Africa’s leading economy, Nigeria, has embraced the challenges of creating a film industry – Nollywood – that is markedly authentic, undeniably bold, and unapologetically true to its roots.
Despite the country’s recent economic woes, its film industry achieved an unprecedented feat with its highest ever grossing movie, The Wedding Party, which grossed 450 million nairas following its 2016 premiere. The Wedding Party contributed significantly to the record-breaking 3.5 billion nairas grossed by Nigeria’s film industry in 2016.
The CEO of Filmhouse Cinemas (which operates 11 theatres across Nigeria) and coproducer of “The Wedding Party”, Kene Mkparu says:
“Cinema has become… a safe, fun, friendly outlet to ease the economic pressure.”
As a $5bn sector, Nollywood contributed 1.4% to Nigeria’s GDP. So far, it has created over a million jobs. The relatively low cost of production (between $25,000 and $70,000 per film) makes it very attractive to investors.Within two to three weeks of release (after a month of production) Nollywood films can be profitable. In 2016, the Nigerian Federal Government expressed its interest in working with Japan and France to create animated movies for Nollywood.
The French Ambassador to Nigeria, Denys Gauer, stated:
“There is a new market to occupy in Nigeria; that is why we want to make it more visible and cooperate to develop that segment in Nigeria.”
The Nigerian government’s support of Nollywood may be instrumental in helping it diversify the Nigerian economy. The government’s 3 billion nairas grant programme, Project ACT (led by the Ministry of Finance in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and Tourism), addresses several challenges faced by the industry. Specialist training programmes have been implemented for professionals in the industry in an effort to increase the quality of films made.
Ironically, piracy played a huge role in Nollywood’s rapid growth in popularity as the distribution of Nigerian films became more widespread. This doesn’t take away form the fact that piracy has stifled the growth in revenue across the Nigerian film industry. While monetising piracy by extracting value from the more illicit distribution networks may be tempting, this is far from adequate as it serves as a temporary measure for a long-term issue. Online sites such as iROKO seized the opportunity to produce value for Nollywood from these challenges.
Launched in December 2011, by Jason Nkoju and Bastian Gotter, the company has grown from strength to strength to become the largest licensors and distributors of Nollywood movies. Early investors in iROKO were reported to have made a 3,000% profit on their investments in the online movie streaming website after 5.2 years. The $80,000 they invested grew to $2.4m. These remarkable numbers shed light on the potential margin for growth the Nigerian film industry enjoys as it continues to surmount challenges with innovative solutions. Nollywood will be strengthened not only by new business models but also by the power of the law to protect it from exploitation.
Its popularity continues to pervade throughout Africa, raising expectations for Nollywood to continue raising the bar for the film industry in the continent. Piracy remains a significant concern for expectant observers. Regulation and enforcement of piracy laws are clear solutions to a growing issue. However, the informality of the film industry (which in many ways has served as its great strength) may make the viability of an anti-piracy regulatory structure increasingly difficult.
It is interesting to note the significant efforts made by multiple parties, both within and outside Nigeria, to shape the future of Nollywood. As the Nigerian film industry continues to grow, the expertise of individuals of multiple cultural and professional backgrounds may help mould it into one that even more groups can relate to, whether in Japan, Hong Kong or Ukraine.
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