Propagating Gender Struggles Through Nollywood: Towards a Transformative Approach
Nita Byack George IRUOBE
Geonita Initiative for Women and Child Development (IWACHD)
Actors Guild of Nigeria, Abuja
The struggle for gender equality as a global phenomenon, dating back to the 1960s, has gained prominence in Nigeria in the last decade, as more women, civil societies and interest groups, continue to clamour for increased women participation in nation building. The popular saying, “A woman’s place is in the kitchen,” has received a global and revolutionary redirection/re-phrasal to: “what a man can do, a woman can do even better.” Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, just like the gender struggle, has also experienced a boom in the last decade, with high government recognition and multi-billion naira support, so much so that it has been adjudged the second largest film industry in the world after Bollywood. Even though there has been concern as to whether Nollywood films actually project the Nigerian story in a positive light, there is a greater concern as to whether our films, as a media of education and communication, projects the Nigerian woman/girl. More often than not, Nollywood films rely on cultural stereotypes in characterizing women as victims of a patriarchal society, where a woman’s value is placed in her sexuality. Women are portrayed more as either subservient, vulnerable and naïve or scheming, vain and seductive ornaments to be viewed and admired by men. Research demonstrates that very little is done to challenge pre-existing understanding of Nigerian women as victims of patriarchy, actually reaffirm the age old understanding of women as either a good or bad girl, rather than educating society of the transformative progress of the feminine gender. This paper attempts a critical analysis of two Nollywood films: Andy Best’s Hummer Babes and Wale Adesanya’s A New Dawn. It posits that, in spite of the challenges and inferior position women have been subjected to, the feminine gender can be resourceful, using her intellect to assume leadership position, and move the country to its pride of place in the comity of nations.
The struggle for gender equality as a global phenomenon, officially dated back to the 1960s has gained more attention and prominence in Nigeria in the last decade, as more women, civil societies and interest groups, continue to clamour for increased women participation in peace and nation building. The popular saying, “A woman’s place is in the kitchen,” has received a global and revolutionary redirection/rephrasal to “what a man can do, a woman can do even better.” It is no longer news that women today, unlike in time past, are venturing into economic activities and educational discipline previously considered as the man’s domain such as politics, engineering, film directing, astronomy, construction, medicine, etc., activities and discipline considered to be highly intellectual and mentally tasking, unlike the stereotype discipline reserved for women such as home economics, tailoring, petty trading, teaching, etc. generally considered as less intellectual and synonymous to their gender roles of looking attractive and tending their husbands, children and in laws.
In Nigeria as it is in other parts of the world, the position of women as members of society has been grossly underestimated, even though they (women) form about half of the population of the country, going by the 2006 census figures. The census figures put the figure of Nigeria’s population at over 140million, with women representing 49.6% of the total population and the remaining 51.4% consisting of men and children. Even though it is nine years now since after the last census, and it can be argued that the figures must have greatly increased, the stated figures remains a working/reference point for social researches and studies until the next census is held. Going by the above, it is clear that the population of women to men in Nigeria is notably greater, and ignoring half the population of a nation in the developmental process of that nation, is doing the said nation no good. This is to say that if Nigeria as a nation must brace up to make our “dream Nigeria” a reality, one that would compete alongside developed nations, then the Nigerian government must embrace the option of engaging and mainstreaming women. And Nollywood should serve as a ready instrument to propagate the engagement in a positive light. By ignoring women, a nation reduces its chances for growth.
I make to emphasize categorically at this point, that I will not be approaching this issue in discuss from the perspective of an academic, which I am not (but I hope soon to be), but I shall be looking at it from the perspective of an intelligentsia, actress, a Women and Child’s right advocate, both of which are my field of expertise. Meaning that, I shall be giving this work, an 'on the field' experience point of view.
As a general term, gender has been subject to various interpretations by different scholars, individuals and groups with different backgrounds and orientation, which has resulted in the different thoughts and perception of what gender connotes. While others would say gender refers to the different sexes which consist of the male and female, others have said it connotes the physiological and biological difference between male and female. Generally, it is usually related to the sex of male and female and the different attributes that differentiate them.
According to the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) definitions, ”sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that defines men and women; while “gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. Also, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition, “gender” refers to the “social” attributes and the opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationship between women and men, girls and boys. These attributes opportunities and relationships are constructed and learned through socialization processes.
Male and female are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories. Even though there have been arguments recently as to the evolution of four more sex categories, namely, Lesbian, Gay, Bio-sexual, and Transsexual (LGBT), one could submit that the above listed are not sex categories, but sexual orientations. At birth, a child is either male, female or very rarely, hermaphrodite.
Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly. Gender attributes are context/time specific and changeable, gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or a man given the context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources as well as decision making opportunities. According to Nonyelum Chibuzo, gender is the socially constructed roles as well as learned behaviour, which are associated with males and females; and the gender theory strive at bridging the gap of inequality between males and females (95). It explores the diversity of the rights, talents, opportunities and voice of men and women with the aim of streamlining the gender inequality. However, Ayakoroma posits that feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing and defending, as it were, equal political, economic, cultural and social rights for women. It also includes advocating equal opportunities for women in education and employment. Thus, feminist theories aim at understanding the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and lived experiences, and advocating for the rights of women-contract law, property, marital issues, education, and voting rights, as well as protecting women and girls from domestic violence and sexual harassment (16).
To understand what a woman connotes, Helena Hassan focused on the traditional point of view and she states that; women have been given specific roles well defined as wife, mother, sister, co-wife, in-law, daughter, grandmother and widow which are supposedly subordinate and inferior to the mans and they entail carrying out all of the daily burdens of life. How these roles are given or apportioned begins from the socialization process. At the birth of a child, parents tend to react differently at the arrival of the male child or a female child. Even though it is no news that most African families celebrate the birth of a male child than they do the female, stating clearly the preference of male to female children. The way in which the parent and relatives behave towards the child and what they expect of the child during the course of life, is dependent on the sex of the child. From the time the child is born the process of socialization begins, a process through which the child is engendered into masculinity or feminity by learning the cultural, social, and economically accepted modes of behaviour, expected of him/her based on their sex as Goldstein defines socialisation as the acquisition of skills and traits that enables one to function effectively with other members of their society (3). It is through this process that age old practices, belief systems, norms and values are passed from one generation to the other; through this process, the child gains an awareness of his /her gender identity and the role expectation of that identity. The parents make concerted efforts to induce the girl into behaving within the tenant of the female gender role; she is expected to behave in a way that is expected of a girl in a patriarchal society. The moment this is achieved, she is said to have developed a gender identity. A state of consciousness that she is a girl, so also it is with the male.
In a typical patriarchal society such as Nigeria, the girl child is socialised into a world of subservience, silent endurance, male dominance (even by her younger brother), the responsibility of caring and tending to the needs of others with no one to tend her; a life of total dependence, a life that is totally woven and entangled to another’s, where her ultimate fulfilment in life, is in the happiness and selfish satisfaction of one whom she finally calls her “husband”. A life where she can own nothing but becomes anothers' trophy. What makes situation worse, is the fact that most of the Nigerian cultures, religion (Islam and Christianity) and the society in general, supports the inferior position in which women have been boxed into, so that in the Christendom, the bible provides that Christ is the head of the man and man is the head of women, actually affirming that the man is superior to the woman and the woman inferior to the man. We can also see this in the popular story of Mary Magdalene, who was being chased by a group of men who called her a prostitute, saying they caught her right in the act and they were ready to stone her to death until the timely intervention of Jesus Christ. One would have asked what happened to the man she was "in the act" with, or would she have been said to be in the act all by herself? That is discriminatory. On another hand, the Qur’an allows polygamy (contrary to the Holy Bible), which is also discriminatory of women, and the permissiveness of early girl child marriage by placing a girls readiness for marriage at the first sighting of her menstruation, which is usually between the ages of 10 for some girls and 14years for others, depriving her of her childhood and rights to education and freedom of choice. All of these religious sentiments and permissiveness has given credence to why people and the society can do very little, in curbing the unjust and harsh treatment and discrimination, meted on women and girls, as the society and the victims themselves have accepted this as a way of life. Sentiments that could be interpreted in other ways as would not be detrimental to any one, yet further the development of our society.
But you can predict what to expect from a society such as ours (Nigeria) where religion is practised with grave hypocrisy, so that the moment there is a mention of a harmful practice, the unanimous echo you will hear is “my religion permits it!” And because ones religion must be respected, other ways of curbing the menace must be explored, and that is where the role of Nollywood cannot be over-emphasised. Even the division of labour in the family in a patriarchal society (usually based on age and sex), is done in such a way that confines women/girls to the home, away from public eye and involvement. She is burdened with the duties of helping in the preparation of family meals, caring for young ones, cleaning, washing, getting sold off in marriage, bearing children and other such docile domestic activities that only keeps her within the confines of the house, limiting her participating in intellectual discussions, even within the home. Like the popular saying goes: "Women should be seen, not heard." These roles, informs the kind of economic active that she is involved in, at the later part of her life. Rather than find her in more intellectual and technical fields like medicine, engineering, architecture, manufacturing, etc. just as her male counterparts, who sits comfortably, studying, or involved in an intellectual chat, she on the other hand, carries out her duties in the guise of being prepared for her husband's house (marriage).
