One of the first widely accepted movies out of Nollywood was “Living in Bondage”, an Igbo movie starring Kanayo O. Kanayo and tells the story of a man who joins a secret cult and kills his wife for rituals. After the murder, his wife’s ghost continues to hunt him (It was a thriller and was widely acknowledged, then and now, as Nigeria’s first Blockbuster).
Following the success of “Living in Bondage”, the next popular Nollywood movie was another thriller and Igbo movie called “Nneka the Pretty Serpent”. Movies like these helped establish some celebrity figures within the Nigerian movie industry such as Liz Benson, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Kenneth Okonkwo, Hilda Dokubo, Zack Orji, Ndidi Obi, Eucharia Anunobi, Ngozi Ezeonu, and many others (notice how you can recognize some of the names and not the rest? Nollywood is fairly young yet we’ve been through many diverse phases). At that time, the typical Nigerian movie was in 2 basic parts. I recall having only one VHS for the movie “Living in Bondage”.
Eventually some of these actors began to resign to family life (we are African after all and family comes first), therefore heralding the introduction of younger, fresher talent and along with this wave came unforgettable actors like Nkiru Sylvanus (who unfortunately brought us some of the longest movies in African movie history i.e A Cry for Help. A movie that probably has more parts than I have fingers), Genevieve Nnaji, Saint Obi, Ramsey Noah, Emeka Ike, Susan Patrick, Stephanie Okereke, Kate Henshaw, Omotola J. Ekehinde and many others with unforgettable movies like Genevieve and Omotola’s Blood Sisters and Saint Obi and Regina Askia’s Final Whistle, Half Moon and many others.
However, one glaring problem with the industry at the time seemed to be its confinement.. In other words there were certain actors A-K who acted and everyone could recognize their faces and names and there was zero space for any new comer. Even if people could act, marketers were reluctant to permit them in their movies (because only celebrities could sell their movies) hence increasing the fame of the already established ones and making the industry harder for any new face to penetrate. To put it simply, Nollywood basically consisted of actors A-K and if one was not A-K then one would not get a significant role in any movie because audiences were reluctant to watch a movie with an unknown lead (as we still are). In reality, the only scenes open to newcomers were minor roles as a gateman or something of the sort(Actually back then I remember this one dark guy that was the gate man for every movie, they had more flexibility with housegirls than with gatemen).
This closeminded nature and frame work of the industry at that time really only served to benefit the A-K actors most because they were the single ones whose pockets were continuously expanded. It wasn’t the filmmakers because piracy abounded and it wasn’t the marketers because regardless of how much they make the amounts they got paid, when they subtract the amount they paid the actors they were not making as much as they would expect.
The pay for actors and actresses was constantly rising to the extent that people like Genevieve who came after some old celebrities could be paid up to 1.5 million Naira for a movie whilst the old guy who had been acting before her (and who was casted to play a role of an elder in the king’s cabinet) would be paid about 100,000 Naira.
Eventually, the marketers and film makers in general decided that actors were beginning to demand more than they could afford. So in 2004ish 2005, Nigerian A-K actors were banned nationwide. This period is famous for three things: films with lack of talent, banned actresses becoming singers, and introduction of new celebrities.
In this period, Genevieve released her failed comedy of a song called “No more”. Omotola was a little more successful and was able to release an album in which she had several collaborations with other musicians (the top song on that album was “Gba”). Segun Arinze and Ramsey Noah collabo’ed on Sirkay’s song “Na Wetin”. Osuofia released an Album (I’d say his was the most entertaining of them all) with front lining, unforgettable songs like “I go chop your dollar”. Stella Damascus with her immaculate voice also did some good songs.
However, this period also helped herald popular stars like Mercy Johnson and Tonto Dikeh into the limelight. Asides from heralding Nigerian stars into the limelight, the Nigerian audience looked to a new arena for entertainment. This was when Nollywood met Ghallywood (Ghanaian film industry)
In my opinion, I’d say that the popularity of many Ghanaian movie stars owe more than 50% of their success to the ban of 2005. With this ban came the introduction of Van Vicker and Nadia Buari in “Beyonce the president’s daughter” who had audiences of all sexes swooning over their looks. After this, Ghana established itself within the African audience with movies like Princess Tyra, Tears of Womanhood, Passion of my soul and many others. We were introduced to stars like John Dumelo, Majid Michel, Jackie Appiah, Yvonne Nelson, Kofi Adjorlolo, Kalsum Sinare, Vivian Achor amongst many others.
Some thrived, some fell through the holes. Today, the African entertainment scene is a buffet of diversity. With everything from Yollywood (Yoruba movies like Jenifa), Kannywood (being pioneered by Ali Nuhu), Twi films and the usual Nollywood and Ghallywood. The only -wood that seems to have fallen through the holes is igbo-wood.
The industry has tried to change along with the times and adopt more western views and stories, alongside their sexualism, clothing, and mannerisms. Where will this lead us? What is in the future for Nollywood?
Questions I don’t have answers to because… I don’t own a crystal ball.
Regardless, we pray for our industry because she is our own and nobody else’s.