Nollywomen speak back, ask for better deal

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Abimbola Adelakun

Imagine a Nigerian film (popularly referred to as Nollywood) without women. That means there will be no cattiness, no fights, no nagging, no witches, no prostitution, less oppression and, of course, no film at all.

That the role of women in Nollywood has been less than complimentary was the subject of a two day African Women in Film Forum held in Lagos recently.

Titled Nollywood: Women and the Dynamics of Representation, scholars came from various parts of the world to discuss the influence of a popular media like Nollywood on the image of women both at home and abroad.

The forum was convened by the African Women Development Fund and organised by the Lufodo Academy of the Performing Arts.

The lead paper was delivered by Dr. Abena Busia while other papers were delivered by others such as South Africa, based filmmaker, Akin Omotoso; Canada based Bunmi Oyinsan and Nollywood scholar, Onookome Okome.

The session was opened by the first lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola.

In her paper, Women and the Dynamics of Representation: Of Cooking, Cars, and Gendered Culture, Busia discussed how much a force Nollywood has become on the international sphere and why its status is the reason it should be watched more carefully for its contents. Speaking of the dynamics of representation in Nollywood, she alluded to the fact that Nigerian films are being seen in every corner of the globe and the image of home they portray is very important.

”It was very noticeable the extent to which food remains an index of gender relations and in particular a woman‘s moral standing,” Busnia said. ”And I do not mean only the idea of the rural woman‘s sweat in her determination to grow crops to feed her children.

“The films also reflect what appears to be our abiding social truth that in heterosexual relationships whether or not you have a good thing going in a woman is how well she feeds you. Urban or rural, professional, unemployed, or a homemaker, no matter what, feeding is an index of a woman‘s moral worth.

“So fixed a sign of potent masculinity has the car become that in one film it was also used as the index of the extent to which the men who drove them were held in regard or pampered by the sugar mamas who kept them happy. Interestingly in that film, though they acted as a sign of her buying power, they reflected socially to his glory. In this particular film, the women‘s access to cars was indicative of their corruption. Furthermore, by providing the men with them, they provided them with the instruments with which those gigolos could then play the fool by using them to impress women other than the ones who had purchased them.”

While critiquing Nollywood, she also acknowledged that their emergence has changed foreign perception about Africa.

”I must say that for me one of the huge benefits of the success of this film industry, regardless of the quality of the stories being told, is finally we have a huge body of works which show what the exteriors and interiors of modern Africa look like. Most of these films are shot on location and convey the grittiness of the streets, and has made them familiar. There is a texture to the look of Lagos or Accra that is refreshing to see, especially after living with the notion that there is no modernity in Accra, that we have no capital cities that can rival those of the west. The first time I showed a slide of Abidjan to a class of students they all but though I was lying.”

Busia spoke on the essence of proper representation of women in Nigerian movies saying, ”There is a need to redress the discrepancies about how we are seen. We should never underestimate the differences between how we are seen and how we see ourselves because when it becomes abuse, we fight. African women living on the continent and in the Diaspora are amongst the most consistent and persistent in using that medium to challenge the ways in which our lives are framed on film.”

Busia‘s paper was delivered during the first session of the forum, Setting the Context. It was moderated by Okome.

Oyinsan, in the second session, Telling Women‘s Stories: Complexity or Simplicity?, reviewed the Hollywood film, The Secret Laughter of Women.

The film stars Joke Silva, Nia Long and Colin Firth. The Secret Laughter of Women boasts an array of strong women in an immigrant community in France. Oyinsan‘s review praised women as vehicles of tradition even while away from home.

Prominent filmmaker and co-discussant, Amaka Igwe, condemned the negative portrayal of women in Nollywood. With growing interest in the industry reflected in reviews and developing research work, Igwe, who referred to herself as ‘a bloody unrepentant commercial filmmaker‘ said, ”We have to be very careful, somebody somewhere is saying something about it.”

Celebrated filmmaker and cinematographer, Tunde Kelani, discussed his experiences of working with ‘powerful‘ women in the film and television industry. Kelani was praised at the forum for portraying formidable female characters in his movies. He however observed that, ”Women have frittered away the little opportunities they have had. They themselves have not been able to use that power effectively.”

Calling for women in the industry to mentor others, Kelani‘s hope was that by the next edition of the forum, more women would be working behind the camera.

The second day of the forum kicked off with a discussion on Saints, Whores, Nags and Witches, - the major stereotypes of women in Nollywood movies. Filmmaker Emem Isong gave the lead presentation during the session, moderated by television personality, Funmi Iyanda.

Isong upbraided women who misrepresent fellow women. ”It is our responsibility as women to tell our own stories right and if we don‘t tell our stories right, who will?”

Okome stressed the need to have rounded female characters in order to avoid monotony. Television personality Agatha Amata spoke on the need to present enviable role models to the younger audience. ”We need to be very careful about what message we send out,” Amata said.

The last session was titled ‘Way Forward‘ and it had in attendance personalities such as the Chairman of Guardian Editorial Board, Dr. Rueben Abati; the Chief Executive Officer of African Movies Academy Award, Peace Anyiam Osigwe; Chairman of Movie Marketers, Mr. Emma Isikaku. The session was moderated by Executive Director, African Women Development Fund, Mrs. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi. The final session resolved that there should be a platform for women in the creative industries to unite, there should be an umbrella body for Nollywood that can take care of the interests of the various aspects of the industry and the importance of continued advocacy between Nollywood and government should be stressed. It was also suggested that there should be better documentation of historical landmarks and events in the film industry, better preservation of old films, the convention of the Women in Film Forum as an annual or biennial event.


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