Why is Kenneth Nnebue called the Father of Nollywood?

Do you know Kenneth, Ken, Nnebue?

Have you heard of the movie “Living in Bondage”? No, I’m not talking about the sequel directed by Ramsey Nouah and staring Kenneth Okonkwo. I’m referring to the blockbuster released in 1992/93. Uncle Ken was the owner of the company, Nek Video Links, that bank-rolled that movie.

Nek Videos produced some of Nollywood’s best flicks in the 90s.

SEE: All movies produced by Ken Nnebue, Nek Video Links

By producing movies like “Glamour Girls” and “True Confession” Nnebue set the stage for the emergence of a booming home video culture. Within a decade, Nollywood had grown to become Africa’s dominant film producer, churning out hundreds of films each year, watched by millions daily across Africa.

Who is Ken Nnebue?

Kenneth Nnebue, is an electronics dealer who imported VCR equipment and blank videotapes, is credited with discovering the medium’s potential.

Sean A. Pager of Michigan State University College of Law reported.

Nnebue, an Igbo dealer in electronic goods and blank cassettes, made a business of selling such video films as cassettes as opposed to screening them using video projectors, the practice of the Yoruba filmmakers.

He realised he could make more money if his cassettes were not empty. So he financed movies to put content in his cassettes and sell them.

‘VHS cassettes were an inexpensive way to distribute straight-to-video movie releases.’ Photo © Rob Pearce, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.
Picture of a store which stacks of nollywood movies in cds.
A store selling CD of nollywood movies. Before CD there were cassettes.

He financed a number of Yoruba films that he sold in this manner, and he hung around the productions, participating in various ways and learning about movie making. These were very low budget films: the first of them, Aje Ni Iya Mi (1989) he made for N2,000 (about $200); it was shot on an ordinary VHS camera and edited on two VCRs.

Jonathan Haynes wrote in Nnebue: the Anatomy of Power

Nnebue’s “Living in Bondage” though co-produced with Polycarp Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, and released in 1992, in the eastern city of Onitsha, gained massive acceptance among the viewing audience.

Why was Nek Videos powerful?

Montage for NEK Video Links from the early 90s

For much of the 1990s, Nnebue, through his company NEK Video Links, was the most powerful player in the business: NEK had more machines to dub
copies of films than anyone else and had the largest network of distribution points.

Rumor suggested that Kenneth Nnebue had an excess number of imported video cassettes which he then used to shoot the first film.

This venture on his part yielded in the sale of some 750,000 copies of his movie across Africa.

Bum Culture analysed the sale of Living in Bondage.

Living in Bondage and Glamour Girls established Nollywood’s essential themes: the corruption, moral turbulence, and pervasive anxiety of the post-oil boom era; the garish glamour of Lagos; titillating and dangerous sexuality; melodramatic domestic conflicts; and immanent supernatural forces including both dark cultic practices and Pentecostal Christianity.

Jonathan Haynes wrote in Nnebue: the Anatomy of Power

What was Ken Nnebue background?

He left school after the sixth grade and was apprenticed to his brother, a handbag maker, then became a trader in handbags in Onitsha market, where he began to deal in electronics and video cassettes before relocating to Idumota Market in Lagos, the center of the trade in electronics and cassettes, which later became the center for Nigerian video marketing (personal communication, Lagos, June 2002). He cam up in a rough, jostling environment and he has a trader’s canny shrewdness.

In public he can be taciturn to the point of secretiveness; he is also acutely aware of the imperfections in his English. In other ways, however, he is radically different from most producer/marketers. As a businessman he has been forward-looking, investing—and sometimes losing—large amounts of time and money trying to establish a more rational framework for the industry.

He draws a strong contrast between real marketers, who target an audience and invest in advertisement, and mere traders who wait for business to come to them (Nnebue).

While most producers are bent on contributing as many films as they can to the weekly avalanche of new releases, Nnebue has produced few films and has assumed increasing creative control over them. He claims all the writing credits for all of his films from Living in Bondage on.

He hired directors for Living in Bondage (for Part 1, 1992,“Vic Mordi,” a pseudonym for Chris Obi Rapu, who was under contract with the Nigerian Television Authority; Part 2, 1993, Christian Onu).

He directed Dirty Deal (1993) himself; however, realizing (as he says) that he was in over his head he went back to hiring professional directors for Glamour Girls (Part 1, 1994, Chika Onukwufor; Part 2, 1996, Christian Onu, with Nnebue listed as Assistant Director), True Confession (1995, Chika Onukwufor again) and Rituals (1997, Andy Amenechi).

SEE: All movies produced by Ken Nnebue, Nek Video Links

But he maintains he has always “directed his directors,” insisting on being present himself for shooting and controlling the interpretation of the script (personal communication, Lagos, June 2002).

For Died Wretched (1998), Endtime 1 (1999) and 2 (2003), and The Maid (2004), he takes credit for the writing, casting, producing and directing.

Such a multiplicity of roles for the central creative personality is fairly common in African celluloid film production, but it has become somewhat
unusual in Nollywood, which, though it may still be artisanal in it financing and technology, has become industrialised in terms of division of labor.

Nnebue has also had an unusually stable set of collaborators–the director of photography Anya U. Kalu, editor Moses Ebere, and music producer Mike Nliam—which enhances the uniformity of look and feel in his films.

The disappearance of Ken Nnabue and NEK Videos Links?

Ken Nnabue has managed remain ‘under the radar’.

There doesn’t even seem to be any record of any direct quotes from the mogul pertaining to his thought process or reasoning behind making the moves he did. Many of the most successful moguls have been able to pass on the knowledge of how they did the things they did and what type of mindset is necessary to follow in their footsteps. Nnebue, although it was not completely necessary, failed to do this.

Bum Culture

There isn’t a definitive reason for his disappearance from the nollywood scene. Some claim “that he may have been outsourced, overpowered, and forced outside of the very lane he had created for himself with this venture.” While others said he was tired of the industry.

We can only appreciate him for the work he did to set the pace for others.

Where is Ken Nnabue now in 2020?

Information gathered online suggests Ken is now a Christian leader, preaching the gospel.

Credit for this article

  • Bum Culture Link
  • Vanguard Newpaper Link
  • Copyright in Nigeria Link
  • Nnabue: Anatomy of Power Link

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