As women take centre stage in Nigeria’s movie industry

The Nigerian entertainment industry has continued to evolve with talented producers and filmmakers like Tunde Kelani, Tade Ogidan, Lancelot Imasuen and Zeb Ejiro leading the charge. But it appears that female producers and actors have decided to seize the bull by the horns and quit the sidelines as they are now making award-winning movies. JOAN OMIONAWELE X-rays the activities of some of these breakout filmmakers.


THE early 20s was not graced with a lot of female producers except for the late Amaka Igwe, who set the pace for others to work and walk on, but Emem Isong, a female producer and director did not mind being a greenhorn in the field. Isong, who co-runs Royal Arts Academy with Nollywood acts Uche Jombo Rodriguez, Desmond Elliot and Monalisa Chinda, has been going against all odds and rising over the challenges of movie production in Africa for over a decade. Having featured hundreds of actors and actresses in her movies, Isong has shown that her love for filmmaking is not just a job but a burning passion. She has over 30 movies to her credit.

As the much-anticipated award winners in the 2016 edition of the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) are unveiled today, it has emerged that Nollywood actresses are no longer comfortable with being confined to the action aspect of movie making by producing their own movies. Breakout producers such as Genevieve Nnaji, Stephanie Linus and Omoni Oboli especially stand out.

Nnaji’s Road to Yesterday, a movie which reflects the past of a couple’s turbulent marriage, was nominated at the AMVCAs in six out of the 26 categories. And it contends for the Best Overall Movie (Africa) category with six other films; Dry, by another award-winning actress, Linus; Freetown (Adam Abel and Garrett Batty), Ayanda (Sara Blecher), Tell Me Sweet Something (Akin Omotosho), Silverain (Juliet Asante) as well as House Arrest (Joseph Kenneth Ssebaggala).

The movie was also nominated in Best Writer of a Movie/TV Series (Emil B. Garuba), Best Director (Ishaya Bako), Best Actress in a Drama (Genevieve Nnaji), Best Picture Editor (Chuka Ejorh), Best Movie – West Africa (Chinny Onwugbenu, Genevieve Nnaji, Chichi Nwoko) and Best Sound Editor (Kulanen Ikyo).

Slithering through the entertainment airspace is Mildred Okwo, who also has carved out her own niche in the industry with her movies, The Meeting, a satire that mirrors the corruption in Nigeria’s civil service, which won lots of awards after its release and the new movie, Surulere, which was co-produced with her business partner and Nollywood actress, Rita Dominic.

Although Okwo reveals that movie making is difficult in Nigeria, her company, The Audrey Silva Company, is willing to keep trying until they finally get it. “We know we still have a lot more work to do on our films, but we will get there someday soon, she said. Okwo also clinched the Best Director award at the fourth Africa Movie Academy Awards.

Linus’s second attempt at movie production with her recent flick, Dry, has been rewarded with five awards at the Best of Nollywood awards (BON) as well as the Best Movie at the Zulu African Awards (Zafaa Awards). Now, at the AMVCA, Dry also made a statement in eight categories: Best Overall Movie (AFRICA), Best Costume Designer (Uche Nancy), Best Makeup Artist (Gabriel Okorie), Best Director (Stephanie Linus), Best Supporting Actress (Zubaidat Ibrahim Fagge), Best Art Director (Gabriel Okorie), Best Cinematographer (Angel Barroeta), Best Movie, West Africa as well as Best Sound Editor (Marquex Jose Guillermo).

With the success recorded by her counterparts in the field, Omoni Oboli decided to up the ante by also proceeding from being an award-winning actress to producing her own movies — Being Mrs Elliot and The First Lady. Records show that she is the first actress to break box office record at the cinemas. Her movie was a financial success with N20 million made from a nationwide distribution across cinemas. The actress, who has been praised for her roles in movies such as Anchor Baby, Figurine, Render to Caesar, among other flicks, is doing great with her new status as a movie producer.

The Yoruba movie scene is not left out as Iyabo Ojo, Mercy Aigbe-Gentry, Funke Akindele, Eniola Badmus and a host of others have also set in motion processes that would birth their personal movies.

Light-skinned actress and CEO, Mag Divas, Mercy Aigbe-Gentry, who has produced a few movies, including Osas and Victims, also clinched yet another award nomination at the 2016 edition of the AMVCA in the Best Indigenous Movie, Yoruba category, with her latest movie, Victims. It will be recalled that Aigbe-Gentry is the first Yoruba actress to win an AMVCA award.

Sadly, it has not been a smooth sail as stakeholders have continued to identify piracy as a cankerworm in the Nigerian movie industry. Worse still, there are hardly any sources of funds to embark on successful projects. Such finances often have to come from personal pockets.

Aigbe-Gentry told Saturday Tribune: “One of our major challenges is finance. It is difficult to put resources together to produce a movie. I put my personal resources together with that of my husband to produce my movies and it is never enough.

“Another huge problem is piracy. Every producer is a businessman or businesswoman. Aside from the passion, we hope to produce these movies and get our money back with profit. But these days, before you even finish packaging a movie and send it to your target audience, it is already out there with the pirates who sell to unsuspecting members of the public. It is disturbing, really disturbing.”

Asked if she had made inquiries about the plans of Bank of Industry (BOI) to give loans to thespians and moviemakers to aid production, distribution and exhibition of their movies across outlets in the country, Aigbe-Gentry stated that she had not tried to secure loans because of the huge interests attached to them. According to her, “we will continue to do our best. Our best is yet to come.”

Also on the radar is delectable Tope Oshin-Ogun, who has, against all odds, chosen to be a trailblazer on the entertainment scene. The movie director claims to be inspired by the late Amaka Igwe. Oshin-Ogun has also carved a niche for herself as a producer cum director of drama series as well as movie. Tinsel drama series is one of the soaps that she has handled. Tope has produced a couple of short films as well as well as directed a movie, Journey to Self.

In the same vein, Nollywood actress, Funke Akindele, who took movie lovers by surprise with her movie, Jenifa years ago, has not rested on her oars as she has produced a follow-up to the movie, Jenifa’s Diaries. Pundits had advised the actress to take a bolder step by documenting the activities of her movie character “Jenifa” into a series. The pieces of advice culminated in the birth of the title Jenifa’s Diaries, which airs on the Nigerian Television Authorities (NTA), Africa Independent Television (AIT), among other stations. The actress constantly brings innovations to her series by introducing various comedians like Folarin Falana, a.k.a. Falzthebahdguy (who is also a rapper), Kaponesky and other popular thespians in the industry. Other actress who have produced their own movies include Ruky Sanda, Iyabo Ojo,  Monalisa Chinda, Ini Edo, Fathia Balogun, Lizzy Anjonrin and Dayo Amusa.

As these female producers seek to abide by the tenets of entertainment, which are basically to entertain and educate the public, it is evident that piracy and funding remain major hindrances to their activities. But they do not want to be seen as mere female producers as they strive to make a difference, giving their male counterparts a run for their money. They are proving that they are not merely for the sidelines but as image makers in the industry. They also have unique African stories to tell.