There’s currently a renaissance of epic dramas in our television landscape, and independent platforms like ROK 2 on DStv/GOtv are the biggest dispensers. Since launching in April and by design, ROK 2 boasts of an expanding library of epic dramas and period pieces, showcasing regal hierarchies in a time before colonisation. Shows like King of Kings, The Heiress, Throne of Revenge and Mark of the Gods were among the first to be dispatched on the channel, and they were portals into exploring old-era traditions and culture massaged into entertaining storylines.
There was a time this kind of content solely existed as home-video entertainment, around an embryonic Nollywood that churned out Igodo, Iva and Festival of Fire. But we are in 2018 and epic dramas have seemingly landed a prime spot on television, but they are disingenuous and inaccurate when it comes to queer representation. Take, for example, the Africa Magic show Ajoche which has found a fanbase that delightfully run weekly social media commentary. Ajoche is produced and directed by James Omokwe, with Tunde Adelese leading the writers’ room. A period piece set in 1918, Ajoche premiered in April and tells an epic story of a kingdom that goes on a bloody rampage after an innocent woman is murdered, and enlists Femi Branch, Efa Iwara, Hilda Dokubo, and BB Naija alum TBoss.
A striking feature of the show are the male characters, with attractively toned bodies caking in the sun and costumed in strippy loincloths. They are the thirst-trap equivalent of fitness nuts on Instagram, just so you know. For a show situated in the early 20th century and with the pre-colonial civil liberties that curators like Ukpuru have shown defined that era, gay characters are noticeably absent. It’s a known fact that in African societies, before colonialism and imperialism, had different configurations of sexuality and gender that were even celebrated. But this historical detail is erased in Ajoche, where every man is straight and every woman is waiting to be wooed by them.
Obviously, the reason for this is homophobia, homophobia in the writers’ room where character profiling are shaped by the norm in the context of sexuality. Showrunners, also, play a role in the marginalisation of queer characters and studios are firmly the gatekeepers. All these factors are in sync on Ajoche, turning it to one of the most disingenuous modern dramas I have ever seen. This deliberate erasure manifests in Ojukwu on ROK 2, an ostensible flagship show created by ROK Studios head honcho Mary Njoku. With only four episodes, Ojukwu has rigidly established its detailing on sexuality, leaving no room for variations.
Comparatively Spartacus, the titular gladiator based on the Roman slave Spartacus, is soaked in blistering historical truths of the Roman Republic – gay characters are just as visible as straight characters and sex is titillating to watch. Same can be said of the HBO hit show Game of Thrones, the medieval fantasy drama that shows differing sexualites and made a statement with the now-deceased but cool bisexual character Prince Oberyn. Currently, ROK 2 releases a fresh batch of epic dramas every week, but none are as nuanced as the aforementioned shows and whether this will change soon remains to be seen.