Nigeria's 'Nollywood' - Where African Celluloid Dreams Roll Out Fast And Furious

After India‘s Bollywood, Nigeria produces the most movies on the planet per year. However, producers have big business drama: only one in ten DVDs is sold legally as piracy runs rampant.

One of the 600 Nigerian films produced each year (Nollywood Forever)
One of the 600 Nigerian films produced each year (Nollywood Forever)
Christian Putsch

BENIN CITY - "Where's the damn key?" The meter is ticking on the set of "Behind Closed Doors II," the sequel of a major Nigerian box office hit. Director Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen paces restlessly back and forth in front of the villa in this southern Nigerian city. Filming should have started by now.

Oduwa is small and muscular, and wears a chain with a cross around his neck. Waving his arms around, he barks into his cell phone: "Where the hell are you? Do you know how much this is costing me?" His booming voice can be heard above the din of city traffic.

Twenty people are standing around waiting, some of the best-known actors in the country among them. But nothing doing; the gates to the villa remain locked.

The director has five more scenes to shoot before this, his 105th film, is in the can. Imasuen is one of the superstars of Nollywood, as the Nigerian film industry is known. But even superstars in Nigeria have days when chaos gets the upper hand. The owner of the villa with the huge fake marble columns flanking the entrance is an Edo state government minister who, as it turns out, just lost his job. There had been some irregularities in the cabinet, and the governor fired the lot of them. And it had to be this morning.

Another hour goes by before the official's son finally shows up. Imasuen herds everybody through the gates and, after a short prayer, yells: "Action!"

Anyone who really wants to understand the hardships, dreams and ambitions of the people of Nigeria should take in one of Imasuen's movies -- or one of the other 600 films made in Africa's most populous country every year. In terms of quantity, this makes Nigeria's film industry the second largest after India's. The Nigerian industry turns over about 200 million euros annually and, after the public sector, is the country's second largest employer. (The oil industry brings in a lot more money but creates relatively little employment.)

Love and betrayal, good and evil

Nollywood movies are most often made on a budget of about 10,000 euros. They tell gripping stories about love and betrayal, upward mobility, or the power of good over evil. The actors are a mixed bag, some experienced, some not, with editing done on a laptop, and the result is souped-up with special effects reminiscent of 1950s Hollywood B movies.

Making movies like that was the way Imasuen got his start too -- before becoming one of Nollywood's "Big Men." His movie "Close Enemies' cost over 200,000 euros and is one of the biggest productions in Nigerian movie history. But yesterday is yesterday, and now he's putting all his energy into "Behind Closed Doors II," starring Richard Mofe Damijo, or RMD as he's known, one of Nollywood's top earners – actors like him are more than 10,000 euros per movie.

The director describes the plot this way: "An impotent husband asks his unmarried brother to get his wife pregnant. He later changes his mind – but by that time, his wife is already expecting. The husband becomes obsessed with the idea that she is carrying a bastard, and shoots her." According to Imasuen, no sequel was originally planned, but was launched after the original film's huge success.

The story continues: "Miraculously, no one dies, and a DNA test reveals that the baby is actually the husband's. He's not impotent after all!" In front of the villa, under the midday sun, one scene after another is being filmed. The two brothers exchange heated words, and at one point a suitcase flies through the air. In a nearby parking lot, other actors sit on plastic chairs learning their lines.

Imasuen is all over the set, with the actors, the cameramen, the writer, waving his arms around. "Cut! That was good," he croaks. "Now get the other actors." On it goes, until the time lost that morning has been recouped, and everybody takes a break.

"We tell stories Nigerians can identify with," Imasuen says. "Unlike Hollywood movies, ours don't always have a happy end. The world's not fair, so why should we pretend it is?" The quality of Nigerian movies has been getting better in recent years, there are more actors, and new movie theaters are being built.

The industry is in dire need of investment, however; presently, it self-finances through cable deals and street sales of DVDs. Churches often finance films to spread their message and many production companies are happy to take their money, particularly as competition is getting stiffer from countries like Ghana.

But the biggest problem is pirating. Only one in ten DVDs is sold legally. For as little as a US dollar, you can get the latest films on Lagos's congested streets. Pirated films are even shown on TV. The problem keeps foreign investors away. But Nigeria‘s president, Goodluck Jonathan, has pledged 130 million euros to try to tackle film piracy.

By evening, all five scenes are in the can; the film's pretty much done, Imasuen says. "After it launches, I only have a couple of days to get my costs back – after that, there are too many pirated copies out there." But by that time his thoughts will be on something else anyway: like casting his next movie.

Read the original article in German

photo - Nollywood Forever

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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