Between and Betwixt: The Emergence of a New Nollywood
Department of Theatre and Film Studies
Nnamdi Azikiwe University
Tracie Chima UTOH-EZEAJUGH, PhD
Professor of Theatre and Film Design
Department of Theatre and Film Studies
Nnamdi Azikiwe University
PMB 5025, Awka, Nigeria
Arguably, the Nigerian film industry known popularly as Nollywood is the largest film producer in the world, turning out over forty (40) films per week on the average. Since the dawn of the industry (Nollywood), its activities have been under the firm control of the Onitsha film marketers. In recent times it is believed that the cabals (Onitsha marketers) are beginning to lose their grips, and this development can be attributed to the emergence of young, vibrant, intelligent, articulate and more focused movie producers in the country, whose films are geared towards achieving the International best practice standard. Today Nollywood may be said to be of two divides: the Onitsha marketers Nollywood and the emerging Nollywood International. This paper takes a critical look at the Nigerian film industry (Nollywood), and using textual and contextual analysis attempts to ascertain the relationship between these two film traditions with a view to ascertaining if the two divisions can yoke together or exist side by side or if the emergent has the ability to overshadow the dominant.
Films tend to derive their cultural expectations, codes and values from host communities or society of origin. Beyond entertainment, films are seen as the custodian of the people’s cultural heritage and a tool for educating the society. William Bluem, describes film as a formidable media-system that is capable of providing audiences with art, entertainment, and a host of messages which can support attitudes, personal values and actions that are both responsible and responsive to the requirements of a free society. Bluem’s description implies that film is responsible for individual character moulding and indoctrination. In this vein, Tyodoo and Iqyurav disclose that,
From time immemorial, film has been a variable mode for propaganda. The film has a universal appeal and can create serious impact on the mind of the users. To this end Nigerian Nollywood is not an exception. Nigerian home video has exerted a lot of influence in terms of popularizing our traditional values, socio-economic, political and even ‘pop’ culture. All these are processed and viewed in different parts of Nigeria including remote villages
Nigeria’s film industry, popularly known as, Nollywood, is a system of production based on the use of digital video equipment. The movies go straight to DVD format for sales and rental. This is highly mobile, highly efficient. The system of distribution is also very informal. The DVDs are replicated in their thousands, and then distributed every two weeks on a Monday in big wholesale markets in Lagos, Kano and Onitsha. He asserts that there are about 90 new movies released every month – over 1,000 each year (4). Nollywood is arguably the second largest film industry in the world in terms of quantity of production. Recent evaluation seems to place Nollywood between Hollywood and Bollywood. Stakeholders in the Nigerian film industry, and indeed the entire Nation work tirelessly to sustain this chain. Ayakoroma reports that,
…as of 2005 the industry (Nollywood) is said to have generated well over N55 billion naira, providing jobs for more than 300,000 Nigerians. Then it was rated the third most lucrative industry in the whole world, after Hollywood and Bollywood. But analyst were to submit in 2008 that it (Nollywood) had become the second largest film industry after Bollywood (2).
While Nigerians seem to be celebrating Nollywood’s ‘success’ many fail to realize that Nollywood ranks amongst the poorest film industries in relation to product quality and box office, when compared to Hollywood and Bollywood. Film industries such as Hollywood and Bollywood are multi-billion dollar businesses and can single-handedly sustain a nation’s economy. Nollywood has contributed significantly to the economy of Nigeria and is one of the highest employers of labour in the country, but its economic strength is yet to be significant in the global economy. Nigeria’s films over the years are sold beyond the continent of Africa; in the streets of America and Europe, but their inability to break into the global mainstream market may probably be attributed to their poor quality.
The quality of a product is measured from content to package. Quality assurance is the key concern in today’s society. Consumers seem to be on the lookout for the best products and so, in a competitive market, the quality of goods and services are vital to the survival of products. Armed with this understanding, manufacturers strive for the best in the production of goods and services. Beyond the quality of products and services, some manufactures have devised several other strategies to market their products. One of such strategy is the use of marketers. But marketers can only thrive when products are of good quality, and can wet the insatiable appetite of consumer. The bottom line is that manufacturers/producers of goods in various industries should come to the realization that the survival of any business depends strongly on quality assurance and film production is not an exception.
