The Nigerian sense of self, cultures, traditions, history, craft of storytelling, oral folk literature and traveling theatre combined with its ethnic potpourri are responsible for the advent of the serendipitous, somewhat accidental birth and success of Nollywood. That birth came in 1992 with the film Living in Bondage. It’s a film directed by Chris Obi Rapu, about a man who kills his wife and is subsequently haunted by her ghost. Due to financial constraints and limitations in means of production the film was shot on inexpensive VHS tapes for direct to home viewing. It was a ploy to help shift the sales of mass volume of blank VHS video tapes that inundated the Nigerian market from Asia in the nineties. Shot in the native Igbo language, the film sold more than 750,000 copies. VHS tapes were never blank again, and the adaptation of DVD later followed.
Over time, other film makers followed the example of Chris Obi Rapu’s guerilla filmmaking formula. It was a formula that too often resulted in production quality that was laughable and questionable at times. However, the early and continued success of Nollywood is buttressed by the great stories told and portrayed by Nigerian directors, writers and actors. Notable successes like Osuofia in London (2003), director Kingsley Ogoro, a comedic film about a villager who travels to the London metropolis, are among the very long list of films that entertain the Nollywood aficionados worldwide.
The genres in Nollywood range from the familiar comedy, drama, horror, and action adventure to the more esoteric subjects referred to as traditional and fetish. These films cost about 25,000 to 75,000 dollars to produce, and tackles all the major concerns and dilemmas of the human experience. Nollywood’s bravado directly depicts extremely taboo subjects matter such as homosexuality in works like Men in Love (2010) directed by Moses Ebere, and Under Project (2013) directed by Theodore Ayanji.
Recently, coinciding with the effective direct to home filmmaking, is another transitioning. A transition towards the bigger budget made for cinema productions propelled by new film makers, demand for better quality, advancement in technology, and a rise in economic standards. Films such as Through The Glass(2008) directed by Stephanie Okereke, The Figurine (2009) produced and directed by Kunle Afolayan, Last Flight to Abuja (2012) directed by Obi Emelonye, and Half of a Yellow Sun (2013) which is based on the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and directed by Biye Bandele, are some notable made for cinema releases. Today, the industry’s production quality is on a par with more established industries such as India and the United States, and the current budgets and quality films now being made in Nigeria will attest to that fact.
Pete Edochie, Patience Ozokwor, Olu Jocobs, Omotola Ekeinde, Genevieve Nnaji, Ramsey Nouah, Ini Edo, Yul Edochie, Mercy Johnson, Mike Ezuruonye, and Rita Dominic are actors recognized and adulated worldwide for the films they make, the brands they endorse and the rumors that surround them. Hundreds of Nigerians with Nollywood dreams wishing to become a part of the prolific Nollywood star system embark on Nigeria’s capital city Lagos each week to audition for agents and directors.
Another factor contributing to Nollywood’s success is that the films are mostly made in the English language. English is commonly understood and spoken by Nigerians who normally speak in their regional mother tongue. It is the language which is the industry’s USP for the international market, and adds to the global appeal. Though the Igbo ethnic group is the main proprietors of Nollywood, other influential film makers are from the Yoruba and Hausa speaking people, among others. There is also a strong synergy between Nollywood and the Ghanaian film fraternity known as Ghallywood. Numerous Ghallywood actors such as Van Vicker, Jackie Appiah and John Dumelo are usurped into the Nollywood pantheon of performance Gods.
Nollywood is now an integral part of the Nigerian economy. It is an industry responsible for the development of new University curriculums in film making, film schools, editorial and trade publications, on demand and television channels, film studios, movie theatres and multiplexes, entertainment programming, internet film providers, film festivals and award ceremonies, casting agents and agencies, and most notable of all, the Nollywood star system.
It is the type of stories and the way they are told by Nigerians for Nigerians that is the backbone of Nollywood’s success and its international appeal. It is within the hands and minds of Nigerians to continue to produce films that are about themselves, and by themselves, without falling into the allure of trying to emulate or appease Hollywood. The Indians have done it their way successfully for over 100 years, and hopefully the success of Nollywood will reach its centennial in film making. As Nigeria’s President Goodluck Johnathon stated "Nollywood is our shining light." Shine bright Nollywood! -pep boy