‘The Black Book’ Becomes Hit Nigerian Film to Top Netflix in 2023 – The Hollywood Reporter

This was the year Nollywood made Netflix history.

The black book, a revenge thriller from debut director Editi Effiong, became the first Nigerian film ever to reach number 3 on Netflix’s global film charts. The film, which was made for “just” $1 million (actually a huge sum for a Nigerian film), garnered 5.6 million views just 48 hours after its release in September. 22 bows on the platform and was seen by more than 20 million people in its first few weeks, breaking Netflix’s top 10 list in more than 69 countries.

The film stars Nigerian film legend Richard Mofe-Damijo as Paul Edima, a deacon whose dark past returns after his son (Olumide Oworu) is accused of kidnapping by a corrupt police gang and Edima vows revenge.

While critics have dubbed The black book Nigeria’s answer to John WickCombining action and revenge storytelling with an introduction to Nigerian history, the film traces the last 40 years from life under military rule to the current climate where, in Effiong’s words, “many military personnel simply donned civilian clothes and ran away from the government.”

Government corruption, police brutality and the often futile struggle for justice by ordinary Nigerians provide the backdrop for Effiong’s impressive action sequences.

“Authenticity was key for us to show Nigeria as it is, in a way that Nigerian people would recognize,” says Effiong. “Not a Hollywood version of Lagos, but Lagos as we Nigerians see it.”

The film’s success has raised the bar for Nigerian films, which have proven to be a driving force for Netflix and other streaming services looking to expand across Africa and export African cinema around the world. An August report from market research firm Digital TV Research predicts that the African SVOD market will see strong growth in the coming years. By 2029, the number of SVOD subscriptions is expected to reach 18 million, more than double the estimated eight million today.

The Nigerian film industry is “currently at the point where the world needs to take notice,” says Effiong.

The black book Director spoke with The Hollywood Reporter from Lagos on “making the biggest film out of Nollywood” and why the Nigerian film industry is strong.


Were you surprised when? The black book landed on Netflix and became a monster hit overnight?

No, that wasn’t me. Let me explain. This is my first film as a director and I remember the first day on set, the first crew meeting. I went crazy. I just walk around thinking: This is actually happening. I looked around and realized that I was probably one of the least experienced people in the room. So I said, look, guys, this movie is probably unlike anything you’ve ever done in the size of the script. He will test everyone, he will test everyone. But if you just put your trust in me and we do what we plan to do, we’ll make the best film any of us have ever made.

About two weeks into filming, my script supervisor takes me aside and says, “Editi, I thought you were a little cocky when we first met.” But I think I see it now.

When I met with my investment partners, I told them: This will be the biggest film from Nollywood. CNN came on set to do a special on the film and I told them, “This is the biggest Nollywood film yet.” You can go back and check, I posted that on my Instagram. When the movie came out and it was the biggest Nollywood movie of all time, I went back to my friends at CNN and said, I said so. I did it.

But I’ll be honest with you. When I updated this page, the daily tracker showed that it was a worldwide hit on Netflix. Well, everyone just lost their minds.


What do you think is the secret behind the film’s phenomenal success?

We did everything to the highest standards, the highest standards in production, but especially the highest standards in pre-production. We invested time in the scripts, we spent about two years writing and preparing the script. Typically, Nollywood films are shot over a period of two to three weeks. We shot this over a period of four months.

I spent a lot of time on it and took great care to ensure that the images on the screen were top notch. I didn’t want to be great by Nigerian standards, I wanted to be great by all standards. From the camera to the lenses to the lights. We were the first Nigerian film to be shot using Panavision cameras and equipment. It was expensive, but we raised the money to ensure we could meet these standards.

We also spent a lot of time rehearsing and making the actors prepare for the roles, which is also not standard in many Nollywood films. The research and development work for this film took 13 months and it shows in the performances.

Editi Effiong on the set of “The Black Book”

Editi Effiong on the set of The black book.

Anakle Films

Many have compared The black book to Hollywood action films like John Wickbut it seems very specifically Nigerian to me.

