Culture, Featured

History of Nollywood – A Global Powerhouse

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 1, 2023

The film’s origins in Nigeria date back to the colonial period and are closely linked to pivotal moments in Nigeria’s history (Okon,1990).

Mr Balboa was the first to introduce film to Lagos state in 1903. While touring West Africa with his troop, he was invited by Herbert Macaulay, who had secured a reservation at the memorial hall to provide fascinating film entertainment to audiences in Lagos state.

The duration of the film exhibition was The first public showing of film during the colonial era was in 1903 at the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos, titled “the coronation of King Edward VII.” After Balboa had left Lagos, Mr Stanley Jones showed more films. Although his fees for Nigerian audiences were high, Nigerians had grown to love and be interested in films such as Egyptian Wonders,1902, and Cinderella 1902, so they couldn’t resist despite the cost.

A documentary about a Yoruba king’s visit to England, Akale of Abeokuta, was shown to a Nigerian audience at the Glover memorial hall, and they were all amazed. This sparked excitement among Nigerians, who were relieved that they were gradually being featured in films.

The films from this era were made by the West, not Africans, and featured stereotypical depictions of Africans. The goal of the usher of cinema was not entirely to distribute and introduce their political and colonial advocacy. It was also used for social entertainment.

They were constantly producing films abroad and distributing them to colonies. These films were created for a variety of reasons, including religion, education, entertainment, and propaganda. The colonists approached the film’s production and distribution as a commercial venture. However, making films for commercial purposes was prohibited in order to avoid demeaning the colonial administration. Christian missionaries also funded the creation of films to teach people about Christ.

Due to a lack of theatres, these films were shown on travelling cinema vans to Nigerian negatives.
There were already many cinemas in 1914, and by 1920, Lagos had five halls showing films every evening. These films’ ShowTimes were advertised in newspapers. Because of the illiteracy of the majority of the audience, they were the ones who frequently narrated and interpreted the storyline.

During the 1929 plague outbreak, the head Health officer, Mr Sellers, used film as a medium to educate the Nigerian population on how to control the disease spread by rats. This prompted colonists to use films as a means of transmitting information, resulting in a pre-literate society (shaka,2007)

They expanded by providing mobile vans to deliver instructional films to people in rural areas. This action resulted in the formation of Mobile Film Units (MFU), and later, the colonial film unit (CFU).

The colonial film unit was disbanded not long after, and the film unit in Nigeria was renamed the federal film unit (FFU) in order to establish a film industry in Nigeria. As a result, their colonial government sent a small group of people to Ghana for six months to learn about film production. Following their return, the FFU staff became part of a delegation sent to Ghana to learn the craft of filmmaking under the direction of N.F.

In 1953, the FFU reorganised and expanded its offices, spreading across various African regions. ‘Fincho’ by Sam Zebba is the first feature film shot in Nigeria by a Nigerian and in colour. Geoffrey Barkas, a British film director, shot a film in Nigeria called ‘Palaver’ prior to the production of ‘Fincho’ in 1926.

After the colonialists left, the Nigerian film organisation that took over the film industry continued in the colonialists’ footsteps by focusing on producing documentaries. They followed in the footsteps of colonial governments, using vans to transport and exhibit films to the majority of Nigerians living in rural areas. However, due to a lack of mobile vans, most rural residents were denied this opportunity.

After returning from film production studies in Europe and North America, individuals such as Ola Balogun, Jab Adu, Eddy Ugbomah, Adamu Halilu, and others became promising independent filmmakers by 1970.
1975 -1985 was a glorious period in Nigerian Cinema as Ola Balogun produced ‘Amadi’ and Sanya Dosuma shot ‘Dinner with the devil’. These two productions were carried out in collaboration with the two earliest film companies: Afrocult and Starline.

The majority of filmmakers during this time period were Yoruba. They had travelling theatre companies and successfully transitioned from stage to film. During this period, Ola Balogun directed Aiye in 1979, Aropin N’tenia in 1982, and Ija Ominira in 1982 for Adeyemi Folayan Film Company.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian government’s NFC was not carefully planned out to implement goals that would avoid bureaucracy and interference with creativity in film production. Due to this setback, the NFC did not achieve much in film production until the arrival of Nollywood in 1992, which resulted in the formation of the Films and Video Censors Board in 1993.

The indigenisation period in Nigerian film history was characterised by filmmakers who attempted to make impressive films but were unsuccessful. As Lebanese and Indian film exhibitors and distributors dominated the Nigerian film exhibitions and distribution sector, the Nigerian film industry attempted to strengthen and establish itself as a Nigerian factor in opposition to their influences (Okon,1990).

Nollywood emerged in the twenty-first century as a result of a variety of factors, the most important of which is economics. The increase in video producers and filmmakers was caused by the low cost of video technologies as well as the recognition and demand for home entertainment. The military regime and the implementation of the structural Adjustment Program (SAP) in 1986 had an impact on the Niagara economy. This resulted in less funding for celluloid productions, resulting in the use of video films.

The emergence of video films aided in depicting the sordid and baroque features of urban residents (Okome,2001).

Video culture has progressed to the point where it is now the most dazzling sector of Nigerian media. The demise of the celluloid industry resulted in television taking over the audiovisual entertainment sector.

Kenneth Nnebu’s production of ‘Living in Bondage’ in 1992 was made possible by the enormous popularity of television. He was aware of how Nigerians were entertained by soap operas on television, so he assumed they would be interested in similar storylines. This film popularised films shot with video cameras. Following this, they produced other films such as Nneka the Pretty Serpent, Glamour Girls, Taboo, and others, and they have progressed in filmmaking since then.

In 2005, the NFVCB approved the release of 1292 locally produced films to the market, making it Nigeria’s second largest employer.
All of these factors shaped and refined the growth and development of Nollywood, which has now grown to become the world’s second-largest film industry, providing a diverse range of entertainment to its viewers.

Finally, the evolution of the Nigerian film industry has been remarkable, from the establishment of a Colonial Film Unit to the emergence of Nollywood. The industry has grown into a global powerhouse, creating jobs and contributing to Nigeria’s economy. With the rise of “New Nollywood,” the Nigerian film industry’s future looks bright, and we can expect to see more quality films from the country in the coming years.


  • “The video-film industry of Nigeria has been described as one of the greatest explosions of popular culture that Africa has ever seen. It is the first economically self-sustainable film…” URL:
  • “This article reviews the history of the Nigerian film industry and how it developed into what is known today as the Nigerian video film industry or Nollywood. It traces the development from its beginning with the establishment of a Colonial Film Unit by the British for producing propaganda newsreels, which set the pace for the development of filmmaking in Nigeria, to the emergence of indigenous …” URL:
  • “The Nollywood film industry emerged as a popular cultural industry, as well as an (essentially) a postcolonial cinema. … What particularly led to the evolution of Nollywood as a postcolonial film industry? The brief existence of celluloid filmmaking in Nigeria, and its eventual demise occurred as a result of the economic decline during the mid …” URL:

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