From childhood, the boy is already socialised to believe in himself as superior, stronger, more intelligent, of better value to his family; that he is a representative of God on earth, who is to have the girl/woman at his beck and call. This results in arrogance and a feeling of superiority (which is expected); so, you find 'him' actually trying to lord over the girls around him even those (girls) older than him. While the boy is preparing to assume leadership positions, the girl is being tutored on how to be a 'proper package,' an ornament to feed the pride of the husband whom she must slave for. This type of discrimination against the girl has made her timid, sucked in her sense of self-worth and esteem, and boxed her into a state of accepting her inferiority without questioning. These and many more are the plight of the female in a patriarchal society. Even though this begins from the family, it is pertinent to note that family is the smallest unit of the society and the society is made up of members of different families with different orientation; so that the relegation of the female and the mindset of her inferiority is extended from the family, to the larger society, so that even (some) mothers begin to socialise their daughters to believe and accept their inferiority without protesting.
These and many more were and are the basis for gender inequality. In recent times many interest groups, women groups, CSO’s, NGO’s international organizations over the years have identified the important roles that women play in the world, against the back drop of their relegation in the society. That in spite of their many challenges, women are still bracing up to take up economic activities that were thought impossible for them to handle. Studies indicate that even those who didn’t or had little education and were engaged in petty businesses, were managing their merger resources well and yielding better profit than most of the men who were more educated and had more privileges. The need to include the women in the developmental process of the world became paramount and in Nigeria, the increasing population of women against men pointed that continually neglecting half of the country’s population in the development and economy of the country was doing the nation a great injustice. At this point, the need for Nigeria to make extra efforts to mainstream women for rapid and balanced development was birthed.
Firstly, in the international scene, the United Nations in its efforts, declared the period between 1975 and 1985 as a Decade for Women. In 1979, the United Nations again, adopted the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW is a working document which all party states are supposed to domesticate for the purpose of protecting women from all forms of violence in the society (Ode 2). Beginning from the 4th world Beijing conference in 1995, gender equality became a fundamental issue in the political space of Nigeria, so that the United Nations again in its attempt to emancipate the women folk from the men dominated world, adopted a declaration on the Education of the girl-child. According to this declaration, the girl child is discriminated against from the earliest stages of life through childhood into adulthood.
Also, the National Policy on Women, approved by former President Olusegun Obasanjo after much efforts, provides generously for Nigerian women; the Beijing declaration and platform for action by the 4th World Conference on Women 1995, the women’s protocol, and indigenous civil societies like the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, in its "Create Her Space" project, the Geonita Initiatives for Women and Child Development (IWACHD) in its 2015 “Protection for Empowerment” campaign has caused gender-related issues to receive remarkable attention both locally and internationally, all in an attempt to bridge the gap between the women and the men, brought about by the cultural, religious, social and self imposed beliefs.
The phenomenon, called, Nollywood, has positioned itself in 22 years as the most viable information dissemination and image-making tool in Africa, as well as a veritable vehicle for social change, providing jobs for over 25,000 Nigerians in all spheres of production and distribution process (Amenechi 1). The classic film, Living in Bondage, produced by Kenneth Nnebue in 1992 launched Nigeria into the video film industry, selling over 500,000 copies in VHS tapes. Since then, the industry has experienced milestones amongst which are the production of between 500-1,000 films a year, with an average production cost of $15,000; has a 10 days shoot and sells between 25,000-50,000 copies and costing around $2 per DVD copy (Southern Innovator.) The production of blockbuster films like Glamour Girls 1 & 2, Nneka: The Pretty Serpent, Rattle Snake 1 & 2, Flesh & Blood; Battle of Musanga, Sango: The Legendary King, Waterloo, Igodo, Queen Amina, Tears in Marriage, Issakaba, Eye of the Gods, The GSM Connection, August Meeting, Women's Cot, etc., have produced star actors like Hilda Dokubo, Sandra Achums, Susan Patrick, Kate Henshaw, Liz Benson, Stella Damasus, Eucharia Anunobi, Bobmanuel Udokwu, Richard Mofe-Damijo (a.k.a RMD), Kenneth Okonkwo, Ramsey Nouah, Saint Obi, Sam Dede, Alex Osifo, Emeka Ike, and a host of others. The industry gained massive acceptance from Nigerians and Africans alike, and from 2006, shortly after the introduction of film awards to encourage quality production, the industry experienced yet another milestone with the production of award winning films, such as, Amazing Grace, Last Kiss, Sitanda, Rock my World, Tango with me, Mr. and Mrs., Phone Swap, The Unthinkable and a host of other scintillating acts. The above are just a pinch of the tones released yearly, as Nollywood has the highest release of films annually.
