My first time actually watching a Nollywood movie was probably in about 2010.
I had a conversation with my first-generation Nigerian friend about Tyler Perry movies, where I offered my theory on why he managed to build a beloved following in spite of critics. In short, there was a market for faith-based African American entertainment rooted in chitlin-circuit stage plays, and Perry cracked it wide open. The thing about these melodramas is that while they tend to get mixed reviews, there’s still something about the over-the-top storylines that pique your interest, and you might find yourself watching it because you really do enjoy it, or because you’re hate-watching, or because you’re trying to figure out what you’re actually watching but can’t stop because you’re secretly amused.
I fall in the latter category, and when my friend gave me a copy of Beyoncé vs. Rihanna—a Nollywood movie that imagines what an actual feud between the two singers would be like—I couldn’t turn away. Even though it was a Nigerian story, elements of it felt exactly how I’d feel watching Black American stage plays or even Tyler Perry flicks. What stands out most are the over-the-top storylines, obvious bloopers, strewn-together plots that somehow still come together in the end (probably with holes, though), melodramatic acting, and the seemingly never-ending supply of ridiculous yet still imaginative material.
The other elements that bring it all together are the heavy themes of family, faith, and life lessons. In recent years, American actors such as Vivica A. Fox, Lynn Whitfield, and Jimmy Jean-Louis have made appearances in Nollywood films such as 3 Days in Atlanta and Doctor Bello.
Nollywood isn’t new. A quick Google search makes it clear that the Nigerian film industry has been in production since the late 19th century. Director Ola Balogun (Cry Freedom, A Deusa Negra) is credited with being a Nollywood pioneer. His films in the ’70s and ’80s paved the way for the Nollywood movie explosion of the ’90s. Back then, Nollywood films were released on VHS (some of you are old enough to remember those) and shot on shoestring budgets. (If you’re like me and grew up around a diverse population of people—in New York City, in my case—then you may have walked past an African market or hair-braiding shop and seen Nollywood movie DVDs in storefront windows.)
But then Nollywood went global.
It has become one of the largest film industries in the world, and Netflix noticed, as have Chinese media companies—both having signed deals with the country’s movie-making giants such as Ayo Mkun (AY) and EbonyLife Films.
Netflix has been steadily building a collection of Nollywood movies for the past few years, but in 2018 it began making originals. As a result, more people are discovering the entertaining world of Nigerian cinema.
Amid the entertainment doldrums of August, this is the perfect time to discover something new. In short, give Nollywood a chance. It’s an experience you need to prep for as far as expectations, but now that you’re here, these are seven Nollywood movies you should watch on Netflix to begin to appreciate the genre.
N is for Naija. N is for Nollywood. N is the 14th alphabet. 14 is also how many great talents you're looking at. N is for Netflix. But most importantly…hello, Nigeria! pic.twitter.com/js8z3LIyM3
— Netflix Naija (@NetflixNaija) February 25, 2020
Lionheart is Netflix’s first original Nollywood movie, produced by Chinny Onwugbenu and directed by Genevieve Nnaji, who was also one of its stars. This drama follows the plight of a woman taking charge of her father’s company after he unexpectedly passes away. She navigates grief and the chaos of being the boss of a highly sought-after company in a sexist society.
For fans of: Family business dramas
Chief Daddy (2018)
Chief Daddy is a comedy/drama about a family that is forced to deal with each other and uncomfortable truths as they are brought back together after the sudden death of their billionaire patriarch. Secrets spill out and people learn each other’s true intentions as they scramble to get a piece of their papa’s fortune.
For fans of: Madea Family Funeral or Death at a Funeral
The Wedding Party 2 (2016)
This is the sequel to The Wedding Party, one of the most popular mainstream Nollywood releases in recent years. The same zany group of people are brought back together for yet another wedding. This one stems from a date night that turns into an accidental proposal. This time an upper-crust British family must learn quickly how to adapt to their daughter’s potential Nigerian in-laws as the groom tries to figure out how to tell his bride-to-be that he proposed by accident.
For fans of: The Best Man or any wedding caper movie
Lost in London (2017)
This is a comedy about two Nigerian students who are selected for an exchange program in London. Through the culture shock, they must decide whether they want to make London work or go back home.
For fans of: Coming to America or Student Exchange
Love Is War (2019)
All is fair in love and war, until a loving couple have to face off against each other for the office of state governor.
For fans of: BBC’s short-lived series The Politician’s Husband, USA’s Pearson, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Fifty follows four 50-ish-year-old women based in Lagos, Nigeria. They’re at the height of their careers, but also dealing with various personal dramas. There’s 49-year-old Maria, whose affair with a married man results in a surprising pregnancy; Elizabeth, whose affinity for younger men causes friction with her daughter, a reality TV star whose marriage is falling apart; and Kate, who is dealing with a life-threatening illness. In 2017, Fifty actually became a TV series, so the drama continues.
For fans of: First Wives Club, Desperate Housewives, or even Real Housewives of anything
The Figurine (2009)
This supernatural thriller follows friends who get seven years good luck by invoking a spirit from a mystical sculpture. You know where this is going, right? Things get dark really quickly.
For fans of: Tales From the Hood