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

Where the European education system fails to highlight the brilliance and beauty of Nigeria’s culture, Nollywood is working to change this mindset

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 the media, 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 movie 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.

Film still from The Wedding Party, 2016

The Wedding Party, 2016 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, 2018 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.

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. While this is a big issue which could easily have been avoided, it goes without question that the rejection of this film by Hollywood was the step over the line needed to bring awareness to the situation. Going forward, it is to be expected that the Oscars committee do their research to avoid anything like this from happening again. The correct acknowledgement of African film productions is not too much to ask for.

Film 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. While this is a great move, it’s important to factor in those who have watched Nollywood all along despite its defects. Nollywood is notorious for its badly-edited, low-budget aesthetic movies, though there’s a uniqueness to it that still attracts many despite its inconceivable scripts.

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, 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.’

Film clip from The Tiger's Eye via @nolly.babes

No longer are stories only told by non-Africans, Africans themselves are finally getting the opportunity to share their heartfelt stories with the world themselves

Nollywood is clearly making big moves in the Western world with its recognition growing day-by-day. Its movies make viewers reminisce 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. From the languages, to the dialects, it creates and restores bridges. Nollywood picks up where the education system stops.

Words: Joke Amusan

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