For many of us of African heritage living in the diaspora, Nollywood has become a great source of entertainment and a way for us to connect with our culture. Despite the sometimes over the top acting, long-winded storylines, and poor attempts at British and American accents, Nollywood has amassed a large following from around the world. With the rise of streaming platforms such as irokoTV and Netflix, we millennials now have such easy access to Nollywood films. They’re not always perfect in terms of editing, sound production, and dare I even say, acting, but I think we can all agree that Nollywood has come a long way since it first became popular around twenty years ago.
What’s so great about Nollywood films are that they reflect the vibrant culture of certain parts of Nigeria. Opulent wealth is often displayed, but the plots always have a way of coming back to reality and portraying the other and a more realistic side of the society. For those of us born and raised abroad, it shows us the way of life back home and gives us a glimpse into the traditional lives, as well as the increasing modernity within communities.
In recent years, Nollywood has expanded due to bigger budgets, allowing films to be filmed abroad in the likes of London, Dubai and the USA, as well as developing more mainstream productions. With a wider reach, Nollywood continues to have a cultural impact, particularly on our generation and on social media. Memes and Gifs from some Nollywood films are always floating about on the timeline, and Twitter accounts such as @yungnollywood, pay homage to the industry and allow us to rediscover some of the older films and be appreciative of where some of the bigger Nollywood productions from nowadays have stemmed from. Yet as Nollywood expands around the world, it still lacks that global recognition.
It was the announcement of a new film coming to Netflix that made me think about Nollywood and its international recognition. Lionheart, which is not only directed by but also stars Nollywood vet, Genevieve Nnaji, is the first film out of the Nigerian film industry that has been acquired by Netflix. For a platform that is now said to be the host of 700 original TV shows by the end of 2018, I find it quite surprising that this was the first Nollywood venture for Netflix of any kind. It’s not as if the industry is suffering from low film production; it is known to put out roughly 1000 films a year, with 1,887 films produced in 2013 alone.
French-Mauritanian film Timbuktu was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015 and a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as a BAFTA. The Brazilian crime film City of God, was nominated for four Oscars in 2004, while the South African film Tsotsi actually won an Academy Award in 2006. These countries are not particularly famous for their film industries, yet they have produced internationally acclaimed films. Viewers of Nollywood don’t need awards and prizes to enjoy the storytelling, but when films produced in other “third world” countries are being nominated for Academy Awards and BAFTAs, it makes you wonder why has Nollywood not been recognised by the same organisations and reached those heights yet, despite its high position in the global film industry?
However it’s not just the individual films that are falling behind, but it’s also the people involved in them. How about the directors, actors, screenwriters, and costume makers? There was a recent spell in 2016 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where 8 Nollywood films, including the popular The Wedding Party, were showcased, which is a positive for the film industry and could just be the beginning of increased exposure. Yet, in Nollywood’s 20 year history, it has never really received internationally acclaimed awards unlike some of our other friends on the continent.
Despite Nollywood not being recognised Nigerians around the world in the film industry are making it big: the Nigerian-drama Mother of George, starring Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead, Black Panther) and directed by Nigerian filmmaker, Andrew Dosunmu, won awards at the Sundance Film Festival. Rick Famuyiwa has written, directed and produced hit films such as Brown Sugar, The Wood and Dope, and the list goes on. However, many of these individuals that we celebrate were often born and raised outside of Nigeria and established their careers away from the country. It makes you wonder when will filmmakers, who have always lived and finessed their craft in Nigeria, get the same recognition despite being a part of the second largest film industry in the world?
You may also be thinking, but why should we hold our industry to the same standard – what’s wrong with our own awards, we have the African Movie Academy Awards after all? We can embrace our wins at our own award ceremonies, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be involved in what has already been established at the top. You can compare the film industry to the sporting world, where awards and film festivals are what medals and the Olympics are to athletes. At the end of the day, if we want to show the rest of the world that we’re just as brilliant, or dare I say better, it’s natural to want to compete at the highest levels.
For some filmmakers and others involved in the process, accolades may not be the be all and end all of their role in a project, and recognition from festivals and award panels doesn’t validate the significance or impact of their work. Nonetheless, today Nollywood films have gone further than the local audiences they were once originally made for. It’s obvious that although Nigeria has such a creative film industry, its lack of global recognition is probably due to the fact that it just hasn’t quite transcended cultural barriers. I won’t pretend that I’ve watched a Nollywood film that was Oscar-worthy, but it seems to me that we have set a standard for the top awards and prizes on what those in the Western world have deemed impactful and excellent. In the meantime, I just look forward to the day where I see a completely 100% Nigerian film production in the list of nominees at the top film festivals and film prizes.
Wriiten by Aisha Rimi