The Nollywood Dilemma…..

The year is 2013, and Nollywood as the Nigerian movie industry is known is celebrating 20years of its existence. To be honest I initially found myself asking the question, ‘how did they come about the 20years?

Is it 20years since the first Home Video was created?

Or is it 20 years since they decided to start calling our movie industry Nollywood? (I really doubt it’s this)

Or maybe its 20 years since they used a camera to shoot something, whether a TV program, movie, documentary etc…. (I also doubt it’s this)

I still don’t have an answer but I’m hoping that someone with answers will enlighten us after reading this.

OK, so I decided to do some research…….

Apparently we had been making movies and TV programmes in Nigeria since the 1960s but the high cost of production was frustrating movie makers….. However in 1992 the release of the film ‘Living in Bondage’ and its commercial success set the pace for our movie industry as we know it now.

Age, I believe has a large part to play in the development of any movie industry.

Take a look at Bollywood, the industry is celebrating its 100th year of existence! And they know this because they are celebrating the release of the first full length feature film in India, ‘Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra’ by Dadasaheb Phalke and have been tracking their progress since in terms of No of films made, awards won and revenue generated.

Hollywood has also probably been tracking the development of its movie industry since 1910 when ‘In Old California’ the first film shot in Hollywood was made, however the American movie industry was birthed before then……..

I think it would be nice to give you all a bit of film history at this point (note I said a bit):

Towards the late 1800s, camera technology was developed that enabled people capture motion on film. This was something major in the world as it led to the development of the first motion picture ever; The Horse in Motion (1878).

10 years later, the first home movie was made but even in the production of all the motion pictures, no one had made a feature film until 1906 when ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang’ was produced in Australia. (A feature film is one that exceeds at least 40 minutes depending on who’s defining it; some say 40, others say 80).

One thing that was lacking in all the movies produced during this period however was sound, hence the films of this era were called the Silent films (a couple of you may have watched 2011’s The Artist so you know what I mean); it wasn’t till about the 1930s that the first movie with sound was produced……. blah blah blah.

I could go on but I’ll stop; I just wanted to let you know that there’s history out there on film but a clear history for Nollywood may be hard to come across. I won’t be surprised if a large number of people in the industry also lack a comprehensive history of Nollywood, but I won’t speculate.

What I would like to share however is the result of a conversation I had with a couple of folks the other day while discussing Nollywood.

One of the discussants stated that the expectations of Nigerians from Nollywood was too much at the moment because the industry was yet to find a vision nor did it have a creative purpose when it was birthed.

He stated that Nollywood started out of the situation of the people in the country and not out of a need to birth creativity….Let me give you an analogy:

‘One day, the following conversation takes place amongst a group of friends, Peter, Gabriel, James, and Ola.

Peter: Omo, this work wey no dey don tire me o.

Gabriel: Guy, wetin you wan make we do na? As our papa no come get connections nko?

James: Well, wetin we fit do sef, Ola that your camera still dey work?

Ola: Ha, e still dey work o, I even use am film one fight for my street the other day.

James: Which of you fit write story? I get one guy wey like film like this and him talk se e wan direct, we fit give am chance.

Peter: Wetin we go need agin?

Gabriel: Fine girls!!! Work no dey everywhere. I sure sey we fit find fine girls who go wan act. I no mind make I play actor sha.

James: Ok, make we meet tomorrow start to put things together. We go need money o, so make all you guys find money come, I go find out how much everything go cost..’

And so was Nollywood birthed………

This may not be an accurate account of the birth of Nollywood or the Movie Entertainment sphere in Nigeria; it cannot be sef considering that it’s my script (so copyright laws apply! If you steal it, I will catch you). But I was surprised that a lot of people agreed with the notion that the above is probably very close to how Nollywood was birthed in our country.

Now, twenty years have passed and one might argue that since origins were not so well documented or progress adequately monitored, the Nigerian movie industry is still at best mediocre.

It may be the second when it comes to production of movies in the world only next to Bollywood but it still remains as if the above is still the normal when it comes to the reason people produce films.

This has made some certain individuals question the publicity, glamour and propaganda being put into celebrating an industry that so many perceive as mostly dull and ridiculous in its content……

As one person said, ‘what exactly is worth celebrating about Nollywood?’

