Is Hollywood Losing Appeal?

12.10.2017

Interactions between civilisations have always taken different forms. Sometimes a stronger civilisation is foisted on a weaker one. Or the stronger civilisation simply appeals to the weaker one. At other instance, it is the mix of both force and appeal. For example, Chinese cuisine appeals around the world because of its nutritional, medicinal and health values. When the West exports democracy to other parts of the world, it does that by way of showcasing its material successes such as military power, economic prosperity, human rights credentials, freedoms etc to push foreign publics to accept democracy.

One of the most veritable platforms for melting civilisations into a whole is through the cinemas. This is especially true considering the role foreign cinemas played in the lives of the people of Nigeria. As kids growing up, the only countries we heard of often were England and the United States of America. The reason is simple-England was our coloniser, and we came in contact with the United States through its blockbuster films and musics. Yes, we knew China but we couldn't tell who was a Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Thai or a Chinese. But we knew who the Americans were on our TV screens, transistor radios, gramophones etc. The Americans were noted for display of affluence and scenes considered to be obscene. On screen, the American troops were always fighting the Chinese-looking guerrillas-who we later understood as the Vietnmese. Such movies would always end with the Vietnamese soldiers fighting and using booby-traps. The American soldiers never stopped bombing. The movie would end as a tie-no winner, no loser. At least that was what Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris brought to us on our TV screens.  And in real characters, we saw Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X challenging constituted authorities. This particularly captivated the Anglophone West Africa.

The Indian cinema settled well with Nigerians because of their strong family and love lives. Their films were considered as a total departure from what the Americans presented to us-less obscene scenes. Their women were relatively shy, and always covered in veil. We never cared who or what Hindu was.

Decades of these civilisational interplays resulted in the emergence of home videos in the '90s in Nigeria. Before this time, we were more conversant with sit-coms, bedtime stories, and stage plays in urban Lagos. The spread of these foreign civilisations is more pronounced in Anglophone West Africa. The civilisational interactions gave rise to the emergence of more local contents in Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. Nigeria named its cinema as Nollywood, and Ghana as Ghollywood. Nigeria with more diverse cultures and religions than the other West African states gave room for more cinemas. The northern Nigeria named its as Kannywood. "Kanny" coined around the name of the ancient commercial hub city of Kano. There is a more cogent reason for northern Nigeria to come up with its own identity, basically to cope with a society that is more conservative in culture and the Islamic religion.

In 2014, the Nigerian government rebased its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the figures revealed how large the Nollywood has grown. This cinema contributed about 1.2% of the $509 billion (USD) rebased GDP which translated to about $6 billion (USD). 

The Bollywood niche market-northern Nigeria-is the most hit by the popularity of these local cinemas. The Bollywood players have made every effort in regaining this niche market by revoicing their films into the local language-Hausa. There is no any indication to show that sales has snapped back to their former profitable position despite this effort.

Does this trend wane the influence of these foreign civilisations? To a large degree, no. Because the recepient civilisations-Anglophone West Africa-modeled theirs around these foreign civilisations. Most Kannywood movies adopt the dance-steps of the American Hip Hop laced with Bollywood rhythms. And the characters in both Nollywood and Ghollywood movies speak with a phoney American accent. Besides, the cinemas are coined around Hollywood. Notice the "wood' in all the names of the cinemas including India's Bollywood.

What these West African cinemas set out to achieve is to assert their individual distinctiveness.  Hollywood influence must be avoided because of its destructive factor on national cultures everywhere.