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In the course of the last ten years, the West African film industry has grown exponentially, so much so that it now occupies a comfortable third-place position behind Hollywood and Bollywood for the number of movies produced annually. "Nollywood"—that is, Nigerian Hollywood—films are exported throughout Africa and elsewhere, ensuring that their cultural influence extends far beyond their country of origin. These movies differ from their Western counterparts in many respects. The plots feature traditional healers, polygamous families, and ancestral spirits. Some films are set in rural villages with actors wearing traditional Igbo or Yoruba clothing, while others are shot in concrete, airconditioned Lagos mansions. Most Nollywood movies feature intrigue and scandal, and are as likely to focus on the power of witchcraft as on marital infidelity.
Over the same period that the West African film industry has developed, Pentecostal Christianity has also expanded across the continent. If the growth of either one of these sectors has encouraged the development of the other, no one seems to have found this terribly surprising. Studies of the religious content of Nollywood films have been quick to cite the longstanding Protestant facility with new media, whether the printing press, radio gospel hours, or evangelical chat rooms. Doubtless there is an argument to be made in this direction, but I'm more interested in the films as snapshots of the wider context of urban Africa. Across the continent public discourse is increasingly reliant on Christian idioms and forms, a fact that has implications for the church in Africa and elsewhere.
The story of Final Account (2010) should be as familiar to readers of Goethe as it is to Pentecostals in the urban Zambian township where I worked as an ethnographer. The film opens with a half-dozen people clad in flowing red and white robes, heavy necklaces, and long red headdresses. They are chanting praises to a man at the ...