The Success of Nigeria’s Growing Film Industry

  • Melody Adebisi

Nollywood has become one of the fastest growing and most successful industries in Nigeria, with low-budget and below standard camera quality now a thing of the past, and its films becoming household names all over the world.

Image: Toronto, Canda. 8th Sep, 2013. Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji attends the premiere of "Half Of A Yellow Sun" during the 38th annual Toronto International Film Festival aka TIFF at Elgin Theatre in Toronto, Canada on 08 September 2013. Photo: Hubert Boesl/dpa/Alamy Live News
In 2018, the Nigerian film industry is arguably in the best position it has been in since Nigerian films started being produced. Currently, Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world, ranking higher than Hollywood. The Nigerian film industry is the second largest employer in Nigeria, after agriculture, and makes up roughly 5% of the country’s GDP.
The first film to ever feature the Nigerian landscape was the British produced film Palaver, released in 1926. The film showcased British Colonial Nigeria and even featured non-professional Nigerian actors. It depicted the conflict between a British District Officer and a local tin miner which culminates in a war.
Whilst Palaver is often referred to as Nigeria’s first official feature film, the portrayal of Nigerian tribes and their people, juxtaposed with the concept of “The White Saviour” made for a film that ultimately presented Nigeria in a negative light, and has come under criticism recently for being “proudly racist”.
The first film to be produced in its entirety by Nigerian people was Fincho, produced by Sam Zebba and released in 1957. Fincho was the first film to be entirely copyrighted to the Nigerian Film Unit and featured a majority Nigerian cast. It was also the first Nigerian film to be shot in colour.
The release of Fincho, coupled with Nigerian independence in 1960, signified a transition into what is commonly referred to as ‘The Golden Age of Nigerian Cinema’. This period ranges from the 1960s to the 1980s.
It was during this time, that Nigerian filmmaking started to emerge as a lucrative industry. Following the country’s independence, many new cinema houses were built, allowing for the cinema business to expand. In addition to the formal recognition of the Nigerian Film Unit as an official sector, the ‘Golden Age’ consisted of films produced by the likes of Hubert Ogunde, Ade Afolayan, and Ola Balogun amongst many others. The city of Ibadan was the hub of Nigerian cinema during this era, where the vibrancy and optimism that came from Nigerian independence essentially fuelled the creative scene.
However, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the Nigerian film industry gained the title of Nollywood. The release of the film Living in Bondage, where a young couple who are facing financial challenges, eventually leads to Kenneth Okonkwo’s character Andy, sacrificing his wife Merit played by Nnenna Nwabueze to a satanic cult. The release of this film triggered the practice of producing low-budget entertainment for home video release that would garner mass sales across not only Nigeria but countries all over Africa as well as the African diaspora.
The general formula of the Nollywood films produced between the 1990s up until the 2000s employed plots consistent with the nature of popular soap operas often consisting of dramatic storylines exploring relationships, wealth, and conflict. The films were also divided into parts, requiring consumers to purchase all parts of the film to get the full story which inevitably increased sales.
It was during this era that many successful Nigerian actors and actresses rose to fame, as the low-cost production of these movies meant that actors were able to feature in a large number of films within a short time. This meant that viewers became familiar with the faces such as the infamous Patience Ozokwor, Jim Iyke, and Ini Edo just to name a few.
Despite Nollywood’s large consumer base, issues such as piracy and illegal distribution meant that the quality of films remained at a subpar level due to restrictions on their budgets.
In more recent times, however, the industry has taken advantage of online digital media mediums of distributions with entertainment services such as iROKOtv and Pana TV. In the same vein as the likes of Netflix and Hulu, these platforms require consumers to pay monthly memberships in order to watch both new and old Nollywood films, which provides a stable and reliable means to generate profit and also produce new content.
This has allowed for young and upcoming filmmakers and actors across the diaspora as well as Nigeria to develop and showcase their talents to wider audiences.