With regards to film production, the artistic and technical aspects are the two outstanding components. These two components (Artistry and Technique) complement each other, and one cannot substitute the other. Most consumers believe that the content of some Nigeria films are too base and too shallow and suffice it to say that Nollywood has come under harsh criticism pertaining to the mode of production, quality control and professionalism. Critics believe that most Nollywood films tend to digress towards the exaggeration and promotion of the ills and vices in the society thereby seeming to celebrate immorality, crime and criminality. The themes of most Nollywood films revolve around occultism, witchcraft, betrayal, lesbianism and criminality. Alamu equally gives a similar account by stating that,
The thematic and aesthetic choices of Nollywood are determined to a large extent by the preferences of its appeal. These themes are based on subjects such as infidelity, treachery, lust, hypocrisy, armed robbery, marital problem, murder, cultism and Occultism (2).
Other professional and technical inadequacies associated with Nollywood films are type casting and over use of popular faces (star actors), poor story structures, unnecessary elongation of scenes, poor plotting, inappropriate costuming, over acting and anti-climatic actions. On the technical aspect, problems such as poor lighting, inappropriate camera shots and angles, poor editing, poor audio and sound track, non-colour grading and colour corrected images are noticeable. Commenting on image quality of Nollywood films, Ayakoroma chronicled the little progress made on cameras from,
…the days of Keneth Nnebue’s living in bondage that was shot with ordinary VHS camcorder on a budget of hundred and fifty thousand naira, to the use of Super VHS, Betacam, mini Digital Video (mini DV), Digital Video (DV), to High Definition (HD) (3).
From all indications, films shot with these cameras cannot compete globally, irrespective of their artistic impetus. The first step to improving the image quality begins with the use of quality cameras that can shoot, such as Red Digital Dragon and Black Magic. Although it is not the use of sophisticated equipment that guarantees high quality productions; rather, it is the mode of handling and the creative composition of shots. These and many more problems are associated with Nollywood films and have lasted for many years. The watch word is technical-know-how. A film maker should be well tutored in his chosen profession and must keep up with modern trends in the business. This paper investigates these problems and their resultant effect on the film industry in Nigeria. Also, the emergence of the new generation film makers popularly known for their cinema movies will be of focus.
History and Structure of the Nigerian Film Industry
Film production in Nigeria can be traced back to the production of the first feature film tilted Kongi’s Harvest in the 1970s (Okome 14). Ever since then, films have been produced in Nigeria, by Nigerians and for Nigerians and they include Afolabi Adesanya’s Ija Ominira and Vigilante to mention but a few. But the film industry in Nigeria, known as Nollywood is believed to have started professionally and commercially with the production of the film, Living in Bondage by Kenneth Nnebue in1992 and directed by Chris Obi-Rapu (Ayakoroma 52). The film was a product of “creative laboratory experiment” by Kenneth Nnebue who was before then an electronics dealer at Iweka Road, Onitsha. The success of Nnebue’s Living in Bondage drew the attention of other businessmen to film production as Ayakoroma submits:
As in the general attitude of Nigerians, other businessmen followed the example as spear parts dealers, electronics merchants, and even building materials sellers, veered into video film production as it promises instant returns on investment. Thus, two or three traders could pool their resources to produce a film, and plough the sales back to produce two or more films. After that each of them will go his different way to start individual Production Companies. These Executive producers were to later transform from mere observers, who waited to get returns on their investment to active players, producing and even directing their films. The reason is that they need to save cost and of course protect their investment. (1)
The implication of the situation as narrated by Ayakoroma is that the industry got hijacked by a cabal (Film marketers), and their principal aim evidently is not geared towards developing the industry, rather they prefer to run a closed door policy that is geared towards keeping the industry to themselves without letting any outsider in. The resultant effect of this decision is that the industry is slow in making any significant development.
