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Different Year, Same Giant Strides for Nollywood

January 12, 2021 | Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
Written by Tolu Okunade

Did you know? 

The term “Nollywood,” was coined by a New York Times journalist, Norimitsu Onishi in 2002, which means “nothing wood,” or rather, creating something out of nothing.

The year has started with Nollywood riding on the success of Sugar Rush, a project known for its array of familiar superstars and actors. The movie had begun showing the year before and continued to air till February 2020, amassing over 250 million Naira in the box office. It officially became the Third Highest Grossing Movie of all time in Nollywood, only second to Ebonylife’s Wedding Party 2, Wedding Party 1, and Chief Daddy. 

Lest I forget, the brilliance of our filmmakers and actors was amply rewarded at the African Magic Movies Viewer’s Choice Awards (AMVCA) with a movie like Living in Bondage sweeping seven (7) Awards on the Night. 

However, due to the outbreak of the Corona Virus Pandemic, nations had to be shutdown with Citizens locked into their homes to prevent the spread. Cinemas were drastically affected too and this, in turn, was a clog in the wheel of Nollywood. How? I’d explain.

Cinemas, until 2020 were the biggest milk Cows that funded the gigantic movie industry. What the Cinemas do was to provide a platform connecting filmmakers and distributors to a ready audience in a conducive environment. 

A little over a decade ago, this wasn’t the case as the major way of movie distribution was via Compact Disks (CDs) and Video Cassettes. All that was required viewers to purchase their own tapes and taking them home to be able to view with their family members.

However, due to the lack of strong anti-piracy laws, piracy became a thorn in the flesh of producers and directors as they were not able to recover the entire cost involved in movie productions by the sale of the movies. And so with the advent of the cinemas, a panacea was provided. So when the world shut down, it disrupted the plans of many movie makers who already had movies in the cinemas or had a production process ongoing. And with the nature of the virus, no one knew how long the Lockdown would last.

Did you know?

While many Nigerians may look down on their movie industry, Nollywood is currently ranked as the second-largest in the world in terms of output after India’s Bollywood. 

Nigerians are known all across the globe for their wit, ability to adapt and innovate in the toughest of conditions. “Push a Nigerian to the Wall and he’d begin to break it, just to break through,” it is an often saying. That level of innovation and talent was in full display for the world to see. 

In 2018, During the Toronto International Film Festival, Netflix announced the acquisition of worldwide exclusive distribution rights for Nollywood star Genevieve Nnaji’s debut film as director, “Lionheart.” The film marked the first Netflix original film from Nigeria. Many saw this as the beginning of a new era in the relationship between one of the world’s largest streaming platforms and Africa’s most prolific film industry.

2020 has seen an increased representation of Nollywood on Netflix with the launch of the ‘NetflixNaija’ Brand, a franchise of the global body. What Netflix allows users to do is to enjoy an array of movies for a monthly token of as low as 10 dollars each month. 

How then does Netflix get movies? According to Alessandro Jedlowski of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), they use Licensing. Licensing is defined as the process of obtaining permission from the owner of a TV show or movie for various purposes, and online streaming is no different. A licensing agreement is established under the terms of a legally binding contract between the content owners and Netflix, and each agreement varies. Some licenses will last into perpetuity, while others are limited for a time. 

Netflix licenses out content that does not belong to it from the entity that owns that content. This vastly oversimplifies the process, but Netflix gets written permission from rights holders to show their movies. That permission comes in the form of a license (a contract) that allows the use of copyrighted creations, contingent upon various limitations and fees.

Since Cinemas were closed, Movie Directors simply took their Movies to Netflix. And did it help? A great deal! Asides from the curbing of piracy, they didn’t have to spend a lot of money on publicity — Netflix did it for them. And the most important benefit was that they got paid and it wasn’t dependent on the amount of viewership the movie got. Below are key examples of movies that got on Netflix and became global successes. 

Òlòturé, a Nigerian Crime Drama Film that depicts undercover the dangerous and brutal underworld of human trafficking is another example. Though it first premiered on October 31, 2019, at Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia, Netflix in September 2020 acquired distribution rights to the film. Airing began on October 2, 2020, on the platform. Within days after its release, Òlòturé ranged among the Top 10 watched movies in the world on Netflix.

Citation, a movie by the brilliant and veteran film Director Kunle Afolayan focuses on sex for grades among university lecturers and students and starred Temi Otedola, Gabriel Afolayan, Seun Kuti and Ini Edo became the most-watched movie on Netflix in Nigeria and the sixth most-watched film globally on the platform.

Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys 2, a sequel to the highly successful King of Boys 1 though unreleased has been exclusively licensed to Netflix and would be released in 2021. 

Did you know? 

That Nollywood is the second largest employer after agriculture in Nigeria. In 2014, Nollywood was worth $5.1 billion and made up 5% of Nigeria’s GDP. 

For Nollywood, this year has been a confirmation of the industry’s popularity and commercial potential across the world due to the appeal of homegrown stories and characters. But it is in Africa that Nollywood has had the greatest impact. For African audiences who have for decades been fed imported films, the development of a local, homegrown film industry is hugely significant and important.

In a year that businesses and industries were ravaged by the global Corona Virus and the nation’s dwindling economies, Nollywood soared. For a nation that has been covered in dark clouds, Nollywood has been the silver lining. And there are no limits for that industry. You say they might have reached their peak: I say the sky is only the starting point and they’ve not even scratched the surface.

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