The Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, has grown on its own, surviving on quantity rather than quality and with little to no input from the government or entertainment investors. With some 2,500 films produced every year, that is an average of 7 films every day, Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world, ahead of Hollywood and second to Bollywood. Most of these movies are started and finished within a week, oftentimes without proper scripts and well-developed plots. But the sheer volume of films produced and consumed every year are testaments to Nollywood’s influence and the availability of an audience. All the industry had to do was step up its game by attracting more investors, creating higher quality movies than it is used to, and finding better channels of distribution. In 2016, it has been able to do that, partially.
This year, more Nollywood movies came to cinemas than any year before, some did great, some did not. But the fact that film distributors and cinema houses are now more inclined than before to show a Nollywood movie says a lot about how far the industry has come. This also means people will be spending more than the usual 100 to 200 naira to watch a Nigerian movie. If someone can leave the comfort of their home to go to a cinema and watch a movie for 1,000 or 1,500 naira, then they reserve the right to criticise the movie whichever way they want. And what’s more, if a movie producer decides to show their movie in the cinema, then they must be ready to receive feedback from professional film critics, whether the feedback is positive or negative. Nollywood is becoming an adult and must now wake up to the fact that adults get criticised all the time.
I was at the Social Change Summit 2016 on June 23 in CcHUB and Chris Ihidero, founder of True Nollywood Stories (TNS), a film review website, mentioned that he remembered criticising a Nigerian movie and the filmmaker has refused to speak to him since then. The reviewers on TNS have often been criticised by filmmakers for being impertinent. Sometimes, their reviews can be insulting. Ihidero insists TNS is not ‘his’ platform, rather, it is ‘the industry’s’. People send in their reviews and TNS posts them. So, there’s no army of professional film critics waiting to praise or tear down Nigerian movies whenever they come out, just a couple of writers who feel strongly enough about the movies to review them. And the fact that they are not professional film critics takes nothing away from the validity of what they do. Anyone with a platform–online or otherwise–can be a film critic, it is not an exclusive club anymore, and filmmakers that understand this and learn what they can from the critics are always better off.
On Thursday, December 15, 2016, YNaija published an article listing ‘the 10 worst films of 2016’. One of the films on the list was Omoni Oboli’s Wives on Strike. The writer, Wilfred Okiche, wrote that the film is the “latest [bad movie] in a line that started with Being Mrs Elliot,” one of Oboli’s earlier films. The writer concludes that Wives on Strike “is a huge let down”.
Oboli responded to the article:
Since responding in that manner, Oboli has attracted heavy criticism, including a social media comment from Chude Jideonwo, CEO of Red Media, the publisher of YNaija, asking her not to come for his writers and scolding her for accusing a person that disagrees with her of hating her.
Omoni Oboli’s reaction to the criticism is just another example of how many Nollywood filmmakers respond to criticism of their films. If someone says your movie is bad, it is not crab mentality, it is an opinion, and opinions are subjective. I mean, I think Suicide Squad is a terrible movie with an incoherent plot and CGI that makes me want to gouge out my eyes, but you will certainly find other people that think it was a good movie. For every movie, there are differing opinions. Some people will like it, some others will not, but every opinion about a film matters because it is directly or indirectly affecting someone’s perception of it.
However, there is a difference between negatively reviewing a movie and outrightly insulting it. The point of a film review should be to point out what is good about the movie and what is bad about it. Good film reviews point filmmakers to what they did right and what they should do better next time, and these are the kinds of reviews that will build the industry, the kinds of reviews that Nollywood needs right now.
Nollywood may not have critics the calibre of David Edelstein or Emily Nussbaum, but it is veering into the territory of an audience that is more aware of what high-quality films look like, an audience that has high cinematic standards and is unwilling to compromise them. By moving out of the ‘home video’ cage and out into the wild jungle, Nollywood is sending a message that it is ready to take things up a notch and ready to match the cinematic standards of more developed film industries. But Nollywood must also realise that this jungle has its own rules, and they are much different from what it is used to.
Bad movies will be called out for being bad and good movies will be praised for being good. If someone goes to the cinema and decides to spend money on Wives on Strike instead of The Magnificent Seven, they reserve the right to criticise Wives on Strike they way they would criticise The Magnificent Seven. Nollywood has grown, and it is time for this young adult to accept that it will be criticised more often than it is used to.