Could The Infiltration Of Netflix Be A Poisoned Chalice For Nollywood?

Jerry Chiemeke
9 min readJan 19, 2022

What Was It Like, Pre-Streaming?

Since the industry came to life, each era in Nollywood has been marked by different modes of movie transmission, flowing from the dominant medium of the times. In the early 1990s, audiences trooped to rental shops to get their hands on video cassettes that contained recordings of Living In Bondage, Sakobi, Just A Night, Mortal Inheritance, Deadly Passion, or any other film that generated buzz at the time. By the turn of the 21st century, VHS machines had given way to DVD players, and movies like Issakaba, Dangerous Twins, Take Me To Mama and Desperadoes were distributed by way of video CDs.

In the late 2000s, cable TV provided a new home for local content, with Africa Magic Epic and Africa Magic Yoruba catering to various ethnic demographics. As movie industries around the world rapidly adapt to new technology, Nollywood has caught up too, and the advent of the streaming era means that movies are now consumed via VOD (video on demand) platforms like Iroko TV, Netflix and Showmax.

In many ways, each Nollywood era has had to put up with the existence of one top dog, with little room for competition. In the early 1990s and early 2000s when video cassettes and DVDs held sway, filmmakers were at the mercy of the marketers and distributors at Alaba and Ebinpejo Lane in Lagos, Upper Iweka Road in Onitsha, and Pound Road in Aba. As the 2000s wound down, the marketing executives at Africa Magic began to control proceedings with respect to the distribution of movies. Over the past couple of years, cinema distribution chains have had a large say in which movies get shown, and where.

Bye-Bye DVDs, Hello VODs

Since acquiring Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart in late 2018, Netflix has provided a home for Nigerian movies on its streaming platform. More people are watching movies on Netflix these days, and beyond tapping into a large Nigerian market, the platform inadvertently provides a chance for filmmakers whose movies were “slept on” at cinemas to have a second run at movie distribution. Films like Femi Ogunsanwo’s Ojukokoro, Tope Oshin’s In Line, Chika Ike’s Small Chops, Curtis Graham’s Oloibiri and Femi Ogunsanwo’s Finding Hubby, among others, can now be seen by a lot more people who probably missed the respective cinema runs of these films. The best part is, there is no fear of being pulled down after showing at cinemas for just two or three weeks.

In October 2020, Kenneth Gyang’s Oloture, a movie about a young female journalist who goes undercover as a prostitute to expose a human trafficking ring, premiered globally on Netflix. In November 2020, Kunle Afolayan’s Citation, a coming-of-age drama about a young university student who is sexually harassed by her lecturer, premiered on the platform.

More Eyeballs Are Good, However…

For independent filmmakers, this new affiliation with Netflix has provided a lifeline for an industry that has been in dire need of a structural adjustment. They make twice as much income from licensing content to Netflix than they have ever made from cinema, and with the platform’s global subscriber base of 208 million members, filmmakers can be sure that their movies are reaching a wider audience.

But this paradigm shift portends danger for cinema culture in Nigeria: for a country that does not have that many people heading to the malls to purchase tickets, the numbers could reduce even further. According to Stears, there are less than 200 screens across the country, with most of them concentrated in Lagos, Abuja, and Ibadan. Migration of movie enthusiasts to Netflix could potentially be the death knell for what is already a fledgling cinema and theatre culture. Simply put, what is good news for filmmakers and audiences could be inimical to the industry on a grander scale.

There is also the not-so-small matter of the quality of Nollywood content made available on Netflix. It’s still too early to call, but it appears that from a Nigerian perspective, Netflix only caters to a particular audience: light-hearted comedy and romantic movies are good, but they don’t tell the complete story. The availability of these films on a streaming platform this huge has also put the quality of our storytelling under scrutiny — barring 76, This Lady Called Life and Ojukokoro, most of the films have been treated to negative critical reception.

Nigerian film critic Nneka Vivian Nwajiaku, in reviewing Kathryn Fasegha’s Two Weeks In Lagos, described the movie as “forgettable schlock”, noting that “it is a perfect example of how skilled marksmen can’t work with rusty rifles; even the best actors sometimes get caught up in a movie that is so bad that even their performances can’t redeem it.”

Kunle Afolayan’s Swallow, a movie adaptation of Sefi Atta’s novel of the same name, also received its fair share of knocks. Writing for Olongo Africa, doctor and film critic Wilfred Okiche opined that “the film is paced lazily and perhaps the most pointed flaw to be gleaned from it is that there is no acute- or chronic- directorial gaze tying all the separate departments and elements together.”

The latest in this gradually-stretching line of debacles would be Niyi Akinmolayan’s Chief Daddy 2, which has been treated to generally negative reviews since it premiered on Netflix in the early hours of the new year. The backlash has been massive, to the point that EbonyLife Group CEO Mo Abudu had to publish what appeared to be a public apology directed at Nollywood enthusiasts on her Instagram page.

On my part, I’m inclined to agree with the opinion that the movie went significantly below the (already low bar) that the viewing public has set for Nollywood big-budget feature films: I thought the scene transitions were atrocious, that the pacing was abominable, and that the actors were simply walking around the set without bothering to show up at all. It would be easy to say that some of the plays I saw during my undergraduate days at the University of Benin are a lot better than what viewers had to endure from Shaffy Bello and the rest of the pack, but that would be putting it mildly.

