Nollywood offers unique glimpse into Africa

October 14th 2014
Arts & Humanities
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This story is part of a series that profiles new faculty members to the College of Letters & Science. 

When it comes to sheer volume, Hollywood can't match Nollywood.

The Nigerian film industry is the second largest one in the world in terms of film production, ranking behind only India's Bollywood. And Nollywood reveals insights into African popular culture, which is why freshly-hired Assistant Professor of African Languages and Literature Matthew Brown (M.A.'08, Ph.D.'14, African Languages and Literature) studies it.

Brown, who lived in Botswana for three years as a youngster and studied abroad in Ghana as an undergraduate student, has combined his interests in Africa, theater and new media. The former preschool teacher "couldn't be more thrilled" to work in the department from which he just received his Ph.D.

We caught up with Brown to discuss Nollywood, following in the footsteps of a legend, and his hard-rocking past.

Q: What should the general public know about Nollywood? Why is it significant?
A: Nollywood, which is about 25 years old now, is the first cinema industry made entirely by Africans for Africans. Knowing about Nollywood is a way of knowing information about Africa that hasn't been framed for a general audience.

Q: Tell us more about your research on Nollywood.
A: Nollywood bears all of the marks of an entirely popular entertainment industry. It's neither state-funded, nor corporate, yet it produces thousands of films a year and reaches audiences around the world through informal trading networks. My work, however, reveals that Nollywood owes its genesis, and some of its persistent aesthetic strategies, to Nigerian state television. Nollywood may be truly popular, but it is engaged in social projects similar to the state, which suggests the state and the people it rules may be closer to one another than previously thought.

Q: What is your favorite Nollywood film? Why?
A: It's hard to pick just one favorite. But here's an attempt: The Master. It's a comedy starring my favorite actor, Nkem Owoh. It's about "419" (the nickname for a kind of fraud that includes the infamous Nigerian email scams), and it both hilariously and poignantly depicts the social and economic circumstances that create a climate for endemic social and institutional corruption.

Q: What courses will you teach?
A: I will begin by teaching some of the courses developed by now-retired Professor Harold E. Scheub. He is an institution himself on this campus and I had the good fortune to study under him before he retired. In the coming semesters, I will also be teaching courses in African literature and literary theory, and I will be creating new courses in African cinema and new media.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?
A: There was a time that I played the guitar every day, and performed on stage in a rock band at least once a week. Those days are long gone, but I still pick up a guitar when I can.