Nigeria’s prolific film industry was first referred to as Nollywood in a 2002 New York Times article written by the paper’s Southern Africa chief, Norimitsu Onishi.
The article, titled ‘Step Aside, L.A. and Bombay, for Nollywood‘, explored Nigeria’s growing film industry and a movie set in Surulere, Lagos, then Nigeria’s movie-making capital.
Nonso Diobi, 21 and “not a big star” at the time, was one of the lead actors on the set of the movie ‘Blackmailed’.
The name ‘Nollywood’ was used only in the headline of Onishi’s article, apparently “without much deep thought” or analysis — it was this headline that christened one of the world’s filmmaking powerhouses, Nollywood.
In an era when Nigerians – indeed Africans at large – are trying to assert their political and cultural independence from the West, having Nigeria’s largest cultural institution named by a foreign press might appear to some as problematic.
However, the name has, somehow, stuck and has been adopted globally, even though it reeks of an unimaginative imitation of America’s film industry, Hollywood.
Clarifying the origin of the name, Onishi wrote that: “I’ve received occasional queries over the years from the growing cohort of academics doing research on Nollywood: “Was I the one who had coined ‘Nollywood’?” I’d reply that a copy editor had written the headline, but, yeah, sure, “Nollywood” appeared for the first time with my article.”
Although many filmmakers were, in the early days, hesitant to adopt the name, it has over time gained wide acceptance as the title of Nigeria’s movie industry.
Perhaps, as Mahmood Ali-Balogun told Onishi during a chat in 2016, “it doesn’t matter who names the child”.
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