When I grew up, the question of favourite movies was easy to answer; Osuofia in London, one of the most epic comedies of all time was everyone’s favourite for a really long time. My peers and I overlooked the messy sound engineering and the picture quality that was not perfect in the unexpressed hope that the technicalities would improve with time. After all, stories are not technique, they are simply stories and Osuofia in London was a funny one we all loved. Favourite actors were the likes of Osita Iheme, Patience Ozokwor, Chinedu Ikedieze among many other idols of our formative years from Nigeria. More than ten years after this glorious period, it is sad to note that the quality of Nollywood films of that time might have been better than some of the movies being released even now. Not only are the storylines just ridiculously all over the place but the technical aspects have not improved much.
Back then, Genevieve Nnaji and Ramsey Noah’s various escapades spoke to African love-lives and we were excited about their dating rumours in the same manner people are excited about the Kardashians now (well, some people are). They were our Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater of Titanic, born and bred in Africa and with no need to pretend to be American. Nollywood has been dubbed as the next Hollywood but the truth is it will never be Hollywood. It is not only a matter of the unfortunately wide difference in quality but the philosophies that drive the two industries are irreconcilable. Nollywood will never uphold Hollywood values and should not try to. However, it would be helpful if the Nigerian film industry borrowed a few principles from the technique Hollywood employs to produce such high quality productions as it does.
Kenneth Nnebue’s 1992 movie, Living in Bondage started an entertainment revolution. Nigeria’s film industry - Nollywood was built on the solid foundation of Mr Nnebue’s forward-thinking set. What inspired him?
“Nollywood was a child of necessity. There were very few television stations and we got to a point where the Television stations that existed needed you, the producer, to get sponsorship for your productions,” propounds Professor Ahmed Yerima, a theatre artiste and former artistic director of the National Troupe of Nigeria.
The industry was not built to be Africa’s answer to Hollywood, it was meant to cover the entertainment gap in Nigeria with African stories, told the African way. Not much investment has been known to be put into story-telling and worse still, priorities in Africa do not necessarily put movies on top of the list where poverty is rife. The industry has done well in realising its mandate of telling the Nigerian story to the world. Where movies have attempted to move from this traditional fundamental ambit, they have been quite an eye-sore save for a few.
According to Professor Onookome Okome of the School of English and Film Studies in the University of Alberta in Canada,”Nollywood is popular because it speaks aspects to aspects of social life that many people live. It speaks to and debates social and cultural anxieties the way no other media has done before.”
The industry has not simply besieged the Nigerian scene but has effects rippling throughout Africa. Songa wa Songa, a Tanzanian journalist confessed to New York Times that even in his country, Nigerian movies were very popular and even said, “A lot of people now speak with a Nigerian accent here very well thanks to Nollywood.”
Poor Quality Productions?
Most Nollywood movies I have watched are a noisy messy. The actors speak sense but the noise makes it hard to even decode what were supposed to be helpful nuggets for life. Nollywood movies’ secret weapon is the ability to speak to African lives and give relevant life lessons in drama. Hollywood does not do that, it is simply Western culture being reported on without any expectation of changing a single soul’s life. The Tyler Perry movies are an exception in Western films, the rest are the Fifty Shades of Greys which add no real value to our African life. It is however sad that while Nollywood speaks to our lives, it lacks the quality that would make it an effective instrument of the process. Ejike Nwankwo, a producer rightfully revealed, “Films can be produced with as little as $10,000, the low budget film makes it possible for us to shoot and complete production as quickly as possible, sometimes within a month or less. But sadly, it affects the quality of production.”
In addition to the money, it would seem there simply is no infrastructural framework to support quality productions. The government of Nigeria is basically simply seen to talk about Nollywood when it gloats over it around the world but the necessary support to allow growth which in turn helps quality is insignificant. Simply put, Nollywood was built with no view of becoming the next Hollywood and even if it was trying it is unable because the quality of production is deplorable. Hollywood may have its faults but is undoubtedly ahead in quality.
Piracy undermining the gains?
In 2015, Fortune Magazine revealed that of Nollywood’s $3 billion valuation, less than 1% was tracked from official ticket sales and royalties. “The rest came from pirated reproductions sold by unauthorized vendors for roughly $2 each. As a result, producers and financiers see only a fraction of the movie industry’s economic value.”
World Bank also estimated that for every legitimate copy sold, nine others are pirated. This not only directly affects the income from movies made but affects future investment. It is very possible to have a hit film and not even recover the $10,000 used in making it. Injecting capital into such an enterprise almost sounds like throwing money down a drain. The vicious cycle then goes back to quality. An industry without the money is simply not going to produce anything qualitatively impressive. Producers and directors are not miracle workers! It is therefore hypocritical for us to complain about quality when we are supporting piracy and not production. We only get what we deserve! Movies like Avatar, the highest grossing film, have now earned almost $3 billion which is close to the value of the whole Nollywood industry. Why? Because the fans are supporting the production teams and not the street vendors.
The Nollywood industry itself has dragged its feet with regards to adapting to the harsh environment. Movies need to be on the big screen if they are to earn anything close to what they are worth. Movie premieres become an important aspect of the whole experience but it seems most productions go without premieres thus exposing them to the whim of the ordinary vendor who benefits from the “Latest movie here” marketing pitch. Nollywood will never be Hollywood because of piracy.
While some movies have improved, the popularity of Nollywood films could be waning in some regions as more and more people lose patience with the quality. I stopped watching Nollywood films due to the ridiculously inconsistent and far from perfect sound engineering coupled with half-baked storylines. Other people may have many other reasons but the aggregate result is the depletion of Nollywood popularity owing to poor production. Simply being the second largest movie industry in the world on counters of mass production is not enough. The quality has to be perfect, the distribution and launch of movies also has to be on point. Anything short of this makes Nollywood a shadow of what it should become. It is however, unfair to call it the next Hollywood as the running principles and values behind these industries are simply not the same. Nollywood is for Nigerians and the greater demography of Africans. It is not supposed to be pressurised into becoming a Hollywood satellite establishment. All we need from Hollywood are lessons on how to produce quality productions, we will skip the oversexed storylines and excessive violence.