I hope to have the participation of individuals in the industry as well as Nigerians out there like you as we delve into the Nollywood sphere but in this first post, I would like to ask this question……

As Nollywood celebrates 20 years how many of you would proudly say, ‘I do not watch Nigerian films?!’

To be continued……..



  1. Lawrence

    20th April 2013 at 5:20 pm

    While there may not be much to celebrate about nollywood, I think it will be so unfair to throw away the baby with the bath -water. The movie “Living in Bondage” I dare say is a classic and while there’s been a lot of mediocres coming into the industries to produce poor movies, the last decade has seen the professionals like kunle afolayan, Amaka igwe. Tunde Kelani making movies which have even gone ahead to win awards outside the shores of Africa. The truth is that stake holders must realize that for Nollywood to take her rightful place as a giant movie industry in Africa, there’s a need to encourage these ones. Watching movies like Ije, two brides and a baby, the figurine will make one appreciate the depth of script writing, screenplay adaptation and postproductions. These ones are worth celebrating.

    • MoviePencil

      20th April 2013 at 9:35 pm

      Great thoughts sir…. But there’s a little flaw to that which will come up more as the journey continues for these posts….

    • Oluwatobi

      22nd April 2013 at 11:55 am

      I think you’ll agree with me that those movies were as publicised and paid attention to, only because of the huge the amounts of funds put in. Then again, it’s pretty clear that there’s no yardstick, quality control body (don’t even mention the NFVCB), an UNBIASED and QUALITY-ORIENTED critiquing third party (all CAPS intended) or, worse still, the simple, innate, creative drive. All I see are small-minded audiences with the flair for frivolous red-carpet events, big name sponsors with no moral code, a pointless media too caught up in brown-envelope-love, and–cream of the crop–the blessing of great governments past, present and future, who have given, now are giving, and will ever give a hoot about doing the right, and in this case, very profitable, thing. (Sarcasm very, VERY MUCH intended!!!)

      No, Moviepencil, I do NOT watch Nigerian movies!

      • MoviePencil

        22nd April 2013 at 1:06 pm

        LOL! Even as hilarious as this sounds, I believe change can only be motivated by interest. If you ignore something, the natural tendency is for it to decay and die.

    • Oluwatobi

      22nd April 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Well, maybe death is the answer! Like the biblical illustration of the dying of the seed, maybe what we need is a total redo. Hehe.
      *serious face*

      • MoviePencil

        23rd April 2013 at 9:30 am

        Well a total redo or ‘death’ as you call it is very much different from decay. The death the bible illustrates with the seed is very intentional and the death or redo you are suggesting has to be very much intentional.

        You definitely cannot achieve this by ‘ignoring’ the industry so to speak.

  2. Toonna

    20th April 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Great article, and I applaud your research into the history of films in general!

    Mini trivia – Didn’t the popular TV series Things Fall Apart series starring Pete Edochie precede Living In Bondage? Or does “Nollywood” differ from Nigerian TV shows? I remember watching some cool TV shows like one called Village Masquerade; not sure if that is the actual name.

    I celebrate how far the Nigerian movie industry has come. I must say though, the term “Nollywood” repels me, it reeks of 2nd hand creativity and trickles of colonialism, likewise “Bollywood”, “Ghalywood”, “Callywood” and the likes, *shivers* but our creativity and production has steadily grown, and our fan base in and outside Nigeria is growing too.

    I pray that all the resources needed to make the industry more excellent will be made available by the government and the people, and that one day we can all beat our chest in pride whenever our movies are mentioned all around the world.

    Cheers MoviePencil!

    • MoviePencil

      20th April 2013 at 9:42 pm

      Yes those TV shows did precede. In those early days when there was the development of TV stations all across the country, they were tasked to produce local content for TV as the number of foreign content they were allowed to air on TV was limited. Hence all those made for TV shows…. But these were not commercialized i.e made into tape, CD or whatever and sold to the general public so there was really no industry per se.

      May I let you know now that the term Bollywood even though is corny and obviously reeks of copying actually was derived from something local with India.

      There’s history to the name, it just wasn’t picked as a copied term. I can’t say the same for Nollywood tho.

