The Real Housewives of Nollywood

Nigerian cinema is obsessed with films about the wealthy. Can class politics shine through?

Image credit Ariyo Olasunkanmi via Wikimedia Commons.

Film, like all types of media, can be an effective driver for permanent sociopolitical change, bringing together artists, academics, and activists for inspiring and informative work. It is a medium that can break down stereotypes, and fashion new ways of thinking in an ethnocentric Nigeria. It can produce work that is representative of the ideals that our society should strive towards.

One of the biggest criticisms of Nollywood in recent years has to do with the industry’s obsession with so-called “Lekki stories:” grandiose and detailed displays of the rich and their vices, thoroughly lacking in any profundity or nuance, failing to explore the artistic depths to which even comedy and romance can go. Lekki films offer little representation of the lives of the vast majority of people who watch them. A popular argument in favor of such films is that cinemagoers want an escape from the grit and hustle of their toils, they want a reason to laugh. The advent of the End SARS campaign, however, and what has followed in recent weeks, suggests that the Nigerian people, if they were not before, may now finally be tired of avoiding our society’s more difficult conversations.

At first, many political analysts were quick to dismiss the protesters’ aims as futile, as indeed, several official government announcements in the past had supposedly put an end to the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). As the nation reels in light of the disheartening events of recent weeks, some are now categorizing the EndSARS campaign as more than what it initially appeared to be, a sort of revolt against a political and class system that the people have seen increasingly marginalize and oppress them. South Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 Academy Award-winning Parasite gives somewhat accurate insights into what happens when the poor become interested in the rich and powerful: manipulation, brutal murders, disappearances, and neither class remaining the same. Troubling? Surely, but these shifting social perspectives suggest that the popular trend in Nollywood may soon be on the decline.

Even Hollywood has seen its films and landscapes continue to be redefined by various social movements and ideals: the feminist movement repeatedly calling for films and characters that embody its ideals, creating an accurate representation of role models for young girls and women everywhere; the MeToo movement advocating for accountability and discussions about sexual harassment and its effects on Hollywood and American society; and so on.

Hollywood’s diversity craze has also seen the most respected and prestigious film awards body on the planet create numerous representation requirements on films for award eligibility. Likewise, we have also seen films engage intense discussions by themselves. David Fincher’s Fight Club, polarizing critics in 1999, has become a source of solace and something of a voice for America’s millennials. Film can either be largely affected by various societal interactions or engage these changes itself. What does this mean for Nollywood and its influence on the nation’s increasingly enterprising and emboldened youths?

If Kemi Adetiba’s King Of Boys (2018) was a thrilling exposé of the bloodshed, grit, and “juju” needed to rise to the top in Nigeria’s far-from-typical political climate, then Adejuyigbe Lateef’s The Delivery Boy (2018) details the more violent effects when young men are not allowed to sit and talk about their problems. These films, celebrated mostly for their technical workmanship and vividness when initially released, may very well generate much more discussion for their themes and ideas today. Already, even as several high-profile filmmakers have themselves made calls for more socially and politically conscious films, some filmmakers have long used their much more limited platforms to advocate for social reform. Joseph Entekume’s short film Oblivion (2018), written by and starring Kenneth Agabata, engages mime and elegantly choreographed dance to give voice to the plight of victims of the cruel Fulani herdsmen massacres, also posing piercing questions that society now looks ready to discuss, including: how long until we too become victims of their fate?

Perhaps, Nollywood may ask itself the same.

Further Reading

Lagos gone to seed

The Nigerian drama ‘Òlòtūré,’ about sex work and sex trafficking in the country’s commercial capital, which premiered on Netflix, is mostly uncomfortable. And not in a good way.

Nollywood 3.0

Dare Olaitan’s film Ojukokoro gets some room to breathe in New York, after being stifled at the box office in Lagos.