Nigerian Film Industry





Nigeria boasts a boisterous cinema industry since its inception in the late 19th century up to now. Its beginnings are influenced by the colonial regime but its expansive development can only be accredited to the domestic filmmakers making Nigeria the second most successful cinema industry by worth and production frequency, second only to the Asian film giant India, and surpassing the USA.



Africa was bestowed with the cinema experience as soon as it populated in France in 1890s, brought to the continent by the colonial masters. Nigeria, the British colony in the West African region, was introduced to the cinema the same way.



The first ever film viewing device, the Kinetoscope which enabled a single person to peep at a moving image through a window at the top of the device was what initiated the cinematic experience in colonial Nigeria. The tradition was soon replaced with improved viewing mechanisms which allowed a larger audience at one time. The first film screening took place in Nigeria’s present capital, Lagos, in 1903. However, all the films shown were foreign, given that there was no basis for film-making within Nigeria itself.

European theater companies like Balboa and Company held exhibitions of silent films in Lagos, which were highly profitable, attracting even more European businessmen to approach Nigeria with an influx of Western silent films.

However, a documentary screened in 1904 featuring a Nigerian from the country side – Abeokuta region – visiting England became the first hit film of the decade.



Encouraged by the positive reception of the ‘local’ stories, the western filmmakers proceeded to create films targeting native audiences, mostly empowered by the ‘Mobile Cinema’ convention that was fast becoming popular.

This popularity however was used by the colonial government to raise funds for the First World War, war relief and Red Cross, and even used to propagate and spread western ideals among the colonies. The religion also used film as a means of gaining popularity and spreading missionaries, the end result of it all being the vast expansion of cinema culture across Nigeria, though centered on the emerging capital, Lagos.



1920s saw the first ever film featuring Nigerians in speaking roles. The film, Palaver was a feature film by Geoffrey Barkas, British filmmaker and soldier stationed in Nigeria. It also carried a plot closer to home, of a rivalry between a British officer and a native tin miner.



This decade gave birth to several films set in Nigeria, also featuring the Nigerian actor Orlando Martins who became a one of the most appreciated black actors in Britain.

The growth of the cinema going public increased by the late 1930s, and Lagos became the center, economically and culturally advancing the social atmosphere of the emerging capital.



When the decade came to be, there were Nigerian films being made with native content by native filmmakers, but the exhibition of those were virtually non-existent. This was because the production and distribution was regulated by the Board of Censorship of the colonial government. However, travelling theaters like traditional ‘Yoruba’ theater made the cinema accessible to the locals.

1949 was a turning point. The Nigerian Film Unit was assembled in order to decentralize the colonial film production, and the Nigerian cinema took a turn towards the local.



The state of affairs changed towards the middle of the 50’s decade, and an attempt to ‘Africanize’ the cinema industry could be seen. As a result, the cinema-going culture was established across Nigeria, and the Nigerian film units used the opportunity to broadcast documentaries of local importance. The cinema culture, therefore contributed indirectly towards freeing the Nigerians from the colonized mentality and directing towards independence in 1960.


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