How Nigeria’s Nollywood is dominating Africa’s movie scene

Nollywood signpost in Nigeria, an icon of Africa’s movie industry

Nollywood movies or actors’ names is what you will find if you ask the avid African movie watcher to name ten of their favorite African actors or movies. Nollywood – Nigeria’s entertainment industry – is obviously dominating the African movie scene and this piece is an attempt to shed some light on why I think that is the case.

As an African myself who is originally from Ghana, I have chosen to compare the Nigerian movie industry to that of Ghana’s, bear in mind that the differences and similarities I will be talking about will be evident across a lot of African countries, yet I have chosen to narrow my comparisons down to ongoings in the Ghana/Nigeria movie industries.

Ghanaians, like many other across the African continent have acquired a strong taste for Nigerian movies and thanks to the local television networks in Ghana, this strong craving for Nigerian movies is properly satisfied since the television networks do this to have a strong and continual viewer-ship. Nigerian names belonging to actors like Ramzy Noah, Genevieve Nnaji, Patience Ozorkor, Uchie Jumbo, Desmond Elliot, Jim Iyke, Rita Dominic are far more familiar to movie watchers in Ghana and other African countries than one would find elsewhere.

I’m not a big movie buff, yet I know enough about Nigerian movies that it was possible for me to write down the actors’ names without struggling to extract them from my memory and I must confess that some Ghanaians living in the diaspora might or might not have difficulties if they were asked to do same for Ghanaian actors or actresses not for the fact that they’ve been away from home for the past couple years or so, but for the simple reason that the Nigerian movie industry, also known as Nollywood, continually churns out movies that are shown all over the continent and that put their actors in the news constantly. This goes to show the huge popularity and following that Nigerian-actors, and movies enjoy across the African continent

Peter Mensah, Ghanaian-born Hollywood Star acting in the epic movie 300

I must say I am happy for Nigeria and the great work it is doing for the African movie industry through Nollywood. I strongly feel Ghana is also in a good position to share in this limelight as are other African countries. As I sit here to write, I fondly recall  the likes of veterans in the Ghana movie industry such as Fred Amugi, Emmanuel Armah, Augustine Abbey, Grace Omaboe, Grace Nortey and a whole host of others who gave me a reason to love Ghanaian movies as I was growing up back in the late 90s and 2000s in Ghana. So my question here is, since movie productions never ended in Ghana after the likes of these greats, how come some Ghanaian movie followers today can not rival Nollywood’s popularity?

One can not deny the fact that the past few years have seen the Ghanaian movie industry grow vibrantly with some interesting productions, despite the limitations many local Ghanaian producers face. Few such producers who are churning out quality productions that can hold their own anywhere are Shirley Frimpong-Manso, Abdul Salaami, Koby Maxwell, Juliet Asante and others. These are doing Ghana some seriously good work and I hope am not the only one noticing that.

Miss Frimpong-Manso, after years of keenly observing the Ghanaian movie industry by remaining in a movie drought for a while, came out with her first production in early 2008 which she called ‘Life and Living It.’ It was a major talk of the town and she received huge praises for her work. Shirley has followed it up with other equally good productions, with a popular one being ‘A Sting in A Tale’. Shirley has however been criticized mainly for her over-reliance on the same characters for almost all of her productions.

Personally, I feel that if these actors get the job done properly, why rock the boat? Watching some old movies from Ghana brings back fond memories of enjoying quality Ghanaian films as I was growing up back home in Ghana. Films like ‘Heritage Africa’, ‘Love Brewed in An African Pot’ and the good old ‘I Told You So’ from almost four decades back give me hope that with people like Shirley Frimpong-Manso, Abdul Salaami, Koby Maxwell, Juliet Asante and other hard working Ghanaian movie makers, the movie industry in Ghana has a bright future.

All good things come at a cost and I will be the first to admit that to make high-quality movies, there must be a strong financial investment from all parts involved. This lack of or willingness to financially invest in movies is one of the things that has been a major setback to the African movie industry, the exact opposite is what accounts for Nigeria’s success in Nollywood. Lack of finances must still not be an excuse for the sometimes mediocre productions that have swarmed the movie making industry in some African countries but oh well, money talks.

Lack of financial assistance have scuppered the ambitions of most people who are placed to produce quality movies for the Ghanaian market, the need for good writing and story lines and above all the art of acting in itself must be taken more seriously not only in Ghana but across the African continent. That said, credit must be given where it is due, and it is in this vein that I wish to bow my head in admiration of great contemporary Ghanaian actors like Van Vicker, Majid Michel, Chris Attoh, John Dumelo, Nadia Buari, Jackie Appiah, Yvonne Nelson, Nana Ama Macbrown, Juliet Ibrahim and Agya Koo among a whole host of others.

Corporate organizations in today’s Ghana are very hesitant when it comes to investing their monies into movies. According to them, it does not profit much and so many of them who reluctantly chose to be sticking their feet into such a soil are careful not to attract as much mud on their feet when they pull them out. The market size for the sale of movies in Ghana is relatively small and many movies in Ghana including foreign ones, are pirated. This is something that hurts the movie industry across Africa a lot and one of the best ways out of this is marketing and a very good one at that.

The story in Nigeria is a little different. Producers over there attract far more support and pay their actors/actresses very handsomely. Top Nigerian actors are not only popular in names but their pay cheques are huge – far better and almost unfair in comparison with the meager rations some popular Ghanaian and African actors make – corporate organizations and individuals in Nigeria front the corridors of movie producers with their sponsorship packages. Movie production is a good publicity platform, especially for those billionaires sitting on huge oil money who are constantly competing with colleagues for personal accolades.

Nollywood, the Nigerian movie industry as is known around the world for being the world’s third fastest growing movie industry and is a serious publicity venue. It is almost a tradition to see the props after every single Nigerian movie containing the names of ‘chiefs’ and the likes. I must confess that not all of such Nigerian productions with big backing bucks really make the cut sometimes though.

But with a nation of over a 100 million people, even a small budget production has the power to sell enough to make a producer smile all the way to the bank if that movie is well marketed so yes, there’s also strength in numbers my friends. Virtually speaking, on a daily basis especially on television networks like Mnet and other big ones in Africa, the number of Nigerian movies shown is amazing and the fact that that country is the most populous and biggest in Africa goes to tell a long story.

Where quality is compromised for the numbers game, the need for high-quality production in Ghana and other African countries becomes a MUST if the African movie industry is to share in the glory of Nollywood! It must be mentioned that all parties are also guilty of some substandard productions and in the past few years, some African movies have just been too ridiculous. Praise must be given where it is due because, some productions too, a whole lot of them, have simply been wonderful too.

My advice to the movie industry on the African content is that it must pay much attention to fine details like purposeful directing, correct sub-titling, good editing, proper sound, good costume, enticing story lines, good acting, serious marketing, productions of movies that tell and sell historic Africa by Africans to the word, and a lot more if it wants to keep making movies that hold a viewer’s interest.

We as Africans need to respect what is our own and give meaning and support to it. Charity, they say begins at home, but quality, as I say begins with hard work so lets wait and see whether there are going to be more great movie makers/actors/etc to prop up the slow but steady rise in the movie industry in Ghana and other parts of Africa where it is not doing so well. I will be closely watching and waiting to see how things go in Africa and Ghana in particular and no I didn’t forget to mention the name Peter Mensah, one of Africa’s greatest acting sons to have come out of Ghana, click on his highlighted name to look him up on Wikipedia. This guy has a lot of achievements under his belt and is highly respected both in Nollywood and Hollywood too.

By Oral Ofori, research assistance from Joshua Anny Osabutey

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