In 2020, middle-class Nigerians basked in the experience of watching the latest Nollywood films on their release dates, previously exclusive to cinema- or festival-going audiences. Meanwhile, viewers in France and Brazil could simultaneously enjoy these Nigerian films. Netflix was behind this synchronized viewing experience, which made Nigerian productions just a click away during the first wave of the COVID-19 lockdowns in March. The result is that transnational audiences are enjoying the Nollywood-on-Netflix boom1, and that new constituencies are reaching out to Nigerian filmmakers for commentary and co-productions.

It is no longer news that the Nigerian film industry, popularly referred to as Nollywood, has gained significant attention from film scholars, cinephiles, and investors around the globe. And Netflix is now the new vehicle by which Nigerian cinema is made transnational. A close look at two recent Nollywood films, both Netflix originals, Citation (2020) and Oloture (2019), reveals a path to formalized transnationalism, the licit movement of films beyond the sovereign jurisdictional boundaries of nations. It is formalized in the sense that it departs from the informality of old Nollywood and from pirated transnational circulation. Prior to this formal circulation of films, VCDs, DVDs, and YouTube channels circulated the films illegally without returning the proceeds to the filmmakers. I interviewed the filmmakers to understand how they experience the release of their films to global audiences via Netflix, and what different advantages and concerns animate their work as it becomes available for digital streaming. Combining the interviews with a look at Nollywood itself and how it has transformed in the last decade, I offer some preliminary notes on these Nollywood-Netflix currents and what the future might look like.

According to film scholar, Moradewun Adejunmobi, the Nigerian film industry was, until recently, "aware of" global trends while remaining "detached" from "global cultural production."2 This detachment, a result in part of the lack of dependence on transnational funding, is gradually fading as Nollywood has in the last decade participated in an increasing flow of circulation through global distribution channels. Another scholar, Alessandro Jedlowski, outlines Nollywood films' itineraries first through informal networks and then through emerging formalized approaches to other parts of the world, especially the United States and the United Kingdom. Through theatrical distributions in the US and the UK, and with the instrumental roles played by Nigerians in the diaspora, Jedlowski argues that the emergent wave of Nigerian cinema from 2010 had significant aesthetic, narrative, and economic transformations that could potentially "revolution[ize] the geography of media consumption on the continent and throughout the diaspora."3 This phenomenon has now been accelerated by Netflix, which in the last year has tripled its Nollywood offerings.

Nollywood as a media industry is known for its informality. Without an established studio system, no one could accurately account for production numbers or revenues. There were no documentation templates, nor was there a thorough classification system that could enumerate all productions within the country or those being carted away as personal luggage through international borders. Documentation was based on estimates that failed to factor in the numerous small businesses owned by Nigerians who had relatives in nearly all parts of the world, and who sent videos to them. Similarly, these small business owners re-sold the films to their counterparts outside Nigeria without any evidence of such sales. These videos were then replicated and re-circulated, mostly sold in locations where Nigerians and other Africans lived. This process fanned the spread of Nigerian films across Africa, the US, and the UK. Nigeria and other West African countries were recipients of bootlegged American and Asian films up through the early 2000s. Exporting Nigerian films using the same technology proved easy and convenient. Although this pirate transnationalism persists today, it has gone online with countless YouTube channels and other websites hosting Nigerian films illegally and, sometimes, deceptively with the intention of luring unsuspecting audiences to wrongly-titled content.

Unlike pirate transnationalism which excluded filmmakers from the proceeds of their work the transnationalism of Netflix guarantees economic returns to creators. But this does not mean that threats of illegal circulation have evaporated. New forms of piracy accompany online releases, as seen in the case of Kunle Afolayan's Citation (2020), a film about a female student's courage in confronting and bringing to justice the male professor who tried to assault her. In the same month of the release of Citation, a viewer tweeted a note of complaint to the director about the lack of subtitling of some parts of the film, which was shot in Yoruba, English, and French. Afolayan's response4 informed the viewer that they had watched a pirated copy from an unauthorized website: on Netflix, the film is available with its complete subtitling. Even though Netflix is providing an accelerated flow of media, it is not insulated from the digital pirate economy, and sometimes the company does nothing to avert illegal circulation. Afolayan said, "if you put something on Netflix now, it will be copied now . . . the same thing happens on YouTube but by the time you get them to take it down from YouTube, several people will have copied it."5 In spite of the continued pirate transnationalism, filmmakers are optimistic about Netflix because it offers deals and funding that allow their films to reach global audiences without sacrificing local audiences' access to the same films, and their profit. Citation reached the top ten most-watched films on Netflix in sixteen countries.

