Nollywood will be the next big thing in world cinema. Just believe it.
Nigeria’s movie industry is thriving, and it’s about time you took notice. Fondly referred to as Nollywood, it is now an $800 million industry, providing employment for about 300,000 people as actors, directors, marketers and distributors. After Hollywood, it is the second largest in the world – even bigger than India’s Bollywood. Nigerian movies are immensely popular, particularly in Africa, where they currently outsell Hollywood films. And Nollywood stars are much more popular on the continent than their Hollywood counterparts. Chances are that Kenyans or Malawians will better recognize Genevieve Nnaji and Ramsey Nouah (both Nollywood idols), than Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington.
Nollywood has come a long way from where it started 20 years ago. Before now, Western critics were usually quick to dismiss the quality of its productions as poor, the industry as amateurish, its talent as sloppy and its future as bleak. Understandably so. Movies were made on the cheap- a typical budget ranged anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000. Shoots were rushed; they rarely lasted a week. Cheap digital equipment and cameras were mostly used, and directors were untrained. The movies generally bypassed the cinema, going straight to DVD and VCD discs. Majority of the actors were mediocre at best. The stories were cliché and mildly annoying. A typical story line went something like this: poor boy meets rich girl; they fall in love; rich girl’s parents strongly disapprove of union; boy and girl fight all obstacles and true love prevails in the end. Other typical story lines included voodoo tales, historical epics, religious conflicts and economic hardship. It was generally mundane.
But even with the substandard quality of the movies, they thrived. The average flick sold over 50,000 copies. Some even sold as many as several hundred thousand, while a few hit a million. And at $1.50 per disc, they were affordable for most Nigerians and generated astounding returns for the producers.
But things have changed. The Nigerian movie industry is experiencing an evolution. The quality of our movies is much better than ever before; our actors are better financially compensated; directors and other professionals in the industry are travelling overseas to institutions like the New York Film Academy to hone their skills; investors and businessmen are pouring more substantial financial resources into the production of better quality flicks. Nowadays, it’s common place to see movies produced on a 6-figure budget, which is a major improvement from the past. In 2009, Kunle Afolayan, a leading Nigerian movie producer, raised about $300,000 to shoot Figurine, an outstanding production which premiered on local and international cinemas and went on to win 5 stars at the African Movie Academy Awards, our very own version of the Oscars. Several Nigerian movie producers and directors are following suit.
But this is just the beginning: Nollywood is coming of age; its producers and other leading lights are more ambitious than ever before, and they are catching up with Hollywood, slowly albeit steadily. With time, the industry will be rewarded with the critical reception it currently lacks among great world cinema.
I can hardly wait!