Film production is a capital investment that requires heavy sponsorship. Nigeria ranks among the countries that are yet to device an effective sponsorship scheme for film production. Since multinational film outfits are yet to be established in Nigeria, independent film makers continue to wax strong. In most cases these independent film makers are self-sponsored. Film marketers sponsor and control the film business in Nigeria unlike in other countries such as the United States of America and India where the government provides an enabling environment and are in film business matters. What is obtainable in Nigeria is independent film making, and this has given rise to ethnic bias or loyalty in the film industry both on the part of the producers and the viewers. Madu Chikwendu reports that,
there is a misconception about Nollywood. It is not actually one film industry but four. The part that the world knows is the English language industry, which has its production centre in Lagos and is dominated by people from the South-East of Nigeria. While the language used is English, the stories in these films reflect the ideology of the Igbo people of the region. The second industry is much, much older, and consists of the indigenous Yoruba language movies. This can be traced back to the Nigerian feature film industry of the 60's and 70's, up until the economic downturn meant that people could no longer afford to produce feature films anymore and started making videos instead. Then you have another industry in the North of the country, by the Hausa population. That is different again. It has a lot of Islamic influences, and is also influenced by the style of Bollywood films, with lots of song and dance. There are also pockets of smaller production, like in the south around the Niger Delta. These are also indigenous, mainly made in the Edo language. Each of these has its own associations for the industry professionals, so it is a bit polarized on ethnic lines, which is regrettable. But there are some meeting points, such as the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria, in which all the different areas are represented for the purpose of regulating the industry and lobbying the government.
Chikwendu classifies Nollywood based on ethnic perspective that is language and cultural influence; whereas technically speaking Nollywood is of two categories – the DVD Nollywood and the Cinema Nollywood. Lack of government assistance empowered the film marketers to control and dictate what the industry will be like. Efforts from other individuals that are not film marketers to venture into film production met a dead end, and the reason for this is not farfetched. Film marketers employ various methods available in the book to frustrate non film marketers when they bring their films to them for marketing. Since the marketers are the ones that market the films, they prefer to sponsor and market only theirs. Frustrated due to non-profit realization and/or in some cases noncapital realization, some of the non-marketers film makers gave up their passion for film making.
The cabal (film marketers) did not only frustrate the non-film marketers but also emergent director and producers of films. During an interview with Obi Okoli, a renowned film director in Nollywood, I was made to realize that the problem of film production in Nigeria will not be solved unless the cabal (film marketers) stop dictating to directors. Obi Okoli insists that knowledgeable film directors and producers abound in Nigeria, but their technical-know-how are not fully utilized because they must take command from their employers (film marketers). Besides some of these film directors are family men and women, and are bread winners in their respective homes. To remain in business they have to do that which their employers demand. Commenting on this situation, Ovunda Ihunwo explains that,
the Nigerian film industry is however, controlled by the marketers, unlike the film industry in some other countries such as US and India, where professionalism is respected and government provides an appropriate platform under which the industry can flourish, the Nigerian government has in the past shown little interest in the development of Nollywood. Without needed funding from the government and private sector, producers had to rely on marketers for funding of film projects.
Evidently the cabal (Film Marketers) must have been having their field day in the industry since inception. They dictate and control the affairs of an industry they have no basic knowledge about its administration or technicalities. The marketers have grown so big that they can place embargo on casts and crew members at will. Not long ago, word went round that one of the leading female actresses in Nigeria, Mercy Johnson, was banned by the film marketers. Her crime was that she was too expensive. Mercy Johnson is said to charge between N1.8million to N2million to feature in a movie; and for this reason, the actress had been blacklisted by the Nollywood Movie Marketers Association. Funny enough, the ban did not take effect immediately as Mercy Johnson had already signed up to do quite a number of movies. This is not the first time the movie marketers association will be placing a ban on actors. They did this a few years ago, when quite a number of Nollywood actors including Genevieve Nnaji, Ramsey Noah, RMD, Emeka Ike, Jim Iyke and others were blacklisted.
