Golden Icons Exclusive insight on the presentation by Nigerian Expatriate Filmmaker – Pascal Atuma, at the UCLA’s Fifty Years of African Writing: Novels, Filmmaking, and Criticism, a lecture series coordinated by Professor Francoise Lionnet.
“First of all, I will thank Professor Francoise Lionnet and Ms. Claudia Hoffman for contacting me, via Facebook, to see if I would be interested to speak at UCLA, and here we are. Also I will thank the UCLA African Studies program, the entire UCLA community and the United States of America for the privilege to stand here today to speak on the topic, “Nollywood: The Eagle of African Cinema-A Filmmaker’s Perspective”.
Brief History of Nollywood
The term “Nollywood” refers to the video film industry of Nigeria, just as Hollywood refers to America and Bollywood to India. The history of Nigerian film Industry can be traced back to the 1960s when people like Francis Oladele and Hubert Ogunde started turning indigenous plays into films, but their efforts were frustrated by the high cost of film production. In the 1960s and 70s, Nigeria had very few cinemas, which were run by foreigners who were mainly from Lebanon with few Europeans. The few players were Roxy, Metro, and Glover Cinemas broadcasting more of Chinese, Indians and European contents.However, television broadcasting in Nigeria began in the 1960s and received much government support in its early years. By the mid-1980s, every state had its own broadcasting station. To encourage the then young industry, laws were enacted to limit foreign television content and convince producers in Lagos that local popular theater productions were the best alternatives. Many of these productions were circulated on video, which marked the birth of a small scale informal video movie trade.
The people were hungry for local contents and their prayers were answered during the first administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo as the Nigerian military head of state. He wanted to project Nigerian cultures, which led to the hosting of “The Festival of Arts & Culture” (FESTAC) in Lagos. General Obasanjo demanded that foreign owners give up 40% of theater control and transfer ownership to Nigerians. As a result, foreign theatre owners sold their entire theaters to locals. The new owners, however, lacked the financial prowess and international connections to keep up with the foreign contents. In addition, insecurity and armed robbery crippled night live and led to the collapse of the Nigerian cinema culture. At the same time, numerous new churches emerged and most of the cinema structures were converted into places of worship.
As the cinemas ceased to exist, Nigerian filmmakers like Chief Eddie Ugboma, Ade Love, Ola Balogun and others explored new opportunities, which led to a shift toward television soaps and dramas. Eddie Ugboma changed the style of the traditional theater to film and began making movies revolving around present day stories. His film “OYENUSI”, the story of the most notorious armed robber in Nigeria who was killed by a firing squad, was followed by Jab Adu’s “Bisi, the daughter of the River”, and sponsored by the late Chief M.K.O Abiola.
Chief Eddie Ugboma and his contemporaries ran the cinema scene for many years from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, alongside the television soaps and dramas like “Village Headmaster”, “Mirror in the Sun”, “Cockcrow at Dawn”, “ New Masquerade” and “Checkmate” produced by Zeb Ejiro, to mention a few. The success of the soaps and dramas resulted in the birth of the Eagle of African Cinema today called “NOLLYWOOD”
The Birth of Nollywood
An electronics importer by name of Kenneth Nnebue imported VHS tapes from China. When he couldn’t sell the tapes, he contacted television producers Okey Oguejiofor to suggest alternative usage. They decided to write a script and Chris Obi-Rapu directed what became the first major local film, “LIVING IN BONDAGE”. The production and distribution of this film on VHS tapes marked the beginning of the first generation of “NOLLYWOOD”. The tremendous success of this film set the pace for others and led to the production of Domitila, Nneka the Pretty Serpent, and later, Osuofia in London by Kingsley Ogoro, which became a huge success, starring one of the biggest names in Hollywood, Nkem Owoh as Osuofia. Through the business instincts and ethnic links of the Igbo and their dominance in the distribution of electronics in major cities across Nigeria and other parts of Africa, home videos began to reach people across the country. Nollywood exploded into a booming industry that pushed foreign media off the shelves and became an industry now celebrated all over Africa and the rest of the world.
Nollywood will face a lot of challenges, ranging from piracy and lack of funds to social and cultural challenges, such as religious and cultural beliefs. Most parents, under cultural and religious influence, oppose their children’s participation in the industry, citing corruption and celebrity lifestyles which most African cultures do not openly embrace. But piracy will go on to be the greatest challenge until this day.
The young industry will go on to produce many notable stars in directing, writing, acting and producing. People like Lancelot Imaseun, Jeta Amata, Tchidi Chikere, Teco Benson, Izu Ojukwu, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Emem Isong, Ramsey Nouah, Jim Iyke , Desmond Elliot, Austin “Sharp Sharp” Ndukwe, Patience Ozokwo, Ini Edo, Stephanie Okereke, Rita Dominic, Tonto Dikeh, Mercy Johnson, and many others. These names will grow to become household names in Africa. Others will transcend the shores of Africa to become ambassadors outside the continent with appearances on the Oprah Winfrey show and CNN.
