Nollywood and the New Media Interface: Exploring New Spaces for the Theatre
Emmanuel Tsadu GANA
Department of Theatre & Performing Arts
Ahmadu Bello University (ABU)
Zaria, Kaduna State
The Nigerian film industry is breaking new grounds in the area of film production with international collaborations and High Definition (HD) movies being produced by Nigerian film makers. However, with the ever growing influence of the new media given impetus by the internet, enormous spaces have been opened up for creative expression. As such, emerging and established film-makers now have the opportunity to explore the spaces available on the social media to showcase their films to the public. This paper therefore, attempts to examine the interface between Nollywood films and the social media, exploring ways through which the social media can be used to project Nigerian movies for a greater outreach. Using examples from Youtube and other online TV stations as examples, the paper tries to establish that the social media is a veritable platform for showcasing as well as projecting Nigerian movies globally to the yearning audience.
Nollywood, the Nigerian video film industry, has become the most visible form of cultural machine on the African continent. It emerged before our very eyes, in our time. Beginning life in an uncharacteristic manner in Nigeria about twenty years ago, Nollywood has become a truly explosive commercial success (Krings & Okome 1). According to the UNESCO report released in 2009 Nollywood was described as the second largest film industry in the world in terms of sheer number of films produced. This results also from the fact that Nigerian Films travel all over the world thereby making Nollywood a transnational and global phenomenon (Jedlowski 31).
Today, perhaps that status has wavered considerably as a result of the overwhelming menace of piracy. Although one might argue that the industry received world acclaim because of the activities of piracy, it is also in order to note that piracy has also been responsible for the drop in status as Jedlowski argues: “media piracy and transnational informal circulation, made Nigerian videos travel all over Africa and the world, transforming them into Pan-African and global form of popular culture” (31). Although as mentioned earlier the amount of Nigerian movies as being churned out into the Nigerian market at about a decade ago has reduced considerably. However what has increased or rather improved considerably is the quality of films that are being produced today. With the emergence of High Definition movie making young generation of movie makers we have today have given Nigerian films a whole new face with their stories and cinematography. Stories are told with an artistry and picture quality that keeps you glued to your screen. Producers and directors such as Kunle Afolayan, Emem Isong, Uche Jumbo, Desmond Elliot to mention a few have produced movies of high quality that have thrilled the Nigerian movie audience. One factor that has contributed to the awareness and outreach of Nigerian movies in recent times is the internet.
Hence, examining the place of the internet as an alternative media for the access of Nigerian movies and its implication for Nigerian theatre is the focus of this paper. The Internet is increasingly becoming a major part of our social existence. It has practically had influence on every aspect of human endeavour, be it politics, religion, commerce or entertainment. It’s ever growing influence has transformed the platform of information sharing and access so much so that with just the click of a button you can have any information you need at your finger tips. One feature that has made the internet so influential in today’s society is it’s capacity for interactivity, its ability to link so many people together through a single unified network (Baran page?; Bell page?).
Consequently, this paper discusses the contemporary idea of convergence culture as it relates to 21st century Nigerian movie audience. The convergence of film with new media provides opportunities for new types of viewing experience and engagement to audiences. Today’s audience are constantly relocating themselves between live spaces and technology spaces in their daily lives. As such, looking at the possibilities of this migration between spaces as an avenue which theatre can utilise in projecting culture is very essential.
It is imperative to lay a proper background to the understanding of this paper. As such by Nollywood this paper is making reference to the Nigerian movie industry. This is necessary because the concept of Nollywood has in itself been a subject of debate. Some arguments have suggest that the term in itself is limiting as it connotes an imitation of the American movie industry Nollywood while others believe it is an innovation that is welcomed and should be allowed to grow. Thus, Adebanjo in describing this, is of the opinion that the Nigerian film makers coined the term in order to win more audience . In slight contrast to this, Oni is of the opinion that the term was first used in the New York Times by Matt Steinglass who for want of name for the emerging Nigerian video film industry simply used “N” to connote Nigeria and called it Nollywood after the American Hollywood… (Oni 35; Nnenyelike 112).
