Is Denzel Filming A Movie In Nollywood? Why More Black Actors Should Go To Nollywood

January 24, 2013  |  

According to a number of West African publications including Ghana Vibe, Academy Award-winning actor and top on the list of everybody’s favorite black actor Denzel Washington, is in Nigeria for the filming of his first Nollywood film.

There is not much more information about the alleged film, particularly what it is about. However the reports all say that the film is called Spider Basket and that is is supposedly co-funded by Nigerian businessman Dennis Osadebe, who is quoted in saying, “Denzel is just one of many Hollywood stars that I want to witness the talents in this country and to impact significantly on Nollywood. Others are coming.”

Don’t know if this is genuine or just some wishful thinking, which has spun out of control on the internet; however the idea of a major black, Hollywood star, particularly one of Washington’s caliber, signing up for a film produced out of Nollywood, makes me extremely excited. Something like that could progressively pave the way for more trans-Atlantic collaborations between blacks on different continents. It would be like a Marcus Garvey dream realized – at least on film.

Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit, however there does appear to be a number of American, black actors seeking work in Africa. And I’m not just talking about mainstream, or even independent, Hollywood Out-of-Africa films, which might feature a American black actor and is largely conceived out of the fantasies of white directors.  I’m talking about films, conceived and written from the minds of black folks.

Like Isiah Washington, who has virtually disappeared from Hollywood after being fired from his hit television “Grey’s Anatomy” for calling his former cast mate a gay slur. Last year Washington starred in the Nigerian film Dr. Bello, a story about a American black doctor, who goes to Nigeria on the hunt of a special African potion that will cure cancer, and could help save his medical career and an African doctor from prison. The film, which also stars Haitian-born actor Jimmy Jean Louis and A-list Nigerian actresses Genevieve Nnaji and Stephanie Okereke, was written and directed by Tony Abulu, a Nigerian-raised founder of Black Ivory Communication, who has a history of taking Pan-Africanism approach into his film making. According to his bio, his previous film Back to Africa, also joined together an American cast and crew with their Nigerian counterparts. According to a recent article in the New York Times, Washington said, “…he signed on in part because he was drawn to the opportunity to “cross-pollinate” Hollywood and Nollywood.”

Vivica Fox, who is staring opposite of Washington in Dr. Bello, has also appeared in other black African-produced cinema, most recently Jeta Amata’s Black Gold and Niyi Towolawi’s Turning Point, a film, which also giving new life to mostly forgotten about American black actors Ernie Hudson (Ghost Busters) and Todd Bridges (“Different Strokes”). Nollywood has also provide opportunities for current working actors, whose success in Hollywood has yet to reach household name status.  Such is the case for Gbenga Akinnagbe, a American actor born to Nigerian parents and most known for playing Chris Partlow on the television show “The Wire.” He was able to not only star but produce his very own crime drama in Nigeria called “Render to Caesar.” According to publish reports, Akinnagbe was able to secure funding for his project from former Nigerian banker.

Depending on whom you ask, Nigeria’s Nollywood is either the second or third largest film industry in the world. What is certain though, is that Nollywood is definitely holding its own with Hollywood and the Indian counterpart Bollywood, producing over 2,000 films annually and generating profits into the hundred of millions. According to an article last year in Black Enterprise:

Similar to model used by African-American filmmaker Tyler Perry in the states, the films are typically produced at a very modest budget and yield a high return. With an average production rate of $15,000, Nollywood films often yield up to 10 times that amount in return. Nollywood filmmakers—eager to use Black American talent in order to broaden their international appeal—say that while the actors might not be able to demand the same paycheck as actors like Denzel Washington would for “Safe House” or Viola Davis would for “The Help,” the sky’s the limit on the types of stories they can tell.”

The pie in the sky is not also limited to story telling as Nollywood’s ever-expanding distribution network. Last year’s launch of a streaming-video library called iROKOtv, helped bring African cinema to new audiences across the African Diaspora, particularly in the UK, Caribbean and America markets. Likewise, a recent report suggests that the global popularity of the Nigerian film industry will be a major growth driver, with an expected compound annual growth of 3 percent in the country’s leisure sector. With that said, Nollywood is still a work in progress and more often then not, Nollywood films are plagued by poor story development, shoddy audio and technical error. However it’s continued growth over the years – not just in dollars but in actual film production – also proves that the industry has longevity and is able to stand on its own, outside of Hollywood’s power and authority.

The latter is extremely important, especially when considering solutions to the difficulty that black writers, directors and actors in the West face in terms of finding work or getting a project financed and backed through Hollywood. Not to mention the continued debates which spawn from the representation of black folks in films like Django Unchained and the soon to be released Nina Simone biopic. Nollywood might not be perfect but it should also be thought of as another viable avenue for blacks in the film industry to validate our own.

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