About the Cover

You want entertainment? Bring back the studio system and let the Nigerians run it. The results won’t be pretty—zombies, black magic, real-life conflicts, and HIV—but the hits will keep on coming, and there will be something for everyone. That’s the spirit behindNollywood, the grass-roots Nigerian film industry that has grown into a $250 million-dollar-a-year goliath, the world’s third-largest producer of feature films. Churning out a mind-boggling 1,000 features a year, directors with near-zero budgets and digital cameras have made an entire generation of local actors into household names across black Africa. For his series Nollywood, on view at the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City (February 25–April 10) and the Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Santa Monica (April 10–May 22), Pieter Hugo did Nollywood one better. He reinvented it. The South African photographer recruited some lesser-known actors, like John Dollar Emeka, to stage scenes for his camera. The scenes don’t refer to any particular film, but they capture the anything-goes, over-the-top spirit of the industry, a combination of squalor and fantasy. The result, says Yossi Milo, is “a fiction of a fiction.” Emeka, on our cover, looks at first as fierce as Idi Amin or any other dictator, but the threat is undercut by his arm in a sling and a haunted look in his eyes. The cast of characters also includes Princess Adaobi, with a severed hand in her mouth, various ghosts and machine-gun toting marauders. As in his earlier series, The Hyena & Other Men, which presented a group of itinerate entertainers and their animal sources of income, Hugo has an eye for entrepreneurial black Africa, for the blend of desperation and ingenuity that drives so much of its economy. The settings where many of the Nollywood films are shot would be instantly familiar to many Africans, in Nigeria and beyond—rough and tumble urban neighborhoods or rugged country towns. But for non-African viewers, adds Milo, “These images are deliberately subversive of our ideas of an exotic and picturesque Africa, and of our notions of documentary fidelity.” Hugo also has an eye for controversy. Hugo, who is white, has been accused of sensationalism and of fostering racial stereotypes. At the very least, the widespread interest in his work testifies to his ability to probe the uncomfortable relationship of viewer and viewed in a world of haves and have-nots. Yet the subjects of his photographs clearly engage the process of their fictionalization and make the presentations their own. More importantly, all Hugo’s photographs give vivid information about the milieus and struggles out of which these enterprises arise; stylized as they are, they seek a truth beyond mere accuracy. What is that truth? It resides in the vitality of performance, in the words, “Lights, camera, action!”