Nollywood, How Nigeria’s Movie Industry Got Its Name

Posted on February 14 2020 , at 06:50 am
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The indigenous Nigerian movie industry started developing shortly after colonization ended in Nigeria. Before this time, during the late 1930s and 1940s, there was an emergence of commercial cinemas in strategic parts of Lagos, Rex Cinema in Ebute Metta, Regal Cinema and Royal Cinema. Capitol Cinema, Casino Cinema, Kings Cinema, Central Cinema, Rialto Cinema, Corona Cinema, Odeon Cinema, Road House Cinema, Ikeja Arms Cinema and Glover Hall. Nigerian content in these films however was virtually non existent.

After colonization, there was an effort to infuse more Nigerian content into the films being produced at the time. At this nascent stage, there was still a great external influence in the Nigerian movie scene, a natural effect of the just ended colonization. Nigerian filmmakers could not keep up with the the high costs of film production and this subsequently led to a shift from filmmaking to theatre and home videos. 

Much of the promotion of Nigerian movie content at the time was as a result of the Indigenization Decree issued by the then Head of State Yakubu Gowon, which provided that only locals were expected to own theatres and limited foreign television content on local broadcasting networks. This in effect led to the production and watching of only Nigerian content, it however affected the flow of foreign investment and flow of foreign currency in the industry.

The early movie industry in Nigeria was split into two, with the Igbo made to video home movies on the one hand and the Yoruba theatre group on the other. In the Western part of Nigeria, the likes of Ola Balogun, Hubert Ogunde, Moses Olaiya, Wole Soyinka, Tunde Kelani and others started out with theatre productions featuring actors like Duro Ladipo, Ishola Ogunmola, Lere Paimo, Oyin Adejobi and others, before gradually moving to video production. 

Eastern Nigeria had a different beginning. Not going the travelling theatre route, most Eastern movies at this time, were created as home videos in Video Home System (VHS) format. This made movies available to audiences on demand.

Some of the movies created at the initial stage of the movie industry, from the 1970’s to the 1980s include, Kongi’s Harvest, written by Wole Soyinka, Efunsetan Aniwura, Daughter of the River, Bull Frog In The Sun, Aiye and others. 

Kenneth Nnebue’s Living In Bondage was produced in 1992. Living In Bondage is regarded as one of the first widely successful movies in Nigeria. Nnebue’s intensive marketing and distribution of the VHS movie Living In Bondage changed the Nigerian home movie scene at the time.

Living In Bondage, a story about a young man’s quest for wealth and the sacrifices he has to make to get it, received a reboot in 2019. The movie was shown in cinemas across Nigeria and was one of the most successful movies of the year, grossing over 48 million naira in its first week alone.

Other movies that entered the industry in this period include Gilmore Girls, Osuofia in London, Saworide, Karashika, Ti Oluwa Nile and others.

Apart from all the movies made at this time, the industry also enjoyed a rich slate of compelling television shows, including The Village Headmaster, Cock Crow at Dawn, Mirror in the Sun, Behind the Clouds, Supple Blues, Checkmate and Ripples.

After the Living In Bondage success, there was an explosion of home videos in Nigeria, with places like Alaba and Idumota becoming popular for mass producing these VHS cassettes. These movies were hurriedly made and usually in low quality, but were very popular at the time, and they led to the creation of the video rental business in Nigeria. There was also a lot of piracy at this time, so even though there was an increase in production of these movies, it wasn’t reflected in revenue to the movie makers. 

When Silverbird Cinemas entered the scene in 2004, it disrupted the movie industry, creating a demand for higher quality movies, better writing and better production. Kunle Afolayan’s Irapada was released in 2006, and it heralded a period of better storytelling in the Nigerian movie industry.

Subsequently, Afolayan released Figurine in 2009, which gained international acclaim, it was nominated for the Screen Nations Award in 2011 and turned international attention to the Nigerian movie scene.

With the success of Silverbird Cinemas came a return to cinemas in Nigeria, and the industry has not stopped progressing since then. 

The release of The Wedding Party directed by Kemi Adetiba in 2016 led to the era of big blockbuster cinema movies in Nigeria. The Wedding Party grossed over 400 million naira in box office. And movies like King of Boys, Wedding Party 2, Sugar Rush and others have raked in huge numbers in the cinema.

The first time the word ‘Nollywood’, an amalgamation of Nigeria and Hollywood, came into use has been debated. It is popularly believed however that the word was first used to describe the Nigerian movie industry by Matt Steinglass in 2002, in an article in The New York Times, titled, ‘Film, When There’s Too Much Of a Not-Very-Good-Thing’, giving an overview of what the Nigerian movie industry was at the time.

Though the name has a foreign origin, it gradually eased into the industry and became accepted as the official name for the Nigerian movie industry. The concept of foreigners ‘naming’ us is not strange in Nigeria. Right from colonization, foreign influence has been strong and almost unavoidable in Nigeria. The name Nigeria (Niger-area) was imposed on the country by foreigners, how much less the movie industry. What’s in a name after all? 

Kannywood, the Hausa speaking part of the Nigerian movie industry, which developed in the 70’s and 80’s is quite distinct from the rest of Nollywood. The movies from Kannywood, different from the rest of Nollywood, reflect the conservative and religious culture of Northern Nigeria.

In 2012, there was a purported celebration of Nollywood at 20. This sparked a controversy amongst the actors about how old Nollywood really is. This is no surprise, given the dichotomous history of Nollywood, with the Western and the Eastern parts of the country doing individual and different projects, before gradually over time coming together to become one body. 

From traveling theatre groups, to home movies,, and recently with Netflix partnerships and the growth of indigenous streaming platforms like iRoko TV, the second largest movie industry in the world, with its over 40 cinemas grossing above 6 billion naira in 2019, has earned its name. 

 

 

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