The industry has grown so big today that it is considered a cultural export for Nigeria as it selects most of its themes from the culture of the people, not minding the multiplicity of Nigeria cultures since film can be used as a catalyst towards the integration of the various ethnic cultures in Nigeria to the extent that it now commands a wide viewership across the African continent and beyond. the Phenomenon has in recent years also spread to our Ghanaian neighbours, as they have also began to produce their own films as well as collaborate with Nigerian film makers to produce their movies. Thus one can safely say that the success of the Nollywood industry in its story delivery, artistry and projection of the Nigerian culture has influenced its neighbouring countries to also adopt the movie medium as a potent means of also telling their own stories to the world at large.
The transformation we have seen today is perhaps a result of the conscious effort by film makers to tell their own stories or rather project their cultural peculiarities. Culture in itself is the totality of a people’s way of life presupposes that it embodies all of a people’s religious beliefs, traditions creative and performing arts, in fact all their value systems and philosophies as well as their social behaviours (Okeke 25). Aina argues that
culture can be seen as the principal equipment through which men and women in society cope and interact with either material environment, which though also shapes them, but which depending on their specific level of social and economic development they shape to a greater or lesser degree for the provision of their basic and other needs. Through integrative roles culture is significant in the creation of a moral community within any defined society, providing the bonds and symbols for the existence of peoples within communities” (27).
One key point to draw from Aina’s submission above is the integrative role which culture can play by bringing together cultural and social elements of various groups into a single unified territory, a function which film in itself can perform adequately. This is because as Diran Ademiju-Bepo has argued, “film in itself is the culture of a society, more than any other art form, even though it is the product of a society” (133).
However, there have been suggestions that the Nigerian film industry has not been doing enough to showcase our rich culture. Law Ezeh in arguing along this lines notes:
A close look at Nollywood, its movies, actors and producers show that no concerted effort has been made or is being made to show the world the beauty of our unique culture, rich cultural heritage, deep rooted history and the peaceful lives our forefathers lived devoid of the frustrations and stress that is today’s life style (172).
While one is tempted to agree with Ezeh above, it is also pertinent to note that some credible efforts have been made in recent times to capture aspects of our lives that are true to our experiences and speak of the transforming nature of our existence. Today movies are made to capture the present realities of our time and project our material and immaterial culture. For instance movies like The Meeting, Figurine, October 1st, 30 Days in Atlanta to mention a few are movies that capture with detail attributes and circumstances of our Nigerian culture. Hence, as mentioned earlier in my introduction the movie industry has improved greatly. Rather than focusing only on bits and pieces of culture manifesting in costumes and setting which sometimes results in the misrepresentation of who we truly are as a notion, today’s movie makers have re-strategised to pay attention to the simple things that matter, our beliefs, aspirations, relationships, and history. Perhaps this shift is a response to critics such as Okeke who earlier argued that creative artists should explore within their immediate cultural environment so that their works will be unique and original (25).
Consequently, one can argue that the problems of quality is that of the past, the onus is now on the movie industry to continue growing in the production of content that will speak of the enormous culture that we have. The creation of the African Magic Channels as well as other cable channels has made the issue of outreach very easy as people all around can have access to view Nollywood movies. The impact of technology in this drive to refocus Nollywood as a tool for cultural diplomacy cannot be ignored. Although the cable networks have in one way or the other contributed to the explosion of the Industry, the internet has also contributed to the access of these movies to the general public.
Internet/Social Media and Nollywood Interaction
There is no doubt in saying that the internet has widened the space for interaction and connectivity of individuals in society today. Conversation has become key in today’s communication as facilitated by the social media. Media content, both visual and audio visual have now found an extended space via the social media to generate interests and attention from consumers. As such, there is a burgeoning interest in social media, which according to Helen Du and Christian Wagner is defined as “the broad and evolving set of online technologies and related practices for social engagement and interaction” (52). Therefore consumers can conveniently post their comments via different outlets (e.g. blogs, online discussion forums, online communities, etc.), read comments from unknown peers, friends or experts, or even exchange opinions with other potential consumers.
