From the 2nd to the 5th of June last week, Paris welcomed the 4th edition of the Nollywood Week Film Festival. 4 days during which Africans, Nigerians in Diaspora, but also French people were able to discover a handpick of Nollywood’s best productions of last year, and to enjoy the screening of Kunle Afolayan’s highly anticipated latest movie « The CEO ». Even though the Festival has confirmed its growing success over the years, numerous voices amongst the Nigerian online community rose to question the necessity of an event celebrating Nigerian cinema in Paris. denouncing a nonsense, an inferiority complex, with some going as far as to call it self hate because, « We are Nigerians, what is our business doing Nollywood in France ? », and also because « Charity begins at home ». Well, as a Nigerian born and raised in the Diaspora, allow me to disagree. Nollywood Week in Paris is more than a necessity, it’s a need and I will tell you why.
I’m Nigerian. One might object the fact that I was born in France. And my answer would be that if I was indeed born in Paris, my upbringing was clearly, definitely and undoubtedly Nigerian. Egusi soup, Eba, pof pof and Stout are far from strangers to me. The importance attached to studies in order to attain the Holy Grail that is a degree in Law, Finance or Engineering is a refrain my siblings and I had to sing along to most days of our teenage years. And when Nollywood movies hit France in the early 2000’s thanks to Youtube, they opened up a whole new world to us. A Nigerian folklore full of Juju, generational curses, endless battles between Good and Evil … but also impossible love stories between the village girl and the golden boy from a Royal Family coming back to Nigeria after years of studying in the US, which in my opinion have nothing to envy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ! So many stories and legends that my mother had told us were finally incarnated before my very eyes, or shall I say before the screen of my Dell computer (We are in the early 2000’s remember, no Mac Book Pro back then).
Growing up in a mostly white neighborhood, we were not surrounded by a strong Nigerian community, just a few family friends whose kids were born in France as well. No real Nigerian role model to relate to. With Nollywood movies, I was finally able to understand my mother. The strength she demonstrated to face any challenging situation, her hot temper and bad faith while in an argument (if you know Mama G you are definitely feeling me), but also the deep love hidden behind the discipline, the toughness, and the reserve. I learned my first words of pidgin with Nollywood movies. « How you dey ? », « Say Wettin? », «Oya » became recurrent between my little sister and I. The words were rolling through our tongues and teeth while we were basking in this cultural re-appropriation.
There has been a lot of water under the bridge since this blessed era. The Nollywood Industry has evolved, as well as its audience. Where Nigerian movies were formerly produced by Nigerians for Nigerians only, they are now viewed by an African Diaspora deliberately defying national, cultural and linguistic borders. Countries like Ghana, Kenya but also and most importantly french speaking ones like Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast … so many countries whose diasporas are predominant in France, and very fond of Nigerian cinema. If in doubt just check the numbers, they don’t lie : this year, the Festival registered 2500 entries, despite a very challenging economic environment (the country has been paralyzed by strikes for the past 3 weeks), and dramatic weather conditions (flood).
Another example of the undeniable interest for Nollywood in France is the launch in 2012 of Nollywood TV France, a cable channel 100% dedicated to Nigerian fictions entirely translated and dubbed in french. From 2000 subscribers during the year of introduction, the television network jumped to more than 165.000 aficionados in 2014 and is still counting. In December last year, TV-streaming company Iroko TV and leading french pay-TV provider Canal+ announced a new partnership whose aim is to extend Nollywood’s finest to a French-speaking audience via a phone app. The service will be accessible via an Android app and users will be able to download French-dubbed Nollywood content for a monthly fee. The launch into Francophone Africa, with its 250 million people spread across 23 countries, is a big deal for Iroko TV, as « the opportunities in French-speaking Africa cannot be overlooked».
There are many ways to explain the success of Nollywood to a francophone african audience. Immigrants of first or second generation feeling nostalgic and missing African social life’s « shenanigans » for example. To Pierre, a Franco-Cameroonian born in Yaoundé, « When I see the repeated argument scenes or stories of adultery that mobilizes the whole family, it really speaks to me! It sticks to a certain reality we were never able to recreate here ». Even more surprising is the enthusiasm of those who, born and raised in France, know very little to nothing about Africa. Honorine, a young woman of Gabonese descent draws all the cultural references French films « were never able to provide, even when they were targeting an african audience. Somehow, I learn more about the social life of an African family through Nollywood movies than through what my parents could teach me. Plus these movies are hilarious ! », she says. The thing is that at the end of the day, Nollywood movies are the closest to the African scenery form of entertainment you can find. This is a phenomenon that is gradually and will continue to increase! There’s a growing desire from the public to be able to relate, to identify with the stories. In this age of the Internet, every individual has the power to influence the content that is been viewed. We want and can go further than the formatted usual American movies, people are sick and tired of this « all-Hollywood » thing, they long for characters, tales and stories that look like them !
Paris is a must when it comes to cinema. The City of Lights. A world cultural platform, that gives space to every cinematographic genre, Bollywood, Asian or Latin movies. Nigeria is one of the biggest movie producers in terms of quantity, right after Bollywood and before Hollywood. Why wouldn’t an industry as big and as important as this one be represented in France ? Why wouldn’t we instead of complaining, rather rejoice about the fact that Nigeria is slowly but surely being represented on the world Map ? The Nigerian art scene is one of the most dynamic, creative, and progressive in Africa and in the world. Yet, who knows about it in francophone countries ? Being a journalist here in Paris, I can assure you that most of the times, when Nigeria is mentioned in the media, Boko Haram or the Super Eagles are never too far. Yet, we have so much more to offer than terrorism and Football !
Nollywood Week in Paris is the sum of all of that. A rendez-vous for all Nigerian cinema lovers throughout all Europe (yes it is the only festival in Europe celebrating the Nigerian Movies Industry), and it’s not unusual to have visitors coming from London or Belgium to attend. Nollywood Week in Paris offers a unique opportunity for the french audience to meet with actors and movie directors that are shaping the new face of Nigerian cinema. Nollywood Week in Paris is the missing link between Nigeria’s movie industry professionals and their francophone counterparts. A moment of exchange where partnerships, collaborations are forged. Kunle Afolayan’s CEO and its panafrican cast composed of Benin’s Grammy-award winning singer Angelique Kidjo, alongside actors from Kenya, Ivory Coast and well-known haïtian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis (seeing in Heroes) is proof that Nollywood Movies are no longer appealing to only Nigerians, but to all Africans, including those in Diasporas.