Ordinarily acting fees should be based on personal negotiations, and has entirely nothing to do with any union whatsoever. An actor or actress is expensive because he or she has the face and artistic impudence that sells films. For such a person to be in hot demand implies that the person must have something to offer. Besides, nobody is being compelled to hire his/her services. If he/she has something the marketers need, naturally based on the law of demand and supply she is bound to be expensive.
The Dawn of a New Era
In 2004, the Silverbird group, a real estate company founded by Ben Murray-Bruce in the 1980s, established what is known today as the Silverbird Galleria. It is a mall that has food, shopping, mobile network offices, pharmacy, lounge, beauty shop and a radio station. At the Galleria you can also see a movie at the theatre, known as, the Silverbird Cinema. It pioneered the first five-screen Cineplex in sub-Saharan Africa. Silverbird Cinemas also possess the largest cinema chain in West Africa with several locations in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Uyo, Abuja and Accra Ghana. The movie theatre or Silverbird Cinema is said to have revolutionalized cinema in Nigeria. Its establishment marked the dawn of a new era not just for cinema but for the movie industry at large. Before now the Cinema industry had died a natural death in Nigeria. Ambrose Oroboh Uchenunu captured the situation when he said that,
in the history of the political climate in Nigeria, there is a glaring absence of a stable political structure and continuation of political programmes by new regimes, and this has untold effect on the nation’s film (Cinema) industry… increase in crime due to population in cities and the age of the audience the cinema play to, was a grave consequence that diminished the initial aura in which cinemas were regarded in Nigeria (30).
Oroboh further disclosed that several other factors were also responsible for the decline of cinema in Nigeria and they include but not limited to religion, ethnic loyalty, infrastructure inadequacies in Nigeria and uncertainty in the Nigerian political climate. Nevertheless the fact is that Silverbird Cinema braved all the odds and reintroduce the cinema culture in Nigeria. Since the establishment of the Silverbird Cinema and the success it recorded in the box office, several other cinemas have sprung up all over the country. The return of cinema in Nigeria gave independence to non Nollywood film marketers and created an avenue for the distribution of their films through the cinema, thereby breaking the grip of the marketers on the film industry to a great extent.
The Cinema Nollywood and the Kunle Afolayan Experience
Kunle Afolayan is one of the second generation Nigerian filmmakers who successfully pioneered the transitioning of Nollywood from video to cinema culture. This generation of film makers include Newton Uduak, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Biyi Bandele, among others. Kunle Afolayan is the son of the famous theatre and film director and producer Ade Love. He majored in economics and started out working in a bank while doing some casual acting, before deciding to move into full-time filmmaking and taking a course at the New York Film Academy. Since 2005, he has been active in the Nigerian film industry. He has made several extremely popular titles including, The Figurine: Araromire, which was in the Yoruba and English language and Phone Swap which featured the legendary Chika Okpala. The Figurine won five major awards in the African Film Academy and experienced tremendous success in the Nigerian movie theatres. Kunle Afolayan appeared at the Subversive film Festival in 2011 where he represented the second largest film industry in the world, the Nigerian film industry, with his colleague Zeb Ejiro. His latest work October 1 is a 2014 Nigerian dark psychological thriller film written by Tunde Babalola, produced and directed by Kunle Afolayan. It stars such artists as Sadiq Daba, Kayode Olaiya, David Bailie, Kehinde Bankole, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Fabian Adeoye Lojede, Nick Rhys, Kunle Afolayan, Femi Adebayo, Bimbo Manuel, and Ibrahim Chatta. The film introduced Demola Adedoyin; it also features special appearances from Deola Sagoe. The film, which is set in Colonial Nigeria, narrates the story of Danladi Waziri (Sadiq Daba), a police officer from Northern Nigeria, who is posted to a remote town of Akote in Western Nigeria to investigate the frequent murder cases of girls in the community, and have the mystery solved before the Nigerian flag is raised on October 1, Nigeria's Independence Day.