Social media powered by the internet has also grown to be both a promotional tool for individuals and companies and a place for advertising. This type of advertising has been proven to be effective. Advertising on social media tends to be considered unobtrusive. A 2008 survey by Razorfish found that 76 percent of 1,006 people surveyed said they did not mind seeing ads on their social media websites and that 40 percent of them acted on the advertisements (Qualman). This figure therefore shows reveal the potential of the social media in terms of advertising and by extension creating awareness on goods and services.
The movie industry however, has not been left out in exploring the potential of the new media in reaching out to its audience to inform them of movies they should expect or movies already in the market through movie trailers. Historically, film viewers had to go to the theatre to see the trailers for upcoming films. Then television commercial breaks were used to introduce trailers to the world. In the last decade, social media sites, like YouTube, have allowed those interested to watch trailers online. Big studios in Hollywood still rely on traditional methods of promotion like press releases and websites dedicated to providing information to news outlets and bloggers, but more often than not studios are turning to Facebook and Twitter to release new trailers. According to Lisa Kernan, a movie trailer is, “a unique narrative of film exhibition, wherein promotional discourse and narrative pleasure are conjoined” (14).
The movie scene in Nigeria has also moved along the lines of streaming trailers or rather advertising new movies online for their prospective viewers to take note of. Youtube just like in America has also become instrumental to the process of creating awareness on recent Nigerian movies as movie makers make adequate use of this platform to make their movies known. The Nollywood internet interaction has however gone beyond just streaming of trailers to actual movies. As a result of the space and reach which the internet through social media creates, movie makers now find the internet as a viable space for their movies.
Sites such as, nollywoodtv.blogspot, Iroko TV, and most recently, Accelerate TV (powered by access bank), are online movie sites that provide audience with access to latest Nigerian movies where ever they are and at any time of the day. The Iroko TV for instance is perhaps the most successful and patronised online Nollywood outlets. The Iroko TV media pack describes Iroko TV as thus:
Iroko TV is an on demand streaming service for Nollywood movies with a library of about 5000 licensed movies. It is operated by Iroko partners’ ltd based in Lagos, London, and New York. Since December 2010 the company has built a global audience of over 4 million unique users from 178 different countries. The iroko Tv is youtube’s biggest partner in Africa and has content deals with Dailymotion, iTunes, Amazon. (http://assets2.irokotv.com/www/downloads/irokotv_media_pack_08_2012.pdf).
Judging from the above, suffice it to say that the Iroko TV has been able to explore the vast opportunities of outreach which the internet platform makes available for movie audiences. Again the potential for the platform to help project the Nigerian culture cannot be overemphasised. The records above go a long way to show that the medium of the internet can be utilised as a potent enhancer of the cultural products embedded in Nollywood movies. One great advantage which the site offers is that it is well packaged and organised providing prospective audiences with the option to subscribe to watch and download movies. Subscription is in categories one month, six months and one year at an affordable cost of N500, N2000 and N3000 respectively. Thus rather than just stream for everyone to watch without returns, the site is able to generate funds to benefit both the owners and movie makers. As such one can describe this as an online cinema, as people pay to access movies they are interested in from where ever they are and at their own convenience.
