After Hollywood and India’s Bollywood, the Nigerian film industry, known as “Nollywood,” is the world’s third largest, producing about 2,000 films annually, usually in video and DVD form, and serving a market of 150 million people. In an article in the Christian Century magazine, historian Phillip Jenkins writes that it is to be expected that Nigerian films would have a strong Christian orientation, since the nation is marked by a strong evangelical and charismatic presence, with about 45 percent of Nigerians following this faith.
The films are viewed both as entertainment and evangelism, writes Jenkins. One of the best known studios is Mount Zion Faith Ministries, founded by evangelist Mike Bamiloye. Mount Zion specializes in films depicting “spiritual warfare,” the charismatic teachings highlighting the battle between demonic spirits and Christians. Spiritual warfare teachings have been prominent in Nigeria and other parts of Africa as charismatic and Pentecostal Christians have struggled to evangelize among people and areas shaped by tribal and animist religions, as well as resurgent Islam.
One popular film, known in English as “Ark of the Covenant,” shows an African king falling ill due to a pagan curse and then being healed after coming into contact with a Christian whom his tribe had kidnapped. Although special effects may be crude and the production values not too high, such films serve as “morality plays” which remind believers about avoiding the dangers of the occult, Jenkins writes.
He adds that these films enjoy a continent-wide distribution through satellite networks and cable channels, as well as finding a place among the large Nigerian diaspora in the West. They have also spawned imitations in other African countries as well as among Nigerian Muslims, who are “now producing their own versions in a desperate attempt to play catch-up.”
Richard Cimino is the founder and editor of Religion Watch, a newsletter monitoring trends in contemporary religion. Since January 2008, Religion Watch is published by Religioscope Institute. Website: www.religionwatch.com.