This second phase of Nollywood also produced another crop of star actors (Male and female) whom have brought home international awards and are celebrated all over the continent. Actors like Genevieve Nnaji, the 1st Nigerian on the Oprah Winfrey Show, honoured with MFR in 2011, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Rita Dominic, City People’s Most Outstanding Actress of 2004, Jim Iyke, Best Supporting Act, 2009 African Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, Mercy Johnson, Chioma Chukwuka, Clem Ohameze, Monalisa Chinda, Uche Jombo, Nse Ikpe, Ini Edo, Stephanie Okereke, Desmond Elliot, Yemi Blaq, the list goes on. Inclusive are the producers, artistic directors, directors of photography, costume and make-up designers, etc., all who have become brand ambassadors of the Nigerian state within and outside the African continent.
It is important to note that the transformational achievements of Nollywood which appears to transit from one decade to another decade, starting 1994-2004 and 2005-2014, was elaborated to indicate that the industry is at a point (from 2015 signifying a new decade for the industry), where it is set to achieve yet another milestone, and if strategically positioned, will play a pivotal role in changing how society views women/girls, and their contributions to their societies. For instance, only recently, in 2014, three indigenous Nigerian directors premiered (on local and international platforms), three mind blowing films, which, as a matter of fact, have set the pace for the trend of Nollywood films in the new film decade. Specifically, they are Lancelot Imasuen’s Invasion 1897, Steve Gukas' A Place in the Stars, and Kunle Afolayan’s October 1.
In spite of the level of privacy in the industry, which has become rampant and unbridled, as was demonstrated in the inhumane pirating of 30 Days in Atlanta, produced by popular comedian AY, even before release; the absence of a formal, well-defined, organisational structure, with the enabling laws; the need for traditional film distributors to present creative business plans/models that take cognisance of the digital revolution to stimulate alternative film distribution channels; the stringent requirements for accessing the Entertainment Intervention Fund and other government loans; the lack of formal or functional training facilities in the country, which has resulted in the breeding of creatively inventive, but informally trained production personnel, all being challenges, militating against Nollywood, hope is that if judiciously looked into, offer the most outstanding opportunity and prospects for Nigeria, to triple the contributions of the industry to the nation’s GDP.
Nollywood Films as Image Makers
It has been established by many scholars that film is a medium for the promotion of a people’s cultures. Films are often used to tell the stories of their origin, society, their value system, cultural practices, etc. stories are told for the purpose of educating, enlightening, entertaining and correcting/emphasizing old mythical beliefs and cultural practices/ malpractices. Ayakoroma posts that,
everywhere around the globe, nations (small or great) have learnt to blow their trumpets socially, economically, politically, or culturally. It is said that if you refuse to blow your trumpet, it may never be blown by anyone else. Despite the challenges experienced by the so-called advanced countries, many hardly believe they do have problems. This is because they blow out of measure, their achievements and areas of progress (or strategic advantage) for all and sundry (9).
It is no wonder therefore that Dibia Emelobe rightly observes that,
Nigerians’ expectation of the home video when it first emerged was that it had come to correct the misrepresentation, given to the image of the Black Man by foreign movies… it is however, disappointing to note that a great deal of home videos produced in Nigeria portray women as evil witches, husband snatchers/killers, greedy people, prostitutes, object of ridicule and so on (529).
Concurring his claims, I make to add that women are portrayed to be weak, weepers, unintelligent, feeble and jealous, subservient, dependent, unproductive, wicked mother – in - laws, baby factories, whose boost or values in life is either in their physical beauty, whose daughter they are or wife they become, and how many children they are able to bear for their husbands. Posing a woman’s eventual wealth as particularly ill gotten from either killing her husband or sleeping with multiple sex partners, usually husbands of other women (Aristos, as they are is called). It is either she waits for her sons to get rich and take care of her, or she pressures her daughters to get rich husbands for themselves. Seldom, is her wealth based intellectual hard work, further reaffirming women as necessary evils just as prescribed by the patriarchal construction. And then when they are portrayed as loving, tolerant and understanding, they are painted to be “stupidly” in love, so much so that they are unable to do anything else with their lives, but sit and day dream of a Princess Cinderella kind of happy ending. Nigerian men become sceptical of getting involved with Nigerian women, based on these portrayals talk little of foreigners. Even the popular Disney creation of beauty and the Beast which was replicated in the Ojukwu/Bianca story, was still told in a way that made Beauty fall in love with the beast because he had wealth and riches. It is arguable therefore that Beauty didn’t fall in love with beast, but with his wealth, further portraying her as a schemer of luck, who still married the prince charming which the beast transformed into, even when he wasn’t the actual person she claims to love, but the beast.