October 1 was premiered on 28 September 2014; its premiere which was tagged "60s," required guests to dress in native costumes and hairstyles from the 1960s. The premiere also provided tours of sets, and also displayed the props and costumes used in the film. The film was met with positive critical reception, mostly praised for its production design, cinematography and its exploration of powerful themes; which include tribalism, western imperialism, paedophilia, homosexuality, Nigeria's unification, and also establishing a strong connection between Western culture and the cause of present day Boko Haram insurgency.
According to Vanguard Newspaper, the film received sponsorships from the Lagos State Government, Toyota Nigeria, Elizade Motors, Guinness and Sovereign Trust Insurance. It was shot in Lagos and Ondo States for a period of over forty days, using RED cameras, after four months of pre-production. Production design for the film was done by Pat Nebo, who has also worked with Afolayan in his previous film projects. He and his team made almost half of the props used in the film, while the other props such as television sets from the '50s, shotguns and antique vehicles, were acquired and refurbished for the film. Golden Effects also partnered Haute Couture to provide primordial costumes used in the film (17).
Kunle Afolayan needs to be commended for the brilliant casting and directing. The location and props are fitting while the costumes remind one of pictures taken by our parents and grandparents in those days. Unlike many Nollywood films, October 1 was well subtitled. The film aptly integrates several interesting subplots; smartly employing subtext and irony. Tawa believes she was not taken to the city for her secondary education because she is female. She says, ‘The two bright boys were taken to Lagos. I wasn’t because I am a lady. However, as the story unfolds, the viewers understand why Tawa was not one of the chosen ones. Yet in the end, she is the well-adjusted of the three as the two young men are scarred by their experiences in secondary school. The tension between various Nigerian tribes even before independence is skilfully portrayed in the Kanayo O. Kanayo subplot. All hell is let loose when he loses his daughter and he believes that Danladi is shielding Usman Dangari, his kinsman, suspected of killing the young lady. Much as his loss was irreparable, Kanayo’s character fails to acknowledge that other young women had lost their lives in similar circumstances. Therefore, instead of pushing for an end to the killings, he misinterprets it as hatred for his tribe. Tunde Babalola, the screenwriter, must also be extolled for conducting adequate research into goings-on around that period. For instance, there is a mention of Rosemary Anieze (Miss Nigeria 1960) during one of the chats between Tawa and Prince Ropo. Agbekoya (Kunle Afolayan) should have spoken up sooner than later. He could have saved a number of the slaughtered girls from their neurotic assailant! One hopes the police charged him as an ‘accessory’ to the crimes. Rev. Dowling, the paedophile-priest, always walks into the boys’ hostel, calls one boy’s name, singling the person out and saying, ‘it’s time for night prayers’. Are night prayers meant for just one boy each night? That does not serve as a suitable expression in that circumstance. Granted that October 1 is not fast-paced, the action nonetheless unravels at a rate that keeps everyone in suspense. This 140-minute picture is another feat for Nollywood. Kunle Afolayan, has said that his latest flick, October 1, has grossed over N100million in Nigeria alone (5).
The DVD Nollywood
Born 10 October, 1975 in Nigeria, Tchidi Chikere is a consummate filmmaker and one of the leading producers in Nollywood DVD. He hails from Mbaise, Imo State, and is also a musician. He has had duets with Marvellous Benji, OJB Jezreel and Pat Attah. Tchidi Chikere, a graduate of the University of Calabar, has over 50 films to his credit. He started writing film scripts when he was still in school. While in school, he belonged to a musical group of three. On completion of his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme, he travelled to the United Kingdom to publish his first book. In 2007, he launched his first musical album. He also launched his second album in the UK. This talented young man is a consummate script writer, actor, director, producer, and singer. Tchidi has directed many films including the film, Dumebi the Dirty Girl.