Authenticity was very important to us. It was important for us to see Legos through the eyes of everyone in the city, through the eyes of poor people, middle class people and rich people. Show the world in a way that Nigerians can see themselves reflected in. When the film addresses a topic like police brutality, we cover it from a Nigerian perspective.

I saw this Marvel movie, Captain America: Civil War, and there was a scene that was supposedly filmed in Lagos, it says on the screen: Lagos, Nigeria. There is a market and there is a fight. And I looked at that and thought: Come on, Hollywood! I could have done better! Because that’s not what the Nigerian markets look like. Now I’m watching The black book, our scene in the market, this is what a market in Lagos looks like. It’s only about a minute of screen time, but it took us three months to plan. We went to the street gangs to get them to work with us and let us shoot there. We brought 300 extras who came from Lagos. We paid the real market women and taught them to ignore the camera and act. This was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we tested everyone to make sure no one would infect our 59-year-old leading man.

But when you see this market, this is what a Nigerian market looks like! It’s loud, everyone’s moving, no one’s looking at you, you’re being pushed back and forth. That kind of authenticity is what Nigerians could identify with because it wasn’t the world telling the story of Africans, it wasn’t a Hollywood version of what a Nigerian market looks like, but the story from here.

They relate to several real events and political developments in Nigeria. Why was this political background important to the story you wanted to tell?

I think Nigeria today is fundamentally different from what Nigeria was 40 years ago when the military was in charge. Many people who were in the military simply changed into civilian clothes and ran for government. But the impact of these things, like drug trafficking, was immense. But young people don’t learn the history of Nigeria in school, our schools don’t teach them history, so they are cut off from it. With the film I try to immerse people in our history and be as authentic as possible.

I was 13 years old when the secret police came to my school and ordered us to close down a press club. At that time the military was still in power. I know the fear I felt back then and the knowledge that allows you to remain authentic at all times and tell authentic stories like the ones we read in the underground newspapers of the time when journalists were not allowed to write openly, only write could underground.

Effiong Publishers



The story of military dictatorship, political corruption and state-sanctioned violence is, unfortunately, a fairly universal story…

One of the most touching messages I received from a man from Colombia. He said: “You may think that this is the story of Nigeria.” But this is exactly the story of my country. And I received the same message from Brazil, from Suriname, from Argentina, from Chile, from India and Pakistan. That touched me so much.

I think the biggest validation for me was that a film made by black people, in black face, with 100 percent Nigerian money landed on the biggest streaming platform in the world. It was top 3 in the world, top 10 and number one in about 20 countries. But what really made me proud was that it was number one in South Korea. South Korea is one of the largest entertainment markets in the world where audiences have great taste. The South Koreans chose this film with black faces, made by a black person with black money. He shows me that we can tell our own stories and the world will accept them.

The black book was fully funded from Nigeria?

Yes, 100 percent. I’m not a charity case. What I think is happening now is that we as Africans and Nigerians are realizing that we can self-finance our art and our films. So when I go to LA, I don’t ask any studio to finance my development. I finance my development myself. What we need is access to the market, we need sales. So my pitch is: This story we’re telling can go out into the world and make you a lot of money. We’re not asking you to do us a favor. We’re telling you that we can tell our stories in a way that looks better than Hollywood, is more authentic than Hollywood, and at a fraction of the budget. We can finance it ourselves. I showed that I could make a movie with a million dollars that looked like a $100 million Hollywood movie. I will finance it myself. All I need to go global is access to your distribution.

What’s next for you?

I am currently in talks to do a biopic on a major African figure but cannot reveal any details at the moment. If I had gone to Hollywood to make this film earlier, people would have looked for someone else to direct and develop the story. But with the success of The black bookI’m able to tell this story myself, which is amazing. We also have a list of several images, we are currently in the final stages of fundraising. Fundraising has also become much easier because The black book really validated our hypothesis, our business plan. That means we want to spend the next five years telling African stories to the next generation. Everything starts from here.

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