In a reading of Gender Balanced characterisation in selected films of Teco Benson, Ihentuge opines that, “the audience of the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is female dominated-oriented towards female viewers” (as cited in Agbese 88). Mohammed affirms that,
women are the biggest consumers of Nollywood, whether at home, at hair salons, offices, or at their shops. These films have now become the major conversation starters for women just as football is to men. In northern Nigeria where women do not have access to education like their counter parts in the east or west and are mostly indoors, the audience is even larger… if only the right messages will be sent out through the medium, the women who have no other means of exposure and knowledge, but through these movies, will at least learn one or two things they can pass to their children. After, all it is said that when you educate a woman, you educate the entire household (as cited in Ihentuge 546).
If we agree with Mohammed on this, the ready question that comes to mind is; what type of messages is conveyed to and of Nigerian women and the general viewer-ship through films? Given the large viewership and popularity, Nollywood films deserve to be carefully analysed and evaluated for their impact on the society, on women and their role in the society. In the last decade, the status of women in films has been declining rather than improving, considering the measurable successes in the global/national advocacy, canvassing against women stereotyping. Since Nollywood is expected to mirror the society, the claim is that the Nigerian society is structured in patriarchal lines, thus the patriarchal reflection of social values. But in my opinion, I submit that rather than have the male-dominated Nollywood (whose consumers are largely women) reflect the woman, prescribing who she should be, the woman should begin reflecting herself, telling the society as to who she is and who she wants to become through the lens of Nollywood.
Having established these facts, let us examine the gender representation or the stories that Nollywood tells about the Nigerian women. Our instruments shall be Hummer Babes produced by Andy Bests and directed by Andy Chukwu, and A New Dawn, produced by Bem Pever and directed by Wale Adesanya.
A Representation of Women in Andy Chukwu’s Hummer Babes
Produced by popular Nollywood producer and electronics merchant, Andy Best in 2014 and directed by Andy Chukwu, the 1hr 47min Pidgin English comedy, which centres around four (4) “heavily” endowed sisters, Rubby (Bola Yusuf), Oma (Mojisola Oyetayo a.k.a Mama Ajasco), Anna (Ify Doller) and Christie (Joy Arinze), all flabby daughters of Chief Ben (Joshua Johnson), whom he (Chief Ben) needed to push off in marriage and save his head.
With no particular flow to the story, the film opens (after a gender discriminatory prologue, where the starring list begins with the names of the male star actors, before the female names; even when the female actors played more prominent roles than the male, indeed affirming men, as the “Head” and should come first). With Anna, Ruby and Christie in a heated argument where Christie accuses Anna of being a pretender, who went behind her back to have a sexual relationship with her (Christy’s) boyfriend, calling Ruby and Anna “birds of the same feather” and referring to Ruby as “big for nothing.” This argument degenerates into a quarrel with Christy accusing Ruby of being jealous of her mountainous “defenders” (backside/bom) and “Attackers” (burst) which she claimed where bigger than Ruby’s. The sisters went into a session of determining whose burst and bom was actually bigger, by displaying and comparing, much to the amusement of Anna the accused, until the younger sister Oma, intervened and subsequently joins the quarrel.
One would expect at the sighting of these four (heavily endowed) women to hear productive and constructive arguments, commensurate to their size, rather we see them in a feat to show whose body is better than the other. Really! Is that all that Nigerian women can argue over, boyfriends and their bodies? The subsequent sequence had the four still quarrelling, until their father shuts them up. He expresses his disappointment at having four adults, who would wake up in the morning, arguing over other people’s husbands when most of their mates were married and in their husbands’ houses. The scene yet again poses a woman’s ultimate destination as being in her husband house, bearing children, male children particularly for him, and taking care of him. One would expect to hear a father suggesting that they should firstly find jobs for themselves and be involved in fending for themselves before talking about marriage. Rather, he sees marriage as a better form of security for them.
Ruby finally finds a boyfriend for herself, Sly (McSmith Ochendo) who brain washes with al the tale of love. In his own approach at wooing Ruby, he composes a song for her, but not before she tries to investigate what he does for a living, to enable her rate how heavy is pocket would be. As a singer, Sly sings in Igbo but translated as:
Baby…baby …baby ooo…
You have what I eat
Baby … baby … baby ooo....
You have what I like
Number one is that you are full
What I eat
Number two is that you are beautiful
What I eat …
As Sly sang on, Ruby is seen in a Euphoria of self awareness, dancing seductively and flaunting her chest and backside, much to his delight and just as the popular say goes, “if you have got it, flaunt it!” At this point, you would agree with me that Ruby is lost in herself, lost in the acknowledgement that a song is dedicated to praise her beauty, just as she has been socialised to believe that a beautify body accentuated with the right curves would attract a rich suitor. This is also portrayed in other Nollywood films, where you have men coming in big posh cars harassing young school girls with proposals of marriage, waxing their little feeble minds with tales of how beautiful they are. Even though it is generally acceptable and expected that a woman be confident in her physical looks, and have her lover praise her beauty ones in a while, it is not acceptable that it becomes the core of her reasoning. Placing more value in her physical looks which can be tempered with by natural occurrences like accidents, pregnancy and child birth, etc. rather than in the core of her personal individuality, her intellect, that which can never be taken from her. This is no doubt resultant of her patriarchal mentality, injected from childhood which Femi and Uchendor asserts that,
the female adolescent is harassed, distracted and bombarded with vain flattery on account of her beauty. Left alone, she may not be conscious of her looks and her effect on men… soon, she is unable to think of any other thing but her beauty. A sense of unhealthy pride in her sexuality is awakened. She begins to spend more time in front of mirror.