The success of Nollywood in Nigeria gave birth to “NOLLYWOOD USA”, which is where people like Tony Abulu, Bethels Agomuoh, Don Okolo, Joy Orie aka Joy the Jungle Bunny, George Kalu, Seun Maduka, Rex Otuka, Eeefy Ify Ike, Chet Anekwe, Bola Adelekan, Dee Dabira, Oscar Atuma (my producing partner who is also my coconut head brother), Boyce Uboh, Fred Idika, Roy Madu, Stanley Chinedu not excluding myself and others would become “The Children of Nollywood” operating in the USA. We are referred to as “NOLLYWOOD USA”
The first Nollywood USA movie, titled “Back to Africa”, was produced by Mr. Tony Abulu, followed by Bethel Agomuoh’s film titled “A mile to Canaan”, and then Don Okolo’s film “419-The Stock Exchange”. Nollywood USA movies enjoy wide distribution in America, Canada and the Caribbean by Sanga Entertainment, operated by Mr. Rabiu Mohammed as the only distributor of African films in America back then, now we have more distributors like Executive Image, Franco Films, Angelcom etc. Then came the new wave when Nollywood America’s film “Only in America” produced by me and my partner David Decrane was picked up by Maverick’s Entertainment, Miami for mainstream distribution worldwide. From here Nollywood America went on to enjoy mainstream distributions for movies like “Crazy like a Fox” (Tony Abulu), and “Hurricane in the Rose Garden” (Pascal Atuma & Jeremy Scroggins). Most recent Nollywood USA Movies that really shook the market include “American Dream”, “My American Nurse 1”, “My American Nurse 2” and many more set to go to distribution this year, such as “Okoto the Messenger”, “The Other Side of Love”, “Faithfulness”, “This is Houston”, “Who is the Man?” and others.
The growth and success of Nollywood transformed African cinema and its history. Most people that didn’t know about Africa have familiarized themselves with Africa by watching Nollywood and other African films like those of Ousmane Sembne from Senegal, Adam Drabo from Guinea , Abdusalem Mumuni from Ghana, and several films out of the South African film industry. Nollywood films in recent years have enjoyed success at International film festivals like The Pan African Film Festival, Black Harvest International Film Festival, Fespaco, Ouagadougou and many more.
As the Eagle flies, Nollywood has single-handedly helped to clean up the negative image of Nigeria in the Western media, as well as that of Africa. Before the emergence of Nollywood films, much of the western world thought that Africans lived on tree tops and walked the streets naked. Many felt that cars, houses, hospitals and all that good stuff were not available in Africa. I have met a lot of foreigners who still have the impression that Africa is just a country. I remember one of my school mates in theater school asking me “Pascal , what is the name of the capital of Africa?” I just looked at her and shook my head because she didn’t know that Africa is not a country but a continent. From most of the documentaries produced by Nollywood, a person like my schoolmate now knows something about the history of Africa.
Nollywood is the second-biggest film industry in the world after Bollywood in terms of output and is the second-largest employer in Nigeria. The success of Nollywood has influenced other African countries to start building their own film industries, like Ghanawood (Ghana Film Industry), Camwood (Cameroon Film Industry) , Kenwood (Kenya Film Industry) just to mention a few. Ghana, for example, is beginning to enjoy success like Nollywood around the world, and, through the interjection of some Nollywood stars, have built their own stars like Majid Michaels, Van Vicker, John Dumelo, Vida Darko, Yvonne Nelson, Jackie Appiah and many others.
In the last few years, the emergence of Silver Bird Cinema, operated by the Bruce brothers in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, have led to the second coming of cinema culture in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The success of Chinaeze Anyane’s movie “IJE” and Stephanie Okereke’s film “Through the Glass” confirms that the new Nollywood will be able to produce enough content to sustain these cinemas. Foreign contents will soon become a subsidy to African movies because of the audience already built by the Nollywood DVD and VHS market.
In conclusion, the future of African cinema is as bright as the eagle is willing and poised to fly. From all indications, the Eagle of African Cinema called “Nollywood” has come to stay, and its future is limitless. As a baby industry, we are open to collaborating with the Western world and a partnership with UCLA will surely be beneficial to both parties, which is why I am extending such invitation to UCLA, on behalf of Nollywood. We have a project which will soon take off and UCLA is welcome to work together with us.
Light at the end of the Tunnel
The current president of Nigeria, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has committed to take Nollywood to higher grounds by building the “Abuja Film Village”. Abuja Film Village is designed to attract infrastructures that will make Abuja “The world Center of Film and Entertainment Excellence”. Under the leadership of Segun Oyekunle as the MD/CEO, Abuja Film Village will raise the professional know- how of the Nigerian Film Industry. To affirm his commitment and support to Nollywood, President Goodluck Jonathan is releasing a $200 million loan to the Film Industry for interesting film projects. I can sincerely affirm that there has never been a better time for meaningful partnership between UCLA and Nollywood as we are ready to raise Nollywood to new heights.
Thanks to UCLA, the state of California and the United States of America as well. Thanks to Claudia Hoffmann for contacting me, Sheila Breeding for handling all the paperwork, my agent Warren Beatty, AAB Talent, Toronto, Canada, my manager and beloved brother Oscar Atuma, my publicist Ngozi Mba, the president of the Film Makers Association of Nigeria “Mr. Tony Abulu” for helping me with this speech, and last but not the least, The Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, USA.
God bless America, God bless Nigeria, God bless and guide Nollywood, God bless Africa, God bless the children of Africa and God bless you all. Thanks.”