Nollywood… New Talents Wanted Please!

by Bayo Olupohunda

I have always been at pain to restrain myself from writing any further critique about our budding film (sorry) home video industry. The last time I did in my comment published in the Arts Page of The Guardian of Thursday January 4th 2007 titled Nollywood… To God Be the Glory, I was bombarded on all fronts by phone calls and through different forums on the internet by all those who claim to be friends of Nollywood. I was reminded that no matter what an arm chair critic like me thought, Nollywood was beyond reproach. But why do we always shy away when our faults are pointed out to us either as individuals or institutions? The natural reaction is for us to be defensive? No institution can thrive without a form of constructive criticism? If anything at all, Nollywood should thrive on deep introspection and critical self-evaluation. Isn’t that what creativity is about?

Try as much as I did to avoid writing about this industry, a visit by a friend on a wet afternoon in July influenced my decision. My wife, whose constant interest is staying glued to the AfricaMagic Channel much to my annoyance (my preference being the news Channels) was as usual busy watching one of the numerous Nigeria home videos which has for long been the major hallmark of the South African based station. For want of nothing to do, we quickly joined her to see the home video. In the movie, one of Nigerian acclaimed actor, Pete Edoche whose acting heroics was applauded in the role he played as Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart, the series adapted for television was at his best playing a major role as the Igwe of an imaginary village.

This revered actor, sounding fearful in his guttural voice asked a villain to be put to death for desecrating the hallowed office of a certain chief priest. My friend, who was at once taking in by his tube craft, remarked that no Nollywood actor can play this actor’s role like him. His argument was that even when he was cast for a role and per chance he becomes indisposed, the whole production has to wait till he recovers. The bottom line of my friend argument was that Nollywood actors and actresses are by nature cut for a particular role and no actor can take the place of another! I thought this line of argument strange and ridiculous then, and I find it even more ridiculous now.

I quickly disagreed with him, reminding him that no creative industry can grow when the cast are stereotyped for specific roles. Continuing further, I punctured his argument that the bane of Nollywood today is the ‘stereotyping’ of actors and actresses for a particular role. In our home video industry today, it is not unusual to see an actor or actress play a particular role and be known for it. One could be known as a terrific lover boy, a chief priest or dibia, a doting father, a wicked step-mother, a political thug to mention just a few. Most Nollywood watchers will agree with me that if a particular actor or actress is cast for a particular role other than which he is known for, the home video may suffer patronage. Nollywood addicts would definitely be disappointed and surprised to see a Patience Ozokwo cast as a loving wife or mother. They would rather like to see a manipulative, wicked step- mother or mother-in-law.

The question is, is this ‘stereotyping’ an acceptable trend, what does it portend for the quest to groom talents for the industry? Is it a positive development for the industry? My research of the movie industry in other climes revealed the opposite. The legendary status of the James Bond series which thrived through the decades was not revolved around a ‘cult’ actor. The beauty of the casting of the James Bond series aka 007 was the producers’ ability and versatility to cast an actor for the role as soon as the previous actor’s role is done. This may be due to age or other factors. We all remember the heroics of Roger Moore, Sean Connery etc who made the movie into the legendary status which it assumed. It is the same story in Hollywood where actors are versatile and fit it in into roles. Stereotyping of roles and cast is a strange phenomenon.

But how did Nollywood come to this? My investigation further revealed that it is the case of who plays the piper dictates the tune. It has been said that the Almighty Marketers play major roles in the happening in the industry. Words have it that some actors are known for specific roles they have played in the past. Having excelled in such roles in the public glare, they are thus popular among home video watchers who buy the movies. It thus makes economic sense to use this particular set of actors and actresses for subsequent productions. The marketer who in most cases pays for the production and artist fees now holds the aces. He dictates whom he wants for a particular production. He wants return on investment. This explains why we continue to see the same actors and actresses for the same role even when they have lost steam.

