In recent years, the Nigerian movie industry has been highly touted as one of the greatest explosions of pop culture that Africa has ever seen. The industry, popularly called Nollywood, is currently ranked as the second-largest in the world in terms of output after India’s Bollywood. From conventional movie plots to advanced sound technology, storytelling, technological special effects amongst several others, Nollywood’s popularity has spread across the African continent to various parts of the world, proving that Nollywood has evolved in all ramifications.
While many have attributed this success to Kenneth Nnebue for producing the first major Nollywood film (Living In Bondage) in 1992, there is a mesmerizing era of filmmaking which most Nigerians are oblivious to; an era that has nothing to do with the classic 1992 movie.
The beginning of the new Nollywood
This captivating era of Nollywood dates far back as 1926 when the earliest feature film (Palaver) was made in Nigeria; the film was also the first film ever to feature Nigerian actors in a speaking role. Produced by Geoffrey Barkas, the film follows the tale of the rivalry between a British District Officer and a tin miner which eventually leads to war. This was followed by Fincho – the first Nigerian film to be shot in colour – in 1957.
Following Nigeria’s independence in 1960, more cinema houses were established and stage troupes who performed for large crowds in one city after another began to gradually depreciate. This made the transition from stage to screen a far easier ambition for actors such as ‘Father of Nigerian Theatre’ Hubert Ogunde.
By the 1980s, families were hooked on a sitcom called ‘Papa Ajasco’, and its spin-off movie became Nigerian cinema’s first blockbuster, grossing an estimate of 61,000 Naira in three days. This paved the way for filmmakers like Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love) and Moses Olaiya to produce classics such as Kadara, Taxi Driver and Mosebolatan, which grossed 107,000 Naira in five days.
However, in the 90s, the Nigerian cinema culture faced a major decline as the home video market boomed. Alaba Market became the commercial hub of video distribution, but sadly, as the years rolled by, it became the centre of piracy in Nigeria, causing a major decline in the home video era.
Nonetheless, the 90s birthed movies like “Violated,” “Silent Night,” “Domitila,” “Nneka The Pretty Serpent,” “Hostages,” “Blood Money,” “Out of Bounds” and many more. The year also introduced Nigerians to actors – like Ramsey Noah, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Joke Silva, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Genevieve Nnaji, Kate Henshaw, Rita Dominic, Emeka Ike, Funke Akindele – who made an impact and are still relevant in the Nigerian film industry history.
Also, pioneer Nollywood actors who helped the industry step up the ladder of growth include Olu Jacobs, Jide Kosoko, Moses Adejumo (Baba Sala), Kareem Adepoju (Baba Wande), Moses Olaiya, Tunde Kelani, Pete Edochie, Hubert Ogunde, Ladi Laden, Babatunde Omidina (Baba Suwe) etc. They all played a pivotal role in making Nollywood into what it is now.
In 2004, a new cinema era began with the launch of a series of modern cinema houses by the Silverbird Group. The first new-age film to be shown at a modern cinema was Kunle Afolayan’s 2006 “Irapada”, which screened at the Silverbird Galleria in Lagos. Since the launch of Silverbird cinemas, new cinemas like Ozone, Filmhouse and Genesis Deluxe have launched and are playing important roles in the evolution of the Nigerian movie industry.
Entertainment platforms like Africa Magic, Netflix, iBaka TV and iRoko TV have also helped the industry keep its consumers always entertained with varieties. Similarly, social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube have also played a significant role in arousing the interest of consumers; short clips of an enchanting part of a new movie uploaded by actors and directors as trailers pull a mammoth crowd to the cinemas, eager to consume the main course movie.
Yoruba movies were also an integral part of Nollywood and played a fantastic role in its growth and global recognition. “Sango” and Oleku” in 1997, “Saworoide” in 1999 and “Agogo Ewo” in 2002 – are just a few Yoruba movies that changed the face of the Nigerian movie industry forever.
Nollywood sure has its unexpected moments where overly dramatic movies do not meet up to expectations but despite such moments, it is undeniable that Nollywood has experienced changes in the right direction. The industry generates $600m yearly and employs more than one million people, making it second only to agriculture in the list of largest employers in Nigeria.