Nollywood’s December blockbusters, Battle on Buka Street and Ijakumo: Born Again Stripper get theatrical releases in the United States of America.
●11th January 2023
With the expansion of African Film Festivals and streaming platforms across the continent over the last few years, questions about the future of African films infiltrating foreign markets beyond streaming platforms have arisen. Distribution remains one of the main challenges facing African cinema. Reaching domestic and international audiences is difficult despite the promise of digital technological innovations over the last fifteen years.
As compared to our cherished Afrobeats, which has spread like wildfire across the United States of America, African films are currently scarce and limited in distribution in the United States. There is, however, an increase in the number of African diasporic communities in Hollywood as the African content market expands. African films have been primarily distributed in North America through four channels: the festival circuit; independent distributors; informal circuits (pirated copies of DVDs sold in subway stations and African stores); and online platforms (Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, irokoTV, etc.). However, in the last few months, African cinema seems to be cultivating a niche in a market that is not only dominated by Hollywood big-budget productions but also where other films from around the world compete for visibility.
Leading Nigerian film distribution company, FilmOne Entertainment, in collaboration with Part Two Media (USA) and Amplify Africa Inc., a brand connecting the African continent with the black global experience of African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-European communities, announced the theatrical releases of Nollywood’s December blockbusters, Battle on Buka Street and Ijakumo: Born Again Stripper, in the United States of America. Battle on Buka Street released on December 30, 2022, exclusively at select Regal Theatres, with advance screenings beginning on December 29, 2022. While Ijakumo: Born Again Stripper releases on January 13, 2023, also exclusively at select Regal theatres, with advance screenings beginning on January 12, 2023.
Territorial distributor and co-producer of the film, FilmOne Entertainment, revealed that the international release is following its strategy to expand reach for indigenous titles beyond streaming infrastructures, and into the international theatrical landscape. The Nollywood industry has developed a number of initiatives over the years to export Nollywood films to a global audience, including Nollywood Week in Paris in 2013, a cable and satellite broadcast on MNET’s Africa Magic channel, and the Filmmakers Association of Nigeria in the USA, which encourages crossovers and organizes the American market. To help locate opportunities for consolidation and growth, a deeper look at African films distributed through cinema in the United States is needed, given the large African diaspora living in the country and consuming audiovisual content.
Filmone Co-founders, Kene Okwuosa and Moses Babatope, jointly expressed satisfaction with the current acceptance of Battle on Buka Street which was given extra screen time in the 11 cities across America where it premiered due to popular demand by Africans in the diaspora. “We are excited about the international releases of Battle on Buka Street and Ijakumo: Born Again Stripper mainly because the global cinema audience deserves to experience the brilliance they bring to the big screen. Over the years, we have continued to ensure that Nollywood’s global exports reflect entertainment, decked in authentic & rich story-telling, conveying positive narratives about Nigeria and Africa, and we are confident that both titles tick these boxes and much more”.
Battle on Buka Street currently grossing over 422 million Naira locally in Nigerian cinemas and Ijakumo: Born Again Stripper grossing 136 million Naira in its first week of release have gained greater heights by becoming the first indigenous Nollywood titles to be shown at a mainstream cinema chain in the United States. Craig Shurn, of Part Two Media, said, “We are truly excited to share both Buka Street and Ijakumo with US audiences as they are perfect films to start with. Being the first mainstream cinema chain to play a Nollywood movie, our partners at Regal have shown that they believe in diversifying and broadening their audience”. With the tremendous successes that the Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Arabic audiences have had in the US cinema space, doors now seem to be opening for the Nigerian and African communities to now experience African films outside the shores of the continent.
African cinema’s distribution should be guided by connectivity, especially in light of increasingly digital modes of production and online channels. In the United States and Africa, streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, Vimeo, YouTube, Video on Demand on cable channels, Kanopy, Docuseek2, Showmax, and African Network Television have emerged. These streaming platforms target different niches and audiences. The streaming channels offer unparalleled competitiveness because African movies can be on multiple platforms, accessible from anywhere in the world. A quick YouTube search on African films yields a sizeable list of movies available for free streaming, though some of them are illegal posts.
Although a few independent distributors are distributing African films to US cinemas, African cinema remains marginal in the country. African filmmakers will need to pool their resources by, for example, setting up more joint ventures or collaborating on the most cost-effective distribution framework to promote their films. As online distribution platforms continue to expand in numbers and reach, African content distribution can also become a global phenomenon with distribution in cinemas across the shores of the continent if we further research viewership, reception, and distribution to better position ourselves in an increasingly global digital market.