Is Nollywood Taking its Audience for Granted?
It's 2022 and it seems as though Nigerian viewers have finally had enough of accommodating bad screenplays.
Today, films are arguably the most popular form of media consumed by viewers all around the world. The film industry is considered a tool for individual and social transformation, contributing to the formation of audiences' outlooks, and even their opinions on social issues, across the world. Growing up in the late ’90s, African films and soaps like "Agogo Ewo", "Olongbo Iya ijebu", "True Love", "Superstory" "Papa Ajasco", "Fuji House of Commotion", "Tales by moonlight", "Checkmates", and many more were termed as local and unadmirable because of the outlook and also because of the heavy influence Hollywood and Chinese flicks had on the African pop-culture scene. Nigerian films at the time didn’t have the aesthetics to draw the younger generation is due to a number of reasons, funding and structure being at the top of the list. But what those content lacked in technology, they made up for in their narrative.
Most of those films were primarily about humour, everyday life in Nigeria, and drama, but they always incorporated moral lessons. Looking back at them now, I consider films like "Living in Bondage", "Saworide", "ThunderBolt", and "Diamond Ring" to be Nollywood's finest era. Those films were told with the audience at heart. The Yoruba travelling theatre group led by the late Herbert Ogunde in the ’90s for instance travelled with his troupe to various cities across the country to tell stories and stage plays that the audience could relate to. While they wanted to make money at the time ー filmmaking has always been somewhat lucrative ー they made films that were indeed rooted in culture and intentionality.
However, the bulk of movies being churned out in the present day seems to pay so much attention to looking extremely glossy and cool in the process, ignoring the soul, creativity, and fundamentals of storytelling that are authentic to their core audience. This shift in look can be attributed to the urge of new Nigerian filmmakers trying to appeal to transnational audiences, win international awards, sign international distribution deals, and weirdly, create a form of art that portrays Nigerian audiences as consumers who are seemingly only interested in comedy. The successful release of feature films like "The Wedding Party", "The Return of Jenifa" and "Alakada Reloaded", all of which achieved top box office success in Nigeria has led many Nigerian filmmakers to focus on making fewer dramas and more comedies that are commercially attractive to producers looking to make a profit.
In an interesting development, the "Nollywood to the world" agenda did lead to some growth for the industry as they began focusing on developing the technical production of their films, which helped to lure in digital streaming platforms like Netflix, Showmax, and most recently DisneyPlus and AmazonPrime. In 2021, Nollywood films dominated the African section on Netflix with titles like “Tanwa Savage”, “Fine Wine”, “Swallow”, “Omo Ghetto”, “A Naija Christmas”, “Smart Money Woman”, “Castle & Castle”, “King Of Boys”, “Namaste Wahala” and many more which received immediate responses from viewers and critics. Some were approving, some controversial, and others, straight-up terrible which filmmakers outrightly seem to pay less attention to.
With the growing development of poor scripts and bad screenplay released in cinemas and streaming platforms in 2021, a growing number of passionate individuals, writers, platforms & communities are beginning to question Nollywood filmmakers, mediocre production while rendering only trustworthy recommendations to its rapidly growing loyal audience. The presence of these platforms and several authentic analytical voices across Nigerian media will see that filmmakers are compelled to anticipate critics' reviews before, during, and after production. Rather than just making a movie with the thoughts that no one will notice its embarrassing flaws nor care to point them out; a clear indication of filmmakers taking the audience for granted and excepting fans and ardent moviegoers to accept subpar content because of the perceived notion that the audience only wants to see A-list actors to sell the film, paying less attention to what actually matters.
Well, it's 2022 and it seems as though Nigerian viewers have finally had enough of accommodating bad screenplays from producers who are only interested in numbers without focusing on telling good stories. Ebonylife Studios' new Netflix original “Chief Daddy 2:Going for broke” which was released to the streaming platform on the 1st of January was met with a lot of backlash from the audience and rightly so. The film’s shallow and shambolic storyline, terrible character development and plotholes almost felt like the producers and director were looking to insult the intelligence of the viewers.
Chief Daddy 2 is one example out of a multitude and it is evident that there is a lot more that needs to be done in Nollywood. It is ok to emulate foreign industries and aspire to increase the production value of films, but alongside aesthetics, it is important to understand the audience and write stories that truly challenge the industry to be better. Asides from writing, different stakeholders from actors, producers, directors need to invest in ensuring proper script coverages by hiring consultants and creating an avenue to have several looks at the scripts before going into production.
For actors, it's not just enough to always want to be on screen and build social currency, you must read the scripts and ask pertinent questions to ensure quality and build an actual A-list actor profile. In Nollywood, a director's vision is interpreted to screen, so there is nothing wrong with saying no to a story that doesn't work. A director's vision cannot be realized without understanding that story is the most important element of a film.
In the New Year, there will be more growth and opportunities that will further launch the Nollywood industry around the world, but there will always be those who will tear apart a Nollywood production, scene by scene, act by act, line by line, whether it is praise or criticism. Although, there is a whole lot more to be fixed in Nollywood that is beyond the nature of our stories, what remains to be seen is whether Nollywood is willing to pay attention to what is important and ensure that the audience gets real value for their money.