Post- Magazine

nollywood [feature]

the films that shape us

“I am a product of Nollywood and my loyalty remains unshaken.” -Genevieve Nnaji

Moving back to the United States after living in Nigeria for four years had its many challenges, but the one thing that would always help me feel more connected to the country, family, and friends left behind was Nollywood movies. Despite being an ocean away from Nigeria, my culture never felt far from me. The films of my childhood made sure of that. 

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From Jenifa’s Diary, to Osuofia in London, to Akin and Popo, these energetic, bold, and authentic depictions of Nigerian culture were my atlas, a way to teleport back home in a country that was foreign to me. 

Growing up, my screens were filled with both American and Nigerian shows and films—my parallel entertainment a reflection of my combined identity. Although the American shows I consumed could only grant so much insight into an actual lived experience, they gave me a glimpse into social norms, slang, and general knowledge of life in the U.S. They helped me connect with children my age, when my classmates alienated me due to my Nigerian accent. These shows served as access points to next-door neighbors my age—when talking about popular shows, there was no cultural barrier; there was only Good Luck Charlie or Avatar: The Last Airbender. And over time, these shows began to feel like home too. 

Yet as I learned more about “America” through each new Disney or Nickelodeon show, my Nigerian culture was not brushed aside. In fact, my exploration was supported by a foundation of complex Yoruba films and Igbo royalty movies. Yoruba films excited my ears and created a cocoon, a sanctuary where English could not permeate. Igbo films following chiefs and royal families introduced me to the notions of “love triangles” as royal heirs sought to find their future partners. These films allowed me to stay grounded in Nigeria, while I simultaneously explored life in America.

My childhood was unbound, truly limitless. My parents did not restrain media or limit screen time, so I eagerly absorbed stories that differed from my own, yet were filled with unique similarities. In the U.S., where my accent was foreign, and my experiences were odd, having these movies was my act of defiance. In these movies, I did not care what anyone had to say about me or Africa or Nigeria. 

I am also a product of Nollywood, and my loyalty to these films, which provided comfort, adventure, and life lessons, remains unshaken. 

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Nollywood or Nigerian Cinema has taken the world by storm, having risen to the second-largest film industry in the world, surpassing Hollywood in the number of films per year. The prominence of Nollywood dates back to Nigerian independence from colonialism in the 1960s, which was then followed by an economic boom in 1970 when oil production reached a peak in Nigeria. With additional money in the country, more Nigerians turned to films as an entertainment pastime. And in Lagos, numerous cinemas were built to meet the demand for films. When the Nigerian economy crashed in the 1980s, however, the demand for this form of entertainment declined, and thus there was less funding for film production. This drove the rise of Nollywood in the 1990s when movies were shot on video and converted into VHS films. 

More recently, government sponsorship of media production, such as the Creative Industry Financing Initiative, which provides grants and loans for media creation, has expanded Nollywood’s reach. Nigerian films are now the third highest grossing in the world.

I feel pride when I think of how far Nollywood has come, each year of movies so closely tied to vivid memories of my life. At age eight, the movie about the child who got lost at sea stuck with me and revealed the unpredictability of the world. At age 10, the dark movie about how stealing money can derail a bright future cautioned me, reminding me of right and wrong. And at 15, Chief Daddy reintroduced Nigerian humor that I had not experienced in years. 

However, ages 12, 13, and 14 were different. I turned away from Nollywood, sequestering a part of my culture in my family’s CD cabinet. During this period of my life, I sought to distance myself from the most authentic parts of who I was. During my teenage years, I no longer found solace in these films but sought out other forms of entertainment. The more comfortable I was in the U.S., the more I “assimilated,” and the less I felt a need to ground myself in my culture. It wasn’t until a cousin from Nigeria came to visit that I rekindled my love for Nigerian films. 

The term Nollywood is derived from Hollywood, which is considered to be the home of movies, especially in the twentieth century. There is some controversy regarding the term itself and how it reflects colonial histories that some want to distance themselves from. However, others are open to the term and do not think the phrase Nollywood impacts the substance of the films themselves. 

To me, Nollywood transcends definitions. It is an extension of my culture that I am eager to see represented in film. Even now, Nollywood films or “New Nigerian Films” are gaining more international attention and recognition. Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon are entering partnerships with Nigerian filmmakers to create original films. 

This expansion of Nollywood to U.S. platforms, along with a conversation with my cousin, rekindled my love for Nollywood at age 15 and forced me to confront my cultural denial. During my cousin’s visit, she asked my opinions on the latest films, and I found myself dumbfounded—I did not know the films she spoke of. 

“Have you seen The Wedding Party? Did you like the first or second one better?”

Chief Daddy had so many Nigerian celebrities—who shocked you in the cast? Can you believe Mama G was there too?”

“Have you seen Lionheart, or Omo Ghetto, or The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, or October 1st? What have you seen?”

It was the first time I felt a true disconnect from Nigeria. My grounding had slipped away. I had no response to her questions then, so I made it my mission to find those answers. 

Presently, I have seen almost all of the Nigerian films on Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube, as well as all of the films I can get access to after they hit cinemas in Nigeria. My family gathers to watch the latest films, trading in our VHS tapes and CDs for streaming platforms. And in my mother’s African hair braiding shop, we have seen so many films that we are now recycling. 

I have watched Chief Daddy, The Wedding Party I (and II), Lionheart, Omo Ghetto, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, and October 1st too many times to count. 

“Yes, I really enjoyed The Wedding Party, and while the first one is better, justice for the second one too. People love denying the quality of sequels.”

Chief Daddy was filled to the brim with stars, Nollywood icons from old cinema to new cinema. Mama G was amazing as always.”

“Yes, yes, yes, and yes—I have seen all of them!”

Although my loyalty to Nollywood was shaken for a period of time, it remains one of my most significant influences. I am a product of honest depictions of being Nigerian; I am a product of joy-filled, celebratory stories. I am a product of cautionary tales, love stories, and so much more. Nollywood took my understanding of life, expanded it, and created a cinematic space meant for me.






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