Netflix invests $8Bn in Nollywood as Storytelling in Africa Hits World Stage
Global streaming giant Netflix is injecting an $8 billion original production budget into Nollywood the world’s second largest film industry. This immense win for Nollywood points to the lack of domestic investment in the film industry and the infantilism of it elsewhere on the continent.
After Hollywood, Nigeria’s Nollywood is the world’s second largest film industry making approximately 2,000 productions every year. The industry is mostly geared towards the small screen and productions are sold on the streets, aired on free to air platforms or pirated all over Africa. The need to popularize access, streamline the distribution of most of the content and thus improve their quality has created an opportunity for video-on-demand platforms such as Netflix.
Netflix which has in the past licensed Nollywood movies including the widely acclaimed romantic comedy ‘The Wedding Party” and one other production after they had been screened in local cinemas is now aiming at original content. The platform has purchased the worldwide rights to its first original Nigerian film ‘Lionheart’ starring Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie, Onyeka Onwenu and Nollywood staple Genevieve Nnaji who also doubles as a director.
Lion Heart also premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada where Kenya’s tide changer ‘Rafiki’ also screened.
African tech moguls are working to compete with video-on-demand platforms like Netflix. One of which is Nigeria’s Jason Njoku who founded iROKOtv in 2010. IROKOtv dubbed “the Netflix of Africa” is one of Africa’s first mainstream online movie steaming websites that provides paid TV for Nigerian films on-demand. Not only does the platform have original content, it also subtitles content originally made in French, Swahili and Zulu for more accessibility to the larger African populace. Additionally IROKOtv has had success crossing over Nollywood content into international broadcasting channels on South Africa’s DStv, UK’s Sky and gained investment from France’s Canal Plus.
Other online streaming websites include Kenya’s BuniTV ($5-a-month), South Africa’s Magic Go ($8-a-month) and Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji’s TV (LITV).
African Film outside Nollywood
Baluta Bakuta in “Film in Africa, Africa in film: challenging stereotypes”, described filmmaking on the continent, “To produce a film in Africa is an act of resistance. It is about looking at the world’s stories and giving one’s opinion about them, capturing and inquiring about collective memory, attracting, entertaining and informing. It is also about making Africans realize that cinema is a powerful tool for development.”
Although Africa has shown the biggest progression of internet users in recent years, suggestively increasing access to local content, many African countries do not have a booming film industry like Nollywood.
Funding, distribution and profitability are still sore points, the persisting 30-year old colonial heritages of filmmaking, distribution and exhibition, western preferences by viewers and lack of domestic investment are the main causes of an infantile film industry in most African countries. Censorship has also played a key role in undermining films even after the bypass all other production obstacles.
Domestic investment and buy-in could easily mitigate most of these challenges but unfortunately the interest in advancing arts and culture is minimal. In fact a lot of successful production companies have foreign investors.
The Nollywood model of low cost-high volume has made creation and production ‘simple’ and the national buy-in bolsters the industry in an unprecedented way despite the “low quality” of the cast majority of films. It may be prudent for filmmakers in other parts of Africa to stop looking for domestic or foreign investment and cultivate local buy-in with low cost films that speak to their audiences.