• Matilda Sandi

Y2K Nollywood: An Aesthetic

Nigerian cinema dates back to the 1960’s, but it was not until the 90’s and 00’s that this film industry started to get the attention and capital it deserved. Most known for their low budget, ridiculed yet celebrated home-made videos, looking back at it now, it is safe to say that we were unreasonably critical of Nollywood’s vintage era. From a more mature and appreciative outlook, Y2K Nollywood gave us gems and inspiration in their art form, especially when it comes to fashion, that two decades on is now appreciated more than ever by the very same millennials that mocked the production of the films in this era. The low budget, melodramatic acting, and outfits that did not seem to make sense, in sometimes four hours long, and quite commonly, three-part films, were the comedy and beauty of it all.

The story lines of the cinema in this era depicted rule breaking and the lack of desire to act according to social norms expected of women, especially in west African culture, with many coming from strong religious backgrounds. These films characterised their stylish women rebelling and being carefree. From stealing people’s husbands, sexual liberation, independence, and unapologetically speaking their minds. Often, the way one feels about themselves is reflected in how you present yourself- you look good; therefore, you feel good. The garments worn by these lusty female characters were an extension and reflection of the characters they were portraying. The skimpy, tantalising, well thought out attires, screamed, ‘I am the sexiest in the room and I don’t need a man- or my Christian family- to make me feel validated’. In a society where modesty is often preached, and the notion of ‘looking respectful if you want to find your husband’, they refused to conform. These characters depicted the epitome of looking good for your own damn self, as seen in their extravagant attires consisting of excessive animal print, funky colours, mini handbags, tinted shades, miniskirts and halter necks.

It is a given fact that media shapes culture, and during this era, west Africans were heavily influenced by American hip-hop culture. If we look at the attires of video vixens, they consisted of prints, fur, color, skimpiness, and wigs, it is not hard to see where these babes got their fashion inspiration from. But we mustn’t take from the fact that they took it, added their own very distinctive spin, and made it fashion. A known fact about old school Hip-Hop culture is that artists would tend to sexualise women in their music videos- the same videos that the young women of Nollywood would evidently draw style inspiration from. They wanted to be sexy, just like the women in the Hip-Hop/ Gangsta Rap videos, but on their own accords. No, not so that they too are sexualised, but to make themselves feel liberated. It is a huge statement that denotes, ‘yes, I look sexy, but you can’t touch me’, which is reflective of that overplayed narrative in a lot of Nollywood story lines, where the babe is always playing hard to get.

Of course, behind every beautiful woman was a confident man, of many girlfriends, that has mastered the art of persistence, and simply will not take no for an answer. Often depicted as over-confident, wannabe gangsters that can get any woman they want, again, the styling of these male characters transparently drew from the fashion in American hip-hop culture. The male characters were often much more laughable than the females. The try-hard bad boy persona accompanied by a poorly executed American accent was a reoccurring theme- which to this day I believe the producers got them to do for comedic purposes. When thinking of the men of Y2K Nollywood, the first actor that springs to mind is Jim Iyke, a legendary figure in the Nigerian film industry. In his early roles, he is mostly seen dressed to the T, sporting the cleanest suits, leather, baggy jeans, tinted shades, Timberlands, Air Maxes, Jordans, and always accompanied by a gorgeous babe. Again, if we look at American Gangsta Rap and Hip-Hop, this is what the biggest artists were flaunting, but there is no doubt that they added a unique twist that became a staple of vintage Nollywood.

Drawing back to the present day, although Nollywood has since far progressed, to the point of having their stars act alongside prolific African American faces in Hollywood, and the production, video quality, and acting on par with Hollywood, todays millennials largely celebrate Y2k Nollywood. Favouring and mimicking that Home Video Aesthetic in many art forms such as art direction, photography, and of course, fashion.

Nigerian Stylist/Creative Director @Detoblack in Nollywood style film artwork, by @andikan_.

@Detoblack is seen sporting a halter neck, skinny flares, and mini handbag, in animal print head to toe, infront of a background that looks typical of a front room seen in a Nollywood film. Fake flowers, a glamorous sofa with great detail, and fancy curtains that were probably imported from Dubai. An aesthetic. Shot by @mako_od.

After having played the life out of 90’s fashion, there has been a huge shift towards bringing back the early 00’s way, with many suggesting that the inspiration for this aesthetic draws from the likes of young Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, the boy bands and singers of that era. But it is safe to say that they cannot touch the looks served by the men and women of Y2K Nollywood. So much so, that todays millenials look to the aesthetic of this era of Nollywood, and implement it within their art.

@Iconiza101, @debbiedarko_, @jenniferkingfriedman in a @nolly.babes inspired shoot entitled, 'High Street Girls', shot by @elsiematilda.

*All Images in this article sourced from @nolly.babes and @detoblack*

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