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Hollywood, Bollywood, Make Way For Nollywood

Jeta Amata attends a <em>Black November</em> screening in 2012.
Paul Morigi
Getty Images
Jeta Amata attends a Black November screening in 2012.

With more than 1,000 films produced each year, the Nigerian film industry now makes more movies than Hollywood.

Filmmaker Jeta Amata has been involved in Nollywood since the industry's beginning 20 years ago. From Nigeria to Hollywood to Haiti, filmmaker Amata strives to bring the global African diaspora together.

Amata casts Nollywood stars alongside American actors like Vivica Fox and Mickey Rourke so that the stories he tells will reach a wider audience. His latest film, Black November, dealt with the environmental devastation caused by oil spills in the Niger Delta.

Black November started conversations that extended far past the Delta. After the film was screened at the Library of Congress in 2012, Congressman Bobby Rush and three of his colleagues sponsored a joint resolution advocating for the Delta's protection and recovery. "That was just a major, major achievement," Amata says of the resolution.

Amata joined Tell Me More's Michel Martin to talk about how his storytelling connects Africans living all over the world.

Interview Highlights

On bringing professional quality production to Nollywood

Nollywood is actually not about the quality. Nollywood is making films for us, by us. That's what's made it as phenomenal as it is. So the quality has never come into play. But with guys like me, who get ambitious and feel like "How do we tell the world our stories?" The world demands... I don't want to use the word "quality," but certain ways have to be applied in making the film, yes. That's why I decided to venture out to using such ways.

On casting Hollywood stars in Black November

I grew up in the Niger Delta. I know the problems we face in the Niger Delta. And if you want to tell the story, you want the world to see it. You want the world to understand so they can help us in minimizing the problems we go through... If I have to make something that people would see and join us in our peaceful fight, they would have to regard it as one of their kinds of films.

Nobody wants to talk oil, even in Hollywood. While I was trying to cast, there were some people who just saw that it had to do with oil and were like "I love this, but I will have to pass because I am not political and I don't want to delve into this." So it was quite difficult casting the right names.

On his next film about Toussaint l'Ouverture and the struggle for Haitian independence

Now, that is a story that every, every African and Africans in the diaspora have to know... This is something the world has to know. They have to understand that years ago, we had a few people who stood up, did it the right way, and succeeded.

It's a big story. It's a big endeavor, but big endeavors have never scared Nigerians. We just keep going, so the Nigerian spirit in me is gonna move on.

On making global connections

There are so many dynamic people out here [in Africa] who would love to welcome our brothers and sisters from out there so that we can connect and do business together. Like Nollywood, we're the second-biggest film industry in the world-- come on!

The African-Americans out there, all they need to do is collaborate with us and they can reach the 170 million people in Nigeria. ... Black History Month, bring it to Africa. Connect with your African brothers. We want our brothers and sisters to come back home to celebrate with us so we can plan on how to move forward.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tell Me More Staff