Suffice it to say again that the free access to content as enabled by these internet platforms exemplified by the IROKOtv adds to the drive to expose Nigerian stories and culture to the outside world. Although it might be argued that the satellite television is already granting global access to followers of Nollywood and as such the Internet is not needed. However what makes the Internet platform unique is the quick time access to content as well as the convenience which is attached to it. The new light which the Internet platform provides for potentials Nollywood movie followers can perhaps be summed up in the official statement of the IROKOtv below:
By bringing Nollywood online, IROKO was able to set the content free, bringing African stories to a Diaspora who had previously be unable to access new or non-pirated content. By refiguring Nollywood’s distribution, the company also realigned the financial dynamics of the industry, providing producers with a new and profitable revenue stream. Thanks to millions of dollars invested into the sector by platforms such as IROKOtv, the sector has witnessed a renaissance in recent years, in the form of New Nollywood, which has brought with it improvements in technical and production values. With a movie star system to match that of Hollywood and Bollywood, and with improvements being made at every step of the production process, Nollywood is gaining increased notoriety in the West as a leading film industry. That being said, some say home is where the heart is and without a doubt, Nollywood is the dominant form of popular entertainment for Africa (http://iroko.ng/about/).
One very important point made above which is in tandem with the position of this paper is that the Nollywood industry has made significant improvements in the area of production quality as well as packaging and outreach. These improvements in quality have further increased its chances of competing favourably with movie industries around the world and the Internet has in no little way played its part in this change.
Potential Space for Theatre
Integration of theatre and new media has given rise to various possibilities. The IROKOTv example has clearly shown that the Internet is a viable space for reaching out to movie audiences. As such, it is has become pertinent for theatre practitioner in Nigeria to also take advantage of the Internet platform showcasing their performances. This results from the fact that the world is increasing being reduced to gadgets, as most times we are glued to our internet enabled devices to find information or communicate with fiends. A lot of changes are already being made in terms creating awareness for performances in performing theatres. For instance the Ahmadu Bello University Theatre Arts department utilises the social media in publicising its performances to its audiences by uploading clips inform of trailers for them to watch. This in addition to other tools of publicity helps to engineer audience to visit the theatre and watch performances.
Hence, this new space which has so been explored by Nollywood can also be taken advantage of by Nigerian Theatre practitioners. Theatre practitioners must explore digital performance, what Dixon refers “to all performance works where computer technologies play a key role rather than a subsidiary one in content, techniques, aesthetics or delivery forms” (3). As such it is now pertinent for practitioners to adopt the method of streaming their recorded performances online for potential audiences to have access to and watch. The advantage of such experiment is that there is no limit or boundary to people who will have access to it all around the world and as such the expertise, culture and performing practice of theatre in Nigeria stands the chance of being projected.
Vinay Kumar C.M. etal in describing this new trend notes: The convergence of theatre with new media provides opportunities for new types of viewing experience and engagement to audiences. The theatre as a performing art since ages has a notion of gathering people at eight p.m. in one venue for the shared experience of theatre performance. The convergence of theatre with new media has led to this social and cultural activity taking place online. The convergence of theatre and new media does not approach internet technologies as a distribution or "transmission" medium; rather, the internet is the site for the performance, & a creative medium (3).
As such judging from the above one can aver that, it is not about only making a stage performance accessible to an online audience, it is about discovering new ways of making and presenting theatre, and new artist-audience relationships in these new theatrical-contexts. Therefore, viewing theatre on new media establishes the same connect between artist and audience as it is there in case of live theatre. Since most times people devote maximum time on new media, its interactive nature motivated them to try watching theatre on new media. Diversified cross-culture viewing of theatre on new media will enrich theatre as an art form.
There are no mincing words in saying that the internet has expanded the space for the Nigerian movie industry Nollywood in reaching out to its audience and projecting Nigerian culture. This interaction that has been exemplified by the Nollywood industry needs to also be replicated in our theatre practice today. This is consequent upon the fact that the world today is changing and theatre in itself has proven not to be static, as such the theatre practice as we have it today must change to take advantage of the Internet platform to meet the needs of its audience and also project the Nigerian theatrical product to the global world.
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Emmanuel Tsadu GANA is a lecturer with the Department of Theatre and Performing Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He obtained his BA degree in Drama and a Masters degree (MA) in Development Communication, both from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He teaches Development Communication in the Department of Theatre and Performing Arts in ABU, Zaria.