I had always suspected that Nigerian cinemas had something against Nigerian films. The way some good Nigerian films won’t stay long on show despite customer demand (Niyi Akinmolayan’s ‘Out of luck’ is a recent example) and yet foreign films that aren’t selling stay for long as well the dominance of advert spaces by foreign films engendered this in me.
I got my confirmation last week while at a writers workshop for a TV series. (Sorry can’t tell you which as I have an NDA on my neck but it’s one that was popular in the 1990s) The executive producer Mr….(Ha! Sorry can’t tell you his name as it will give our the great secret TV series) had a talk with us where he revealed a number of things about how the Americans are coming to the Nigerian film space in order to conquer it with their products.
If I got this from anyone else I would have thought it was a joke but the Executive Producer was a foremost banker and has backed a lot of movies and notable TV series right from the 1990s. Most of the cinemas we have in Nigeria were backed by some of the US film studios in order to provide an outlet for their films here. Their original aim was to show only Hollywood content but because of Nigerian local content laws they have to show Nigerian movies on their big screens.
They were aimed at the so called Nigerian upper middle and upper classes with a view to creating a market for their films in one of the few countries in the world where local content outsells Hollywood content. That is why their prices are out of the reach of majority of Nigerians, an average of N1500 per ticket $US8 before the recent fall in the exchange rate.
Unfortunately for new Nollywood, they introduced a very lopsided revenue arrangement for Nigerian movies where the cinemas take 50-60 % of the gate takings, the distributors (in which the cinemas have shares and insist that film producers go through them) take 10% and taxes take 10% leaving the producer with only 20%.
Take note that the distributors or cinemas never help with publicizing the movies they put into cinemas. (Check out Silverbird TV’s advert of their cinema offerings dominated by Hollywood fare) and you wonder why they should take 70% of the gate takings. Well, got info that it’s to accommodate an unofficial tax that the cinemas give to their American backers. This further aids capital flight from our film industry.
Now, the US studios are coming to Nigeria to invest big. Netflix showing in Nigeria isn’t news anymore and they will be opening an office soon. Relativity media, a mini-major US film studio recently announced plans to invest more than a hundred million dollars in Nigeria and held a glitzy launch. The other studios like Disney (who has a working relationship with Ebony life TV to introduce and Nigerianize their content i.e. Cindarella and desperate housewives Africa) , Paramount and Universal are already at advanced plans to launch in Nigeria and the EP even confirmed that he was going to meet with NBC studios representatives the next day.
Now don’t get me wrong. I welcome the US studios coming over as they will create jobs for a lot of creative people like myself and its high time the lazy Nollywood producers got a wake up call. But in the midst of all these transactions we shouldn’t lose the essence of our content industry which was created out of nothing in the 1990s without government help and is now a force to beckoned with in the international film industry.
The Americans aim to promote their content and their own styles of story telling which in the long run could hurt our Nigerian movies with their unique stories as they crowd them out in the marketplace. Alaba and Iweka road are almost dead as all they churn out is rubbish which is mostly porn that they put on youtube.
We want our true professionals to stand up and tell our unique stories that reflect our lives, the way they did when they pioneered a film industry built on digital film making which has become an inspiration to Africans and Africans in diaspora and not just make knock offs of American films.
We should also build cinemas that will cater to the other Nigerians disenfranchised form the pseudo American cinema styles as they are the ones who truly made Nollywood what it is and not the so called middle/upper classes. The fare should be affordable ($US1 ticket prices looks more like it) so as to attract them. (Oh yeah the EP is working with some financiers to build 1000o cinema screens over the next years that aim to follow this logic) And companies like Iroko TV and Afrinolly providing a way to market for good movies should be encouraged.
There is a reason the Chinese aren’t allowing Netflix into their country and place a quota on Hollywood films to be shown in their cinemas. (The Chines cinema market is the world’s second biggest by revenue and is coveted by the Americans) They know that the American soft power could displace their own culture and kill their nascent film industry so they have to protect it.
In conclusion the foreign investment is welcome but in taking the
money we shouldn’t destroy the biggest brand to come out of Africa,
Nollywood. bad productions should be criticized but in the rush to
evolve we shouldnt leave out the elements that make us Nigerian like the
babalawos, the church, the aspirational lifestyle etc and become second
rate Americans. All the guilds chasing government patronage should wake up and reallign to the present realities. Let’s ensure that Nigerian films make up majority of the box office winners here and compete favorably with the American films instead of being just another outlet for Hollywood’s global expansion.