In the following sequence, we see Oma, who is established as trying to stop a cab. She suddenly joins a young man in his car, who promises to take her to a nice restaurant to eat, abandoning her initial course. At the end of their date which ends badly as expected, Oma admonishes him sarcastically, to “checkout the market” before pricing in her words;
OMA: So you no fit buy market, na him you come dey price? … Make you dey look before you dey price.
Translation: So, you cannot afford a commodity, yet, you bargain for the commodity? Always checkout/inspect the commodity before bargaining.
These lines of Oma and the entire scene, automatically affirms that women are simply ready and willing commodities to be sold off to the highest bidder. The metaphoric use of “market” to describe herself (being a “beautiful” woman) is so demining, that it explains why she readily changed the course of her day, just to be taken out to eat. This only portrays women as lazy, dependant, greedy and non-resourceful, having nothing to do with life, but seek opportunistic avenues. It becomes even more mind burgling when the next scene right after Oma’s adventure, has her two sisters, Anna and Christie get themselves drunk by two men, who passed out from drunkenness, leaving the duo sisters to treat themselves to a feast of meat and alcohol after which they disappeared. This portrayal should devastate anyone. The young girl/woman watching this, would simply assume that a woman should act likewise and expect 'awoof' (free food) while a young man furnishes his ideology of women being “useless!” On the other hand, Jasper (Stanley King) and wife (Ify Gbodo) are at a quarrel, Jasper threatens to marry himself another wife if she (wife) wouldn’t allow him his conjugal right, saying, “what is a wife good for if not browsing (suggesting sex)?” she (wife) demands to be paid before she would oblige him.
One would ask if she were a commercial sex worker, who must be paid for services. Haven forced his way into her (rape) he declares to his neighbour, his marital intentions. And his neighbour instead of quenching down the tide, out-rightly declares women as wicked witches, informing his own (neighbour's) decision of marrying seven (7) wives who would compete for his attention.
Neighbour: … Now I know say “all women” are wicked!
What a declaration on the feminine gender! One would expect that a film such as this would attract a huge viewership, considering the genre, comedy, which has gained wide acceptance. One would then be left with worrying over what kind of message has been convened to these viewers, male and female alike? There seems to be no middle way in Nollywood’s negative representation of women (Femi and Uchendu). A discussion of A New Dawn might just give hope for a new dawn for women. The extremism must give way.
A Womanist Revolution in Wale Adesanya's A New Dawn
Set in the Northern community of Nakowo, A New Dawn tell a narrative story of a dissatisfied community and a woman who wanted change. A New Dawn mirrors a peaceful revolution amongst a people, which can bring about lasting peace, security and development, if only one person, can identify the need, and take up the challenge of questioning the status quo, in the mist of its consequences.
Produced by Bem Pever and directed by Wale Adesanya (both of whom are products of the Nigerian Film Institute Jos, Plateau state) and also published in 2014, just as, Hummer Babes the inspiring story was written by Aisha Osori and Anthony Abu, screen played/edited by Emile Garooba, and inspired by the experiences of female politicians in Nigeria. The film captures at the end, voices of different women Advocates such as, Saudatu Mahdi (WRAPA), Amina Salihu (Co-Chair, BOT-WF), Chidi Odinkalu (Chairman-NHRC), Funke Baruwa (OSSAP-MDGs) and others, for the increased women representation and creation of more spaces for women in politics and decision making processes.
The Narrator (Joke Silva) introduces us to Nakowa, a community somewhere in Nigeria, where life has not been fair, but people live in hope. A community where the interest of the common main is of no significance to the persons they elected into power. Where people simply live life with the hope that tomorrow will be better, with no one taking the responsibility to indeed make it better. At the opening, Asabe Hamisu (Nita Byack George ) wife, mother and school teacher, rushes to the local clinic where her son Danjuma, was rushed to, after a ghastly motor accident within the community. This happened as we hear from her friends Maimuna (Rabi Usman) and Mama Dele (Omolara Suleiman) when a bus was trying to dodge a pot hole on the road, as Danjuma was crossing the. Meeting the absence of a doctor and the lack of necessary drugs, for immediate attention, Asabe is told the sad news of her son’s death.
