‘On the evidence of our current reality, the cinema experience in Nigeria is unaffordable for everyone. The cost of the cinema ticket and the concession is not the whole story. It’s also the cost of transport to the urban spaces and glitzy shopping malls where the cinemas are located. Given the minimum wage, which is hardly a living wage, given our skyrocketing inflation, the cinema experience is not much of an attractive routine for many families. And in the inner city slums and rural communities, cinema falls out of the to-do list simply because it doesn’t even exist anymore as a space in their environment’
EARLIER this week the Cinema Exhibitors of Nigeria announced the Nigeria Cinema Day. It is a remarkable idea, and I believe it can be truly impactful as an important day to celebrate the magic of cinema, the power of a growing film ecosystem and of course to salute our storytellers in front and behind the camera. For it to achieve its full potential, we must also use this idea to advocate for how we prioritize reintegrating disadvantaged communities into the cinema experience. In the emerging distribution ecosystem of Nollywood, one torch point requiring deliberate focus and intentionality on the part of all stakeholders, especially government, is how to expand popular access to cinema. Will our stakeholders work together to ensure that this day becomes a celebration of unity, diversity, and the boundless potential of cinema to transform lives? It’s a good moment to underscore the profound importance of ensuring access to cinema, especially for the education and development of disadvantaged youths. It is an opportunity to make a case for mobile cinemas, rural community screening spaces, and the incorporation of film screenings and filmmaking into primary and secondary school education. It’s a good time as well to talk about the social impact and influence of cinema content and to discuss the influence of storytelling on beliefs, behavior, and ethics. And of course how we preserve our cultures through this immersive art.
Growing up in Lagos during the 70s, my neighborhood was blessed with a multitude of affordable cinemas. Those early experiences of escaping into the magical world of cinema not only expanded my horizons but ignited my imagination. Those theaters were more than just buildings; they were portals to different worlds, different cultures, and different perspectives. In the broader picture access to cinema is not only a form of entertainment; it is a tool for empowerment and education. Disadvantaged communities, often deprived of resources and opportunities, can greatly benefit from community screening spaces in rural areas. These spaces can serve as hubs of cultural enrichment and knowledge dissemination, bridging the gap between urban and rural populations.
Furthermore, the integration of film screenings into primary and secondary education is a powerful way to spark imagination in the minds of children. It is immersive education that can accelerate learning. Films have the ability to transport young minds to distant lands, introduce them to diverse characters, and inspire creativity. This approach can make learning more engaging and foster a lifelong love for storytelling and imagination. Film heroes, both on and off the screen, play a crucial role in shaping behavior and ethical choices within communities. The stories of these heroes inspire individuals to strive for greatness, to overcome adversity, and to make ethical decisions even in the face of challenges. Cinema heroes often become role models whose actions resonate deeply with audiences and influence societal norms. And of course, Filmmaking itself is a cultural activity that preserves traditions, languages, and narratives. It is a vessel through which communities can document their history and celebrate their unique identities. When we see ourselves on screen, it reaffirms our sense of inclusion and significance. This is particularly vital in today’s diverse and interconnected world. And necessary in a country like Nigeria that is multicultural and multilingual.
On the evidence of our current reality, the cinema experience in Nigeria is unaffordable for everyone. The cost of the cinema ticket and the concession is not the whole story. It’s also the cost of transport to the urban spaces and glitzy shopping malls where the cinemas are located. Given the minimum wage, which is hardly a living wage, given our skyrocketing inflation, the cinema experience is not much of an attractive routine for many families. And in the inner city slums and rural communities, cinema falls out of the to-do list simply because it doesn’t even exist anymore as a space in their environment. Thank God for technology and the penetration of smartphones and tablets. Still, streaming platforms and pay-per-views provide a different kind of experience from cinema. And certainly, the double cost of subscription and data makes that access even more unaffordable for too many.
But access to the cinema experience should not be a luxury or elitist. Cinema access for everyone should be a fundamental idea. An idea that has the power to shape individuals and communities. It is a catalyst for education, inspiration, and cultural preservation. Let us embrace the magic of cinema and use it to build a brighter future for all, just as it did for me in those inner city theaters of Lagos. Together, we can make cinema a force for positive change and inclusion, leaving no one behind.
The economics of an elitist cinema culture simply don’t make sense in a country where less than 30% of the adult population has enough disposable income to frequent cinemas. We need to democratize access to our films, and one way to achieve this is by making tickets more affordable, even if it means sacrificing some of the luxurious amenities. Cheaper tickets don’t equate to a lesser viewing experience. In fact, it’s the magic of the storytelling on screen that truly matters. To reach underserved rural communities, we can resurrect the concept of mobile cinemas, setting up screens in open school fields and market grounds. To make this feasible, implementing a digital ticketing system linked to point-of-sale (POS) operators or mobile operators in these areas would be efficient in securing sales.
The real power lies in the numbers. Rural communities often lack diverse social activities beyond local gatherings at beer parlors or religious temples. Introducing an alternative community experience at affordable costs would undoubtedly be widely explored, breathing new life into these areas. The social impact of such initiatives, while challenging to quantify in monetary terms, would be immeasurable. In essence, by reimagining cinema as an accessible and communal experience, we not only make it economically viable but also enrich the lives of individuals and communities, especially those who have been historically excluded from this world of storytelling and imagination.