Nollywood slowly making its way into mainstream media

The film poster for the Netflix Original Film "Lionheart"
Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

The Nigerian film industry, affectionately called Nollywood, is a big deal in every way.

It is a $590 billion industry that produces roughly 50 films per day. One would think that this would be grounds for global appreciation of Nollywood films, but Netflix offers only 23 Nollywood movies and 37 African movies overall.

“Lionheart,” the most recent addition to Netflix’s Nollywood library, largely flew under the radar of many news publications. On Jan. 8, The New York Times published a 256-word article about the Netflix original movie “Lionheart,” calling it “globally minded filmmaking that is also comfortingly familiar.”

This review came extremely late since the movie was released on Sept. 7.

By all accounts, this movie release was newsworthy. It was the first Netflix original film to be produced in Nigeria. This film also marks the directorial debut of the film’s star, Genevieve Nnaji, who is one of Nollywood’s most famous actresses (130 acting credits in the past 10 years).

The fact that this film’s release went largely unnoticed by Americans speaks volumes about the level of attention American media pays to African stories and culture. Yemi Oladapo is a native of Nigeria and a pharmacy major at Florida A&M University. She says, “Lionheart” was her favorite recent example of African representation in the media.

“Taken literally, it’s a movie about buses,” she said, “but it’s actually so much more than that. It was a very accurate representation of the eastern and northern tribes in Nigeria, the Igbo and Hausa.”

She continued praising the movie, saying how she loved the film’s inspiring story of a family legacy and appreciated how it highlighted the beauty of the Nigeria she knows, which is “so often overlooked by western media.”

Nigerian transfer student Emmanuel Bello also noted the lack of positive African representation in American media.

“The media only chooses to show the degraded part of Africa,” he said. He added that this negative view deters many people from visiting Africa and seeing how truly beautiful it is. 

Netflix's African Movie offerings.
Photo Submitted by Simone Williams.

Along with Netflix’s introduction to Nigerian film production, there have been other small signs that Americans are starting to appreciate African culture and adopt it into popular media. For example, Jesus and Jollof is a podcast featuring two Nigeria hosts which is growing in popularity.

Also, Bello enjoys the fact that he can sometimes hear Afrobeat music on popular radio stations. The accurate depiction of African characters is not only profitable: it is something worth fighting for, he said.