Citation's reception was overwhelmingly positive on social media, and global audiences readily found intersections with their own contexts. In 2019, BBC Eye released a documentary on sex for grades featuring undercover journalists in two universities in Nigeria and Ghana, who exposed male lecturers well known as sexual predators. Citation therefore rekindled discussions in universities across the globe including at the Wisconsin University, where he received a speaking request. For the filmmaker, Netflix's foray into the Nigerian film industry as a transnational vehicle is a win-win situation because, as he said during our interview, "Netflix want[s] our content because they need to grow their subscriber base in this zone, and they are ready to pay for it . . . because as you know, finding funds to make films is very tough."

Both Gyang and Afolayan confirmed that Netflix's strategy is to as seek filmmakers whose work has been consistently well-received to partner with for new productions. This is different from commissioning films from emerging, less-known filmmakers in other parts of the world. As such, Nollywood's Netflix boom does not necessarily open doors for new or inexperienced voices.

But this does not mean that Netflix's involvement necessarily leads to narratives that bolster the status quo which is mostly romantic comedies and family dramas. Within this pool of established filmmakers, Netflix's involvement affords opportunities to address controversial or vexed subjects that might not otherwise be told. Kenneth Gyang's Oloture (2020) is such a film. The film exposes the travails of an undercover journalist in her attempt to reveal the human trafficking ecosystem within Africa. It made the top ten most-watched list in 25 countries, including France and Brazil, according to Netflix, benefitting from the global attention that has been given to human rights abuses, sexual exploitation, mobility, illegal immigration, and the scale of transnational organized crime.

According to Gyang, Oloture is the kind of socially conscious film he wants to make, and its premiere on Netflix (thus by-passing the National Film and Video Censors Board) made it possible for the film to be made and seen globally without the interference of government officials' editorial controls. He pointed out that France and Brazil are two countries whose film industries are well-known, with France's interest in African cultural projects dating several decades back, and evident in an annual Nollywood Week in Paris. Brazilian screen media presence in Nigeria has also been long-standing, opening up avenues of cultural exchange and reception, including a growing body of work exploring the reception of Nigerian films in Brazilian cities. As a point of prestige for Gyang, the fact that his film attracted transnational audiences not only suggests the potential for future collaborations but also ranks him as a sought-after director, thus achieving creative, economic, social, and emotional satisfaction. The ongoing legal battle over intellectual property violation regarding Oloture6 attracted even more viewers to the film. This legal controversy, with an investigative journalist suing the producers for heavily borrowing from her reporting, renders it a perfect case study for Nollywood's informality in this case, it was not viewers who treaded into the zone between legality and piracy, but industry insiders and the yearning for formalization.

Global streaming paves the way for global collaboration. Based on his own monitoring on Flixpatrol of the locations where Nigerian films end up being seen around the world, The Wedding Party 2 (2017) director, Niyi Akinmolayan, says that Nollywood has penetrated global markets except for the United States, because of the sheer number of films and TV shows originating from there. On its website, Flixpatrol describes its goal as gathering all possible streaming data about movies and TV shows "to help producers better understand viewers' taste." Akinmolayan is excited about the attention Nollywood has received especially in 2020. In an informal conversation with him, he revealed that an Indian filmmaker contacted his production outfit after watching Akay Mason's Elevator Baby (2019) on Netflix, first for permission to re-make it7, and then to invite a co-production. The filmmaker believes that this is not the first such overture within the industry and will not be the last.

