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Is Osita Iheme’s meme used by Fenty Beauty and 50 Cent a win for Nollywood?

Osita Iheme is popular actor across Africa but after Fenty Beauty tweeted a meme of him, he has gone global. The Nigerian actor known by many as PawPaw has earned new audiences with his meme going viral on Twitter, and across other social media platforms.

Osita Iheme is known as the short guy that plays pranks on adults. He however doesn’t do it alone, alongside Chinedu Ikedieze, the duo became popular Nollywood actors known for their comedy and acting. Their first breakthrough was in 2007 with the movie Aki na Ukwa. The duo became popularly known as Aki and PawPaw. They’re not children, although that was a role they played for a long time in Nollywood films. Now in 2019, Papaw is making rounds on the internet, this time, as a meme which has gone viral, shared, retweeted and reposted millions of times.

Pawpaw resurfaced on social media, most particularly on Twitter, when Nigerians began using clips from his Nollywood videos. It was Rihanna’s use of one of the videos as a meme that gave Iheme a far larger global recognition than he’d ever gotten.

Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s company used the meme in one of its posts. The meme got 75.9 million views. For some, this was a global achievement. For others, it raised more important questions surrounding the representation of Iheme whom they believed could further spur his career with the renewed attention.

Curtis Jackson, also known as 50 Cent was not left behind in using Pawpaw as a meme. The executive producer of television series Power was another American celebrity whose use of PawPaw’s meme went viral. The two actors, a favourite across the continent, for many millennials, represent childhood memories.

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Read: Domestic investment absent in African storytelling as Netflix invests $8 Bn in Nollywood

The film industry on the continent could benefit from Netflix’s plan to invest in original African content. According to QZ Africa, Erik Barmack, Netflix’s vice president of international originals, said the company is “in the process of looking at opportunities in Africa” and will “definitely” commission series from Africa in 2019. Netflix purchased rights to Lionheart, its first original Nigerian film, in September 2018.

Paw Paw at the 2014 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards. Photo: CC/ Image cropped. Attribution/ Creative Commons

From Nollywood to the global stage via social media

Have Pawpaw’s meme’s contributed in anyway to informing more people about Nollywood? Probably yes. While no statistics can be pulled out to prove it, there is no doubt that the curiosity of many people across the world would make them search for the “young boy” whom many do not know is actually a grown man.

Nollywood has for a long time been criticised for its low budget films, poor production and with storylines. While “New Nollywood” has emerged with better productions, many still criticise the quality of stories told. There is a lack of rigour in research, with many following the formula of comedy where nothing extra-ordinary is done asides over-acting. Nollywood with its flaws continues to remain the biggest film industry on the continent, maybe in quantity, but not yet in quality.What is evident is there is undeniable acting talent and there is latent potential for Nollywood to grow its reach across the continent and the world.

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