Nollywood is at a crossroads. It is important for practitioners to design novel ways of grooming talents for the industry. How many auditions take place in the industry? How are actors and actresses trained? There is too much mediocrity in Nollywood as regards the quality of acting and this is because artists emerge not through structured auditioning process or training but through a backdoor arrangement. Veteran Nollywood actors and actresses have themselves continue to lament the dearth of new talents and talented acts. There have been allegations of sex-for-role and harassment by Directors and Producers.

This brings me to the waning importance of the Jos Film Institute now affiliated with the University of Jos. This famous Institute has been the training ground for a generation of Nigerian artists who have done the industry proud through the ages with masterpiece soap opera productions like the Village Headmaster, Cockcrow at Dawn, and Mirror in the Sun, Behind the Cloud, Checkmate etc. The advent of home video productions no doubt brought some vibrancy into the industry, but the greatest harm done to the sector was the attendant loss of professionalism. New entrants were more interested in the fame the industry brings.

It against this backdrop of the dearth of talents that the private sector has led in the quest to discover new talents for Nollywood. The Amstel Malta Box Office talent hunts, Haer Thermocool Next Movie Star are the several of the corporate sector’s efforts to add to the existing talents. But how many of the winners of these talents hunts have been able to break in to the mainstream Nollywood? None so far.

All hope is not lost yet. I have personally seen some flashes of fresh breath from the likes of Mike Ezereonye and Nonso Diobu.

The different guilds in Nollywood have roles to play. Now we have The Guild of Actors, The Directors Guild etc. What roles are they currently playing in ensuring that only the best get cast for roles? There is too much recycling going in the system. They must insist that new talents are trained. Training allows you to keep abreast with new development and sharpens your skill. Auditions must be held for fresh talents if there is any major production. Come to think of it. If the current star acts were not given any chance to breakthrough during their debut who would recognize the talent in them today? There are countless of budding would be actors and actresses waiting to be discovered. It is important Nollywood authorities devise a structured means of absorbing them into the system. The current awkward system will not augur well for the industry.

There have been talks of professionalizing the industry and recently the practitioners have been romancing Corporate Nigeria and The Stock Exchange. I was also elated with the claim that the industry is the third biggest in the world after Bollywood in India. But I am also worried that though these are laudable moves and acclaim, no financial institution would put its resources down without the required structure. Nollywood does not at present have the required structure to concretize this synergy with the private sector.

What happened to the Nigeria First Movie Initiative championed by the Nigeria Television Authority sometime in March this year? This initiative attended by yours truly at the Eko Hotel Lagos was meant to inject some two hundred and fifty million naira into Nollywood. The idea was to bring back the glorious years by producing quality movies through a Nollywood-NTA partnership. The initiative would have seen to the birth of new talents, new scripts, and producers and put our film industry on the world map. Several months after the pomp that saw its launching with huge government presence, nothing has been heard of the project. Another failed Nollywood Dream.

I also think that if Nollywood authorities want to attract the needed synergy, it must put its house in order. I am looking forward to the days when Nigeria will take the centre stage at every film festival with fresh talents-actors, producers etc who knows both the technical and business aspect of this image making and money spinning industry. Only then can we begin to talk of our potential of being the third movie producing nation in the world.

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Prince March 8, 2011 - 1:09 pm

Its one of those kinds we see and we remain rational.

maureen September 29, 2010 - 8:50 am

i want to be a movie star pls

Anthony April 18, 2010 - 10:25 pm

i would like to disagree with Patricia whose says technology is all we need in order to catch up with Hollywood. The honest truth is that the problem with “Nollywood” is not technology but a whole lot of factors I will summarize just a few of those factors as follows;

1. The name “Nollywood” stands for nothing, it carries no meaning.

2. Hollywood movies tell the story with the camera. “Nollywood” movies don’t tell any story with the camera. in fact, the poor camera angles and placement leaves nothing but disgust in my sight.

3. Hollywood produce movies with UNIVERSAL PLOTS.

4. Hollywood takes time to prepare costumes and to choose the right colour combination for the costumes so as to avoid color-riot.

