Many years ago, the industry that we know as Nollywood today was formed allegedly after the release of the first Living in Bondage movie way back in 1992. There was a boom, some international recognition, the sale of many cassettes and DVDs when video rental shops were still a thing, and then a downward spiral in the production of movies as a whole.
Producers happily took the quantity over quality approach because it meant they could make some more money by splitting a two-hour movie into four, sometimes five parts. More production credits, more money, not having to pay the actors as much, and in a weird way playing their part to make the name Nollywood the giant it is today.
Fast-forward to 2002 when Kunle Afolayan came up with the critically-acclaimed The Figurine movie. That was the turning point in the Nigerian film industry, the point where producers realized that if they really want to get Nigerians watching their movies again and get the international recognition, they will have to put some more effort into quality.
Some flipped the switch, others didn’t and are taking advantage of the vacuum created to make even more money than they did when the home video market was a saturated space.
Model of Nollywood
Whether we care to admit it or not, the Nigerian movie industry has many sub-sectors that hardly interact with themselves, which is sadly the norm, something to be expected from a country as culturally diverse and divided as Nigeria. We have, for lack of a better word, the Posh Nollywood (the part of the industry that gets their movies screened in cinemas and on streaming platforms,) Kannywood reigns supreme in Northern Nigeria, Yorubawood owns the west except Lagos (for obvious reasons,) we have Eastern movies, Asaba movies, and more sub-sectors keep popping up as time passes.
Yes we have the occasional actor making an appearance in other industries, and by this I mean a Kannywood actor like Rahama Sadau appearing in blockbuster movies like Tatu and the horror that is Lagos Real Fake Life, Odunlade Kolawole from Yorubawood also appears in Posh movies from time to time, and the newest kid on the block Swanky Jerry, who unknown to many is not a new face in the movie industry, appearing in the critically-acclaimed Living in Bondage: Breaking Free from the Asaba subsector.
Effect of Covid-19 on the Industry
It’s been two months since coronavirus made its way to our doorstep and put a temporary halt on the entertainment industry as a whole. Movies in development are not being produced for now and our darling actors have made the content creation app, Tik Tok, their new set. A platform which has exposed the lack of range many of our beloved actors seem to possess, but no matter because they will continue to get roles as long as they are famous enough to pull the crowd to cinemas nationwide.
Hollywood has spent the better part of the last two months pushing release dates back of movies originally scheduled to release between March and June. And for an industry that is the third-largest in the world in terms of releasing movies, they live up to it with the sheer number of movies they’ve had to push back to later in the year, 2021, or take straight to streaming platforms because cinemas worldwide have been shut down.
Where is Cinema Nollywood in all this?
For the industry that celebrated overtaking Hollywood to become the second-largest movie producers in the world, there has been no announcement of possible new releases for movies that would have otherwise been screened in cinemas during the lockdown period.
This begs the question of, what part of the Naija film industry actually gives it the fame currently enjoyed as second-best (quantity, not quality)? It definitely is not the Posh Nollywood sector because so far all the announcements have been previously-released movies making their way to Netflix. I guess that’s part of why it’s Posh, it’s all about making the next trending Nigerian movie on Netflix.
But what about the other subsectors? They are unarguably the ones who produce the number of movies without getting recognized (a fault I understand because while we clips of their movies are used as memes and to make us laugh on social media, mainstream and exposed Nigerians, who are still struggling to watch Posh Nollywood movies in cinema or watch the Nigerian movies on Africa Magic, Iroko TV, Ibaka TV, and other local streaming platforms, will rather spend all day on social media than take two hours to watch the full movie of said hilarious clips,) while the hit and miss in terms of quality movies get screened in cinemas, international film festivals, and more.
The real question is, how can our movie industry be second-best if no cinema movies were set to be screened between the months of April and June? If they were to be, how come there are no new possible release dates? If anything, the posh sector of the industry has been too quiet ever since the lockdown began. The only announced news worthy of note has been the Drive-In Cinemas coming to Lagos and Abuja.
Who really makes Nollywood what it is?
That is a question that deserves an answer. If the Asaba and Eastern movie industry as responsible for the number of movies being released, then shouldn’t more eyes be focused there? Shouldn’t we have more posh actors, producers, and filmmakers in such sectors helping to beef up the quality of movies made there?
So far, Kunle Afolayan seems like the only filmmaker who produces movies that serve two sectors; Posh and Yorubawood. Genevieve Nnaji made great progress with Lionheart, making it as much Igbo as it was English, and delivered a truly Nigerian movie.
Netflix has made its presence in Nigeria known and already has plans to produce original Nigerian movies, which is a big step in the right direction for both movies in our various traditional languages and our lingua franca. Yes, that’s international recognition, but the Oscars nomination Nigerian film producers are chasing won’t come from movies that only serve Posh and Western audiences.
It’s the movies made in local dialects that have a shot at this, and they are, in all honesty, the movies that make Nollywood what it is.
I do believe we have come a long way and I would be wrong not to commend the amazing filmmakers that have played a part in making this possible, but the fact that filmmakers in Posh Nollywood are basking in being second-best without actually proving that they are second best in more like a slap to the industry and the filmmakers in subsectors who have still been releasing home videos during this period on both DVDs, YouTube, and other easily accessible streaming platforms.
P.S – The Posh Nollywood sector seems too divided to work. The real unity can be seen in the subsectors, maybe it’s because of the unspoken feeling of being a niche industry or not, but what I do know is until we can find a way to convert the number of movies produced in these various subsectors to quality, the Nigerian film industry may never get to the level we truly envision and believe it will.