Welcome to Nollywood: How Nigeria’s Rich Movie Industry Lives

1 week ago

If you want something new and you are tired of double-checking and making money on the best sports betting odds in Naija, then we suggest you learn more about such phenomena as Nigerian cinema. 

So, in 2019, in the Nigerian film market, which was estimated at $3 billion, Nollywood (similar to Hollywood and Bollywood) produces about a thousand films a year. They are watched all over Africa, and in recent years producers have been taking films to the international market. True, there are many problems: low budgets (on average, it costs $15,000 to produce a picture), piracy, and economic and political instability in the country. Today we will tell you how Nigeria has become the country that makes the most films in the world.

"Nollywood grew out of frustration, need, and crisis: In the late '80s and early '90s, gangsters flooded the cities. People were afraid to go out on the streets, and because of this many movie theaters closed. Nigerians told their own stories to cope with boredom, to occupy themselves," says the documentary "This is Nollywood”.

Back to the Very Beginning

The founding year of Nollywood is considered 1992 when electronics salesman Kenneth Nnebueh made a movie in a month with a budget of $12,000. The picture "Life in the Slumdog" told the story of a drug addict who joined a secret sect. In the story, he killed his wife and sacrificed her, and as a reward, he was given a huge fortune, but his wife's ghost followed him for the rest of his life. The film sold a million copies, and then the Nigerians realized that the strength is not in the budget, but in the story, and began to make their films.

Now Nollywood is an industry that employs more than a million Nigerians. It has a population of more than 173 million, with unemployment holding steady at 50%, most working in agriculture.


Actors in popular movies are known throughout the continent, but they don't make much money. Nollywood stars usually star in several films at the same time and earn an average of $1,000 to $5,000 per film. One of the highest-paid actresses, Omotola Jalade Yekeinde, gets 5 million Nigerian nairas ($32,000) per film.

Nollywood employs about 300 producers, and the average film sells 50,000 copies a week, a hit of several hundred thousand copies. DVDs cost $2, but mostly pirates make money on them, and moviemakers recoup the cost with box office receipts. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, total box office receipts for Nigerian films in 2014 were $600 million, up from only $45 million in 2002. 30 new movies hit Nigerian stores every week.

The history of Nigerian cinema is divided into several stages. The golden age falls in the late '50s to late '80s and begins with the 1957 release of "Fincho," directed by Sam Zebba, the first Nigerian film to be shot on color film. After independence from Britain in 1960, several films a year were made in Nigeria. This was largely due to a decree by the head of Nigeria, Yakub Gowon, in 1972. As part of his protectionist policy, he required cinemas to show Nigerian films instead of foreign films.

In the 1980s, Nigeria was going through difficult times. The local currency was depreciating and purchasing power was falling. The streets were chaotic: people would lock themselves in their houses after sunset and stay inside for fear of becoming victims of criminals. The cinemas stood empty, and soon most of them closed. At home, the only entertainment available was movies watched on videotape. American, Chinese, and Indian movies did not touch Nigerians, and the country began a home video boom. The largest electronics market, Alaba, near the large Nigerian city of Lagos, was flooded with pirated cassettes and discs of locally produced novelties.

The Main Themes of the Films

The main themes of the films were AIDS, corruption, women's rights, the occult, bloodthirsty policemen, and prostitution. After a few blockbusters like 1984's "Papa Ajasko," which brought creators 61,000 Nigerian nairas (about $21.5 million at 2015 exchange rates) in three days, many wanted to try their hand at filmmaking and became directors and actors. Before that, the production of films was subsidized by the state, and they were often shown for free; no one thought it was possible to make money. However, the newly minted cinematographers were not primarily interested in making money; what was more important was that the population of the country was united by a common idea and love for Russian cinematography. At the same time, the authorities realized the importance of films, and a censorship agency, the Nigerian Film Corporation, appeared to check all films before they were released in cinemas. Many films were censored.

