From only just being the second biggest movie industry in the world in terms of production volume, to going from raking in $45million in 2002 to grossing $400million in 2014, and pulling multi-million dollar foreign investments, the growth of Nollywood has been like that of a child showing signs of development in different bodily areas. But even with the pattern of diversity of progression, some natives still do not rate the industry, nor do they rate its products.
A Nigerian lady who I met during a work project some months back said to me, “You people that watch Nigerian films are trying. I can’t sit down and watch them.” “It is blockbuster Hollywood or nothing, for me.” In another encounter with an outspoken Nollywood critic, he said, “You will never see me carry myself to the cinema to watch a Nigerian film again. The many times I tried, I ended up regretting it.” A friend, after serious persuasion, to see some Nollywood creations on Netflix, returned and said, “Is that all?”
I have held hearty and heated talks with Nigerians on why they don’t watch Nollywood films. We discussed movies like “The Set Up”, “Mokalik”, “King of Boys.” Here’s what I found: although the Nigerian movie market boasts of tens of millions of local fans, a section of the audience who are not fans, hold Nollywood up to the standard of Hollywood, causing them to conclude that the latter offers better entertainment value, while the lesser technical standard of the former makes it undeserving of their time and scarce naira.
The critic said he watched The Set Up and passed up a chance to write a review. He believes it’s an overambitious idea built on a faulty storyline. My friend, a fan of Kunle Afo’, thinks her fave fell short of his usual standard on Mokalik, pointing out the horrid brand inclusion effort, the blandness of the story and Simi’s poor performance as reasons for her disappointment. My pro-Hollywood chat partner said she would manage to give “Up North” a pass mark, highlighting the beautiful showcase of Northern Nigeria in the film. She, however, maintains that the movie still doesn’t level up to her fave foreign films.
If you look at some of Hollywood’s standout movie projects – films like Joker and Breaking Bad – and compare them to the offerings of Nollywood, you would understand the position of pro-Hollywood movie-loving Nigerians. There’s an obvious difference in the creativity and technicality between the best works of the two industries. Even when the movies share a common theme, the excellence of the execution and the quality of the output differs starkly.
The difference between Nollywood and Hollywood films can be partly explained by the level of financial and professional investment in their movies. Stephen Follows stated that half of all movies released in US cinemas, between 1999 and 2018, cost around $18 million to make. Not to talk of films like Pirates of the Caribbean with a production budget of $378.5million. Nollywood filmmakers can only make films about accessing such funds. The biggest budget movie, Half of a Yellow Sun, costs between $8 – 10million to make. Even that is like gold in Nollywood, and you are not sure to get that even if you have the best of stories.
The limitations of filmmaking in Nigeria is not down to finance alone. Diverse other structural burdens have made it such that a film of the class of The Godfather has not come out of Nollywood yet. One major issue is copyright infringement, which makes it difficult for Nigerian filmmakers to recoup their multimillion-naira investments. The renaissance of the cinema culture has helped films like Wedding Party and King of Boys score huge ROI, albeit the loopholes still exist, especially for movies that do not make it to the cinemas.
Despite the tough terrain for business, Nigerian filmmakers try to evolve their production model to make the two ends meet – entertain the audience and earn from their works. The evidence of their effort is seen in the signs of the advancement of the sector over the years. Both critically and commercially, Nigerian movies have stepped up. Perhaps not to Hollywood level but there is an obvious refinement from the era of poor video quality and editing errors that characterized “Owerri films.” The effort of Charles Okpaleke with Living in Bondage, especially when you bring the older version and the sequel side by side, creates an explicit view of how far Nollywood has come from the ‘90s to where the industry is today.
If Nollywood will build on the recorded successes and reach the heights of leading film industries, the local audience has a crucial role to play, particularly in the areas of patronage and constructive critiquing. Increased (legal) patronage will ensure that the worries of producers over the issue of ROI would be relieved and filmmakers can pull all stops to make our unique African stories into globally acclaimed movies that would rival the best Hollywood materials.