There has been a fairytale quality about Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart, its ample, exquisite publicity and the goodwill from the film community. On Sunday, Nnaji announced via an Instagram post that her directorial debut will start showing in Nigerian cinemas on Friday. #Homecoming, she hashtagged. But yesterday, the news circulating was that the actress has reportedly accused Nigerian cinema distributors for refusing to distribute her movie. In a statement published on ApexNG, Nnaji’s team represented by the CEO of Life House Ugoma Adegoke revealed: “Lionheart has been a big teaching moment for me as a filmmaker. It has surpassed my wildest dreams and expectations. Showing at film festivals across the world and getting acquired by Netflix has been surreal. Not to mention the many doors it has opened for me to further explore film and creativity in my truth as an African female filmmaker. And for all of these, I am grateful to God and to you all for your unwavering love and support. I have been truly blessed.
“But in all of these, getting to finally show my directorial debut to you all has given me more butterflies in my stomach. After all, it was originally created for your consumption. And from the initial reception to the release date, it is clear the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately, not everyone shares our enthusiasm. It is sad to discover that the very people who pose as Nollywood supporters and promoters of their content are the very same people frustrating the efforts of filmmakers. FilmOne, one of the major film cinema distributors, has categorically refused to distribute Lionheart, primarily because they have no stake in it. They are currently invested in a couple of movies showing in the cinemas and want to protect their assets at all cost. Monopolising the market this season is their strategy to recouping their investment.
“Silverbird agreed to exclusively exhibit Lionheart across their cinemas and that was good enough for me. Like I said, having you watch this movie was my primary objective, not making more money. I’m an artist who wants to display her work to the people the art was created for. But, as soon as the announcement was made on Friday about the release, the “powers that be” of distribution and marketing were not having it. They proceeded to arm-twist Silverbird cinemas to backing out of our agreement by threatening to boycott them in the future. It’s like 2004 all over again. When we were all banned from the industry. Except this is not 2004. This is 2018. The sheer audacity.
“It is clear to me that the interest of the consumers is not of utmost priority as advertised. These cinema chains are only here to make money off of struggling artists while protecting their investments in the films they are affiliated with. The major reason cinema chains globally do not produce their own movies is to avoid bias. Competing with the very people you are supposedly a distributor for is downright ridiculous and shameful, to say the least.
“It is not enough that they buy out their own tickets and manipulate the numbers and time slots to keep up this false imagery of making box-office hits. They prevent filmmakers from releasing their products to manipulate foot traffic as well. Thereby forcing consumers to watch only that which is available to them. Not what they actually want to see. It sickens me to think that if this could be done to me (twice if I may add), then I can only imagine what many struggling independent filmmakers must be passing through in the hands of these industry vultures. I call them vultures because they are a bunch of opportunists, and they prey on the weak. If the only success stories you can boast of as a distributor are movies you invested in, then how are you a supporter for the industry at large?
“To be honest, as an investor in this project, I have no complaints. I am happy with the progress I have made and remain grateful for how far I have come. But as an artist, having you watch my first-time film as a director meant a lot to me. Plus, I am aware of the challenges of streaming in this region, so bringing this home to you was important. Unfortunately, the cinemas have refused to show Lionheart. Despite all my efforts, they remain insistent. I don’t own a cinema chain of my own so my hands are tied. Lionheart will be waiting for you starting January 4th on Netflix. I hope you are as proud of it as I am. As for the ‘powers that be’, this is not over. On the contrary, it is just the beginning. You are going to respect what I stand for which is art. You are going to respect where I came from which is Nollywood. You are going to learn to respect the talent. Period.”
This is a lot to take in. Perhaps the reason Lionheart has been turned down is because of cinema distribution rules. According to an industry source, Nnaji submitted her film late. “December was when she requested for her movie to be shown. Lots of films are already lined up for release so they can’t give her time. Seven Nollywood films are currently screening and these films have been scheduled since September. So if it is your own film that has been scheduled and a new film was scheduled to take over your time how would you react. Genevieve is a major icon but there are processes to Film Exhibitions in Nigeria,” a source told Pulse.
But there’s nothing to fret about because alternatively, Lionheart will be available on Netflix on January 4, 2019.