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Making Money In Nollywood: Women Hold The Formula
Nollywood has had an interesting lineup of female producers who carry films from idea to exhibition and post-exhibition stages, regardless of the medium.
“I am an unapologetic commercial filmmaker. I make films for profit,” Amaka Igwe is often remembered for saying this. Her filmmaking skills, entrenched in the heart of her classic works, were only matched by her business acumen. If she were alive today, she would most likely be pleased by the grit of the women who are currently holding their own in the industry.
Recently, three interesting things have happened — a woman-led film festival celebrated its tenth anniversary and was closed by a female-directed film; a woman-led production company became a case study at the Harvard MBA programme; a female production duo launched their platform, owning distribution of their film. The women in this story — Chioma Ude, Bolanle Austen-Peters, Mo Abudu, Mildred Okwo and Rita Dominic.
The achievements of these women in expanding the Nollywood business ecosystem can be evidently measured by the worth of their work, when compared to the entire worth of the industry in recent times. Since 2014, the top 100 grossing Nollywood films have pulled over seven billion Naira. (Available data from several box office sources put the exact number at N7, 360, 899, 554).
Of this number, films by women — as lead producers and directors — have grossed over 4.8 billion Naira (the exact figure from various sources land at N4, 810, 096, 689). This is 65.34 percent despite having led only 40 of the top 100 projects in the new cinema era of Nollywood (directed 23 and executive produced the other 17, through their production companies).
It is important to note that following AY Makun’s top gross in 2014 with 30 Days in Atlanta, all the top-grossing films till date have been produced by women. Two of them were helmed by female directors - Kemi Adetiba for The Wedding Party 1 and Funke Akindele-Bello for Omo Ghetto: The Saga, which is presently the highest-grossing Nollywood film of all time, pulling in over 600 million Naira.
According to the trend observed from cumulative gross, Abudu, Toyin Abraham, Omoni Oboli and Jade Osiberu lead the pack as producers while Biodun Stephens and Tope Oshin lead on the side of directors. Funke Akindele-Bello and Kemi Adetiba straddle both ends as bankable directors and producers.
The female producer effect
Nollywood has had an interesting lineup of female producers who carry films from idea to exhibition and post-exhibition stages, regardless of the medium. Data analysed above show that while female filmmakers have achieved considerably more success in the ecosystem, they mainly do as producers.
The pattern appears to be that some of these women start out learning the ropes behind the scene while multitasking by getting the required resources to produce the film, before debuting as directors.
For instance, between 2013 to 2016, Osiberu was a producer for Ndani TV and helmed exciting projects such as Gidi Up and Rumour Has It. In an interview, she credited her film training to this earlier experience.
Osiberu had worked on establishing Ndani TV, an innovative online channel that has produced some of the most acclaimed web series. Her efforts grew the place into a household name and were the springboard for her other endeavours in the industry. In 2017, she released her directorial debut Isoken, a commercial and critical success.
She followed up with Sugar Rush and Ayinla in 2019 and 2021, respectively, stretching and showcasing her ability as a producer who can pull audiences to the cinemas.
Osiberu’s journey from producer to director is common among these women, some of whom have stuck mostly to producing, while dabbling into directing. Does this trend affect their ability to pull box office hits?
What is the formula?
Community, promotions and audience proximity. These components are essential for the success of a Nollywood film, with community being the most crucial factor. Whether it is getting people to support the project from the ideation stage and leaning on an audience to be affiliate marketers once the film gets out, these women have effectively found ways to curate communities on both ends that are loyal to their works, regardless of the quality.
Before analysing practical examples of how these women’s communities contribute to their project’s success, it is key to note that female filmmakers amplified many modern Nollywood film trends in the last ten years.
The Wedding Party 1 ushered in a fresh wave of rom-coms with huge parties, which Isoken also amplified; Alakada and Omo Ghetto amplified stereotypically crass female characters.
Combined, these female filmmakers have active social media communities with whom they interact. These communities, unlike newer ones, actively follow these women for their work. Akindele-Bello has done hard work with the Jenifa franchise for a long time, contributing heavily to pop culture.
An active audience mimics her character, like Abraham, whose fans sometimes still see her as Yetunde from Alakada. Stephens has commandeered an audience enamoured by films with moral lessons over the years. Austen-Peters has consistently hit the mark with theatre productions through TerraKulture, and harnessed the currency of that trust with the successful Bling Lagosians. Adetiba, an industry player across various sub-sectors, built a loyal community over time. This showed in the success of King of Boys and its sequel.
Oboli has charmed her community over the years by doing it all — acting, filmmaking, family and friendship. Mo Abudu has built a trans-generational fanbase that has watched her go from legendary talk show host to filmmaker. Okwo has gained a reputation for creating relatable characters in ambitious film projects. On her part, Mary Remmy-Njoku has created a phenomenal made-for-TV film culture that has built its own community and inspired several other communities for female filmmakers.
But these women did not stop there. There is a conscious daily effort to interact with these communities, treating them as friends and families rather than fans. Building on this, they are very intentional about promoting their work, leading with their communities without complete reliance — they take the films to the people. One is more likely to find a film tour led by a female filmmaker in Nollywood. Even for the films made by men, a lot of the promotions lean heavier on female cast members and producers.
It is important to note these contributions by women to Nollywood not because of fear of ignorance but as a learning opportunity for the industry, to pick points that can be employed across board. The Nollywood film industry has come a long way and still has more to do. Female filmmakers have cracked some codes that the industry needs to learn.
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