In Ajegunle, a neighborhood located in the heart of Lagos, Nigeria, Tunde Amaechi is readying for an audition. This will be his 20th in a month and today’s audition is on the other side of town in Victoria Island. The trip will cost him two weeks’ wages but the potential gain is worth it.
“I am auditioning for a role in Desperate Housewives Africa. I get to say three lines, which is very good for me. When you get a speaking part, it means you are moving up and I think I will get this one by God’s grace,” says Amaechi.
Nigeria’s growing movie industry, known as Nollywood, is the third largest in the world following Hollywood and Bollywood.
Its growth has spawned a generation of young people desperate for the limelight and a chance to make it big in the movie business. For Amaechi, it is the only way he can help his mother and two sisters escape poverty.
“I lost my father at an early age and since then I have been the main breadwinner of the house. Making it in Nollywood means my family will be taken care of and my little sisters will have a chance at a better life. It is also my dream to make it and be as big as Ramsey Nouah [popular Nigerian actor],” he says.
With no acting background, Amaechi, like millions of young struggling actors, is looking for that life-changing role and no distance is too far to travel for that break.
Chuks Amaka is an actor and entrepreneur living in Lekki, Victoria Island. He has featured in a number of roles including M-Net’s flagship daily soap Tinsel as well as some local productions and also played the role of executive producer in his own movie. For him, the movie industry, like any other, is a business and the end game is money.
“The goal is to cross over from Nollywood into Hollywood. That is where most actors want to go and that is where the money is. They believe if you build a strong enough brand in Africa’s largest economy, then America will come knocking,” says Amaka.
That belief is not far-fetched. In 2015, American actor Danny Glover starred in 93 Days, a film on the deadly Ebola virus in Nigeria. Acting with the veteran Hollywood star were some of Nollywood’s finest, all vying for international recognition. Beasts of No Nation, the Netflix-distributed civil war movie starring another Hollywood bigwig, Idris Elba, was also shot in Nigeria and Ghana with actors queuing up for hours for a part in a big Hollywood production.
“The natural evolution for any Nollywood actor is to make a name in Africa and then hit the big leagues in Hollywood. These type of blockbusters are hotly-contested and every actor knows this is a potential golden ticket,” says Amaka.
For Amaechi, however, that dream is too big to comprehend. Making a name in Nollywood is already a tall order. He has been auditioning for roles for the past year and is yet to secure any paid work. He supplements his income by working as a waiter at the local Bheerhugz Cafe in Ikeja, Lagos. The Desperate Housewives Africa role will be the first time he may be paid for his work. He is optimistic his fate will change.
“This means everything. I love acting and all I need is the opportunity for the world to see my talent. I know I can be one of the biggest in Nollywood then the rest of the world,” says Amaechi.
Austin Abolaji is a Nollywood actor from Imo State, Nigeria. In 2012, he starred in the action drama film, Black November, with an ensemble cast of international stars including Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger, Vivica Fox and Wyclef Jean. The movie premiered at the Kennedy Center in the United States.
“Nollywood is still growing and there are massive opportunities in this sector, however it will take a long time before actors are paid properly for their craft. When you look at the average Hollywood actor, they get paid a lot better for the same roles we are doing here. This is one of the reasons why people want to make it in Hollywood,” says Abolaji.
Another reason is the acclaim.
“After Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar, we all now believe it is possible. We saw her acting in MTV Shuga and to see one of us from Africa succeed in Hollywood is motivation for all of us. She is probably the biggest African actress in the world right now,” says Abolaji.
Nyong’o’s Oscar win has been the catalyst for a new lucrative career ranging from roles in Star Wars to brand endorsements with Lancome to being on the cover of Vogue magazine. Her success has opened up the once forbidden Hollywood dream to the rest of Africa and Nollywood’s elite is looking to follow suit one role at a time.