From its roots in TV dramas, produced by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in the 70s and 80s, the Nigerian movie industry has grown into the second largest movie industry in the world (by volume of films made) and Nigeria’s second largest employer outside of agriculture.
In the past decade, Nollywood (a term used to describe Nigeria’s movie industry, coined by New York Times journalist Norimitsu Onishi in 2002) movies have generated millions of dollars in box office numbers and the popularity of Nigerian movies have reached global levels.
Unfortunately, as with many things in Nigeria, women have benefited the least from Nollywood’s success. Roles in front of, and behind the camera, are still heavily dominated by men while considerably more male-led productions are greenlit or able to secure funding relative to the female-led options.
Perhaps most egregious is the fact that Nigerian women are mostly portrayed in Nollywood movies through the lens of harmful and dangerous stereotypes such as subservience, dependence on male figures, and a lack of ambition.
It is common to see female characters in Nollywood films portayed as homemakers, child bearers, cooks, care givers, sex workers, and other background roles that only serve to reinforce traditional gender roles for women.
“Considering that women make up 60% of the Nollywood film audience, it is important that women are represented better in films, rather than telling the story from the male gaze: from characterization to story, costumes, and more,” actor and producer Eku Edewor told BusinessDay in April 2021.
These stereotypical portrayals of women impress on Nigerian society and are harmful to women in that they encourage the audience to continue to promote the same norms that have allowed gender inequality to flourish in Nigeria.
Fortunately, there are Nigerian movies that have not toed this line but rather the opposite: showcasing powerful, well-rounded, and more representative women-led characters. We’ve put together a summary of five of such movies and we can guarantee you that they are worth a watch!
Nigerian film legend Genevieve Nnaji’s directorial debut is the first Netflix original film to be produced in Nigeria. Lionheart was also selected as the Nigerian entry for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020 — the first Nigerian movie to be submitted to the Oscars for award consideration.
The movie follows Adaeze Obiagu (played by Nnaji) as she steps up to the challenge of running her father’s business and saving it from debt and the threat of takeover after he has to retire due to health issues.
With support from her uncle Godswill (played by Nkem Owoh), she challenges the status quo in the male-dominated world that is Nigeria’s transportation industry.
Nollywood is not known for action thrillers and in the few movies where there are some action scenes, they are often poorly choreographed. So Muna was a breath of fresh air in that it attempted to do something thousands of Nollywood productions couldn’t. And it did well — taking second place on the Nigerian box office chart in its second week, only behind Disney’s Frozen 2.
Muna, a survivor of sexual abuse and trafficking on a revenge mission, is played by Adesua Etomi-Wellington who also plays the lead character in 2016’s The Wedding Party, which holds the record of Nigeria’s biggest box office opening to date.
The film's main theme centers around child trafficking, sexual violence, and revenge with a cast that also inludes Hollywood actors like Robert Miano.
King of Boys (2018)
Also starring Adesua Etomi-Wellington, alongside veteran actor Sola Sobowale, King of Boys is acclaimed director Kemi Adetiba’s second film and she wrote, co-produced, and directed it. The film is the sixth-highest grossing Nollywood movie of all time in Nigeria.
It tells the story of powerful businesswoman Eniola Salami (played by Sobowale, to critical acclaim), whose political ambitions are threatened by the underworld connections responsible for her wealth and prominence.
The power struggle that follows will cost her everything. Adetiba recently announced that the King of Boys sequel will be released as a seven-part limited series on Netflix on Aug. 27 — and we have a feeling it'll be a must-watch.
93 Days (2016)
One doctor’s action was critical to the containment of the Ebola virus outbreak in Nigeria in 2014: Dr. Stella Adadevoh, who unfortunately passed away from complications after being exposed to the virus.
93 Days is based on the incredible act of commitment and professionalism she gave her country, saving millions of lives in the process.
Acclaimed actor Bimbo Akintola plays Adadevoh and the film follows the actions and sacrifices made by men and women who risked their lives to ensure that the Ebola virus was contained.
The film also stars American legend Danny Glover and Alastair McKenzie, as well as Nigerian stars Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama and Keppy Ekpeyong Bassey (who plays Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer, the index patient who carried the virus into Nigeria).
93 Days was shown to sold out audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Chicago International Film Festival (the only Nigerian film to show there), Johannesburg Film Festival, and LA Film Festival.
Wives on Strike (2016)
Produced and directed by Omoni Oboli, Wives on Strike is a satirical film about a group of four market women who decide to deny their husbands sex (and other things) to push them to stand up for a young girl who was being forced by her father to marry a man against her will.
The cast includes some of Nollywood’s most prolific thespians like Ufuoma McDermott, Chioma Akpotha, and Kehinde Bankole.
Although it’s a comedy, Wives on Strike does a great job of highlighting cultural practices that are harmful to women and girls, and especially child marriage and sexual abuse of minors.