The Nigerian film industry, or Nollywood, has gone through a few definite eras since its inception, but not all of them have enjoyed the same publicity and acceptance. The early days of Nollywood’s popularity date back to when Kenneth Okonkwo and Nnenna Nwabueze starred in the original. live in bondage (1992). Built on the premise of “blood money” and people’s efforts to acquire wealth, which could take the form of sacrificing the life of a loved one, complemented by the introduction of means of distribution in live-to-video (DVD and VCD) has helped signal a sea change in the ways media is consumed in Nigeria. The concept, clumsy as it was, helped boost CD sales. The film industry, especially the participants of South Eastern origin, would develop a cottage industry of films revolving around the subject of human sacrifice for the acquisition of wealth. Even though these films were retrograde in theme and sometimes in setting, there was no doubting their acceptance and enjoyment.
The original Nollywood producers had shoestring budgets, passable direction and above-average cinematography to work with, but these tools proved more than enough to not only hold an entire country in thrall, but soon the Nigeria has made a name for itself by exporting films to neighboring Africa. countries. This led investors and the government to recognize the financial potential of our film industry and began to offer support. It first came in the form of grants and loans aimed at reducing the cost of production of these films, in particular the promise of N3bn then President Goodluck Jonathan. President Buhari’s administration also followed with the institution of Nollyfund by the Bthank’s for Inindustrie in 2015 and the payment of 1.8 billion to more than 100 producers between 2017 and 2018 But to compete with Hollywood, America’s premier motion picture industry, and the many “woods” emerging from other countries that were rapidly overtaking ours in government-supported countries, much more money was needed, especially since several producers decried the difficulty of accessing these public funds. This will come much later in the form of film companies and private investment in the industry, with the entry of companies like Mo Abudu’s Ebonylife Studios (which gave life to films like Fifty, The Wedding party 1 and 2) and Filmone Studios(behind titles like The Arbitration and A trip to Jamaica) which later ink deals with Chinese and South African investors in an international capital fund. iROKOtv $8 million financing round in 2013and more CANAL+ buys its ROK studios to develop African content are other notable investments in the film industry.
However, these large investments in the Nigerian film industry could not immediately stop the decline in popular appeal of Nollywood films, especially among Nigerian youth. With the infiltration of foreign films into Nigerian homes facilitated by roadside DVD vendors, there has been a loss of appeal for young people, who attracted by the lure of foreign content – the great CGI production of American superhero films, the loving warmth of Korean romantic comedies and the heart-pounding action of Chinese martial arts films. Nollywood continued its existence, on the African magic channels on DSTV dedicated to it, and on CDs and DVDs rented by nostalgic adults, but most of the glamor was gone. This created a bewildering conundrum, one that the greater exposure and funding the industry has enjoyed could not surpass, or even replicate, the pure enjoyment of “home videos” that many families enjoyed. all those years ago as an evening treat. The increased budget given to these producers was obvious – in the long cast lists, more impressive stunts improved direction and sound, and the inevitable big bucks owambe scene (think The wedding party, chef dad). Translating this into a better culture around Nollywood, however, seemed tumultuous. That is, until recently.
Today’s Nollywood is currently experiencing a Renaissance. The years of work are starting to pay off. A look at the highest grossing nigerian movies can show, in monetary terms, that Nigerians have started to invest a lot more – via movie tickets and streaming subscriptions – in Nollywood. The fact that almost all highest grossing nigerian movies date back to the last 7 years, coupled with the entry of streaming giants like Netflix (via Ebonylife Studios) and Amazon Prime Video (via Inkblot productions and Anthill studios) is measurable proof that the Nigerian film industry is gaining momentum. But who do we have to thank for this rise? To what factor can we attribute this upward momentum? Well, a look at the current movie scene reveals multiple reasons for this growth, and some are more obvious than others. The first, and most glaring, is the increase in investment in industry.
Another crucial, yet easily overlooked, element of the current Nigerian film scene is the relativity of its characters and stories. Complacency towards foreign audiences through fake accents and the obsession with posh neighborhoods in Lagos is starting to fade. If films are created for the entertainment of all Nigerians, they must be for everyone, not just the elite. Scenes shot in sprawling mansions in Lekki, the towering skyscrapers of Victoria Island and, of course, the Ubiquitous Ikoyi Link Bridge make good eye candy, but they prevent the audience from properly connecting to the stories they describe. Especially when nearly every major movie is the same. These days there has been a bit more diversification. At Kayode Kasum This lady called life depicts romance in a middle class setting, Biodun Stephen’s breaded life placed two Lagos faces side by side as a young man loses his silver spoon and must navigate the lower strata of society. This diversity of decors makes it possible to capture a wider audience.
Another factor responsible for Nollywood’s revival, and perhaps the most important of all, is better storytelling. Make no mistake, there are still plenty of room for improvement in screenwriting, but the winds of change cannot be ignored. Interesting as they were, old Nollywood movies had the most predictable storylines you could think of. The casting lists were all the clues you needed to know the characters in the movie and how they would end up. Patience Ozokwor, the wicked stepmother, would eventually be dishonored. Kanayo O. Kanayo, the merchant of human parts, should die for his sins, or perhaps lose his mind. But he could never win. These storylines kept things simple, choosing to remain morally upright and rewarding all parties with the fruits of their deeds. Of course, in the real world, there are no clearly defined good guys and bad guys, and there are many more layers to each person and story. Today’s Nollywood features a few complex characters, a standout being Eniola Salami from King Of Boys by Kemi Adetiba. While much of the industry has yet to catch up, the more convoluted story seen in a film like Jadesola Osiberu’s sugar rush and the mature themes addressed in the Kunle Afolayan – produced Quote shows that the industry is ready to turn a new page in the quality of storytelling.
As streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon increase their investment in the Nigerian film industry, the opportunity is there to showcase the world’s second largest film industry on the global stage. If our filmmakers continue on the trajectory they have charted in recent years, it will not be long before our film industry catches up with the music industry to become a source of pride and joy for Nigeria and the toast of the whole world.
Patrick Ezema is a creative writer with interests in music, film and pop culture, with signings to Clout Mag and The NETng. When he’s not writing about these topics, he’s a high-profile Twitter junkie getting his daily fix. catch it @ezemapatrick.