A common comment made by cinema operators in Nigeria during conferences and webinars is that Nigerian audiences prefer comedy films over any other genre. Box office numbers don’t suggest otherwise. The top-grossing Nigerian debut film of the past decade was the 2016 comedy “The Wedding Party”. It was recently replaced by Funke Akindele and JJC Skillz’s film, “Omo Ghetto (The Saga)”. In the list of top 10 grossing films in Nigeria, only “King of Boys” is outside the box of comedy, thus lending weight to the claim. The flip side is that many filmmakers are now sticking to the comedy genre, against their better judgment.
There are, however, few filmmakers who would rather explore other genres and screen their films privately than have a wide theatrical release. However, those who are still pursuing their big screen debut pray fervently that their films will defy the norm.
For example, before the release of “La Femme Anjola”, director Mildred Okwo urged Nigerians to watch the film and prove that idea wrong.
During a recent webinar hosted by the Nollywood Studies Center at Pan-Atlantic University’s School of Media and Communications, prolific filmmaker Femi Odugbemi addressed this claim. The producer of the new documentary ‘Unmasked: Leadership Trust and the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria’ which debuted at the recently concluded iREP International Documentary Film Festival, found the perception disturbing.
“It’s like we underestimate how educated the public is. It’s like we think the audience is in a bubble.
He asked why there were no blockades on other Hollywood genres if comedy was the norm.
Odugbemi argued that the movie viewing options of Nigerian audiences are increasing every day with more streaming platforms showing Nigerian and international movies.
“When people make such claims, they insinuate and obliterate the public.”
The effect of this assumption is also felt on actors who he says are often insulted by such scripts which lack artistry and focus on commercial viability, pointing out that most comedy movies are a set of scenes incongruous.
“Comedy is the hardest thing to do and because humor is relative to one’s culture, it doesn’t evoke the same emotions for everyone.”
One of the reasons why such a hypothesis develops according to the filmmaker is that “we are managing a structure of several billions without data. The filmmaker shouldn’t tell me what the movie did, it should be an independent body that gives that information.
Without canceling the genre, Odugbemi pointed out that it is extremely rare for a Nollywood movie to win best picture at the Oscars, which is one of the main goals of Nollywood. ‘The Milkmaid’ became the first Nigerian film to make the long list of Oscars but failed to land a spot in the nominations list.
The way forward, according to the voting member of the Oscars, is to bring artistry to our movies and that can only be achieved through education.
“We have to tell the story of our times and if a story is told well, it makes money.”
Education, he said, has been neglected in the film industry, which is hurting the future of the film industry that we want. A paradigm shift, he noted, is needed to allow filmmakers not only to make money from their films, but also to give them meaning.