by Alabi Adewale
The Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood, is a multi-million naira industry with its productions widely popular amongst other African nations as well as the western world, where immigrants have helped to create a market for it.
Unlike Hollywood which has a lot of fantasy-based productions, Nollywood productions (maybe due to technological limitations) are more centred on the society. Most movies mirror what is obtainable amongst the regular folk including native customs, religion, politics, business, love, e.t.c.
Nollywood is however known for shying away from sensitive and controversial topics because of the faux conservatism of Nigerians. For instance, producers shy away from nude or sex scenes in their movies as well as topics that have to do with homosexuality. In as much as Nollywood tries to mirror the society around it, queer people do not fit into that equation. Whenever queer people are even featured, it comes with a nasty stereotype where the queer character is either diabolical or a rapist and queer relationships are tied to satanic rituals and demonic possession. One of such movies was ‘Men in Love’ which was released in the year 2010. In this movie, the lead couple were described to be in a “strong satanic bond”.
A few movie makers have, however, tried to shatter this stereotype with their courageous portrayal of queer relationships and all that comes with it. One of the movies that smashed this stereotype ceiling was ‘Hell or High Water‘; a short film by The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), a Nigerian human rights organization, in Nigeria. The movie was centred on a gay pastor and his married lover. Both roles were also played by mainstream actors Enyinna Nwigwe, and Daniel K Daniel.
Another movie is pushing the narrative about the actual reality of gay people in relationships. The movie is titled ‘Ife’ which was produced by Pamela Adie and directed by Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim. Ife means love in the Yoruba language and the love exhibited in the movie is between Ife and Adaora, two women in a lesbian relationship. ,
Knowing fully well that the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) will not approve the movie, the producer noted to CNN that the movie would be available to international viewers at select film festivals. She also looks forward to creating some sort of streaming app in the future where the film can be watched.
Now, after reading all these, you would notice that the crew did not break any of the Nigerian governmental law about film making, but guess who is coming after them?
Yes, the NFVCB.
This is the most cliché (read impunity and incompetence) act of every Nigerian governmental institution. In an interview with CNN Adedayo Thomas, executive director of the NFVCB, said the board would not approve films that promote themes that don’t conform to the country’s “constitution, morals and traditions.”
“We are monitoring the progress of the movie, and if it goes against the law by promoting homosexuality, we will be forced at some point to go after the producer and executive producer,” he added.
Saying they will go after the producer and executive producer is no doubt a threat. Threatening the safety of creatives whose work is not even going to be featured anywhere in the country is the misuse of power we have seen in the country time and time again. This careless use of ‘power’ stifles creativity and limits the abilities of filmmakers to create magic.
How can this barrier be broken? Definitely with more writers, producers and actors, taking the bull by the horn and making sure LGBTQ stories are told properly. It is also pertinent to make good use of technology if there are roadblocks on the traditional channel to getting these films to the public. It could be a streaming platform for LGBTQ+ themed movies or traditional YouTube. Whatever the case may be, creating more content with LGBTQ+ themes will definitely be one of the best push back to restrictions and will also aid visibility of queer Nigerians as well as stand as a strong tool in the fight against homophobia.