When talking about movie production in the world today, the Nigerian film industry which sobriquet is Nollywood cannot be pushed aside. It is unarguably the third most valuable in the world in terms of number of films produced after Hollywood and Bollywood with over $102.7 Billion gross worth in 2012.
It’s origin as Africa’s giant movie industry could be traced to the late 19th century when founding thespians like Hubert Ogunde and Moses Olayia transitioned from stage theatre to the big screen. These pioneers started the Nigerian movie industry in a country whose citizens looked up to foreign contents for their entertainment as the existing cinemas then were controlled by the colonial master. Only foreign contents like Hollywood and Bollywood were shown in the cinemas. This was part of the colonial master’s propaganda to make Nigerians embrace her culture at the expense of the indigenous ones.
As a way of producing local contents for Nigeria citizens during the foreign control of the cinemas in the country, the founding thespians founded the “Alarinjo”- the moving theatre. This was a form of theatre production prominent in Southwest Nigeria, whereby theatre practitioners moved from one part of the region to another, staging plays. Late Hubert Ogunde founded the first professional theatrical company in the nation named the African Music Research Party in 1945, and finally changed to Ogunde Theatre in 1960 after a series of changes was made to the name at different periods of time.
Prominent amongst his works was Yoruba Ronu (Yorubas, Think) a stage play in 1964 that generated controversy and earned him the wrath of premier of the Western Region; Chief Akintola, which later led to the ban of his theatre company for two years.
As a result of the transitioning to big screen from stage plays and Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, the cinema business in the country expanded with an increase in indigenous contents in theatres. The 1972’s indigenous decree by Yakubu Gowon which transferred about 300 film theatres from foreigners to Nigerians also enabled more active roles for Nigerians in cinema and film. So, people derived more joy in going to cinemas to see movies with Nigerian casts, and because of the oil boom at this period, they didn’t mind the cost of the viewing ticket.
However, the growing cinema-going culture began to decline in the late 1980s when there was an increase in the acquisition of television sets across the country and the advent of VHS. Families no longer saw the need to go to the cinema, because every movie screened over a single weekend was released on video the following week. In the early 1990s, only a few of the once vibrant cinema houses were still in operation, and all had collapsed before 1999.
The advent of VHS brought in an era in the Nigerian movie industry called the Video film era. This was an era when home video thrived in Nigeria between late 1980s to mid-2010s. The term “Home video” stems from the concept of staying at home to watch movies on VHS, whereby people didn’t have to commute to cinemas like the Golden Age era or wait in line for the latest film release.
The first film produced on VHS in Nigeria was Ade Ajiboye’s “Soso Meji” produced in 1988, followed by Alade Aromire’s “Ekun” in 1989. However, Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage produced in 1992, is claimed to be the beginning of the boom experienced in this era.
At this time, Alaba market and Oshodi market in Lagos were the major distribution channels of Nigerian movie contents. People who could not afford to buy a VHS or CD or DVD that came much later in this era, went to video club centers to rent it from a local store and watched it at home. The major challenge that filmmakers had in this era was piracy. They had to struggle with the monster in the industry. For every new movie they produced, before they could say Jack Robinson, the pirated copies were already everywhere in the market which hindered the development of the industry and affected their profit making.
The resurgence of cinema-going culture in the country which started with movies like Figurine, Irapada, Phone Swap, Ice, and many other movies has hitherto been a good mechanism of fighting piracy in the Nigeria movie industry. Filmmakers now have control of their works leading to a win-win for both the producers and the casts.
The return to democracy in 1999 ushered in an economic boom that encouraged the return of theaters. As a result, filmmakers began to upskill to produce contents that could be serviced to the big screen. Melodrama and over-the-top stories gave way to more intentional filmmaking that came closer to the refinement of Hollywood movies.
The cinema-going culture has now been so revived that almost every other day there are new movies by great filmmakers in the industry like Mo Abudu, Kunle Afolayan, Omoni Oboli, Kemi Adetiba, Funke Akindele amongst others shown in all the cinemas across the nation. Some of the new cinema houses in the country are; Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, Ozone Cinemas, Filmhouse Cinemas,Viva Cinemas, and Silverbird Cinemas amongst others.
Recently, online movie platforms have begun to creep into the distribution channel of the industry. Streaming platforms with leading brands like Irokotv has contributed immensely in showing the Nigerian film contents to the outside world, and has provided access to over 5,000 Nollywood movies and still counting.
Irokotv was launched in December 2011 by Jason Njoku and Bastian Gotter to provide a legal option to watch Nigerian films for diaspora audiences. Irokotv was gradually adding fun to the industry but didn’t break even as projected in my opinion, maybe because it was indigenous or probably they didn’t have the right structure to convince their audience. Netflix came and became the new toast of the industry, producers and directors lately struggle to either get commissioned on their existing project or licensed to produce an Original.
A number of Nollywood movies have made it to Netflix like Genevieve’s Lionheart, Chief Daddy, Elevator Baby, The Ghost and The Tout, Merry Men and the sensational Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys amongst others, while other filmmakers are working hard to get on the global online streaming platform.
However, while Netflix has been helping producers and casts to make fair profit, the only challenge is that some of the most critically lauded Nigerian films of recent years are conspicuously absent on its platform. Terrorist drama “The Milkmaid” which was the country’s first submission to the Oscars foreign language competition has not been licensed, nor has the festival hit “Eyimofe” (This is my Desire) which was recently added to the Criterion Collection. Even the stylish genre thriller; La Femme Anjola starring one of Nollywood’s most enduring stars- Rita Dominic, is absent. Films like these have production costs and efforts that are above the industry average and the filmmakers naturally expect to be valued appropriately.
Hence there is a need for Netflix to find a way to make better improvements and help the market have a balanced share.
Photo Credit: Kunle Afolayan