The President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Emeka Rollas, dropped a truth bomb: Nigerian actors aren’t in the global film spotlight. He hinted that Nigerian actors born or living abroad might possess a heightened opportunity at cracking into the big leagues, especially in Hollywood.

“How many films are shot in Hollywood that you will say you have Nollywood actors involved, apart from maybe indigenous Nigerians who have lived abroad or were born abroad?”

Nollywood veteran actress, Stella Damasus adds to this, stating:

“If you notice, most of the Nigerians that have done big screen movies in Hollywood are people that were raised in England…They are Nigerians from the UK. David Oyelowo, John Boyega, Leticia Wright, all of those people. Even other people from other African countries that have made it into the big screen movies, most of them came from the UK.”

So, the compelling question echoes: Why does the golden gate to Hollywood seem elusive for Nollywood actors?

Brace yourself for this delightfully humorous truth bomb!

Nigerian accents! Stella Damasus explained. She highlighted the advantage Nigerian actors abroad have: “Most of them have a different type of accent.”

She didn’t stop there. Continuing, she shared her own experience.

“I’ve gone to meet certain agents and managers who have told me “oh we’ll love to work with you but we will need to make sure that there are enough roles for someone like you”. I was like “What do you mean someone like me?” Then they said to me “we want an African to be very dark. That’s the kind of African that we are used to. We’re not used to your type of African. We want Lupita dark.”

They said, “So you’re not dark enough and you’re not white, you’re not light enough to be half-cast so it’s hard to place you. You’re not mixed race. Then your accent. You don’t sound American. You don’t sound British. Neither do you sound African.”

This hints at stereotypical perceptions within the international industry regarding the appearance, accents, and roles of not just Nigerian, but African individuals as well. These perceptions exacerbate the challenge of authentic representation on a global scale, highlighting the ongoing struggle for fair portrayal and recognition.

This presents a significant barrier because when Nigerian individuals present their authentic selves, they often don’t conform to the stereotypical image of Nigerians or Africans that the industry expects. Consequently, right from the selection stage, they’re dismissed, failing to align with these predefined standards.

Another significant hurdle arises from disparities in cultural contexts where stories might originate from (like the discourse around ‘Black Panther’), different storytelling styles, and the diverse expectations of audiences. Understanding and catering to the preferences of the audience is important as it dictates the kind of content that resonates and succeeds within the industry. As Stella Damasus explains:

“They’re like “But that’s what Hollywood wants. That’s what they’re used to. They’re not used to people like you yet.””

Which is disappointing, but understandable at the same time.

Moreover, it is encouraging to witness some Nigerian actors making notable strides on the global stage. For instance, luminaries like Jim Iyke’s performance in ‘And Then There Was You’, Stephanie Linus’s captivating role in ‘Boonville Redemption’, and Genevieve Nnaji’s powerful portrayal in ‘Farming’ signify the growing presence of Nigerian talent in international productions. Additionally, the remarkable contributions of actors like Stanley Aguzie, seen in acclaimed series such as ‘Vikings’, ‘Into the Badlands’, and ‘Teens Who Kill Snowing’, further exemplify the expanding footprint of Nigerian actors in diverse and prominent roles across the global entertainment landscape.

Indeed, it would be a significant achievement to witness more Nigerian actors securing their place within the prominent circles of the global entertainment industry. Expanding their presence in these larger circles not only celebrates their talent but also contributes to greater diversity, representation, and recognition of Nigerian storytelling and performance prowess on a grander scale.

So, how can the Nigerian film industry break in?

First, by doing our thing. To break into the global film industry, the Nigerian film sector must start by honing its craft and concentrating on internal development. Nollywood has already made significant strides, showcasing remarkable potential for further growth. Embracing Stella’s sentiment, it’s crucial to focus on fostering a thriving local industry that stands tall on the international stage.

“We’ll do our thing. We’ll make our money. But then we have to come back home and say, this is where things are. This is where we’re appreciated.”

Speaking of appreciation, the significance of Nigerian and African festivals cannot be overstated. These events serve as pivotal platforms for showcasing our talents, celebrating indigenous storytelling, and gaining the appreciation that our vibrant film industry deserves. Festivals like the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), Women’s International Film Festival Nigeria (WIFFEN), Abuja International Film Festival (AIFF), Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards (AMVCA), etc.

The initiative behind the AGN International Festival, spearheaded by Mr Rollas in hopeful collaborations with the International Federation of Actors, FIA, and Screen Actors Guild of America, Nigerian actors can pave their way into coveted circles of global entertainment.

Conclusively, taking a note from Funke Akindele on Sunday, 10th December at the premiere of her awaited film, ‘Tribe Called Judah’, she expressed a poignant sentiment.

“We have to keep celebrating Nollywood. We have to keep celebrating our African stories.”

It’s time to celebrate and elevate our own narratives onto the world stage!

By Shalom Oluwabukami

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