A woman sorts through movies in a Nigerian film market in 2010. (Photo: EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Genevieve Nnaji, who speaks with George tonight in the red chair, is by some measures one of the most famous actors in the world — and that's largely because of where she started her career: Nigeria.
By sheer rate of production, Nigeria has the second-largest film industry in the world. According to the United Nations–produced African Renewal magazine, Nigeria produces an average of 50 movies per week. By comparison, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, 818 films were produced in the U.S. in 2011, the most recent year for which stats are available. That amounts to just under 16 per week. Nnaji epitomizes this productivity: according to IMDB, from 2003 to 2005 she acted in 60 movies.
According to Bloomberg, "Nollywood" as it exists today started with Kenneth Nnebue's 1992 film Living in Bondage. By Hollywood standards, Nollywood films generally have low budgets and short shoots, and frequently feature stories about marital discord or the conflict between Christianity and traditional faiths. In a feature for the New York Times Magazine, Andrew Rice reported that "the production budget for a typical Nollywood movie ranges between $25,000 and $50,000." Watch a scene featuring regular Nollywood actor Osita Iheme to get a taste:
The past few years, though, have seen a number of Nigerian directors attempting to raise the production value of Nollywood films, including Kunle Afolayan, the director profiled in the New York Times Magazine article. Watch the trailer for his film Phone Swap and you'll immediately notice the jump in quality:
Nnaji, who Oprah Winfrey called the Julia Roberts of Africa, has been a visible part of this trend; according to Bloomberg, Half of a Yellow Sun, her latest movie, cost $9 million, making it the most expensive movie ever filmed in Nigeria. The film is a co-production between the UK and Nigeria, which by some reckonings might put it outside the definition of a Nollywood film. But when the film's executive producer Yewande Sadiku spoke to Bloomberg, she placed the film firmly in the context of the Nigerian film industry: “Nollywood in size is big, but Nollywood in financial terms is piddly,” She said. “This film demonstrates what is possible.”
You can check out a trailer for Half of a Yellow Sun below. To hear more about the film, tune into George's interview with Nnaji on January 17 at 7 p.m. on CBC.