UNIVERSAL

A Nollywood wedding rom-com is Nigeria’s first international box-office hit

Obsession
Glass
Quartz africa
Obsession
Glass
Quartz africa

A romantic comedy about the disasters and joys of a huge Nigerian wedding is breaking box-office records at home and abroad.

The Wedding Party: Destination Dubai, raked in 73.3 million naira (about $202,000) in its opening weekend on Dec. 15-17, a new record according to the film’s producers. (How much it cost to make the film was not readily available.) The sequel to the successful 2016 movie The Wedding Party beat out Star Wars: The Last Jedi in Nigerian cinemas, which also opened that weekend. By the first week of January, the film had grossed 300 million naira (roughly $826,000) and went on to open in 17 other African countries and the UK, where it had the biggest single day opening for a Nollywood film. Producers now plan to take it to the US, the Middle East and the Caribbean.

These earnings may seem small compared to the global earning of blockbusters like The Last Jedi, but it’s significant for Nigeria and Nollywood. The country’s film industry is slowly becoming a global phenomenon, but even though Nollywood pushes out dozens of films a week, most go straight to DVD, with less than 30 cinemas serving a population of around 180 million.

The international success is a vindication of sorts. When the quality of early Nollywood films was derided, its advocates argued that its shaky cameras and popping mics were laying a foundation for a professional homegrown film industry. The box-office records broken by The Wedding Party‘s sequel, as well as the first film, justify that faith.

From marketing to the distribution, Nigerian media mogul Mo Abudu’s Ebony Life Films and the Elfike Film Collective have ensured that the film looks slick professional—nothing like the chaos of the wedding it portrays.

Released in December 2016, the original The Wedding Party was the first Nollywood film to pass the billion naira mark at home, becoming the highest grossing Nigerian film ever, at 3.5 billion naira (approximately $11.5 million). The film showed a local appetite for well-made rom-coms, fueled by a marketing campaign that borrowed from Hollywood. Last year, Netflix added The Wedding Party to its roster.

The film’s sequel was determined to be an international affair and exactly a year later, The Wedding Party: Destination Dubai was released. The film picks up at the end of the last one, where a kiss between a groomsman and a bridesmaid sets sparks flying all the way to a new wedding at the center of the film. The culture clash between a Yoruba and Igbo family is further complicated by the introduction of the bride’s British family to a destination wedding in Dubai.

The film borrows from the proven novelty of love across the color lines first seen in 1967 with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. It also bets on the cinematic hilarity that ensues when people of diverse ethnicities walk down the aisle, as seen in break US hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It taps into the frivolous joy the wedding film format brings to audiences not accustomed to seeing themselves celebrated in this way—as Jumping The Broom did for African-Americans in 2011.

Perhaps most importantly, it plays with all the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of a Nollywood film that audiences have come to expect, against a backdrop that anyone in the world who has ever been to a wedding recognizes.

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