Back in October, The New York Times published a story detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against film mogul Harvey Weinstein. That story, written by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, kickstarted a Hollywood reckoning so wide in its breadth that it now seems unstoppable. Powerful, influential men that have shaped the pop cultural landscape are falling like dominos, and the current climate has enabled women (and men) to fearlessly tell their experiences of sexual assault and harassment with the social media-driven solidarity of the #MeToo hashtag.
The Weinstein Effect, as it is now called, has brought on a dark eclipse beyond Hollywood and popular entertainment, affecting across multiple industries by swiftly ousting men from their positions of power. And yet, with so much ongoing in this regard, Nollywood has seemingly remained unflappable. One of the reasons could be that Hollywood is a far older institution than Nollywood, manufacturing its own institutional myth in the “Casting Couch,” which has projected into a sexualized cinema propped on the female body. Representation of women in films matters, but the right representation is left to be desired in a post-Wonder Woman world where nuanced storytelling can transcend the solipsism of the male gaze.
In addition, Nollywood is largely set up in a chastised air of modesty and virtue, and storytellers and actors have internalized the lessons that gives the larger environment its form. What this means, in the current discourse on sexual misconduct, is that the desexualized nature of a number of films misleads us to thinking Nollywood’s internal dynamic is pure, and that castings are done entirely on merit and talent. “Over the years, many Nollywood actresses have come out to talk about their experiences but have refused to name the perpetrators,” Chidumga Izuzu writes in a searing, exhaustive piece for Pulse. “Filmmakers, investors, and powerful actors asking for sexual favours to advance careers is just a better-kept dirty secret in Nollywood. But it does exist.”
It would seem like this is happening in a stifling cultural quarantine, where actresses already know that being silent over sexual harassment or granting sexual favours keeps their careers from imploding. Public reactions can be eviscerating, the kind of victim-blaming language thrown about on social media. In a 2013 tell-all interview, Emeka Ike dropped a bombshell on sexual harassment in Nollywood, calling out the producers sleeping with actresses in exchange for movie roles. “If you knock at their office and you can’t sleep with them, you won’t be allowed to act. Is it fair to tell a girl that “if I don’t sleep with you, you won’t get my favour?”
In September, the Actors Guild of Nigeria announced through its president Emeka Ejezie that it will eradicate all forms of alleged sexual harassment of its members by some producers as part of efforts to sanitize the industry. This is laudable, as it shows that victims can have recourse. But how does AGN intend to implement this when, ultimately, it will rely on a declining justice system? Since the announcement was made, we are yet to witness a Weinstein-esque fall from power. Nollywood mirrors back the way society treats victims of sexual harassment and assault, especially women. Before there can be any change, though, the cycle will continue.