Opinion | How Nollywood films have introduced Nigerian Culture to the West

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

Where the Western entertainment industry fails to recognise the brilliance and beauty of Nigeria’s culture, Nollywood continues building itself up

While it is, of course, the people who bring and share their culture with those around them, the presence of Nollywood movies in the Western world has not gone unnoticed.

Thanks to popular media culture, these films are slowly but surely being projected around the globe. Nollywood is marked as Nigeria’s ‘second-largest employer,’ with the potential of bringing growth to the economy. Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther proved to be a huge success grossing close to $1.3 billion, making it the ‘highest-grossing superhero movie of all time.’ This is evidence of a demand for Africa’s untold stories, and the demand not only comes from those of African descent who have long felt under-represented in the film industry, but also those who simply want to learn more.

The distribution of Nigerian movies has always been an issue, with many being subject to piracy. This leads to a decrease in profits, making it harder to fund future films, let alone films of greater quality. While this distribution system is popular across Africa and its diaspora, it fails to reach those who have no connection with Nigeria itself. In 2015, American media-services provider Netflix commenced the distribution of Nigerian movies on their streaming platform.

A still from The Wedding Party, 2016

The Wedding Party spent ‘seven weeks at the top of the box office and became the first Nigerian film to pass the 400 million Naira (around $1.3 million) mark.’ Chief Daddy became Nigeria’s most popular release of 2018 and was brought outside of Africa via Netflix, enabling them to reach 149 million viewers - the demand for African stories being particularly high from the U.S and European audiences. In the same year, Netflix acquired the worldwide distribution rights of Nigerian drama film Lionheart. This being the first Netflix original film produced in Nigeria.

"Countries that used to be in the British Empire speak English. That doesn’t make them any less authentically African"

Along with the celebration of Nigeria’s move to the U.S, ignorance still finds its way in. With awards season coming up, the disqualification of Nigeria’s entry Lionheart for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars 2020 ceremony has led to an outcry. The disqualification comes down to the movie featuring too much dialogue in English. American filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted ‘you disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because it’s in English. But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?’ In an interview, writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch explains ‘countries that used to be in the British Empire speak English. That doesn’t make them any less authentically African.’

The outdated rule for entries having ‘a predominantly non-English dialogue-track,’ in the Best International Feature Film category highlights the lack of cultural awareness from the committee and raises a number of questions. This issue could have been avoided had the Oscars committee done their due diligence and researched Nigeria's colonial past and its relationship with the English language. It's unfortunate that the rejection of this film by Hollywood was the mitigating factor in bringing awareness to the situation. The correct acknowledgement of African film productions is not too much to ask for.

A still from Lionheart, 2018

The rise of Nigerian movies in the Western world will likely lead to more investments, thus creating opportunities for higher-quality movies like Lionheart. Economically speaking, this could potentially be a great move. However we must not exclude longtime Nollywood fans, collectors and archivist from this conversation. Whom have shown unwavering support and enthusiasm for these films despite its inconceivable scripts, badly-edited transitions and low-budget aesthetic.

"Underneath it all, the stories told reflect the people"

Netflix isn’t the only platform sharing these films, however. Social media also lends a hand in garnering the views of many around the world with YouTube videos, film stills posted on Instagram, and short clips converted into memes circulating the web. Across the globe, people are also downloading apps such as IROKOtv, providing the viewer Nollywood movies in their pocket. In an interview with Another Magazine, the sisters behind Instagram account @nolly.babes share, ‘the late 90s to the early 00s is having a resurgence and that’s why these images seem so current.’

'Disaster' via @nolly.babes

Nollywood is clearly making power moves in the Western world, as recognition grows day-by-day. These films find ways to earnestly connect with viewers, allowing moments to reminisce about their youth and initiate discussions among family members and friends. While it entertains, it also educates and informs the people of the multitude of rich cultures residing in Africa, specifically Nigeria. From languages to the dialects, it creates and restores bridges. Where the Western entertainment industry lacks Nollywood continues to flourish.

Words: Joke Amusan


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