China’s Huahua Media and Nigeria’s Corporate World Entertainment and FilmOne Entertainment are partnering on the first co-production between the two countries, “30 Days in China,” starring Nigerian actor-comedian Ayo Makun, popularly known by his stage name A.Y.
The film, slated for release next year, will feature Chinese and Nigerian actors and marks a step forward for the Nigerian industry. “We are enthusiastic about this opportunity because it extends the influence of our art to global markets,” said Makun, who has produced and starred in smash hits such as “Merry Men,” “A Trip to Jamaica,” and “10 Days in Sun City” (pictured), which rank among the 10 highest-grossing Nigerian films of all time.
“30 Days in China” pairs the world’s second-largest film market (China’s) with the growing international ambitions of Nollywood, Nigeria’s nearly three-decade-old film biz. Though the industry has long been known for straight-to-DVD works made on a shoestring, Nigerian filmmakers are busily rewriting that script. Budgets and production values are rising. The number of theatrically released movies is also growing, with some titles earning berths at prestigious showcases such as the Toronto Intl. Film Festival. More than 80 Nigerian films hit the big screen last year.
This year the country submitted its first-ever candidate for Oscar contention, Genevieve Nnaji’s “Lionheart,” although this week the news broke that the Academy has deemed the well-received comedy ineligible for the international feature film race because of its preponderance of dialogue in English.
Global players are eyeing the potential windfalls of Nigeria’s vast consumer market. Earlier this year, France’s Canal Plus bought the prolific Lagos-based studio ROK, acquiring its content library while also promising to bring Nollywood-style production savvy to French-speaking West Africa. China’s StarTimes has invested more than $200 million in the local pay-TV market as it seeks to grow its footprint in Africa’s most populous nation.
Netflix has also taken note, expanding its library of local titles and adding “Lionheart” to its service last January. The streamer has been scouting more potential projects from Nigerian creators, according to several sources.
Nigerian comedies “The Wedding Party” and “The Wedding Party 2,” both distributed by FilmOne, rank behind only “Black Panther” as Nigeria’s highest-grossing films of all time. Last year, local films took home close to 40% of total box office in Nigeria.
The partnership with Huahua, which has invested in Hollywood blockbusters like “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “Transformers: The Last Knight,” and “Star Trek Beyond,” offers Nollywood its first shot at the vast Chinese market. Conversely, the deal gives China’s rising entertainment industry a shot at Africa’s second-largest economy.
In recent years, the Chinese government has actively tried to increase its soft power across Africa. Economic ties between Nigeria and China are already strong, with the Middle Kingdom ranking behind only the U.S. as Nigeria’s biggest trade partner.
“Investing in Nollywood has been of major importance to us, seeing the abundance of talent and the possibility of creating masterpieces with collaborations,” Huahua CEO Wang Kefei said.
“The ‘30 Days in China’ project is not just one to add a feather to our wings as a company,” said FilmOne Entertainment co-founders Moses Babatope and Kene Okwuosa. “It positions the Nigerian film industry on the global stage as an advancing player, especially in terms of quality. We hope that this will open doors to more international collaborations.”