The Making of the Nigerian Film Industry: From Grass to Grace

Do not let anyone tell you otherwise, the Nigerian film industry, popularly known as Nollywood, has come a long way. They have made a journey from grass to grace, and this article will chronicle this journey.

Nigeria’s film industry is without arguments, the largest film industry in Africa, and second only to Bollywood in the world. It is known to produce about one thousand, five hundred films in a year. At this point, you might be wondering if the growth in the Nigerian film industry is all about the quantity of movies produced. On the contrary, the industry has experienced growth even in the quality of films produced, as compared to yesteryears.

Before 1992, when the first direct-to-video film, Living in Bondage, was released, the Nigerian film industry relied heavily on televised broadcasts and theatrical shows. Films like Cockcrow at Dawn, Things Fall Apart, and Behind the Clouds, which made our childhood more interesting, were filmed on television stations like NTA. But with the emergence of Living in Bondage in 1992, a new era was birthed, which opened up more doors of entrance for film makers.

Back in the day, Nigeria films had themes that revolved around black magic (juju), but the new face of Nigerian film industry has producers and directors moving away from black magic into more timely themes like rape, domestic violence, cancer and even HIV.

Before now, the quality of films produced by the industry were below par, so much that Nigerians sought their entertainment in American movies, but recently, there have been an increase in quality, especially with new entrants into the film industry, and a few others who have decided to measure up to their counterparts in America and the UK.

Notwithstanding the caliber of actors the industry had in the past, there has been a quality in actors in the industry in recent years. While the 80’s and 90’s saw veteran actors like Pete Edochie (who played Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart),  Sam Loco Efe (who was a comedic actor), Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva, the recent years have brought even more finesse in actors in the industry. In the past, film makers did not need to have a well written script, as actors were made to make up lines as they went along. The case is different today, as scripts are curated before being adopted by a producer or director.

Another aspect of the Nigerian film industry, which has experienced growth, is in financing. Back in the day, the industry produced low budget movies, but today, films from this industry have ranked as one of the top grossing films in Africa.

Today, the Nigerian film industry is not just an idle establishment, but rakes in billions in revenue for government. The industry gained so much prominence that the former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, made use of actors from the industry in his presidential endeavours, including social media sites in Nigeria such as AfricaLinked.

A few things have been responsible for this growth;

  • Proliferation of Film Academies: In the past, all an actor needed was a talent and experience with acting, to be featured in a movie, but today actors in the Nigerian film industry have become better at their craft and even new actors are birthed, through film academies, which have become popular.
  • Fight against piracy: The fight against piracy has also upgraded the face of the industry. In the early 2000’s, films were often pirated, discouraging both producers and actors, as there was not much revenue despite widespread distribution.
  • Digitization: Going digital has not only caused growth in the Nigerian film industry, it has also exported our films to countries abroad. IrokoTv is Nigeria’s equivalent of Netflix, an online streaming website that makes available millions of Nigerian films to the public. It is the first in Africa, and has contributed to the growth in the Nigerian film industry.
  • Collaboration with Global film makers: This is perhaps the sole reason the Nigerian film industry has gone global. With collaboration with foreign film makers, the industry and its products have gained global acclaim, contributing to its growth from grass to grace.
  • Regulation: The Nigerian film industry is not as informal as it used to be back in the day. Now, there are regulatory bodies that regulate actors, producers and everyone involved in the film making industry. This has encouraged quality productions and also contributed to the growth of the industry.