Living in Bondage: How 1992 classic changed Nollywood

Although the dialogue is predominantly in Igbo, ‘Living in Bondage’ was an instant cross-cultural success, the first of it’s kind to be in Nigeria.

Chris Rapu and Ramsey Nouah are the two directors that have made impact making Living in Bondage and Living in Bondage: Breaking Free. [mubi.com/pulse]

The emergence of what is now called Nollywood - one of the biggest and acknowledged film industries around the world - cannot be discussed without the mention of the 1992 hit flick, 'Living in Bondage'.

The Nigerian film industry can be dated back to 1926 with Geoffrey Barkas' feature, 'Palaver,' which is the first feature film with Nigerian actors in a speaking role. The likes of Ola Balogun also made flicks in the 1970s that conveyed the stories of Nigeria of that time.

Subsequently, filmmakers strived to produce films for cinemas and celluloid all through the 90s when a landmark achievement was made with the berth of a united front which would be widely referred to as Nollywood.

But before the defining era-late 90s and early 2000s- of Nollywood, it was the novelty of the ideas, the execution of the film and subsequent success of Chris Obi Rapu directed ‘Living in Bondage’ that laid the path that the Nigerian cinematic output would follow to massive outbreak.

Okechukwu Okey Ogunjiofor, a creative had developed a wonderful story fit for production but was without funding, so he partnered with Kenneth Nnebue, a businessman, who imported VHS tapes from Taiwan. Making films with VHS camcorders was an inferior format to that which was obtainable in Hollywood but it was an alternative method that would change the course of filmmaking in Nigeria.

With Rupu as director, ‘Living in Bondage’ tells the story of a man who joins a cult in a desperate search for money and power. For ritual sacrifice, the cult leads him to murder his wife whose ghost haunts him throughout his short-lived riches. It’s a fright flick that uses supernatural plots in a way that Nigerians are familiar with.

Although the dialogue is predominantly in Igbo, ‘Living in Bondage’ was an instant cross-cultural success, the first of it’s kind to be in Nigeria.

"When we did 'Living in Bondage', it was a story told in a professional way despite the obvious fact that the quality of the production might be low but it was well accepted because of the language and it went on to become a cross-cultural movie so much that people who couldn't understand or speak the language understood the story because pictures tell stories,” Ogunjiofor told NollywoodDK.

It was a massive revolution in filmmaking and became phenomenal and a turning point for the Nigerian movie industry.

The direct-to-video release of the film was key in its success and it soon became the channel of distribution that turned the Nigerian film industry into a wide-reaching output.

It came out so resoundingly well that it sustained the temple of the industry for 27 years,” Kenneth Okonkwo who played the lead role as Andy Okeke told Pulse.

As many others adopted the straight to VHS tapes format, Nnebue continued to enjoy dominance with his production outfit, NEK Links.

For NEK Links, Some of the most popular and most lucrative home video films ever made in Nigeria followed after ‘Living in Bondage’. 'Glamour Girls', 'The Maid', 'True Confession', 'Lost To Lust', 'Most Wanted’, 'Sakobi,’ and 'Isakaba' are all regarded as Nollywood classics.

Nollywood has seen steady growth over the years with several other changes including the format of release. In recent years, some of the biggest flicks out of Nollywood have been released first on cinema, including ‘Living in Bondage: Breaking Free’ the sequel to the 1992 classic.

In August 2015, Charles Okpaleke acquired the rights to ‘Living in Bondage’ for 10 years under his production company PlayNetwork. He began the journey to what will become one of the biggest sequels in the Nigerian film industry.

Okpaleke paired up with Steve Gukas, a brilliant producer and brought sparkling actor, Ramsey Nouah on board. Fresh off his training as a filmmaker, ‘Living in Bondage: Breaking Free’ would be Nouah’s directorial debut.

"I could not have asked for a bigger platform on which to make my directorial debut,” the Nollywood veteran told Pulse.

From the power of this story, the intensity of the script, the cache of the cast and the quality of my technical support, there is no story as fascinating as Living In Bondage: Breaking Free. It is truly the movie maker’s dream project – and I should know working on both sides of the camera. I cannot wait to pack cinema seats with this true movie magical work.”

Ramsey Nouah's 'Living in Bondage: Breaking Free' has been released to instant success just like it’s original. It’s been hailed for it’s casting, direction and pictures but it’s the biggest impact would be the precedence it has set on how sequels should be done in Nollywood.

27 years after the original movie, ‘Living in Bondage’ has again impacted Nollywood.

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