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A History Lesson of Africa’s Biggest Film Industry

Back in 2004, a powerful cabal of film studios and distributors controlled Nigeria’s film industry, which was laser-focused on DVDs and videos rather than the cinematic culture common elsewhere. But even on DVD, superstars emerged, and their power threatened to overtake the era’s producers. So the studios made a bold move: They banned eight A-list actors from working for a year. Known as the G8, the actors were put on blast for charging what studios considered to be exorbitant fees for their work and for demanding upfront payments. At the time, Nigerian film was running on a shoestring, and with piracy eating into their profits, studios were willing to take desperate measures to keep budgets low. During the ban, more Nollywood actors was hired to replace the talent lost, allowing a new crop of A-listers to arise. But the consensus for those looking back is that the ban was ineffective when it came to controlling the superstars who were demanding a place at the table — and in fact led to them taking the reins. Genevieve Nnaji, who rose to stardom as a child actor, continued acting after her ban was ended but also branched out into music and advertising. But it’s behind the camera of her first feature, Lionheart, that Nnaji became an international sensation. When Netflix acquired the film, the deal was reportedly worth $3.8 million. The cabal, meanwhile, has largely gone underground, making way for a Nollywood industry transformation from video to cinema.