Where Are We Getting It Wrong?

Tolani Ajayi, medic and screenwriter, argues that there is little to no investment in crafting stories that are remotely compelling.

“Even if Amazon prime makes a deal with Nollywood, it’s the same thing we’ll get. You can’t give what you don’t have. Look at South Africa doing so well. When critics talk, the public will say it is ‘hate’. Look at how our filmmakers are exposing our lack of depth. They don’t know the first thing about storytelling”, she says.

An alumnus of the EbonyLife Creative Academy, who has pleaded anonymity, explains to me that Netflix Naija is largely to blame.

“The Nigerians at the helm of affairs over there (Netflix Naija) are harming Nollywood. They have somehow convinced the guys at Netflix HQ that Nigerians do not care about good stories. So, they intentionally do not invest in the storytelling process, because they assume that only a few people would care enough to dissect these movies from a critical perspective. As a result, they run with silly stories without depth in the name of ‘comedy’. This is annoying because comedy can be well-written, not like the dross we are being forced to swallow.

“Nigerian filmmakers know that the stories they pay for are shallow. You could tell with the shots, colours, and framing (in Chief Daddy 2) that everyone knew what they were doing, except for the screenwriter(s). Netflix Naija intentionally went for sensationalist filmmakers, the ones who do it for the money because they can be easily convinced to make sub-par movies. Netflix Naija is doing us more evil than good because these movies are being distributed on a grand scale. Our disgrace is being globally televised.”

Segun Odejimi, former Editor-in-Chief at True Nollywood Stories and creator of the Nollywood Backstories podcast, holds a slightly different view. For him, the problem is a lack of structure.

“It would be disingenuous to assert that Netflix has been harmful to Nollywood. However, the advent of the streaming platform is not without its drawbacks. To be very honest, Nollywood is not structured yet, so people are just doing things for commercial purposes without thinking of how their actions contribute to the growth (or erosion) of the industry as we know it. If you look at film in South Africa, for example, you will find a sense of structure in how filmmakers over there conduct their affairs. When Netflix went into South Africa, it wasn’t going into chaos. From multiple perspectives, it looks like we are improving, but Nollywood is still chaotic, and in any case, we still have a lot of work to do with our storytelling, which is the heart and soul of any feature film.

The coming of Netflix means that more funds are available to Nigerian filmmakers, but funding in chaos is where the issue is. This is why the quality of the movies being churned out lately leave much to be desired; audiences are wondering why certain films were even produced in the first place. The chaotic nature of the industry is the reason why it seems Netflix has been harmful to Nollywood. Just like every other long-standing institution, we will improve, but how fast we will catch up with our counterparts (Bollywood and Hollywood) depends on the individuals currently calling the shots here. Are Nigeria’s biggest filmmakers in the game just to make money, or because they have stories to tell and want to leave a mark? Time will tell, I guess.”

Elsie Godwin, content creator, media personality and brand strategist, tells me that Nollywood’s teething problems have little to do with Netflix.

“I don’t think Netflix has been harmful. I think our culture of mediocrity started way before the arrival of Netflix to Nigeria, and it will be unfair to place the responsibility of effort and proper storytelling solely on the Netflix brand. We have seen Netflix originals from South Africa: albeit not perfect, they offer none of the ridiculousness that bedevils our industry. Nigerian filmmakers need to start paying attention to the art of storytelling and script writing: work with people who are actually talented and who have acquired the right skills, and pay them their money’s worth.

Key players in Nollywood need to develop an obsession with professionalism and excellence. If directors and producers don’t show any passion for their craft, we will keep churning out mediocre films. It’s even worse when they claim they are ‘doing the best with what they have’. We need to level up.”

Elsie also harps on the need for “art-driven filmmakers” to learn more about the business side of things. In her words, “I also hope that filmmakers who make good movies can pay a little more attention to the business of filmmaking. There is a need to understand the importance of PR. There are good Nollywood films out there that many don’t get to hear of, just because the filmmaker claims there is no budget for PR and advertising, and this is a great disservice to both the director and the audience. Even popular franchises like Spiderman have marketing budgets, so what’s your excuse?”

Away from bad reviews and long Twitter threads, an inquiry needs to be conducted in respect of quality control at Netflix Naija. The commercial figures are good — Chief Daddy 2 went straight to Number 1 in less than 48 hours — but we need to be deliberate about curating what goes out there. Sure enough, we have come a long way from rewinding video cassettes just to see Bimbo Akintola tantalizing Richard Mofe-Damijo in Out Of Bounds, but excessive contentment makes room for complacency and ultimately, stagnation. These days, we laugh heartily as Bimbo Ademoye screams “this is money rituals!” when Adesua Etomi-Wellington and Bisola Aiyeola stumble on huge wads of cash in Kayode Kasum’s Sugar Rush, and that makes for hearty content, but there is more to storytelling than slapstick humour. Is Netflix proving to be a Trojan horse for Nollywood, or are Nigerian filmmakers simply fumbling the bag and failing to upscale the quality of our storytelling inspite of the access to funds? To put things succinctly, it would seem that the jury is out.



Jerry Chiemeke

Writer-Journalist. Editor. Ex-Lawyer. Critically-acclaimed Author and Film Critic. Contact via