Nollywood, despite being acclaimed as the second largest movie industry in the world, has faced its fair share of challenges ranging from the more obvious ones such as piracy and poor cinematography to the more implicit ones such as subtitling and repetitive themes. For some time now, Nollywood has been faced with the stigma of reiterative and compulsive themes. Despite this, Nollywood movies are gaining more popularity and acceptability within Africa and beyond. In truth, modern English-speaking Nollywood films focus more on certain themes such as love, family crisis, infidelity, betrayal and marriage than themes previously explored by older films, including rituals, history, societal conflicts, politics and culture. Again, modern-day realities have encouraged the thematic focus on issues like female empowerment and the plight of women that did not feature initially in the earlier Nollywood films.
One of the themes that featured more conspicuously in earlier English-speaking Nollywood films than the recent is rituals. In the movie, Living in Bondage (1 and 2) produced by Ken Nnebue in 1992/93, the dominant theme is ritual. The story narrates how poor Andy used his wife for money ritual, how she haunted him, how Andy became mentally unstable and his eventual redemption. Also, the movie Issakaba directed by Lancelot Imasuen also features rituals in its thematic preoccupation. It narrates the story of a gang of armed robbers, fortified with mystical powers, terrorises a community, and how Ebube and his Issakaba boys also acquired mystical powers to fight against crime. Movies like Diamond Ring (1998), Karishika (1996) and so many other earlier produced Nollywood films have rituals as one of the prevalent themes. However, now, this thematic choice is less commonly found.
When considering films like This is Nollywood directed by Franco Sacchi and released in 2007, we find themes relating to history. It is a documentary film that details the evolution of the Nigerian film industry, the processes of producing a movie and the obstacles involved in movie production. Other documentary films worthy of mention is Bariga Boys produced by Femi Odugbemi in 2009 and documents the street performances of Segun Adefila and the crown troupe, who use guerrilla theatre, music and drama to address poverty in the slums of Lagos; Portrait of a Lone Farmer is another 2013 documentary that recounts the producer, Jide Tom Akinleminu’s life on his father’s chicken farm in Nigeria; and Fuelling Poverty produced in 2012 by Ishaya Bako narrating the activities of the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ movement when it was at its climax.
Another widely explored theme by earlier film producers i societal conflict, which borders on a myriad of segments including politics, health and social. Such movies as Black November released in 2012, which narrates the struggles of Niger Delta communities’ struggle against government and multinational oil companies in a bid to stop the pollution of their environment; Dry released in 2014 in response to the child marriage prevalent in northern Nigeria. More recent films do not explore themes relating to societal conflict.
Some common themes rather prevalently explored by today’s film makers include marriage, celebration, family crisis and romance. These feature in more recent movies like Wedding Party, Chief Daddy, Merry Men and King of Boys. Indeed, a lot of films in Nollywood foreground such themes as love, family crisis, infidelity, romance among other common themes, and consequently aid the opinion that certain themes have been over-flogged in the Nigerian movie industry. Other movies that explore themes relating to female empowerment include King of Boys and Lionheart. This is a welcome development, as the issue of female empowerment is recent and gradually gaining prominence in Nigeria.
The under-explored themes and genres in English-speaking Nollywood films should be foregrounded. Such themes include socio-political realities in the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods, history, culture among other salient themes. Exploring these other themes would deflect the subject matter of Nollywood films to something less usual. Such novel and innovative themes should be lauded by film producers and writers, as this would serve to cater for the diverse interests of Nollywood audience within Africa and in the diaspora.