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Cinema first made an impact in Nigeria during the early twentieth century as a colonial import but by the 70s, the Nigerian military head of state, Yakubu Gowon, ordered the transferal of some 300 film theatres from their foreign owners to Nigerians. This would mark the beginning of Nigerians defining and expressing themselves on screen. But the indigenisation of cinema proved tricky to sustain, and by the 80s, the weakening of the currency and insufficient investment saw the gradual loss of Nigerian cinema, as it was first manifested.

Simultaneously, the oil boom of the 70s birthed a burgeoning middle class, able to afford televisions and videocassette players, creating a demand for home entertainment. As the straight-to-video business expanded, in Nigeria, cinemas became obsolete, and the distribution of films occurred increasingly through sales and rental outlets, giving rise to a system of filmmaking, distribution and consumption that would be dubbed as Nollywood. The industry is one of the most prolific in the world, producing upwards of 1500 films every year, grossing on average $600 million annually. It remains a core aspect of Nigerian national identity and self-expression.

Curated by sisters Ebele and Tochi, New Yorkers by way of Nigeria, Instagram account @nolly.babes is devoted to immortalising some of the most striking scenes from Nigerian cinema and television, dating from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, with a particular focus on celebrating the matriarchs of vintage Nollywood. The account appeals not only to the generation who witnessed this era first-hand, but a new, younger demographic too, in Nigeria and across the world. Anchoring the images, there are witty captions, asserting an intelligent, socially progressive and humorous flare.

Well-known for it’s hyperbolised panache, Nollywood’s approach is unapologetically dramatic, led by a tone of excess in all forms. Its characters are larger than life, and it’s Nollywood’s magnificent women, like femme fatales Rita Dominic and Becky Ngozi Okorie, who really stand out and are celebrated by Ebele and Tochi’s account. The female protagonists of old Nollywood subvert societal expectations through their self-confident and headstrong attitudes. They are authoritative and stylish, high-earners, maneaters, smokers, drinkers and deceivers of their own making.

Nollywood’s aspirational, often ostentatious, portrayals of glamorised wealth, from Gucci and Fendi head-to-toe looks, to mansions and fancy sports cars, reflect embedded ideas of the American Dream, while its narratives, typified by melodrama in its greatest form, occur in real life settings, and touch on the trials, tribulations, romances and family matters that resonate with the realities of Nigerian society. @nolly.babes archives the best from this field of moviemaking, proving to be not only an extraordinarily entertaining peruse, but a valuable research resource for fashion and beauty of the era.

Feature image via @nolly.babes

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