How Genevieve Nnaji Made a Name for Herself in the Global Film Industry

Genevieve Nnaji
Written by Robin Okwanma

“If Beauty could slay……..”

Genevieve Nnaji is raw black beauty, grace and brains. An uncommon combination by far in a place like Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. Little wonder the sultry princess of Nollywood is today the highest-earning and richest Nigerian actress in 2023. With a net worth of 12 million US Dollars as at 2023, and earning over 4 million US Dollars per acting role. And her journey to fame began quite early, at a tender age. So she had enough time to mold her career to excellent taste – which she did. 


Even though she faced personal challenges that were deeply moving. Nevertheless, we salute the creativity and courage of Genevieve Nnaji, who came out stronger than ever. And with friends, loved ones and her fan base rallying around her, her shine was not subdued. This article is a tribute to an African Queen of the screen. A clear example of ‘A Rose is still a Rose’, a beautiful song by great American singer Aretha Franklin. 

About Genevieve Nnaji: Where It All Started

Genevieve Nnaji was born in May 1979 in Mbaise, Imo state (southwest Nigeria). She has seven siblings, and both her parents are a learned couple. Her father worked as an engineer, and her mother a nursery school teacher. However, fortunes changed for both parents. Genevieve’s father lost his job twice, forcing them to relocate from high-brow Surulere to Egbeda in Lagos. Her mother also had to take up trading, and all the children – including Genevieve – needed to assist her in her trade. 

Genevieve eventually graduated from the department of Creative Arts in the University of Lagos-Nigeria. That gave her the opportunity to begin attending auditions for acting roles, right from the campus. However, her first-ever acting role was on the set of the hugely-popular soap opera ‘Ripples’ (1988-1993) – she was only eight years old. It may interest you to know that ‘Ripples’, produced by Zeb Ejiro, is making a major comeback on Africa Magic in June 2023.  

Genevieve Nnaji: Her Journey into Nollywood

Genevieve eventually landed her first Nollywood role on the set of the movie ‘Most Wanted’. She went from one minor role to another for a while. Her sterling performances increased as she featured in the movies ‘Last Party’ and  ‘Mark of the Beast’. Finally the movie ‘Ijele Season 1 & 2’ (1999) spoke very loud in her favour, and she was propelled to national fame. 

For that, she became the first-ever Nigerian actor or actress to receive the Best Actress Award at the City People’s Awards (2001). She would receive another award as Best Actress by the Censors Board of Nigeria (2003). And another Best Actress Award again at the African Movie Academy Awards (2005). Her first produced movie, ‘Road to Yesterday’, also won Best Movie Overall – West Africa at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (2016). She has won at least 11 national and international awards till date. 

The movie that finally took Genevieve to global stardom was the 2002 Nollywood movie ‘Sharon Stone’. That one movie not only projected her as far as the rest of Africa and Europe. It also presented Nigeria before the entire globe, sparking great interest in Nollywood. Ever since then, Genevieve has starred in over 200 movies. 

Additionally, Genevieve set up her own website in 2003. The site received great patronage and an unbelievable number of global visitors in that year.

And in 2008, Genevieve opened her own clothing line – St. Genevieve. A large part of the proceeds from the business are being donated to charity, especially orphanages. The actress would further make history in 2009. She was the first Nigerian actress to be openly acknowledged as a global celebrity on the internationally-acclaimed Oprah Winfrey Show.  

Her first-ever directed Movie, ‘Lionheart’ (2018) ws acquired by media giant Netflix in November 2018.The film was submitted as an entry into The Oscars (2020) and got disqualified on grounds of non-indigenous language. Nevertheless, it went ahead to win the Outstanding Foreign Film/World Cinema Motion Picture award at the Black Reel Awards (2019)

Genevieve Nnaji: Juicy Endorsement Deals

Genevieve’s stage performance was obviously good enough for her to feature in many TV commercials, right from her youth. She featured in Omo detergent and Pronto beverage TV commercials as a youngster. Then she later appeared again on Luna Milk TV ads. 

Genevieve scored a major win in 2004. She was chosen as the Face of Lux, out of many celebrities across Africa. Thus she landed one of the biggest endorsement deals with Unilever and the Lux brand that year. Much later, she landed another significant endorsement deal, as the Face of MUD of Nigeria (2010). 

Genevieve also signed up juicy endorsement deals with Etisalat, Range Rover Evoque, and Amstel Malta brands over the years. Another such deal would make Genevieve an ambassador of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2020. 

Genevieve Nnaji and Human Rights Activism

Genevieve Nnaji is also a well-known women’s activist and feminist. She is strongly in favour of Nigerian girls having the freedom of choice in choosing marriage partners, and thus end early marriage. She is also strongly against the abuse of women in society, and believes in social justice. 

Genevieve Nnaji: Personal Struggles

Genevieve signed up with EKB Music Records of Ghana, thereby releasing her first musical Album ‘One Logologo Line’  in 2004. This was after a ban was imposed on her, and four other top actresses of the time. Apparently, producers were forbidden by film studios in Lagos and Onitsha back then, from recruiting actresses demanding high payouts. Poor Genevieve was thus unemployed for a while. The other actresses included Rita Dominic, Omotola Jalade-Ekehinde, Stella Damasus, and Stephanie Okereke. The album was not very successful, though. 

Also after a couple of failed relationships, Genevieve eventually had to let go of marriage. She is however a single mother of a beautiful daughter – Chimebuka Theodora, whom she had at 17 years old. The very act forced her to drop out of secondary school back then. But with the help of foster parents who took up the child’s upbringing, Genevieve eventually returned to school. The daughter is now married. 

There were also claims that Genevieve had a mental health crisis and possible drug addiction sometime in 2022. She even deleted all her Instagram posts at one time. She again made social media posts about mental health. The claims were never truly confirmed; and this got her fans very concerned about her. However she returned to debunk the claim, and is said to presently be in good mental and physical state.


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About the author

Robin Okwanma

Hi, I'm Robin Okwanma. Software Engineer || Django, Python || React, React Native || Blogger. Technical Writer.