An introduction to a subgenre in Nigeria's film industry that's only getting started.
Nollywood screenwriter and director Dimeji Ajibola recently released a 1-minute teaser of his upcoming dystopian movie, Ratnik. Impressed by the visual effects and dystopian locations, local publications waxed lyrical about the film. YNaija! called it "the dystopian action-thriller we deserve in 2019." Ratnik deserves its early praise; it is an ambitious project and its visual effects are impressive.
For some, a sci-fi Nigerian movie is unheard of, but Ratnik is not the first time a Nollywood sci-fi film will generate this much buzz. Kajola—the last one that did—was an utter disappointment. The debut film of now Nollywood box office king, Niyi Akinmolayan, it was released in 2009 to much fanfare. Akinmolayan was tired of Nollywood filmmakers: "those yeye people that don't know how to make cool stuff." Young and naïve, he thought he would change Nollywood forever by making "the greatest Nigerian movie ever. It will be action/sci-fi with lots of effects and we are going to win an Oscar."
Unsurprisingly, Kajola turned out awful—it had terrible graphics and reports say moviegoers didn't finish the film at cinemas. "They stormed out of the hall. Threatened the ticketing guys. Demanded their money back," Akinmolayan wrote on his blog. The film was thrown out of cinemas after two days.
Because of the disappointment that Kajola was, the sci-fi genre died almost immediately as it tried to enter Nollywood. However, this failure sparked something in many young people who will later become Akinmolayan's students and go on to make their own sci-fi films. Learning from the mistakes of Kajola and a young, naïve Akinmolayan, these guys walked instead of flying. They released shorts instead of feature films. However, they were not the only ones. Other Nigerian filmmakers have had a go at the sci-fi/dystopian genre.
Below, check out a shortlist of sci-fi films in Nollywood that followed Kajola you should know.
The pioneering sci-fi Nollywood film Kajola made all the mistakes so those that follow will approach this genre with realistic expectations. Set in the year 2059, Nigeria had witnessed another civil war. The war had ravaged the mainland area of Lagos and the government plans to destroy it and rebuild the city. Allen, a rebel leader, hears of this plan and leads a rebellion against the government.
THE DAY THEY CAME (2013)
A zero-budget sci-fi short directed by Genesis Williams, a student of Akinmolayan, The Day They Came was shot in Lagos centering on a man witnessing an alien invasion in Lagos. The graphics here still looked amateurish, but it was a little upgrade from Kajola.
THE SIM (2014)
The Sim, directed by Eri Umusu, is an animated sci-fi short about a young girl, Simisola, who is caught up in a computer simulation and must fight her way to survival. Akinmolayan's Anthill Studios produced the short film. The animated short was supposed to be the first part of a web series that never came to fruition.
SECTOR ZERO (2018)
In Sector Zero, aliens invade Lagos and colonize the people through the government. As a sign of allegiance, every citizen is forced to carry a mark on their forehead. Everyone takes the mark except a man named Michael, played by Instagram comedian, Brother Shaggi.
HELLO, RAIN (2018)
Hello, Rain, based on the Nnedi Okorafor's short story Hello, Moto, is the most popular of the bunch. The film is about three scientists who combined juju and technology to create magical wigs that give them superhuman powers.
This afrofuturistic short film toured several international film festivals including the Oscar-qualifying Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen Festival and BFI London Film Festival.
Ratnik is the latest attempt to tell a Nigerian sci-fi story. The movie, which has been two years in the making, is one of the most anticipated Nigerian films coming out this year. Unlike Kajola, the trailer shows fantastic visual effects and exciting dystopian locations.
But the question is: will Ratnik deliver a cinematic science fiction worthy of its hype?