My 2cents on Nigerian movies (for that’s what they are really worth!)

March 9, 2009

There’s a phenomenon sweeping across Africa and the African diaspora–Nigerian movies. These are homemade films in a genre that should aptly be called ‘Romantic Voodoo’ because of their propensity for black magic.

According to Wikipedia, it all started in 1992 when a Nigerian entrepreneur, Kenneth Nnebue, imported a lot of blank video cassettes to Nigeria. In order to get a ready market, he assembled a ragtag cast and they made low budget stories which they recorded on the tapes before selling them. The response was explosive. The rest, as they say, is history.

This straight to VHS movies became increasingly lucrative. By the year 2000, in a classic bandwagon effect, they were now coming out in dozens a week. Nigerian movies, or Nollywood as they came to be widely known have even surpassed Hollywood and Bollywood as the world’s fastest growing movie industry. An average Nigerian film takes less than a week to shoot! A ready employer for a multitude of unemployed, it has become a full fledged industry in itself. The market is readily available throughout Africa because the poor can relate to the simplistic stories. In Nigeria, this industry is reportedly the second biggest employer after agriculture. It churns out over 2,500 pictures a year. Or 50 a week. That’s all very well. Unfortunately, in such a prolific industry with lots of people all in a rush to make a quick buck, quality suffers. Inevitably, most of the films produced are cheesy.

So often we are treated to simplistic, not-well-thought-out plots. Many of them are boring, clichéd and one dimensional. An insult to our intelligence, really. Technically, the lighting, directing, editing, cinematography… are all poorly done. Even if clever writing is not a prerequisite to a good movie, most Nigerian scripts are more often than not, moronic.

I am not exonerating western movies. Not at all. They are equally full of crap. However, they are still way ahead of us…mostly. We all know that Hollywood survives on hype, recycled actors and action packed trailers. But my feeling here is that they already have enough critics. Besides, a good number of them really push the envelope, occasionally giving us memorable stuff. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t spare our own because of the excuse that they are our own. Mediocrity is mediocrity no matter who is responsible.

Just because a good story needs conflict and resolution does not mean you give predictable themes. A good story should not be ‘wimpy’. By that I mean a story that gives us a solution that is too easy. Or a story that points to something that is too obvious. Make it too easy and it becomes hollow and thus fails to produce ‘an experience’. You don’t want a movie that wraps up the story in the first few minutes!

Another issue is that these films are too preachy. They are more evangelical than entertaining. They shouldn’t be. Let the audience learn his own lesson from the film. Don’t tell us what the moral is. That is not good story telling—for adults!

Characterwise, I feel that human ambiguity should be represented. The star should have a few flaws. And the bad guy a few good points. There’s a good reason why Shakespeare is still relevant after all these years—he provided insights into humanity, ambiguity and all. In resolving the conflict, the main character should do it by himself, atleast partly. It is pointless when you invoke the supernatural/god. The theme of the story should be how the character deals with his/her predicament. A story can have several concurrent conflicts for good measure.

In the plot, some things can just be intelligently alluded to. That’s sometimes more powerful than showing or telling all. I believe all men will agree with me that a lady in a mini-skirt looks more sexy to stare at than a stark naked woman. That’s because of what the short skirt alludes to.

Oh, and why do they always have ‘PART 2’ of every movie?


One Response to “My 2cents on Nigerian movies (for that’s what they are really worth!)”

  1. Vertis said

    Absolutely fascinating. One of the things that my gf told me a long while back now was how fascinating Iranian films were, because of the absolute restrictions on kissing and such, they had/have to be really inventive. The film makers having to work around the censors and stuff challenged them. Having to work with the restrictions that the Nigerian filmmakers have, resources and such, gives other things to appreciate.

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