The movie Dumebi: The Dirty Girl chronicles the life of the eponymous heroine, Dumebi (Mercy Johnson), as a clumsy, dirty (as the name implies), lazy and irresponsible girl, who moved from the village to the city to be with the father of her child, Frank (Kenneth Okonkwo). The casting was ingenious with Mercy Johnson playing the part of the ignorant village girl, even though it appeared to be slightly exaggerated at times. All the characters in the movie are colourful and add a burst of life to the story. The harmony and cohesion between the characters is palpable and gives a good flow to the movie. As is the norm with most home videos in the Nigerian Movie industry, the sound, lighting and continuity are less than satisfactory. The prolonging of certain irrelevant scenes where nothing much is done makes it a bit tedious to watch, and it seems as if there was attempt to stretch it out into the two-part film and that weakened the already porous storyline. Despite all the minor hitches, the film is generally funny and will leave any and everyone who watches it in stitches, although some of the language and the sexual undertones of the movie may make it unsuitable for younger viewers without supervision. I would recommend it to anyone looking for something to laugh about and while away time, it is not a movie to be taken too seriously.
Honestly, it is not possible for a mother to forget her child in a cab and even if she does, It most definitely cannot be for so long that she has to be reminded before she remembers. But the way it is played out in this movie is an extreme hyperbole. Try taking a mad woman’s child from her and tell me how you fared; that is if you survive the experience, how much more someone who is naive and sane. So instead of trying to find out which way the cab went, she starts to ask passers-by if they had seen a man with a child. Dumebi: The Dirty Girl is a beautiful attempt at comedy but it is wrongly structured. The funny thing in this, Dumebi’s character upgrades the meaning of the words incredible, stupid, and ridiculous by the minute. Just when you make a sigh of relief and tell yourself you have seen her worst, she does something worse than worst. I don’t know how possible it is to sleep through a rape when one is neither drunk nor under any influence. To worsen matters, when she notices she has just been abused, I really think it is absurd that her first concern should be her pant.
Everyone knows and understands that Dumebi is a bush girl, but what the audience does not understand is why Frank did nothing to educate her even after bragging to his friend that he would choose her over his educated girlfriend. Is she supposed to be just his sex tool?
Is Frank an imbecile or just plain daft? Why did he not bother to work on the girl to suit his exotic circle? Some men are selfish but this is really extreme and unfair to the male-folk. One is therefore left with the impression that the only character the screenwriter/director bothered to develop is Dumebi while all the other characters are just presented as either idiots or selfish based on their relationship with Dumebi.
Besides, for an exposed woman with two masters and so much exposure, I think Cynthia (Nuella Njubigbo) is too quarrelsome and talkative. The characters in this movie are extreme and at the same time undeveloped. The screenwriter appears to have taken sides and so does not allow the viewers to enjoy the film. Instead of presenting the characters as objectively as possible, he forces everyone to love Dumebi from the beginning of the movie by using Frank to tell us, she is bush and all but still the best. Like most Nollywood movies, there is always a lesson at the end and the message in this movie is clear even if it is not quite properly illustrated. The film, Dumebi: The Dirty Girl has no recorded box office though it made about one or two million naira profit.
Film making is serious business, and film makers must be grounded in the knowledge and the art of film making. In the Nigerian film industry, the Nollywood Cinema and the DVD Nollywood seem to be existing concurrently, but the expectation is that one must give way for the other if the industry must progress. Chances are that the Nollywood DVD version will eventually metamorphous into Nollywood cinema. Typical of Nigerian characteristics once a member of the cabal (film marketers) musters enough courage to produce a successful cinema film the rest are likely to switch over to cinema. “The old must flow into the new and not blind itself or stand foolishly apart” (Soyinka 54). The film, October1, made much more profit than all the other Nollywood DVD films that were produced in the same year put together. The way forward for the film marketers (the cabal) if they want to continue to remain in business is to merge resources together and begin to produce well written and technically sound cinema movies, otherwise with time they may get drowned in the tide of time.
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