"We tell stories in our way," says director Bond Emeruwa. "I don't get to tell the white man's story. I don't know what it's about. But I want him to see ours." Residents from all over Africa came to Nigeria because they wanted to participate in the filming and get closer to Nollywood. True, some viewers complain about "creepy scenes involving witchcraft," call Nigerian filmmakers "voodoo priests reciting sinister incantations," and fear Nigeria's negative influence on the continent. Countries in Africa produce their movies, but none of them come close to the scale of Nigeria.

Nigerians shoot in a partisan way: filming is often postponed because of unforeseen circumstances that are hard to imagine in Hollywood: power outages, terrorist group activity, pressure from racketeers.

The films "Oh, Grace" (2006) and "The Statue" (2009) were breakthroughs of sorts and attracted media attention due to their commercial success both in Nigeria and at international festivals. Critics began to talk about a new wave of Nigerian cinema, characterized by narrative complexity, attention to detail, and higher budgets.

Unlike the previous generation of films, these are made for the big screen, not for videotape or DVD. During the video era, Nigerians paid little attention to the quality of filming, the equipment was the simplest, sometimes with a budget of $1000. In the mid-noughties, $250,000 and $750,000 films appeared. These are shot for months, and sometimes they can take several years to shoot. Filmmakers now use new and expensive digital cameras.


In 2009, Nollywood surpassed Hollywood in the number of films produced and ranked second in the global film industry. Among other things, it made Nigeria surpass South Africa to become Africa's top economy.

Jason Njoku, 32, owns Africa's largest film publisher, Iroko Partners. He speaks at international conferences and takes movies around the world and has 71 employees in offices in London, New York, and Lagos. Forbes considers Nyoka one of ten young African millionaires to watch. The Nollywood Factory (TNF), an international production company, recently opened an office in London.

Entrepreneur and film man Chiome Ude came up with the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in 2008. "The truth is, the global industry still has little idea what Nollywood is all about," says producer Kanle Afolyan. He sees his job as distributing films around the world.

Nigerian films usually pay for themselves within three weeks of release. In 2007, the Nigerian government and Ecobank began financing higher-budget films that could compete with foreign films. In 2015, the Bank of Industry launched a program to support Nollywood and begin lending money to make films. A special group reads scripts and calculates a film's budget, then makes recommendations for the final loan.

Of great importance to the market was the development of movie theaters. The Silverbird Group was the first to launch a chain of cinemas in all major cities in Nigeria in 2004. It was followed by other chains - Genesis Deluxe Cinemas and Ozone Cinemas - which opened cinemas, and in the 2010s Film House Cinemas and Viva Cinemas first entered poor neighborhoods and small towns.

Recently, Nigerians have been trying to make relevant films that are interesting not only to local viewers but also to foreign ones. The documentary drama "93 Days" is about people who risked their lives to save Nigeria from the Ebola virus epidemic. More than a million dollars was spent on the film, including money from foreign investors. The most expensive film is "Half of the Yellow Sun," a historical drama about the Nigerian Civil War. It had a budget of about $10 million and was presented at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. The romantic comedy "30 Days in Atlanta" had the highest grosses, earning 137 million Nigerian nairas ($137,500).

One of the main problems of the film industry, along with piracy, is the distribution channels for films. In 2015, Business Day Nigeria estimated that piracy costs the industry 7.5 billion Nigerian nairas ($46 million) annually. Several online movie theaters have opened in Africa, where you can watch movies on subscription for about $5 a month, the largest being iROKO TV, in which the U.S. venture capital fund Tiger Global, among others, has invested.

Nigerian cinema differs from region to region. Whereas in the south films are mostly made in English (which is the official language of Nigeria), in the north, where there is a majority of Muslims, there is its industry, called Kannywood after the city of Kano, where they make movies in the Hausa language. The media wrote that even terrorists from the Boko Haram group (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) stop the carnage and go to the movies during the premieres. The industry in this region is not as booming as in the rest of Nigeria. It is hampered by the authorities. In 2003, the governor of Kano, Ibrahim Shekarau, launched a campaign against Kannywood. Many films were deemed hostile to religion and banned. In 2007, Kanniwood films were banned one after another, actors and screenwriters were imprisoned, and books related to the film industry were burned at the stake because a cassette with a sex scene involving a popular actress was on sale.

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