Despite the widely accepted, but debatable definition of Nollywood as the Nigerian film industry, it’s astonishing that the Nigerian animation industry is often treated as completely distinct and separate from Nollywood regardless of its vibrant creativity and potential to transform storytelling in the Nigerian entertainment landscape.
The Animation Ascendance
Earlier this year, former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo shared his perspective on the potential opportunities of the creative sector specifically emphasizing on the animation industry. This happened at the private screening of the first ever animated musical in Nigeria, titled ‘Gammy and the Living Things‘. He stressed that the animation industry holds immense potential for exportable content, which could result in job creation for thousands of young Nigerians.
Adebimpe Adebambo, the lead, and Esther Kemi Gbadamosi, alongside a cohort of other passionate creatives and animators, have long spearheaded of a campaign aimed at inspiring the younger generation to embrace animation. Gbadamosi, a media consultant and stop motion animator believes animation offers a unique platform for self-expression:
“When we go out and we tell young people about animation, it’s to say look there is a path here. A lot of people have a story to tell. Animation is an expressive platform.”
Indeed, animation offers a viable path in the creative industry fostering job creation and opportunities for those entering the field. Coincidentally, their ongoing efforts align with Yemi Osinbajo’s forseen prospects for the animation industry.
The Animation landscape has flourished in recent years, experiencing remarkable growth powered by the influx of skilled animators and burgeoning studios e.g SPOOF! Animation, Magic Carpet studios, Maverick Studios, Orange VFX, etc.
As these advancements continue, animation has expanded into mainstream culture. In the last five years, it has become a significant part of popular culture and is now positioned for success. Netflix’s acquisition of Nigeria’s first animated feature, ‘Lady Buckit & The Motley Mopsters,’ in 2021 marked a pivotal moment. It notably excelled in depicting Oloibiri, the oil-rich town in Bayelsa State with the authentic use of Nigerian language by characters, voiced by Nollywood veterans like Patrick Doyle and Bimbo Akintola, which stood out as a strong representation.
There has been a major push in the Nigerian animation scene to create stories of themselves by themselves, as emphasized by Adebimpe Adebambo: “telling our stories ourselves using a different format.” Animation thus serves a distinct avenue of telling our stories authentically with an inclusion of creativity. Through animation, storytelling can’t be confined, allowing imaginations come to life effortlessly. Unlike traditional film production involving expenses for actors and physical materials, animation offers the flexibility to fabricate and recreate scenes more-cost effectively.
But with this advantages that animation presents, why is it still not recognised as much as Nollywood?
Nigerian Animation’s Uphill Battle: Recognition and Representation
Notwithstanding these advantages, Esther Gbadamosi, highlighted that animators are often disregarded, marginalized, and not recognized as significant contributors in the industry. The uphill battle for recognition among animators within Nollywood is compounded by several severe challenges: scant funding and limited resources, feeble distribution networks and ineffective marketing strategies, and high competition from foreign animations.
Within the Nigerian society, a prevailing stereotype persists: viewing animation, often labelled simply as “cartoons”—as exclusively for children, thus rendering it seemingly inconsequential. It’s crucial to note that animation is crafted by adults, often conveying messages rooted in adult experiences while interpreting the essence of childhood for children to consume.
Even for the fact that representation is important, especially for children, true representation emerges when children witness characters in animation who resemble them, speak their language, and live experiences akin to their own, instead of being inundated with foreign narratives. This need for relatability and connection applies not only to children but resonates universally among adults and the Nigerian populace at large.
And that’s where cultural representation come in. Cultural representation in animation is essential as it allows Nigerians to see themselves and their stories reflected on screen. By showcasing the country’s diverse cultures, traditions, and folklore, animation helps to preserve and celebrate Nigeria’s rich heritage. By portraying Nigerian culture in a positive light, animation can instill a sense of pride and identity in young Nigerians. It can also inspire them to learn more about their heritage and traditional values.
Bridging the Gap
It’s of great joy that at the 2023 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award (AMVCA), under the category of Best Short Film, two animation films get nominated: The Song Maiden, and Pa Aromire, with the latter winning the category. This victory is achieved after 9 years of the AMVCA awards!
It is however disheartening that despite this recognition, animation still longs for its deserved category, separate and independent, to fully showcase its uniqueness and contributions.
Nollywood holds a crucial role in promoting the Nigerian animation sector by actively supporting and showcasing animated content. Collaborations between Nollywood and animators can lead to exciting new projects that blend storytelling prowess with animation techniques. Sponsorships from Nollywood can offer financial backing, while government funding can provide essential support for the growth and development of the animation industry. By joining forces, Nollywood can propel the Nigerian animation sector forward, giving it the visibility and resources needed to thrive.
Nollywood bears the responsibility of acknowledging and elevating the animation sector within its industry, integrating it as an integral part of the larger film landscape. Embracing the animation industry as its own and fostering mutual growth ensures that both sectors progress harmoniously without neglecting each other’s significance.
Fun fact: Did you know a 14 year-old recreated the trailer for ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse’ entirely with Legos? The filmmakers saw it on Twitter and hired him to animate a scene in the actual film!
By Shalom Obisesan