Interestingly, the Nigerian film industry (now popularly known as Nollywood) is the biggest in Africa and on the scale of movie production, it’s also one of the leading industries in the world. However, the journey to this envious status has had its lows, highs and significant turns that have been but transformational for the industry. 1970 was one of such turn, if not the most impactful for the Nigerian film industry. This piece examines the peculiarity of the events of this year and how it has helped to tremendously shape the industry afterwards.
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The British are credited for the introduction of the first celluloid movies at the beginning of the 20th century. However, the cost of local film production remained high and with the absence of enough resources, Nigeria thespians took to the popular travelling theatre. In the 1930s, 40s, combined with music, acrobatics, dance and drama genuine and display of indigenous traditions, culture and customs, these Yoruba artists travelled across the country for their performances.
However, 1970 will be remembered both in Nigeria’s history and of the Nigerian film industry. The year marked the end of the brutal Nigeria-Biafran war (1967-1970) with the surrender of the Biafran side and the declaration of the 3Rs—Reconciliation, Re-Integration and Reconstruction—by the General Yakubu Gowon led Federal Military Government. In line with the reintegration effort of the government, the entertainment industry in Nigeria stands as an unsung hero. From 1970, the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) began to broadcast a series of TV shows it has created. These rich and compelling, which continued till 1990, included The Village Headmaster, Cock Crow at Dawn, Mirror in the Sun, Behind the Clouds, Supple Blues, Checkmate, Ripples and the New Masquerade.
In a BBC interview with Charles Igwe, CEO of Nollywood Global Media Group, he explained that prior to 1990, the state-sponsored NTA played a significant role, as the sole broadcaster of media content then, in the production of media content and was home to several trained talents—actors, writers, directors and producers. Therefore, it is safe to establish that at the end of the war, the state-owned media outlet not only engineered national integration contents but also remarkably, even as an unintended consequence, stirred a turning point in film production in Nigeria. While NTA announced its decision to stop producing TV media content in 1990, it had created the environment for what is to become Nollywood today through the training and eventual release of actors as well as its audience to other operators.
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Conclusively, though the digital revolution in the film industry of the 1990s inspired the Nollywood evolution—with digital cameras replacing analogue devices like celluloid for recording and distribution as well as video cassettes and cassette recorder gaining wide popularity in Nigeria—the crucial work of NTA from the 1970s cannot be marginalized. Whether intended or not, it created a future for the Nigerian film industry. One can argue that NTA, from the 1970s, saw and created the future!
Mridul Chowdhury, Tamas Landesz, Massimiliano Santini, Luis Tejada, Gloria Visconti, “Nollywood: The Nigerian Film Industry,” Microeconomics of Competitiveness, Harvard Business School, May 2, 2008, 13.
“Charles Igwe on ‘How Nollywood Became the Second Largest Film Industry,’” BBC, 6 November 2015.
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