Collaboration requests are coming much faster than they did prior to 2020, now that streaming platforms have enabled on-demand spectatorship to global audiences in an unprecedented way. For Akinmolayan, although "Netflix is the hottest thing in the industry right now" in terms of the fame and funding it provides, Nigerian filmmakers are merely receiving handouts from the streaming giant without being able to operate on equal terms. "We are not negotiating with Netflix yet . . . but we need to sit at the negotiating table with them, and that is going to happen very soon."8 Samuel Andrews references a similar concern by raising pertinent questions about Nollywood's readiness for smart negotiations across the table with sophisticated partners like Netflix.9

In a recent move by Nigerian and Indian filmmakers, the first known Indian-Nigerian co-production, Namaste Wahala (2021), translated as Hello Trouble, was released on Netflix on the February 14, 2021, a year after its initial release date. A love story between a Nigerian girl and an Indian boy, Hamisha Daryani Ahuja's debut film strategically premiered on Valentine's Day. Much like Hollywood, Nollywood has a knack for sticking to successful film formulae. If this film succeeds, it will certainly not go unnoticed given the population size of both countries, their creative energies, and how spread out across the globe their citizens are. Nigerians and Indians have expressed overwhelming interest and anticipation for this film coming from two of the largest film industries in the world in terms of annual output; and we can expect more to follow.

Given the limited distribution and exhibition platforms available to Nigerian filmmakers, they are excited about reaching global audiences with the stamp of Netflix. Previously, MultiChoice was the major contender in the formalized transnational flows of Nigerian screen media, especially within the African continent. Its parent company, Naspers, remains the dominant media company in the region with a recently-established streaming service, ShowMax, that is the major competition for Netflix. In the words of Adekunle Nodash Adejuyigbe whose film Delivery Boy (2018) is also on Netflix, Netflix "is transnational, and is helping us reach global audiences faster, but it is only a phase that like Africa Magic (MultiChoice's pay-TV channel for Nollywood) will pass."10 It must be remarked that Netflix's splurge in Nigeria was fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, when cinema theatres were closed for several months. With the re-opening of cinemas, audiences are gradually returning to the big screen, which will hamper Netflix. This was already borne out by Omo Ghetto (2020), currently the highest grossing film (N540M approx. $1.5M) of the Nollywood era, a box office return achieved solely through its theatrical run and during the pandemic.

We will need a few more years of competitive service and market share dominance to make authoritative and nuanced comparative arguments about the transnational routes of Nigerian films on Netflix and ShowMax, but at the moment Netflix leads in the transnationalization of Nollywood in what appears to be beneficial to filmmakers. The streaming giant's image among filmmakers in Nigeria is respected, and even celebrated11 in contrast to what obtains in other film industries where criticisms about its operations are rife. Adejunmobi noted that Nollywood has a "high degree of responsiveness to geographically circumscribed markets, publics, and constituencies,"12 but that geographical circumscription is blurring to accommodate diverse audiences in nearly all locations, including France and Brazil.

Añulika Agina is a postdoctoral research fellow on the African Screen Worlds (ASW) project based at SOAS University of London. ASW has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 819236 - AFRISCREENWORLDS). Her research focus is on the Nigerian film industry and cinema audiences.


  1. From 2014, only a sprinkling of Nigerian films like Kunle Afolayan's October 1 and Kenneth Gyang's Confusion Na Wa were on Netflix mainly for transnational audiences. Local audiences had other means of viewing Nollywood and therefore paid little attention to video-on-demand platforms. But by 2020, the number of films grew to well over thirty titles.  []
  2. Moradewun Adejunmobi, "Nigerian Video Films as Minor Transnational Practice." Postcolonial Text 3, no. 2, (2007), 1-16, 2.[]
  3. Jedlowski, Alessandro."From Nollywood to Nollyworld: Processes of Transnationalization in the Nigerian Video Film Industry," in Global Nollywood: The Transnational Dimensions of an African Video Film Industry, edited by Matthias Krings and Onookome Okome (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013): 25-45, 41.[]
  4. See Kunle Afolayan's tweet.[]
  5. Kunle Afolayan, interview by author, Lagos, November 25, 2020.[]
  6. See This Daily Live article.[]
  7. See Akay Mason's tweet.[]
  8. Niyi Akinmolayan, interview by author, Lagos, December 11, 2020.[]
  9. See The Conversation article on Nigeria's emerging digital spaces[]
  10. Adekunle Nodash Adejuyigbe, interview by author, Lagos, January 21, 2021. []
  11. See Chinaza Onuzo's (Inkblot Prodcutions) tweet.[]
  12. Adejunmobi, 14[]