With its population of about 200 million, Nigeria is home to Africa’s most vibrant movie industry. What is today known as Nollywood began a little over 20 years ago and by 2015 it had become a global phenomenon, placing third after Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. This global visibility was enhanced by the online streaming service Netflix, which lists a number of Nigerian movies on its site.
Nigeria is home to Africa’s most vibrant movie industry.
Because of their vast and growing audience, both in Africa and abroad, Nigerian movies are very influential. So below are some positive and negative things I’ve noticed in Nigerian movies over the years. These are worth sharing due to the sheer number of people who watch and are influenced by these movies.
The Positive Influences of Nigerian Films
1. They Regularly Display God’s Power as Ultimate
Nigerian movies are often centred on themes such as witchcraft or the supernatural, rags to riches, twisted love or comedy, and sometimes a blend of all the aforementioned themes. Nollywood films are known to have weak plots. Sometimes they’re shot on a meagre budget, with handheld camcorders and poor audio quality. Despite all of this they still resonate with people all over the continent. And I believe that this is in part because of their portrayal of God as omnipotent.
Once they turn to prayer, things begin to fall into place.
It is quite common to watch a Nigerian movie in which a family is struggling with a disease, barrenness, job loss or some other misfortune. They will seek witchdoctors’ help to no avail. But once they turn to prayer, things begin to fall into place. Movies such as the 1999 classic Narrow Escape capture such themes of God’s supremacy, as well as End of the Wicked and Billionaire’s Club.
2. Nollywood often Upholds Traditional Christian Values
Nigerian movies often uphold traditional Christian values. These include one man being married to one wife (1 Corinthians 7:2-3; 1 Timothy 3:3); a hardworking husband who provides for his family (1 Timothy 5:8); and avoiding scenes that display outright nudity (Ephesians 5:3). Displays of affection are typically chaste and considerate. Certain production companies in Nollywood, such as Mount Zion Movies, don’t display any physical contact in romantic settings.
3. They Propagate African Values
Cheating spouses either end up dying or getting into some kind of supernatural trouble because they dated someone’s ghost, or a polygamous husband’s newest wife tries to poison the son of the first wife. A movie like Chief Daddy, for example, centres on a rich polygamous man who dies leaving behind a lot of wealth. This leaves the family divided, fighting over his possessions. The message of the movie is quite clear: disputes will always arise over who gets what when a rich polygamist dies. So, avoid polygamy. Simultaneously the African values of family and togetherness (or Ubuntu) is always to be valued.
4. Nigerian Films Reinforce the Idea of an African Identity
In the Netflix movie Lost in London, two Nigerian friends who overstay their visas after a school exchange program in London run into each other. They then try to figure out a way to survive the harsh English winter, since they packed light, coming from a tropical climate. Their main focus is to get jobs and send as much money back to their poor families in Nigeria as possible.
In The Wedding Party 2, a Nigerian man, Nonso, accidentally proposes to a British girl, Deidre. The girl’s aristocratic family reluctantly agrees to a lavish wedding party in Dubai, while Nonso’s family don’t support him marrying a white woman. The planned lavish party features the groom’s family, clad in colourful, traditional African regalia. They insist on the payment of a bride price (or lobola as it is called in South Africa) before the wedding can proceed. Of course, the girl’s upper class British family is completely unaccustomed to this African practice.
Two of Nollywood’s Downsides
1. The Line Between Pastors and Witchdoctors is Blurred
Nollywood movies tend to place pastors or Christian prophets on a pedestal. In fact, they’re often cast in a similar light to witchdoctors.
Pastors in Nigerian films usually identify every problem as a spiritual one.
Movie scenes where a pastor tells someone walking into his office: “I had a vision about you, before you walked in,” are very common. Without pointing viewers to sound biblical teaching, pastors in Nigerian films usually identify every problem as a spiritual one. Thus they typically prescribe “deliverance,” identifying some “curse” as the cause of that person or family’s problems. Pastors are portrayed as powerful “men of God,’’ in possession of demon-binding powers. Furthermore the words of these pastors seem to supersede those of the Bible, as they make pronouncements that are reminiscent of those witchdoctors make in their shrines.
2. The Notion of Spirit Husbands or Spirit Wives is Prominent
Nigerian movies have been a key instrument in helping to cement the notion of ‘spirit wives’ and ‘spirit husbands’ in Africa. According to Zambian pastor, Conrad Mbewe, “The belief is that when your marriage is breaking up due to a husband who seems to have lost interest in you, or you have serious gynaecological problems, or you are having miscarriages, it is because you have a spirit called a ‘spirit husband.’ These spirits cause problems for us in the spiritual realm … Thus, it is claimed, you need deliverance in order to have a wholesome and healthy marriage.”
Movies such as My Husband And His Spirit Wife, directed by Onyeka Ikechi, the film series Spirit Wife, and My Mermaid Wife are just a few of the many Nigerian movies that promote this idea, even though there is no scriptural basis for believing in spirit husbands and spirit wives.
Storytelling is Always Teaching
The entertainment industry in Africa holds great sway over the population, many of whom take what they see in movies as an accurate depiction of reality. So movies that encourage beliefs that are not biblically founded are dangerous. As Paul writes: “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). And this discipline also has to do with what we let into our minds (Romans 12:2).
The Kendrick brothers who run a movie production company and directed the well-known Christian movie War Room, recognise the influence possessed by filmmakers: “Behind the words and decisions of all speakers, writers, or filmmakers is a set of core beliefs and values that influence everything they do. Whether we realize it or not, our values shape the way we work and live. Each of our lives can influence untold numbers of people, so we believe it is imperative that our core values are clearly defined and result in lives well-lived and examples worth following.” Therefore as viewers we must be discerning.