5. Hollywood is run by professionals who take time out for more training.

6. In “Nollywood”, its sex for roles not talent for roles.

It is with reference to this that a new company, “Film City” is getting set to lunch in Nigeria hoping to aid in the rapid growth of the industry. They say all the cast will be selected based on Talent and there will be no room for stereotypes. you can check their website, (it should be under construction now)

Wali Blessing November 20, 2009 - 12:06 pm

Am a student, with talent, it is my desire to become an actress but i don’t know how to go about it. can you guide me?

Baron .C. Obinwa May 5, 2009 - 11:17 am

I am student, who dream of been a nollywood star and to rise it to a high standard. i love acting.

Ayokunle April 17, 2009 - 8:00 pm

I was actually in my room today thinking about the same thing, WE have a lot of potential, and I was thinking what is really NOLLYWOOD? I am yet to find an answer to that question. However, I was thinking that the actors, producers, screenwriters, directors, everyone of them should go on a hiatus for a year, go for training, or do other things and then come back under one union, and collaborate to release a movie each month and see what would happen after that. Just my opinion.

azuka March 3, 2009 - 4:07 pm

i want to been actor i am 18 years old am male nigeria pls i need a producer to help me feaures in one movie i have acted before on oueen of the mountain

peace February 3, 2009 - 10:11 am

was good

Thomas September 12, 2007 - 8:12 am

Recently I read the cover story of NATIONAL STANDARD magazine on the same 'Nollywood' issue. It also shows that Nigerians nationwide want the growth of the industry, despite the hiccups here and there. |And the world also has recognised the great potentials of NOllywood But, I think with enough financial backing, Nollywood can become better in terms of quality too. There is still lot of work to be done for the Nollywood industry to be able to stand heads and shoulders with the more established film industries of Hollywood and Bollywood. etc

Patricia September 11, 2007 - 7:04 pm

I am an African American woman married to a Nigerian man. When I was on my honeymoon in Lagos, Nigeria, my husband's cousin (who is now my cousin) brought some movies over to our apartment, and we watched some of them. She prepared food for my husband and I, so when she was doing this we watched movies. I became hooked on Nollywood's movies, and I watch them in America on a regular basis.

I REALLY ENJOYED the movies. They are different from the ones in America. I never saw that many "black" people in one film, for in America, movies are dominated mainly by white people. Sure Blacks have come a long way in the film industry, but we are very far behind in reference to whites.

African actors and actress seem to put an enormous amount of emotion in "every" role, which I found a little over the top at times. But I enjoyed the passion, for it is different.

The only criticism that I would make in which I believe would keep Nollywood out of the top running for filmmakers is that they cannot match America's "special effects" and graphic designs in our films. Nollywood's special effects and graphics are very FAR BEHIND in comparison to our films. Just think about our films, such as Spiderman, 300, and X-men. I have never seen a Nollywood film that can match the brillance of our films as far as scenery, set design, stunts, and special effects.

However, when the technology is created over there, afforded, or placed in many of their upcoming films, I believe Nollywood will be in a better competitive position to be counted as one of the best film industries in the world. There is MUCH POTENTIAL there, but the "technology" MUST catch up in order to compete!

Another thing, we do not make many movies where there is "voodo", witchcraft, etc. in America, and I believe in order to be competitive, Afrian films will have to back away from that story line, for it is seen in too many of he movies.

I order movies from, and I am enjoying them. The movies make me feel in touch with a people who are dear and near to my heart.

The world better watch out, for Nollywood, will definitely be a rival in the years to come!

ruka1 September 11, 2007 - 12:38 am

True. Nollywood needs the injection of new blood into its stream. The Nigerian (video) film industry has great potentials to be able to rank among the best film industries in the world. But the practitioners and stakeholders have to do it right. We are tired of wacthing stereotypes on screen. NOllywood can do with the so much more talent yet to be discovered. The Industry needs a complete overhaul, not only in this aspect, but in terms of quality and content. I look forward to seeing a revolution in Nollywood soon. The world is already watching


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