Should we go to the cinemas with coronavirus still around?

With coronavirus still much around, we are never going back to the time when it was completely safe to watch movies in cinemas. At least not for now. To say that cinemas in Nigeria were shuttered due to the pandemic would be an understatement. Box office revenue took a hit, cinema economy comprising of low-level workers had no incomes, and Nollywood actors took to TikTok to deal with boredom.

The string of lockdowns that were lifted since May meant cinemas were preparing to open, provided they did so under safety guidelines. A few movie premieres have popped up here and there, while movies like Toyin Abraham’s Fate of Alakada that were delayed due to the pandemic tried to pull in skeptical moviegoers.

Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story, Ramsey Nouah’s second tryout as a director, premiered last week with just enough celebrities for atmosphere and all I could think of was reifying the coronavirus in sinister ways. As studios roll out their movies before the year ends, marketing has been aggressive through mediums like social media.

Still, moviegoers who have seen the Rattlesnake remake report that cinema turnout is low. The taste of popcorn, and its combination with carbonated drinks might reconnect people back to what it felt like to have a care-free cinema experience. But the reality is that many are already accustomed to the streaming culture that took over during lockdowns.

Much of this has to do with the arrival of Netflix in Nigeria, lending itself as a coping mechanism to survive anxieties and boredom. There was an uptick of Nollywood movies arriving on the platform, and as such the industry had an identity boost. With the cinema window shrinking, in that Nollywood movies no long stay long in cinemas before they land on Netflix, people might feel it’s better to favour watching movies on Netflix than cinemas, especially since it can be done from the comfort of one’s home with zero chances of contracting coronavirus.

And seriously, what are the movies that Nollywood is churning that can’t be watched safely on streaming platforms? We don’t make superhero films, nor do we make technical, cinema-worthy pictures that require grand-size screens to ramp up viewing effects. Just recently, Warner Bros. decided that its tentpole movie Wonder Woman 1984 will be released on HBO Max, as well as theaters. A movie like this is suited for the silver screens, with its grand themes and CGI tableau.

In a year that major studio movies, especially Marvel films, were postponed to 2021, Wonder Woman 1984 going to HBO Max feels like a corporate gamble, and seems to be towing after Christopher Nolan’s Tenet that failed domestically. We are still the navigating coronavirus pandemic, and cinemas are looking quite unsexy to return to. Most of have already internalised that coronavirus is still out there, whether or not we find ourselves still paying for that movie ticket.

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