Editi Effiong’s excitement is contagious. It hasn’t been three weeks since his crime thriller. The black book, premiered on Netflix, and the film has already been viewed more than 70 million times. “I’m doing very well,” says Effiong. “You create something and watch it go out into the world, it would make a difference [anyone] Happy.”
The black book is one of the most expensive Nigerian films ever made, with a budget of $1 million, raised in part by Nigeria’s tech elite, including fintech unicorn Flutterwave’s co-founder Gbenga Abgoola and Odun Eweniyi Piggyvest. The film’s success – it occupied the most-watched spot on the platform in South Korea and has been the number two film in several countries in South America for over a week – makes it one of Nigeria’s rare breakthroughs on streaming platforms, and perhaps a validation of it Netflix’s decision to invest in “Nollywood,” as the local industry is known.
“Thanks to The black book“Nollywood filmmakers can now say, ‘Bet on us, back us with the right funding, and we’ll give you films that can compete globally on your streamer,'” says Daniel Okechukwu, a Nigerian film writer.
Effiong began his dramatic career writing and directing church plays, which led him to production design. While working on a play about the crucifixion of Jesus at the age of 12, he became obsessed with building the right cross, spent time designing realistic Roman Empire uniforms, and even developed a prop that squirted fake blood when soldiers in the play were “stabbed” with a spear.
That’s the kind of ingenuity it takes to succeed in Nollywood, which has always been a low-budget venture. Although his stories were often overly theatrical and moralistic, they always had the ability to entertain. Filmmakers predominantly work with small budgets, between $25,000 and $70,000, with production typically completed within a few months. They initially released their work on cassette tapes, but although the rise of cinemas and streaming networks has improved production quality for filmmakers, the industry remains severely underfunded.
When Netflix officially entered the Nigerian film industry in 2020, many in the industry thought it would bring more money into productions. The streaming giant had previously licensed existing Nigerian films and made them available to its more than 200 million subscribers worldwide. When Nollywood began investing in its own original content, it hoped it would spark a creative and financial boost and give filmmakers the opportunity to explore new avenues. But Netflix’s early titles were broadly similar to those that came before them, in similar genres, albeit with slightly higher production values. And the money wasn’t that great either. Reports have shown that Nigerian filmmakers are paid much less than their counterparts in countries with significantly smaller markets. The average licensing fee for Nigerian films on Netflix is reported to be between $10,000 and $90,000 Techcabalsignificantly less than in other parts of the world.