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Welcome To Nollywood, Nigeria’s Booming Movie Industry

It’s the second most productive film industry in the world.

checking the microphone of an actress on the set of "I Voted, Waten." Photo by David Larsen/Flickr.

The recent success of Marvel’s “Black Panther” has turned the world’s attention to Africa and African inspired aesthetics. But there are filmmakers in Africa, the Caribbean, and beyond who have been producing films that reflect the reveal the richness, complexity, and in some cases the humor of the global black experience, for decades. Nigeria’s film industry, also known as Nollywood, has been making waves across the globe – partly because of the speed of its growth. The United Nations named it the second most productive film industry in the world.

The first Nollywood films were full of drama, but had low production values and were filled with drawn out scenes and plotlines.

[new_image position="standard large" id="null"]A behind-the-scenes look at the filming of "The Wedding Party." Photo courtesy of Pris Nzimiro-Nwanah.[/new_image]

“They’d have the long dramatic soliloquies and speeches,” says Nollywood film producer and director Pris Nzimiro-Nwanah, “and [in another scene] you’d see a car backing out of the driveway for so long that I could leave the room go and cook, and when I returned they’d still be driving.”

She says the directors of these earlier movies, which she calls “Old Nollywood” included the long scenes for a reason. She says they wanted to “extend the film so they’d divide the film into parts, which meant they could have more DVDs to sell and make more money.”

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]They gave Nigerians, and other Africans who migrated abroad, a sense of nostalgia.[/quote]

But, Nzimiro-Nwanah says she’s thankful that the early producers did what they did, because it put Nollywood on the map and gave film producers like her a platform “to push those boundaries and tell our stories using cinematic techniques.” She says that a “New Nollywood” has developed today that was influenced by those early films. Now, she says that “films can cross over, not just to the Africans in the Diaspora, but to other cultures too.”

Pris Nzimiro-Nwanah is a Nollywood producer. Photo courtesy of Pris Nzimiro-Nwanah.

Nollywood films were, and still are, a huge hit with Africans in the Diaspora too. They gave them a connection to their homeland. “They gave Nigerians, and other Africans who migrated abroad, a sense of nostalgia,” she says. “They reminded people who hadn’t been back home in years of what it looked like.”

Some children of those immigrants, like the U.S. born Nzimiro-Nwanah, have returned to Nigeria to be a part of the industry. She moved back because she wanted to “see how we could actually bridge the gap between Africans on the continent and Africans in [the] Diaspora.”

“We can actually see the modern, contemporary cultures that have sprung from our traditional culture,” she says. “I wanted to do that through TV and production. My move back to Nigeria has been fruitful, but there’s still a lot I’d like to do.”

One of her most recent projects is the romantic comedy, “The Wedding Party 2: Destination Dubai.” Executive produced by Nigerian media mogul Mo Abudu, the film was Nigeria’s first international box-office hit and the sequel to the hit movie “The Wedding Party,” which became the first Nigerian film to pass the 400 million Naira mark.

While Nzimiro-Nwanah’s excited about the film’s success, she’s excited about working on more projects that shatter stereotypes about Africans.

In the meantime, Nzimiro-Nwanah offers five of her favorite Nollywood films, some of which you can watch on Netflix:

“Living in Bondage” (1992/93)
Directed by Chris Obi Rapu

Described as a “pioneering classic” of Nigerian film, this drama centers around a couple who must navigate several threats — ranging from financial, marital, and ... the supernatural — to their marriage.

“Domitilla” (1996)
Directed by Zeb Ejiro

Another “Old Nollywood” classic, “Domitilla” is a drama about a woman who works in an office by day, and a prostitute by night to support her family. Her life falls apart once she tries to turn her life around.

“Figurine” (2009)
Directed by Kunle Afolayan

This “New Nollywood” film is a thriller about two friends who finds a mystical sculpture in an abandoned shrine in the forest. It won five awards at the Africa Movie Academy Awards.

“Anchor Baby” (2010)
Directed by Lonzo Nzekwe

“Anchor Baby” is a “New Nollywood” tale of an undocumented couple from Nigeria on a quest to create a better life for their unborn child.

“Road to Yesterday”(2015)
Directed by Ishaya Bako

Nzimiro-Nwanah describes this “New Nollywood” romantic drama as being “very simple.” She says: “It's a little artsy. It's about two lovers. I like it because it focused on the emotions felt by the couple in the relationship. There aren't that many characters in the film, and I really liked what it was delving into — this couple and their lives. I really liked the intimacy in the film. It wasn't too much. It was cerebral.”

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