It’s a tried and tested formula for smash-hit Hollywood cinema: terrorists plotting mass destruction only to be foiled by a mixture of fate and law enforcement – with a good love story thrown in to boot. Now Nollywood, Nigeria’s burgeoning film industry, has got in on the action, making the country’s Islamic extremist sect the subject of a new release, Boko Haram – the movie.
The film follows the story of a young man who comes to Lagos with a secret mission to detonate a bomb that will kill 2,500 people. But in an unlikely twist he meets a prostitute who prompts a rethink. “It’s a film about a terrorist who finds love and has to challenge everything he has been taught,” said Pascal Amanfo, who wrote and directed the film. “We wanted to delve into the core of this issue, challenging people’s ideals and beliefs.
The film, released earlier this year in Nigeria and soon to be released in Ghana, is not without controversy. Amanfo said he had to change the name from Boko Haram to Nation Under Siege for the film’s domestic release, due to Nigerians’ heightened sensitivity on the topic. In Ghana, where the film is still titled Boko Haram, critics said the poster – depicting the fair-skinned Ghanaian actor Majid Michel wearing a turban and holding an AK47 – pandered to stereotypes about terrorism in the region.
There is rising demand for local movies across west Africa, where the growing middle classes buy genuine and bootleg DVDs of films such as War in the Palace, God Love Prostitutes and Fazebook Babes. By some estimates Nollywood is the second biggest film industry in the world, releasing as many as 2,000 films a year and continuing to expand. Last month the first NollywoodWeek Paris festival took place in the French capital a week after Cannes, to increase Francophone distribution opportunities.
Industry insiders say there is a growing trend for films that take on controversial topics in the news rather than traditional subjects like love, black magic and family feuds.Last year’s Last Flight to Abuja touched on the subject of air crashes, a delicate subject in Nigeria where shortly after the film’s release a passenger plane crashed into a building in Lagos, killing 153 people. The murder of four students at the University of Port Harcourt last year, killed by a mob after they were accused of stealing, was quickly turned into another Nollywood movie.
“It is definitely a case of art imitating life,” said Zara Johns, “Nollywood evangelist” at Iroko TV, an on-demand film streaming service for Nollywood movies. “These things tend to resonate with Nigerians because they are really happening,” she said.