• Thursday, September 28, 2023
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MARY NJOKU, projecting Nollywood further with outstanding collaborations and enriched content


Mary’s story is compelling; she acted in Nollywood for years, before producing her first ever full-length feature, Festac Town, a semi-autobiographical series about growing up in that part of Lagos Nigeria, when she was pregnant with her first child. This was the start of ROK – a film studio and now global Nollywood brand.

She has launched ROK, ROK2 and ROK3; channels which are broadcast across Africa on DSTV and GOTV as well as ROK on SKY for the UK market, making Nollywood content easily accessible to millions of homes across the globe, reaching over 13.5 million subscribers across DSTV and GOTV platforms in Africa and 12.6m SKY subscribers in the UK.

Since her first production with Festac Town, ROK is now one of the largest film studios on the continent, producing over 540 movies and 25 original TV series, cementing ROK as one of the most prolific production houses in Nollywood. A go-getter and full-time mum to three kids, Mary brought a new approach to movie making, returning Nollywood to its roots as a medium to tell authentic African stories.

Growing up

I had a good childhood and a supportive family. I grew up in Festac, in Lagos, Nigeria, as the 6th of 8 children. Festac gave me an opportunity to see the world in different ways. It gave me the opportunity to have a dream and fulfil that dream of becoming who I am today. I also had a mother who supported my dreams, who taught me to respect the process, to be patient and resilient.

ROK Studios launched in 2013 when I was Chief Content Officer at IROKO. At the time, IROKOTV really needed to begin creating its own content as licencing fees from other Nollywood producers were becoming prohibitively expensive. Once we began creating content, we needed more, Nollywood fans’ thirst for new content is almost unquenchable. Whilst we were fortunate to have a digital platform to share our content, via IROKOTV, we felt that in order to really expand, we had to be on TV screens across the world. In 2016, we launched ROK on Sky, then ROK on DSTV and GOTV. Eventually we launched ROK2 and ROK3 on DSTV and GOTV.

ROK Studios, launched in 2014, is a leading African film and television studio and production house based in Lagos, Nigeria. The studio was launched and incubated by IROKO – the leading African digital content distributor for Nollywood content, whose flagship platform IROKOTV has transformed how Nollywood content was accessed and consumed around the world. ROK specialises in the creation of content in partnership with the industry’s foremost creative talent and has developed, produced and financed film and TV series for distribution platforms globally. The innovative studio owns one of the larger content libraries in Nigeria, with blockbuster films and series, as well as an Animation Studio called ROK Animations Studios.

The biggest challenge is finding the right talent both on and off screen. Without the talent, there will be no content for the fans to enjoy. Once we created a talent pool for ROK, then we were able to create more content that Nollywood lovers across Africa and the UK now enjoy on ROK channels. We are constantly receiving feedback from our fans across social media channels and through the ROK ME Tour, which took place earlier this year. It’s very important for us to produce the type of content they like to see and this is why we always listen to them.

Our relationship with CANAL+ began about 5 years ago and we have been working together ever since, in various production and distribution capacities. Because of this relationship, they realised the growing appetite for Nollywood films across the world, hence the decision to acquire ROK in order to create more content for French Speaking Africa and their global channels.

Through this collaboration, we can continue the process of placing Nollywood on the global map. Our stories and our local talent need to be seen and known by the rest of the world. This way, we can increase investments into the industry and create higher budget movies that can compete in global cinemas and film festivals. We can use our authentic stories to change the perception of Nigeria, and Africa, globally.

I will continue my leadership role as Director General of ROK Productions SAS, maintaining a material shareholding in the company, with total control over all content produced under the studio, in order to preserve the authenticity for our viewers across all platforms. For Nigeria and Africa as a whole, it means a renewed commitment to investing in one of our greatest exports – Nollywood!

It’s all down to having a great partner in my husband, Jason, and of-course a great team at ROK.

Jason and I constantly share responsibilities so that we don’t miss any important moments, especially time with our children. We also have teams across Lagos, Accra and London who work hand-in-hand and constantly take on difficult tasks, so I don’t have to worry about everything. I won’t lie, it doesn’t come without its challenges, but I also think it’s important for children to see their parents work hard and achieve – it shows them what they too must do in order to succeed.

I’ve been in Nollywood for over 15 years. I think in Nollywood, the best way to create relevance is to create opportunities, not only for yourself but for others, and to be consistent while doing this.

This was the whole reason for creating ROK Studios. Our talent pool is filled with young people who are not only passionate about acting, producing, and so on but are also hard working and ready to change the world through their craft. In terms of being relevant, I think it is a case of continuing to scrutinise real life – extract from it the stories, the narratives, the people, the fears, and then be able to transcribe it onto the screen.

The day my children were born. Motherhood is a surreal experience. Birthing my children made me feel like a super hero. All mothers are super heroes!

It is quite challenging. It can take a while for you to find the right platform. You always have to start small and eventually your talent can be noticed and the bigger roles will begin to roll in. The great thing now is that women are starting to create opportunities for themselves after several years on screen. I was fortunate to have some incredible female role models to work with in the sector – they know who they are. This motivates other women to keep working as they have seen where we all started from and know that they can eventually get there.

It’s a real shame. There are young people out there who are ready to work, but are being taken advantage of by predators. We need more people to speak out, and call out these bad eggs. It’s a step to making the industry better.

I wouldn’t say Nollywood is financially buoyant compared to say Hollywood or Bollywood. We could do so much better in terms of financing. It’s a shame that Nollywood is not as respected as it needs to be but this is why we are constantly working and telling our stories. Most films in Nollywood are self-financed and this is not sustainable. The actors work really hard and are not benefitting as much as they should be.

I believe the acquisition by CANAL+ is a step in the right direction for Nollywood as it will increase visibility which will in turn increase global investments for the industry.