Old-era Nollywood was much simpler. It was a period in an evolving industry where actors were discovered, and with every movie we watched them grow into cinema powerhouses. For example, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde was part of an exciting flux of actors around the mid 90’s, operating in her lone star power just much as Genevieve Nnaji or Regina Askia-Williams. These starlets, then, were hardly cast together in movies, except for the 2003 Tchidi Chikere-directed film Blood Sisters featuring Nnaji and Ekeinde.
It was an unspoken rule for filmmakers to keep rising stars apart. In some ways, it produced a healthy kind of rivalry, one in which these stars were in the business of outperforming the other. Regina Askia-Williams in the 2002 epic thriller Festival of Fire was all the star the film needed, as did Omotola Jalade Ekeinde in 1998’s Scores to Settle. You get my point. However, with Nollywood’s evolution came cinema culture and the box office, big budget spending and streaming platforms. Modern filmmakers finally cracked the code for commercial success. Instead of casting one star actor, why not put five or more?
Today, many Nollywood stars are being featured in productions, an explosive trend that winks at the box office. The year 2017 had no breakout star because filmmakers and cinema custodians colluded to make it that way: the recycling of familiar actors over and over again. The 2016 Michael Asuelime film Entreat is over bloated with stars like Osas Ajibade, Dakore Akande, Funlola Aofiyebi-Rami, Sadiq Daba, Alexx Ekubo, Eku Edewor etc. I could go on with the star cast. How about Tope Oshin’s New Money? the 2018 dramedy featuring Falz, Kate Henshaw, Dakore Akande, Osas Ighodaro, Femi Branch, Adeolu Adefarasin Jemima Osunde, Kalu Ikeagwu etc.
This would have been so strange in the 90’s and 00’s, where we were only expected to see film posters with one, single favourite star as the movie’s magnetic force. The problem with too many star-studded films, aside the fact that the films aren’t as good as they are marketed to be, is that they are preventing today’s “stars” from peaking. Omotola Jalade Ekeinde didn’t peak in her career until the mid 00’s, even though she’s been acting in Nollywood for much longer. The star syndrome is starring in only a few big-studio films, heavily promoted of course, and entering the cinema pipeline heralded with a flashy red carpet premiere.
As it is, Nollywood isn’t in the business of discovering new talents. And 2018 hasn’t signaled a change. Toyin Abraham’s The Ghost and the Tout is on its way, a star-driven comedy with popular comic Lasisi Elenu and Snapchat personality Bobrisky. Abraham’s Yoruba comedy Alakada Reloaded also featured a star ensemble. I wonder if, in the next 20 years, star-studded films will still be a thing in Nollywood. The Omotolas and Genevieves that the film industry should have discovered will not even exist, because they would have never been given the leg roomin which to grow as an artist.