For the first time, Essence Fest – which has been celebrating African American culture in the United States for more than two decades – is devoting a day to Nigeria’s Nollywood film industry – the most prolific in Africa.
Started in the mid 1990s, the Essence Festival of Culture has evolved into one of the world’s largest celebrations of Black music and culture, bringing tens of thousands of attendees to New Orleans each year.
Toyosi Etim-Effiong is leading a delegation of Nigerian actors and filmmakers to the festival, set to run from June 29 to July 3.
“This year is nothing like (what) has ever been seen before at Essence,” says Etim-Effiong, who runs a talent management and content creation and distribution company in Lagos.
“Nigeria will have its own day in terms of the film and TV industry, where we are front and center. We’re going there to show the world how they can collaborate with the film and TV industry in Nigeria.”
The “Nigeria Day” will be held on July 1 featuring movie screenings and panel discussions on topics such as “Creating and Promoting Globally Relatable Content,” and “How to Partner with Nollywood,” organizers say.
“The Nigeria Day is definitely the best part of the entire event,” says Nigerian actor Shawn Faqua. “It’s such an honor to be part of this inaugural official Nollywood delegation to the Essence Festival. The joy of connecting with other amazing Black creatives from other parts of the globe and what possibilities it promises.”
“As the world continues to explore more African stories, I believe the time is right for Nollywood to make a push for global recognition,” says actor and film director Daniel Etim Effiong, who is Toyosi’s husband. “It’s time to reach out to our cousins across the Atlantic for more collaborations and opportunities for partnerships.”
A booming creative industry
Nigeria’s creative economy has witnessed a boom in recent years with the rise of Afrobeats, a West African music genre popularized internationally by Nigerian entertainers. However, the filmmaking component of the industry has yet to catch up.
“Over the years, we have seen how Afrobeats has grown in leaps and bounds and how it has become mainstream. So, you see now there’s an Afrobeats category in the Grammys and other awards worldwide (and there are) monetary rewards. These things are lacking right now in Nollywood,” she said.
The rewards and recognition are trickling in with streaming giants discovering new growth opportunities in Nollywood. Last year, Amazon Prime Video secured exclusive streaming agreements with two Nollywood film studios in its hunt for African content.
The Amazon deal followed earlier investments by US streaming giant Netflix, which began distributing Nollywood films in 2015 and also announced its presence in Nigeria three years ago.
The Nigerian filmmaking hub currently sits second among the world’s most prolific film industries, producing thousands of movies every year and contributing millions of dollars to the country’s GDP.
Toyosi Etim Effiong says she’s grateful for Nollywood’s streaming deals but wants its productions showcased better to the world.
“I’m really super thankful for the streamers who are here because they’ve given us a platform to show our content to the rest of the world. (But) we have to take our stories out … by participating in international events like the Essence Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.
“Go to the American Film Market, go to the rest of the world. Push your content out. That way you’re whetting the appetite of those people more when they watch a story that they can identify with.”