American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


The Reimagined Paradise: African Immigrants in the United States, Nollywood Film, and the Digital Remediation of 'Home'

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Vibha Bhalla (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lara Lengel (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Patricia Sharp (Other)


This dissertation analyzes how African immigrants from nations south of the Sahara become affective citizens of a universal Africa through the consumption of Nigerian cinema, known as Nollywood, in digital spaces. Employing a phenomenological approach to examine lived experience, this study explores: 1) how American media aids African pre-migrants in constructing the United States as a paradise rooted in the American Dream; 2) immigrants' responses when the 'imagined paradise' does not match their American realities; 3) the ways Nigerian films articulate a distinctly African cultural experience that enables immigrants from various nations to identify with the stories reflected on screen; and, 4) how viewing Nollywood films in social media platforms creates a digital sub-diaspora that enables a reconnection with African culture when life in the United States causes intellectual and emotional dissonance.

Using voices of members from the African immigrant communities currently living in the United States and analysis of their online media consumption, this study ultimately argues that the Nigerian film industry, a transnational cinema with consumers across the African diaspora, continuously creates a fantastical affective world that offers immigrants tools to connect with their African cultural values. Nollywood films culturally appose traditional values with both the delights and dilemmas of globalization to reveal a recognizable and relatable fictional realm for many Africans dealing with the vestiges of colonial rule. With hyper-dramatic plots that glorify and critique life on the continent, Nollywood becomes a means to an end for African immigrants residing in the often unfamiliar culture of the United States. Surfing YouTube for Nollywood films or logging into subscription based platforms like IrokoTV and Amazon Prime, which carries Nollywood titles thanks to partnerships with IrokoTV, can foil the incongruity between the paradise America is supposed to be, the realities of American life, and the immigrant's desire to preserve an African cultural identity while striving for the American dream. Nollywood viewing online helps solidify the industry as a transnational movement where immigrants in the United States use technology to watch films, connect with their cultural values, and become a part of a global digital community, or sub-diaspora, consisting of other immigrants around the world and individuals on the African continent.