The opening scene very quickly x-rays the typical Nigerian community; where even with the presence of a government which receives federal/state allocations for infrastructural development, the amenities are comatose. Nothing seems to be working. The majority of the people live in abject suffering, while a few others, whom the people have elected to look out for their welfare, live in plenty even when they claim that, “there is no money.” In her lamentation, Asabe opens the eyes of the viewer in a rather poetic rendition to the needless/possibly avoidable death of her son.
Asaba: If only there were more drugs in the Hospital; if only there were more Doctors; or even good roads; my Danja would have still been alive today.
And as always, Danjuma's remains were buried and everyone went on with life. Not even his own parents questioned the authorities, until an accidental interaction between Asabe and Mallam Damba (Jide Allah) the chairman’s Personal Assistant), who reveals to her, the intentions of the sitting chairman (Tony Ezimadu) to re-contest office in the coming elections. Even when she tries to find out what is being done about the state of the community, she is told that the chairman is “preoccupied with local government matters" And one would ask, what other “local government matters” is more important than the welfare of the people and the development of the community? Asabe is heart broken when she hears that the very same campaign promises of some 4yrs ago, are the same promises of today; Good roads, good hospitals and medical facilities, jobs for youths etc. none of which he had attended to in the last four years. This is yet, very typical of Nigerian leaders who believe that the populace are hungry, promise starved push around, expecting empty promises at campaigns, with stipends to buy their votes. The leaders are voted into office or force their way through, loot public funds, fulfil little or none of their promises, and still face these people, asking for their votes with no form of accountability whatsoever. But the just concluded 2015 national elections told a different story. Nigerians, now know better; a wind of reawakening has been blown; the realization of “your vote is your power” has set the pace for a revolutionized political system just as herald in the 2015 elections with more women, participating as contestants and voters.
A desire is born in Asabe to "help" fix things in the community. As she confidentially reveals this to her husband (Hoomsuk Jibril) who reprimands her decision by stating that politics is a very dirty game, even at the lower and as such, not a place for women. In her argument, resilient Asabe declares her unwillingness to allow other women, to go through the same pain she felt, due to government negligence, saying that her decision was the right thing to do.
Asabe: All the under-handedness we see in government today is what unscrupulous people have turned it into, and this must change.
Husband: How many women do you see in politics?
Asabe: Another thing that must change; why should women suffer the most from everything that is wrong in the country and still not be involved in making the decisions? Nobody wants to make the sacrifice, all we do is sit down and complain, while we allow the wrong people decide what’s best for us; all these must change… do you think in can do the job?
With a ‘Yes’ from her confidant and husband, Asabe moves straight into planning her campaign strategies, with help from her three believing friends who helped with sourcing support funds from market women. This is exemplary of who Nigerian women should be portrayed to be. Resourceful and intelligent, strong and determined, movers for change and peaceful revolutionaries, humble but witty, negotiators and not hard head witches, loving and productive wives, confident in the beauty of their hearts, not in the structures of their bodies, supportive and dedicated friends, good managers of little resources; Decisive and not confused cheerful helpers and not slaves, resilient and yet calculated.
This is who we are and this is who we should be portrayed to be. In the presiding sequence, we see how supportive the women of Nakowa were to Asabe’s vision, as she assures them that “women will make the change,” in spite of threats from the chairman and his 'godfathers,' who describes Asabe derogatively, as a mere school teacher, as such, considered, harmless. But Asabe is described by Mallam Damba as a charitable woman, whom the people of the community love and respect. “Ee must not underestimate her” was his warning to the chairman.
In my opinion, that is a message to the world. In the mist of the many challenges, the threat on her life and family, the mockery and fear of failure, Asabe is strengthened by a call from a succeeding woman leader, Senator Rabi (Kate Henshaw), who encourages her to stand strong. And even aim higher in the mist of the discouragement, as she (Sen. Rabi) would be contesting for Governor in the coming elections.
This conversation brings to fore, the fact that, rather than the envious, jealous and un-ambitious women, as portrayed in “Hummer Babes” and other such films, Nigerian women are supportive, committed and inspiring. Even a mouth watering N20million and a place in cabinet if she stepped down, proposed by the now uncertain chairman, on seeing her effect on the people who now chant, “Change” (as is Asabe’s slogan), all over the community, does not make Asabe to give up. Symbolic is the interplay in this sequence, which mirrors the dirtiness in our nation’s politics. For most politicians, it is a do or die affairs, resulting in unnecessary assassination, threats and bribery. The men in politics today have made politics such an unsafe terrain, not only for women, but for any lover of peace and due process. As a symbol of the ideal Nigeria woman, Asabe models how politics should be played in the moments of the election. Whilst the chairman is panicked and unsettled, Asabe is settled and confident. While the chairman calls for a breakdown of order and snatching of the ballot boxes, so as to distort the process, Asabe emphasises that the attention of the police be sorted. While chairman demands that more money be dished out to buy votes, Asabe declares that it is not “a do or die affair.” The chairman becomes more and more restless, that his “agbada” became too hot for him, so that even while the Air conditioner was freezing cold, chairman demanded that it should be turned on. This is contrary to Asabe, the mere school teacher, who sits in the comfort of her home and in the company of her family and friends, waiting to hear the results.
