Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lionheart’ Turns The Spotlight on Nigeria’s Nollywood

Nollywood actress Genevieve Nnaji, created a record after worldwide rights for her movie, Lion Heart, was acquired by movie sharing platform Netflix. On the eve of its premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, Lion Heart—Nnaji’s directorial debut, became the first original film from Nigeria to be owned by the American movie streaming platform.

Netflix, Inc. is one of the largest providers of streaming television and movie content on the Internet. It currently boasts over 117.6 million subscribers and partners with content providers to license streaming rights for a variety of TV shows and movies like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, and many more some of which are called Netflix originals. Some Nollywood films currently showing on Netflix include The Wedding Party, Fifty, Road to Yesterday and Dearest Mummy.

The Nigerian Netflix original shines the light on the future of the Nigerian movie industry’s place–only second to Hollywood in terms of production–in the global industry. The deal is a significant milestone for Nollywood, which was recently named the world’s most prolific film industry by the International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations.

Nnaji’s Lionheart is a story set in Southeastern Nigeria which captures various challenges faced by women in male dominated industries in a comic way. Adaeze (Genevieve Nnaji), a young lady takes up a challenge when her father, Ernest Obiagu (Pete Edochie), is forced to step back from his company due to health issues. She works with her eccentric uncle (Nkem Owoh) to save the family business from a financial crisis.

In an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest on 11 September, Nnaji who revealed that the movie was in fact self funded, discussed Netflix acquisition and the barrier of language in placing Nigeria’s film industry on the global map.

“I think the authenticity of the story which is what I loved about it. It provided an environment where I could showcase the things that made me proud of our culture, our talent and our values. We focused on quality this time,” she told CNN’s Richard Quest on Quest Means Business. “I’ve realised that language is the only barrier we have,” Nnaji reponded to Quest on the issue of Nollywood’s marketability. “We can all identify with culture. We all identify with pain and with love—our stories are very similar. It was amazing, we had a very diverse crowd and everybody was able to relate to it,” she concluded.

Genevieve Nnaji has remained a prominent player in Nigeria’s film industry (Nollywood) with her career spanning over two decades. Under her production company, The Entertainment Network (T.E.N.) in collaboration with other partners, she produced her first feature film in 2015, “Road To Yesterday” directed by Ishaya Bako. Lion Heart premiered at the TIFF Festival 2018 on 8 September 2018. It has also been nominated for the Grolsch People’s Choice Awards, an annual film award, presented by the Toronto International Film Festival to the film rated as the year’s most popular film with festival audiences.