Nollywood made in Switzerland

Audio-Visual Forms of Self-Representation by African Migrants in a Transnational Context

Sandra Mooser, M.A.

Under the name Nollywood a unique video film industry has developed in Nigeria in the last two decades, which now forms one of the world’s biggest entertainment industries. With its focus on stories reflecting „the values, desires and fears” (Haynes 2007: 133) of African viewers and its particular way of production relying on existing structures and taking place in everyday venues, Nollywood brings „lived practices and its representation together in ways that make the films deeply accessible and entirely familiar to their [African] audience“ (Marston et al. 2007: 57). In doing so, Nollywood shows its spectators new postcolonial forms of performative self-expression and becomes a point of reference for a wide range of people. As such, it not only excites a large number of viewer inside and outside Nigeria but also inspires some of them to become active themselves and make their own films. This effect of Nigerian filmmaking can be found in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa as well as in African diasporas worldwide – including Switzerland (Mooser 2011: 63-66).

As a source of inspiration, Nollywood and its unconventional ways of filmmaking offer African migrants a benchmark that meets their wish to express themselves as minority group in a foreign country and to „transpose the intensity of their migration experience into art” (Grassilli 2008: 1239). This kind of diasporic filmmaking, which opposes the local dominant film culture and deals with migratory themes, is designated migrant cinema by Mariagiuglia Grassilli (2008) and accented cinema by Hamid Nacify (2003). In their theories, however, Grassilli and Nacify ignore any possibility that the home country of migrant filmmakers could have a well-established film culture, too (Samyn 2010: 13). This is the case with Nollywood, which provides African filmmakers in the diaspora not only a source of inspiration but also a mass media platform. As a result, many migrant filmmakers of African descent in Europe refer to Nollywood and do not only seek to address their host country but also their country of origin when creating film narratives (Mooser 2011: 59-63).

It is the objective of my PhD research to study this transnational exchange between Nollywood and its diasporic filmmakers and to find out more about the African diaspora in Switzerland. By employing qualitative media anthropological methods and in particular Performance Ethnography, I seek to examine the ways African migrants represent themselves as a community through audio-visual media and the effect the transnational use of Nollywood has on these forms of self-representations. I am currently partnering a film project realised by African first-generation migrants in Switzerland. My partnership in this on-going film production allows me to observe and experience the ways in which the filmmakers negotiate their representations and how Nollywood is adopted and transformed in its transnational application.

More information about the SNSF project