The Nigerian movie industry (Nollywood) is seeing a meteoric rise — having become one of the fastest-growing movie-producing industries in the world and Africa’s largest movie industry in all ramifications. The meteoric rise has gradually spread across time, proving that the results we currently see are due to the deliberate and intense inputs of some colossal figures in the industry.
For years, Nollywood struggled with the quality of some of its portrayals. During that period, emphasis was placed on the talent of the actors rather than the other elements required to make a good production, such as a foolproof storyline and plot, as well as believable effects. The anything-goes, laissez-faire attitude of the industry made it the centre of backlash among Nigerians; however, the incessant backlash did not translate to the industry losing a significant part of its viewership count. As grease to machine joints, the criticism of the industry has only strengthened the resolve of stakeholders, birthing generations of movie producers, actors, and directors dedicated to taking Nollywood to new heights.
One of the foremost vanguards of this transformational generation is Kunle Afolayan, a heavily decorated actor, producer, and director. Although his works extend beyond the entertainment focus of a movie, fitting more into the description of film-making, the industry guru has proven his worth in contributions and the level of attention and investment he has attracted to Nollywood. He ranks among the highest in an industry dominated by titans ranging from actors who deliver on their premium work to strategically brilliant directors.
There is no denying the importance of Nollywood to the overall existence and growth of Nigeria, first as a conglomerate of nation-societies and then as a large and populous country. Despite the country being highly polarized and prone to polarity-induced tensions and outbursts, Nollywood has registered itself as one of the biggest unifiers in the county, lending credence to the claims that art, whether literary or visual, is an important element needed in the country. Movies and films are video representations of literary art, and although that is perhaps the most simplistic definition, these types of art possess all the qualities of literature and literary art, including serving as a mirror for life and society. In addition to being a major form of creative expression, films have also served a long-term role of being a form of thought expression and an avenue to portray societal ills, extol virtues, and combat vices. There is also the chief role of being a source of entertainment for the citizenry.
Regardless of the backlash and criticisms that Nollywood has received, especially from Nigerians, the grossing statistics of recent Nigerian films and movies speak volumes about how these creative productions are an integral part of people’s lives and a source of relieving stress in a country where almost everything is designed to frustrate the citizens and make life largely unbearable for them. The change in the fortune and direction of several Nollywood outputs proves that the industry is indeed one of the fastest-growing in the world, not only in terms of output volume and revenue but also in repositioning and a positive change in approach and delivery. The industry has also done well for itself in leveraging technology. For an industry that only had the talent of its actors as the best to offer — in the days of Adedayo Afolayan, Herbert Ogunde, and several others — filmmaking and movie production in Nigeria has evolved, leveraging technology where needed and reaching the people where they are, whether it is on YouTube or other social media platforms, or indigenous channels like Iroko TV.
Another laudable achievement of the industry is its pace in attracting foreign investment from streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, thereby giving more international exposure to the creative works of the country. The attraction of platforms like that comes from two factors: first, stakeholders in Nollywood have consistently proven their worth and how excellently they can deliver, especially in recent years. Another is that the quality of the works being put out, which has also positively affected the viewership count, has passed on the message to these streaming platforms that Nigeria has a large and promising viewership base, and investing in Nollywood will endear more Nigerians to their platform and also attract international viewers to the industry. Nollywood’s growth and the investment it is receiving from such platforms, including the mass adoption of Nigerian movies, is largely due to people who strongly believe in the potential of the Nollywood industry, have a mission they are committed to, and are making concerted efforts to bring that mission to fulfilment. These are the likes of Kunle Afolayan, Femi Adebayo, Tunde Kelani, Kemi Adetiba, Toyin Abraham, and Funke Akindele, among others.
As a historian, I make it vital to examine things retrospectively. Looking at Afolayan’s trajectory as a filmmaker, director, and actor, six things have been the biggest factors that continue to set him apart from others — destiny, lineage-flowing talent, ingenuity, flexibility, a thirst for growth, and divergent thinking. Interestingly, these things are not mutually exclusive. They all come together to form a creative mix that has birthed critically acclaimed and award-winning productions that have gained wide love and acceptance.
Lineage-flowing talent is paramount among the ingredients that have made Kunle Afolayan a multiple-award-winning filmmaker, director, and cultural icon. A full-blooded creative with creativity flowing through his veins, the celebrated producer comes from a long lineage of other actors, movie makers, and directors, including the famous Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love), Nigeria’s famous theatre and film director, who was also his father. He not only has inspiration from and possible early influence from his actor and director father, but he also shares his career choice with his siblings and an aunt, among other family members. The influence of growing up in such a family, watching his father and aunt perform, and also mingling with siblings for whom creativity and creative expression were easy cannot be undermined. It is not enough to have talent; nurturing that talent early in life, even if not through direct involvement in theatre and movie productions but perhaps during shared time with family members and in school, is a vital part of how talents do not go to waste.
Kunle Afolayan’s eventual venture into the filmmaking industry can be largely tied to destiny, and his approach to his work proves this. His productions come across as the handiwork of a man on a mission, one who believes there is a purpose he is serving to have ventured into such an industry, whose destiny is to bring profundity to Nollywood and film-making and shape a new generation that will build on the work of his generation and take it beyond leaps and bounds. In staying through to that destiny, he has also founded the KAP Film and Television Academy, an institution that has, through strategic partnerships with the MasterCard Foundation, Netflix, and the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, committed to training young Africans on filmmaking, scriptwriting, and film production, as well as other time-appropriate courses.
In several ways, Kunle Afoyalan’s ingenuity, flexibility, thirst for growth, and divergent thinking bring themselves to the fore, and these qualities are not difficult to identify when you interact with him. At the convening for the public presentation of my book, Understanding Modern Nigeria, where he was a panellist, his depth of knowledge of issues and why Nigeria is as it is presently is commendable, and they speak to the ingenuity of his person. These are also the qualities that have helped him create films that not only serve the people, but are also brilliant, well-thought-out, and carefully put together, from scripting to production to directing.
Kunle Afolayan’s works, including his earliest pieces, have always had the trademark of quality. Nevertheless, his growth-oriented mindset has made him receptive to feedback and criticism and pushed him to explore beyond the boundaries of what currently exists in Nollywood. This has paid off excellently, making the quality of his productions of global standards — Anikulapo, Citation, Swallow, October 1, The Figurine, and Irapada are good examples. Also, this distinctiveness led him to establish Golden Effects Pictures, a studio dedicated to movie production and editing, and the much-needed studio and equipment rentals. Kunle Afolayan has an innate ability to identify, source, and groom talents. He has also demonstrated that he is vital to the next phase of the Nigerian film and movie industry, especially with his track record of success in identifying opportunities and forming beneficial partnerships for the growth of the booming industry in the country.
Undeniably, Kunle Afolayan is a cultural icon in Nigeria, owing to his contributions to the growth and development of Nollywood, the consistent quality of his output, and his achievements within the same industry. On March 5, 2023, he will be our second guest for the year on the Toyin Falola Interviews, especially as we have dedicated the first quarter of this year to celebrating the cultural legends in the country.
Please join us for a conversation with Kunle Afolayan on:
Sunday, March 5, 2023
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
10:00 AM Austin CST
Register and watch here: