The belief that the Nigerian audience is only interested in comedic stories is erroneous. There is proof that the Nigerian audience is also interested and ready in stories that would evoke other ranges of human emotions.
By Babawande Thomas
In 2014, I woke up at about 4 am in an anxious state and started penning the first line to a tv show pilot that I had wandering around my head for quite some time. Now I have always had a passion for creative expression through TV, film, and documentaries and would even go as far as crediting my early exposure through these all too well-engaging media, however it was not until this 4 am experience in the summer of 2014 that I realized that this was what I was always meant to do.
Fast forward a couple months to January 2016, I had moved back to Nigeria the year prior, teamed up with some left thinking creatives, some amazing burgeoning actors and developed a pilot. Using the Hollywood model in mind, I believed that I could shop it around for a few weeks, months tops and then find a TV channel, media company or corporate entity to back it and bam, I’d become the 24-year-old kid who’s got this amazing TV show and be well on my way to becoming an overnight success. However,I came to the rude awakening after tireless pitch efforts, the story wasn’t what the mass market consumed and although the people I pitched this show too consumed Hollywood content that it drew parallels from, they just weren’t willing to take the risk.
In hindsight I don’t blame them, I have long buried that pilot but till today herald it as one expensive crash course in Nigerian content, knowing your audience and adapting.
The other day I stumbled on a list of the Top grossing films in Nigeria, and although this list was a bit dated to 2017, I found that about 60% of the top 10 were “Comedies”, of which 4 of those titles belonged to 2 sequels. Now I love comedy a whole lot, however amidst all that humor were a couple of films of the non-comedic genre that I had watched and believed were pretty good but received underwhelming box office numbers.
I’d always wondered why more of these non-comedic stories weren’t being told and secondly why the ones that were made and were good and had decent production value suffered painful commercial deaths on the big and small screen.
Nigeria’s demography is 70% plus youth, however, what people neglect to point out is a huge majority of that youth demography isn’t urban and literate, therefore, the easiest genre to translate to their sensibilities is the comedy, especially those that are physical, slapstick and devoid of long dialogue.
Now I strongly refute the theory that the Nigerian audience isn’t ready to consume in high volumes genres ranging from Horror to thrillers, biopics and more. The tagline I hear consistently is “we have too many problems, we just want to laugh”. However, Nigerians are also curious people, as much intrigued as superstitious.
In the home video era, various genre’s other than comedy thrived in their waves. The mid to late 90’s saw Evangelical and other horrors (Karashika, Agbara Nla) become wildly popular and the late 90’s to early 2000’s also saw the boom of epic thrillers (Saworo Ide, Diamond ring), while the 2000’s witnessed the likes of Genevieve Nnaji, Mercy Johnson and Jim Iyke gain household name status due to their roles in many “Romantic” flicks.
Now more than ever before, the technology and skill set is at a decent enough level for filmmakers of various genre persuasions to tell more diverse stories in many diverse ways than ever before. The only way we can begin to see diversity in the representation of film, TV and online content more is if we as storytellers get even more creative, shun pretentious habits and connect with the audience in a language they can easily relate, connect and process.
It could be new stories, retelling old classics to a new demographic of viewers who never saw the classic home videos also triggering nostalgia in the older demo, or creating biopics of one of the many colorful characters that exist in Nigeria’s rich history. Nigeria is prime for the new wave of diverse content.
There is a wide range of human emotions and Nigerian Audience aren’t exempt. We don’t always have to laugh when we go to the cinema or turn on the TV, we could also cry, scare or be thrilled by the content we consume.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.