and there to reflect on the ideological implications of certain trends and choices, but never losing the plot. It also features several poetic flourishes, such as Haynes's description of the great actor Pete Edochie and his many on-screen appearances as a village patriarch. "He is mountainous," Haynes writes, "rocky, his anger like lava, his will radiating from him like waves of heat" (146).
The content is arranged into three sections, roughly signaling three epochs in the life of Nollywood so far. Part one calls attention to pioneer filmmakers—Nnebue, Igwe, and Kelani—who were responsible for crucial genre innovations, such as the money magic film and the family film, which provided early Nollywood with a solid foundation on which to grow. In part two, the "seed pod"—as Haynes describes Living in Bondage (1992), the industry's first blockbuster—bursts, scattering talent and styles in every direction. Filmmakers like Obaseki and Amenechi [End Page 213] used these seeds to craft bold new projects, launching whole new genres, including the cultural epic and the vigilante film, while also breathing new life into political critique and comedy (30). Haynes also traces the history of business practices, such as the rise of marketers, who contributed to both the consolidation of the industry and new forms of agency and constraint in the process of genre creation. Part three rides a wave of newness that began to crest near 2010. For example, though Nollywood has always been global in its imagination, the number of films set in locations outside Nigeria has exploded in the 21st century. So too have films set on university campuses. And, of course, several filmmakers have recently gone looking for funding and distribution channels outside of the structures on which Nollywood was built, giving rise to what many critics are calling "New Nollywood." Haynes writes more authoritatively than most on these subjects precisely because his analysis is grounded in a deep historical understanding of the industry.
Encyclopedic and poetic as the book may be, however, it mostly lacks an argument about Nollywood beyond the assertion that what appears on screen reflects the conditions of its production and circulation. In fact, if there is a critique to be made of Hayne's indispensable study, it is that it offers no consistent theoretical interventions. For example, the book does not articulate a clear position on genre theory. In the preface, Haynes describes his work as an effort to "map and explicate . . . common forms and thematic complexes" (xxv). However, it is not until page 237 that he describes a genre as something with...