In the new wave of filmmaking rolling across Africa, there’s Nollywood, Nigeria’s $250 million industry, which, according to a May 2009 UNESCO report, has overtaken Hollywood as the world’s second largest producer of feature films, behind India’s Bollywood; and there’s Gollywood, the Ghanaian industry with a plethora of talent and gumption. Now Nollywood and Gollywood appear to be meeting on rancorous ground. At issue: an alleged invasion of Nollywood by Ghanaian actors.
According to press reports, the Actors Guild of Nigeria wants Nigerian filmmakers and marketers to curb their use of “foreign” actors, especially Ghanaians, by adopting an 80 percent local / 20 percent foreign rule. Not only are “our talents are left wasting away without any job to do,” guild president Segun Arinze is quoted as complaining, but the industries in countries whose actors appear in Nigerian films also do not reciprocate by engaging Nigerian actors. Nigerian actors accuse the Ghanaian industry of toeing the line to an “unofficial communiqué” that Ghanaian film producers who use Nigerian stars will be blacklisted.
This “alien invasion” issue is a fiery one. Responding to an article on Nigeriafilms.com, one reader writes: “After they have infiltrated Nollywood and gained ground in our film industry, have you not seen how Ghanaians are NOW trying to destroy Nollywood by charging lesser fees, thereby spoiling the market for our Nigerian actors
and actresses?... Please don’t give Ghanaians ANY room to operate in Nollywood, AT ALL anymore. They are DEVILS; not amongst us to build up, but out to copy, to destroy and pull down anything good in Nigeria. Send all of them packing. FAST!!”
On Nigeriamovies.net, an actor fumes: “Ghanaians don’t pay tax here, yet they come here in droves, make money and return to their country to live lavishly. The reason marketers use them more now is simply because of greed. They charge less and, permit me to say, they don’t act too well. But our marketers will sell their souls to gain extra kobo. Why would they want to use us when we charge them and deliver premium quality when there is someone who will charge less and probably deliver less? Nigerian movies will sell anywhere, whether it has an all Nigerian cast in it or not.”
Nollywood marketers, who double as the industry’s financial backers, defend their choice, arguing that they are simply trying to recoup their investments amid sliding video sales at home. They contend that Nollywood movies with Ghanaian actors enjoy bigger sales in Ghana, the second-largest market for Nollywood films after Nigeria itself, than those without Ghanaians. Moreover, Gollywood marketers insist that Nollywood movies feature Ghanaian stars, and in very visible roles, if those movies are to be sold in Ghana. “The introduction of Ghanaian actors into Nollywood is a good development for the industry,” Nollywood movie producer Fidelis Duker is quoted as saying. “It is the market that determines how long they will stay in the industry. It’s business. Movie producers are making so much money from these guys. Ghanaian actors today are hotcakes and they sell movies, why won’t they get roles?”
Ghanaians are weighing in. In an interview with Nigerianfilms.com, top Ghanaian actress Jackie Appiah said, “I believe that Ghanaian movies sell as much as Nigerian movies now. That is why they invite us to Nigeria, because people want to see Ghanaian stars in the flicks. The only advantage Nigeria has over Ghana is that Nigeria is a bigger country with a bigger population, which means that the movie marketers and producers have a bigger market to attend to. But if you are talking of sales worldwide, Ghana movies attract the same volume of sales as Nigerian movies.”
Meanwhile, filmmakers from other African countries are quietly stepping on to the world stage. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a New African Cinema program made its debut with three short films from Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. New Africa Cinema is funded by the Africa First program launched in 2008 by Focus Features, a division of U.S.-based NBC Universal Inc. At its launch, Africa First awarded five African filmmakers — three women and two men from Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa — a $10,000 grant each to finance production and postproduction work on a short film, using local industry resources. The films that screened at Sundance 2010 came from three of these awardees: Kenyan-born Wanuri Kahiu’ remarkable science fiction, Pumzi; South African Jenna Bass’ magical tale of warfare in Zimbabwe, The Tunnel; and Senegalese Dyana Gaye’s buoyant road-trip tale, Saint Louis Blues.