Talent, consistency and distribution cannot be entirely blamed for this as the Nigerian market does not favor most actors and the standard they have set.
"It's disheartening that an actor has done so many films, many in lead roles, yet still walk around in anonymity. something is not right," Mildred Okwo.
"Nollywood only has 10 percent of the number of a-list stars that Hollywood has. The last 2 A-list stars that Nollywood produced are Tonto Dike and Mercy Johnson." - Moses Inwang.
Nollywood is made up of talented actors who may never make it to the A-List. Who is an A-List, B-List, C-List or D-list actor? A-list could refer to a bankable actor or one with an admired celebrity status, and a huge following on and offline. Less popular actors are referred to B-list, while the ones with lesser fame are referred to as D-list - it just keeps going in that order.
Unlike Hollywood where new talents are discovered and get to compete or replace an existing A-list act, it is not so in Nollywood. In the Nigerian movie industry, veterans are never left behind in the shuffle. They are always remembered and admired, mostly because we have not had anyone to replace the memories they created.
In Nigeria, an actor who has been in several movies and lead roles, still walks around towns and cities without being recognized.
"We had better content back in the 90s. Content that was engaging enough for every movie lover," a colleague said to me. I don't think I completely agree with content being the reason for the absence of new A-list actors in Nigeria. Over the past five years, Nollywood has created few quality movies that should have created stars.
Film audiences, of course, have accustomed themselves to seeing Genevive Nnaji, Tonto Dike, Mercy Johnson, Ramsey Nouah, RMD, Rita Dominic, Chidi Mokeme on the screen. Now, there are new talented and hardworking actors appearing and 'dominating' the silver screen. But despite their hard work and dominance in cinemas, there are yet to get that mass recognition or acceptance.
A hardcore Nollywood fan would recognize a Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Sola Sobowale, Richard Mofe Damijo, Rita Dominic anywhere they see them. Same cannot be said of the new generation actors. A major cause of this is, the A-list acts from the 90s didn't have a specific target audience during their reign on TV. They produced and featured in movies that could be consumed by every Nollywood fan. Unlike the new actors, who focus on cinema movies - movies that are watched by 30% of Nigerians. Movies that can rarely appeal to the mass audience.
Talent, consistency and distribution cannot be entirely blamed for this as the Nigerian market does not favor most actors and the 'standard' they have set. An average Nollywood viewer would rather watch a VCD, DVD or cinema movie starring Kenneth Okonkwo than one with an Africa Magic Award winner who they do not know. An average Nigeran does not find anything appealing in most of the cinema movies, despite its quality or intelligent story. An average Nigerian would rather watch "Mirror in the Bush" than "Before 30." The mass audience want a story, character and actor they can connect with.
A new set of A-list or household actors can only emerge when a proper distribution of movies is made across to the elites and the average Nigerian. When the elites watch movies made for an average Nigerian, and an average Nigerian has access to movies made for the elite.
"My mum watches Nollywood movies every day, but she doesn't know these new actors. She purchases a copy of Kunle Afolayan's movies because she knew him from the movie "Saworoide," a colleague said.
The new actors are without doubt rebranding Nollywood as their movies are screened at international film festivals, but in Nigeria, their works and stories and talent are yet to be known and recognized by the mass audience. A larger number of Nigerians do not know what is happening in Nollywod as a whole. They do not know we have our movies being screened outside this country. They do not know award winners of prestigious awards like the AMVCA. They do not know these talented actors because their works are not available to them.
The B-list and C-list actors are in their own different world. The world most of them consider profitable, comfortable and successful. The world where success is measured by social media following and millions of naira from the box office. There's need to create quality movies that an average Nigerian would connect with. An average Nigerian would rather watch Imoh Imeh Bishop, Mr. Ibu, "30 Days in Atlanta," Mercy Johnson, Genevieve Nnaji, Jim Iyke, Nkem Owoh, than watch "The CEO," "Arbitration," "Figurine" among others, while a higher percentage of cinema audience would rather watch a foreign movie than a Nigerian movie.
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Most times, it seems Nollywood actors and filmmakers are comfortable with the hype they have created for themselves. Most of the actors are comfortable with the number of Instagram likes and retweets they get online. Most are comfortable with being the highest grossing movie with a certain amount - but the fact always remains more can be achieved. And more cannot be achieved with just a particular audience.
There are without doubt factors responsible for low turn out in cinemas, but then if a movie could make 15M Naira in three days at a cinema, imagine how much more it would make if Nollywood grew its following. There are a lot of talented actors joining the market daily. But who is going to spend even 500 naira to purchase a movie with 'unknown acts?'
In an interview with Pulse Nigeria, Emem Isong said "A lot of times I work with new actors, even as lead. But I must always blend them [with popular faces], because of course, I need to sell my movie," she added.
Nobody is ever going to forget the character Andy Okeke (Kenneth Okonkwo), Okonkwo (Pete Edochie), Black Arrow (Segun Arinze), Sunday (Francis Duru), Tutu (Bimbo Akintola), Segun Kadiri (RMD), Jeff Akin Thomas (Ramsey Nouah), among others. These productions created characters that stuck and helped build brands. These days, we don't have characters special enough to remember after a movie.
Genevieve Nnaji took a break from acting and made her return in 2015 with "Road to Yesterday." Despite her long absence, there were still thousands who couldn't stop talking about her return to the screen. Omotola Jalade Ekeinde is set to return to the screen with the movie "Alter Ego," and every headline reads "Actress set to return after a long absence." It has less to do with their talent as an actor and more to do with the brand they have built over the years and across every target audience.
Even amongst the B and C-list, It’s kind of strange that some super talented actors never get a shot, while others get more, with their target audience embracing them. Nollywood is an industry with quite a number of uncelebrated talented acts, who deserve more than they get. There haven't just arrived because their movies are yet to be seen by the masses.
But then, not every actor wants to be an A-list star. Some want to just take on 'challenging roles and great scripts,' because they are passionate about their craft. Or so they say.