With more resources at their disposal, Nigerian filmmakers can explore new narratives and uncharted areas
By Seyi Lasisi
Netflix’s latest crime thriller, The Black Book has been courting media attention since the director, Nigerian Editi Effiong, announced the film during its production stage. Being his first directorial feature-length film, audience curiosity was piqued as to what to expect. The film boasts of Nollywood veterans – the late Production Designer, Pat Nebo, BAFTA-awarded cinematographer, Yinka Edward, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), Sam Dede, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett and Alex Usifo Omiagbo, and the new school actors and rising stars, Ade Laoye and Olumide Oworu. It had the perfect recipe for success, and true to this premise, the film has had many breakthroughs since it started streaming on Netflix. It has occupied the first position as the first Nigerian and African film, on Netflix to top the world chart. A week after its debut on the streaming platform, The Black Book has had 11.2 million views, making it the first Nigerian and African film to achieve this feat.
But its chart-topping feats and exploration of Nigerian power politics aside, the film also piqued the curiosity after Effiong released its quasi-start-up list of executive producers. The Black Book is a production of Effiong’s Anakle Films in collaboration with media streaming giant, Netflix. According to the crime drama’s director, the film had a budget of one million dollars, raised through its large pull of investors.
Lining the executive producer’s list is a mammoth Nigerian tech founders which include: Uyai Umoren Effiong, an engineer turned business consultant; Kola Oyeneyin, founder and CEO of Venia Group, a venture creation and development company; Adesubomi Plumptre; a SEC-licensed fund manager who also co-founded Volition Capital Investment Limited; Ezra Olubi, an entrepreneur who is the co-founder and Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of PayStack; Bienose Tito Ovia, former co-founder of Helium Health, a company digitalising access to healthcare across Africa, Odunayo Eweniyi; co-founder and COO of PiggyVest an online saving and investment platform; Joshua Chibueze, co-founder and CMO also at PiggVest, and co-founder at PushCV, a convergence point for employers and recruiters; Toyin Adewunmi, a commercial-focused HR professional; Gbenga Agboola, CEO and co-founder of Flutterwave, an organisation committed to changing the landscape of payments in the African continent; Kola Aina, the founding partner at Ventures Platform, an investment platform for founders; Olumide Soyombo, the co-founder of Bluechip Techniologies, a company interested in transforming the business process of leading banks and other industry business; Nadayar Enegesi, co-founder and CEO of Eden Life Inc, which offers home convenience services; Prosper Otemuyiwa, current co-founder and CTO at Eden Life; and Oladunni Abiodun, a software engineer at Microsoft.
A unifying thread amongst these investors is their understanding of numbers and data. With the impressive run that The Black Book has had so far, two questions come to mind: What does the worldwide acceptance of The Black Book mean for the Nigerian film industry, and what importance does the presence of investors — such as tech companies — add to Nollywood?
First, with the huge viewing numbers that The Black Book is acquiring daily, the potential for more investment and partnership with Netflix – and largely, film streaming platforms – in more Nigerian originals is possible. Compared to the South African film industry, Netflix’s investment in Nigeria is minimal. From Netflix’s recently published social impact report, the reason for the sparse investment is not far-fetched. The streaming platform is in a business, and numbers with a potential for high returns boost investor’s confidence. Thus, if the monumental screen time The Black Book is acquiring daily is matched with more subscribers from Nigeria, one can be certain of more investment. This means that Nigerian audiences can be confident in more Nigerian Netflix originals to join the trickles that the country has seen so far, such as Far From Home (2022) and Lionheart (2018).
For decades, inadequate funding has been one of the impeding factors that have stalled Nollywood’s growth as a film industry. This limitation, as some have argued, constantly affects film quality and limits the profitability of filmmaking as a venture. With the covetous position that The Black Book now occupies in the Nigerian, and by extension the African film industry, the film’s success might just be the catalyst for transformation that the film industry needs, gradually boosting the confidence of investors to enter the film industry. Confident of an assured return on investment, investors (such as within the tech ecosystem) can be certain of profitability.
Access to funds will elevate the sound production, cinematography, and production design of a film production. These technical issues, with more funding, can be considerably minimised. However, while having a big budget does not necessarily guarantee box office success or ensure quality cinematic experience, it does ensure a certain level of quality in the technical aspects of filmmaking. Hiring A-list actors, renowned directors, or skilled cinematographers, often attract a higher price tag, but their involvement can elevate the quality of the project. The experience and expertise they bring to the table can turn a decent script into a great cinematic experience. In The Black Book, Edward’s cinematography, Nebo’s production design, the film’s location – alternated between Kaduna and Lagos – and the sound design helped elevate the film’s quality, and this technical precision may have been impossible without the filmmaker’s access to funding.
In an era where audiences crave more visually pleasing experiences, filmmakers should consent to this demand and strive to achieve better visual quality. CJ Obasi’s Mami Wata, for example, stands out for its visually appealing cinematography. The black-and-white drama has been repeatedly praised for its cinematography and impressive production designs which helped enhance the cinematic experience for the audience. While Mami Wata might not boast of a similar budget compared to The Black Book, the production value of Obasi’s film hints at the filmmaker’s access to a heavy budget.
With tech industries, besides the financial investment, a collaboration between tech and the film industry holds potential for both industries. It is possible to create an environment for tech and filmmaking where developers, designers, and filmmakers can come together to brainstorm on projects. This can mean incorporating tailor-made technologies in virtual or augmented realities and tech-enhanced filmmaking techniques into projects. Tech could also provide a means of protecting intellectual property rights and royalties for filmmakers, curbing piracy, irrespective of the release medium.
African Cinema, Nollywood especially, is becoming attractive to foreign investors. But, as much as we desire these foreign investments with the potential for improving the film industry, these investors can indirectly determine the narratives Nigerian filmmakers explore. The industry is still very much in its developmental stage, and this is the time we need more homegrown investors too. More investors coming in ensures less monopoly which opens the industry up for growth. With more resources at their disposal, Nigerian filmmakers can explore new narratives and uncharted areas. This in turn gives rise to the emergence of new talents and unheard voices that will see a completely diversified film industry in Nigeria.
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: email@example.com