      • Toonna

        20th April 2013 at 10:10 pm

        “Bollywood, the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai, produces around 150–200 films every year.[284] The name Bollywood is a portmanteau of Bombay and Hollywood.” ~ Mumbai’s Wikipedia page.
        No matter how good they get, just by that name alone, they may still be perceived as the underdogs to the real deal; Hollywood. And the Indian film industry is also known for shamelessly recreating Hollywood’s products with giving due credit albeit with better finesse that Naija. Perhaps the excuse is Naija and India are paying homage to the American film industry buy adopting a similar name, oh well.
        Why can’t we take a cue from the British Film Industry? Though they cross paths with Hollywood a lot, they are yet very distinct, in name and in cinematic tastes, and they are not named after a variant of “Hollywood” The same goes for China, Japan, South Korea, and other countries in the world known for film making.
        In summary, all I’m saying is we should have our own cinematic identity, and then sell that ID to the world. And it all begins with a new name.

        • MoviePencil

          20th April 2013 at 11:30 pm

          If you read further down the post, you will see how they came about the name Bollywood. Nobody will say it was not Hollywood inspired but the initial adaptation of a name based off Hollywood was the Bengali cinema industry Tollywood. I want to point out now that Indian Cinema is way larger than Bollywood though which is just Hindi films.

          I’m not bothered about the name Nollywood as the name Hollywood is so popular that if you hear Rallywood or Pallywood right now, you’ll probably assume it’s the film industry of another nation. Any wood just seems synonymous to a film industry and it isn’t such a bad thing.

          Cinematic Identity is more than the name. As for all those other countries you mentioned, they do not make as much movies or are not as popular as the Top Three, and most don’t have an identity tied to a name.

          What these posts will try to point out more as we go on is how it seems more people outside the shores of the country identify with our film industry than those localized in the nation.

  3. Bayo

    20th April 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Nollywood is evolving! Grateful to the few who have decided to stand out. With movies like Ije, Figurine, Mr & Mrs etc, the mediocre producers will soon know that they either up their game or become irrelevant. I for one do not watch Nigerian movies unless it comes with high recommendation like the ones I mentioned above. Mind you, I don’t watch any kind of Hollywood movie either. Much as they are advanced, they disappoint me sometimes too with the quality of some of their stories.

    Meanwhile I think Africa Magic has also contributed to aiding whatever mediocrity that exists in Nollywood. They practically show any movie so long as it doesn’t have sex scenes! If Africa Magic will stick to quality movies (from scripting to acting, cinematography and the likes), you bet the producers will wake up!

    • MoviePencil

      20th April 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Yes it is…. What everyone fails to understand is that like every other business, it needs revenue to survive…. Hence my last question How many people would proudly say: I do not watch Nigerian films? If everyone is waiting for high recommendations, then who will go to the cinema to watch the film? If no one/ very few people go in the first week, probability is the film won’t last in the cinemas. If the makers do not generate enough revenue to cover their cost it almost looks like a reason not to bother with quality… Let me not spill too much of my further arguments/discussion points.

  4. zeenike

    23rd April 2013 at 7:11 am

    Really good article, I really enjoyed it, the history and all. Me, I think most Nollywood movies are a collective joke, however I still find myself looking for them on Youtube every now and then when I don’t have enough brain power to decipher a Hollywood movie. Yup, you’re right, I won’t spend my hard earned N150 buying one. That having been said, I’ve watched one or two that really impressed me. I think if we would focus more on quality than quantity we might on day start making watch-able movies. But we all know that won’t happen. Why? That dialogue on the birth of Nollywood says it all.

    • MoviePencil

      23rd April 2013 at 9:44 am

      I still believe we need to change this attitude if we want the industry to undergo any change. Let me put it this way, a Nigerian movie maker goes out of his way to produce a very good movie! Invests a lot of money into quality (Note: quality aint cheap) and when he releases his movie, we say we don’t watch Nigerian movies in the cinema, so we don’t go watch it. After a bit he releases it on DVD and because a lot of people hear it was good, some go and buy it and others just copy it from those who bought it. Most agree the movie was good but at the end of the day the movie maker is running at a loss.

      What kind of precedence or motivation are we giving that movie maker? In fact all those that spend say, 100k on a film and release mass rubbish are earning way more profit from the likes of Alaba folks and Africa Magic and I’m sure they are busy laughing at Mr Quality Movie Maker.

      From a business point of view, we Nigerians keep demanding something we are not willing to pay for as a people. Until we do that, we will continue to stifle the industry. No one wants to run at a loss you know.

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