It is evident who wins these kinds of contest, our heroine Asabe Hamisu, whom even while comported and confident, nurses and shares her fears with her husband, who in turn gives her a pat on the back, rather than a word of discouragement. Alhaji Hamisu here, symbolises the very few Nigerian men who are confident and believe that, “what a man can do a woman can do even better.” He symbolizes the confidant and supportive society and government that a woman needs to become all that he can be, in a staunchly patriarchal society as Nigeria.
Propagating Gender Struggle through Nollywood
A critical read of the above analysis brings to fore, the imperative call for a total re-orientation of Nollywood film makers, and the need for a proper representation and portrayal of women in the Nollywood film culture, as this will inform the attitudinal change, on how women themselves and the society view the feminine gender. To this I will attempt to proffer some suggestion/recommendations:
- Civil societies, both local and international, must not rest on their oars, in sensitising and re-orientating Nigerian women on who they are. This is because, the hindrance for most women comes from within, and until women began building a healthy self esteem, all other efforts, will yield very little results. Nollywood films should capture these.
- The Federal Ministry for Women Affairs in partnership with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and other civil society groups should carry out an orientation workshop/symposiums for Nollywood practitioners, on the need for gender balance and representation in Nollywood films, as these films informs people’s attitudes in no small measure.
- More sponsorship/fund opportunities should be made available by the Nigerian government and other international NGO’s for Nollywood films that teaches values, morals, culture and gender equality.
- In line with the individual re-awakening, more focus must be put on the teenage girls who are just forming their personalities. Mothers must identify who they are, and break the chains of inferiority, ensuring that they pass this over to their children, female and male. Nollywood films should preach this.
- More women must be encouraged to go into the film making process. Rather than wait for the male dominated Nollywood producers to through their stories, mirror/ reflect Nigerian women in the way that they choose to see them. Women must begin telling their own stories and become the mirror through which society view them.
- There is need for more women participation in government, peace and conflict resolution processes, security and economic development, as this would provoke more “true life stories” of women’s successes. Rather than have heavy touch lights on the corrupt women, as in the case of Hon. Patricia Etteh, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who’s story has since been filmed.
In conclusion, the need to change the “Face” of Nigerian women in Nollywood films cannot be over emphasised. This paper has attempted a look at the Nigerian society, which is structured in patriarchal lines, giving credence to the way girls and boys are socialised. It also attempted a look at Nollywood from 1992 till date, and posits that, though some of the challenges facing the industry, includes, piracy, funding, distribution, etc., brighter is the future for Nollywood. It could be surmised then that, the analysis of Hummer Babes produced by Andy Best, directed by Andy Chukwu and A New Dawn, produced by Bem Pever, and directed by Wale Adesanya, reveal the kinds of stories that Nollywood tell (as in the former) and the stories it “should” tell, (as in the later) about Nigerian women. It is apparent that if properly harnessed, Nollywood as a medium for communication can create a model of an ideal society with the right attitude toward women and girls and therefore, bring the populace into acceptance. That with the right mindset, Nollywood story telling would transcend the globe to re-invent the process of filmmaking, which would adequately promote gender equality, gender balance, discourage gender base violence (GBV) and edify our diverse cultures, producing films that will educate the viewer, and instil the much needed morals of peace, love, security and unity for all Nigerians.
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Adesanya, Wale (Director). A New Dawn. Story/Screenplay: Anthony Abu & Ayisha Osori. D.O.P: Shelika Emmanuel. Producer: Pever Bem. Starring: Nita Byack George, Joke Silva, Kate Henshaw, Hoomsuk Alex Jibril, Jide Attah, Tony Ezimadu, Rabi Usman, Omolara Suleiman. Company: Nigerian Women Trust Fund with Amateur Heads Production, Year?.
Chukwu, Andy (Director). Hummer Babes. Story/Screenplay: Andy Chukwu. D.O.P: James Osemeka Starring: McSmith Ochendu, Mojisola Oyetayo (aka Mama Ajaska), Bola Yusuf, Joy Arinze, John Okafor, Ify Dollar, Andy Chukwu. Producer: Andy Best Nnamdi. Company: Andy Best Nollywood TV, Year?.