In the summer of 2000, I graduated from the University of Ibadan with a BA degree in Communication and Language Arts. My final year thesis was on Nollywood. I was excited about Nigeria’s emerging movie industry. During my research, I annoyed respondents with many probing questions. I interviewed movie practitioners and government representatives, including a senior officer with the Nigerian Copyright Commission. Today I am pleased that much more comprehensive research have been carried out on the film industry. Academic essays and texts on Nollywood are now flourishing. A few weeks ago, I met a PhD student from France. She was in Lagos to collect data on Nollywood.
This month, Nigerian movie practitioners celebrate 20 years of Nollywood. How did Nollywood come from behind to become the world’s second largest producer of films? I was in secondary school when Living in Bondage - a movie touted to have kicked off Nollywood - was produced. The film was in the Igbo language and it wasn’t even subtitled. But everyone was talking about it. Everyone was watching it. I watched it too, though I didn’t understand the language.
Twenty years is a long time. In Nollywood, a lot has happened.
In the beginning, movies were shot, recorded and sold directly on the streets – to vendors and video clubs, bookshops, supermarkets and churches. Today cinemas have sprouted all over Nigeria. Silverbird Cinemas for instance has branches in major cities, including Abuja and Port Harcourt. So do Genesis Cinema and Filmhouse. Nigerian home videos are screened alongside American blockbusters. A few years ago, the idea of screening Nigerian movies in the cinema was inconceivable.
Movie premieres at cinemas are now becoming standard practice in Nollywood. During the Easter holidays, my sister Emem Isong, alongside her friends Monalisa Chinda and In Edo premiered their latest movie – ‘Weekend Gateaway’ in Victoria Island, Lagos. I was there. Friends and colleagues came out in grand style. Monalisa arrived in a limousine. At the red carpet, the stars strutted and posed as a thousand flashlights flushed their faces.
Nollywood fans who cannot go to the cinema can watch their favourite movies on DSTV – the monopolistic multi-channel digital satellite TV service in Africa. DSTV has at least four ‘Africa Magic’ channels devoted to showing Nollywood movies. The stations are not free, but are among the most watched satelite channels on the continent. That is why some practitioners grumble about the paltry royalties they get from Africa Magic. But truth be told: DSTV has done a lot of good for Nollywood. I know movie practitioners who make movies just to sell to Africa Magic. And this year, the AfricaMagic Viewers' Choice Awards took place in Lagos to celebrate actors from all over Africa. I watched the ceremony in the comfort of my living room. In my opinion, it was one of the best award ceremonies ever held in Africa.
Twenty years is a long time.
When Nollywood started, it was made up of mostly Nigerian trained theatre artistes. Over the last few years, many budding artistes have gone abroad to study the art of filmmaking. Some have gone to study at the New York Film Academy. I am on the board of Royal Arts Academy – a film school in Lagos. My sister Uduak Oguamanam who is the academic director of the school tells me they receive countless applications every session. She goes through every single application and is amazed by the determination of the budding actors to broaden their knowledge. Ocassionaly, she gets imperfect applications from people who cannot even spell their names correctly.
Nollywood has not been perfect. I have seen sloppy storylines and mediocre acting. I have seen poor directing and poor production. But I am an optimist. I believe Nollywood will get better. This is an industry that started with nothing. No big investors. No government support.
Twenty years is a long time.
I salute the men and women who remain committed to the industry. Like my sisters Emem and Uduak. I salute the departed who left too soon. Like my friend, brother and mentor Francis Agu.
Twenty years is a long time. Nollywood will get better