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MBA, Nonyelum Chibuzo: Beyond Stigmatization to Cultural Rendezvous and Societal Transformation

Beyond Stigmatization to Cultural Rendezvous and Societal Transformation: Women in Drama/Nollywood

Nonyelum Chibuzo MBA, PhD

Department of English

University of Abuja

P.M.B. 117, Abuja, Nigeria



Nollywood is a developmental and enterprising platform for cultural rendezvous, cultural transformation, and exploration of individuals’ potentials as modes of societal transformation, economic boost and alignment with globalized world. Nollywood reveals the dramatic nature of filming in line with individuals’ cultural and societal advancement. Diverse challenges abound some of which are cultural, economic, political, and socially based. The exploration of the place of women in Nigerian culture vis-a-vis the establishment of women in Nollywood is imperative. The literary culture as a mode of boosting the Nollywood through playwriting cannot be overlooked. Through these means, the thematic concerns that explore societal challenges, possible solutions and way forward are projected. Certain obnoxious cultures that hinder women’s development and societal progress as portrayed by some Nigerian playwrights are countered by the key roles of women in drama/Nollywood. The cinematic nature of Nollywood is a deliberate act to reach a wider audience for the purpose of exposing the gender inequity in Nigeria, societal ills, boost entrepreneurship, self-development, and reveal the beauty in Nigerian culture as a means of cultural outreach towards national development and international relations. This paper explores the phases of Nigerian films and female participation; interrelatedness of culture and gender-based roles with particular attention to women; challenges confronting the Nollywood women, cultural transformation and national development, drama as cultural re-orientation and gender-mainstreaming motivator and Nollywood as the extension/established motivator of gender mainstreaming. The theoretical framework of this paper is Womanism with emphasis on gender equity. The discovery is that culture is a rich source of livelihood, self and societal advancement, entrepreneurship; and culture permeates drama and acting to establish the essence of existence, survival, fulfilment, advancement and a smooth transition from the challenges bugging the Nigerian
society through the adoption of non-sexuality.


The movie industry in Nigeria, just like any other country, is of diverse nature. It consists of two basic components, which are technological and commercial based. Filmmaking consists of film production companies, film studios, cinematography, film production, screenwriting, preproduction, post-production, film festivals, distribution; and actors, film directors and other film personnel, as presented by the free encyclopaedia. In the United States, for instance, the primary nexus of modern film industry is Hollywood, California with the objective of establishing strong relationships through networking. The Indians refer to their own film industry as, “Bollywood” which is an amalgamation of Bombay (a formulation of concentration of India’s film industry at Mumbai) and Hollywood. In like manner, the basis of Nigerian movie is Nollywood. Movie has to do with film industry and filmmaking.

Tracing the historical development of films in Nigeria, four distinct phases emerge and these are the colonial, post-colonial, modern and post-modern phases. The case study of Nigeria shows that, as a patriarchal society, women experience a lot of oppression and exploitation. In the light of this, because Nigerian women are expected to play the second fiddle, the participation of females in movies was very minimal in the early stages of filmmaking in Nigeria. With the recent trend and the age of technology and globalization, it becomes very vital for the millennium goals to be met, especially for the necessity of sustainability. The increasing rate of female participation in Nigerian movie is geared towards the achievement of the third millennium goal, which is the promotion of gender equality and empowering women which launches a direct attack on patriarchal suppression of women’s self-actualization.

            The UN Millennium Project specifies the Third Millennium goal as to “promote gender equality and empower” (1). The Millennium goals are products of history. In September 2000, the world leaders in history adopted the UN Millennium Declaration with the aim of “committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015 that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals” (1). These are eight in number but for the purpose of this paper, only the third one is needed. However, the entire millennium goals are hereby summarized by the UN Millennium Project. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions – income poverty, hunger, disease lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion – while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights – the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security (1).

            The Nigerian movie industry handles life issues critically similar to literature. It delves into historical issues. Drama is one of the three genres of literature. Ola Rotimi, in “The Drama in African Ritual Display,” defines drama from the perspectives of cultural setting as, “an imitation of an action... or of a person or persons in action” (77). Rotimi affirms that the major essence of drama is either to entertain or edify or even both and this is point of convergence with the Nollywood films since inception. Nollywood film industry has acted several literary works written by Nigerians, a strong evidence of the link between the two area. For instance, in addition to the acting of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun has been acted at Toronto International Film Festival, Canada on 8th September, 2013; the United Kingdom on 11th April same year; and Nigeria on 1st August, 2013.

Prior to Nollywood films in Nigeria were television dramas, which came in different forms. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, in Trends in Nollywood: A Study of Selected Genres, said that, the early films produced by the Nigerian film industry “were more like television dramas... packaged in video tapes for home viewing, at the audience’s convenience” (51). However, with time the improvement in the industry started unfolding and improving economically, socially, culturally, etc. that it became source of empowerment for many actors and actresses, especially the females. This is because the film industry has offered the female opportunity to have economic, socio-political, cultural, and even sexual freedom in the society to which she belongs. According to Mary Kolawole, in Womanism and African Conscious, “African women are products of subjugation. Patriarchy, tradition, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and gender imperialism all combine to act against the African woman’s self-assertion” (25).

This paper, therefore, treats the phases of Nigerian films and female participation; the interrelatedness of culture and gender-based roles with particular attention to women; challenges confronting the Nollywood women; drama as cultural re-orientation and gender-mainstreaming motivator and Nollywood as the extension/established motivator of gender mainstreaming.

The Phases of Nigerian Films and Female Participation

Tracing the historical development of the entertainment industry in Nigeria, four distinct phases of development exist. These are the colonial, post-colonial, modern and post-modern phases. The main focus of discussion in these areas is the feminist and womanistist nature of the Nigerian movie industry, in terms of roles, female participation and thematic concern.

Colonial Phase (1900-1960)

As the name implies, colonial era in Nigerian history is pre-independence period that is from 1960 before 1st October backwards. This was the era of cinema which consists basically for the males. Among the popular cinemas within this period was Chekwas cinema at Umuahia, Kwararafa cinema at Jos, other cinema stations at Lagos, Calabar, etc. Nigerians also performed concerts and sing song nights, etc. Youths organised themselves and act out stories. Both men and women participate in such performances but they conform to the societal expectation of women in terms of depiction of moral. A typical example of such is the popular song, “Where have you been to Jimmy London my son?”

            Colonial phase is largely defined by economic exploitation and political dominance as well as stereotype roles of female characters in Nigerian movie industry in line with Nigerian culture. The female characters are dependent of men, weak, emotional and can persevere. The presentation of the ideal woman in the colonial phase conforms to the societal expectation of a woman in Nigerian traditional society in which obeisance; humility and submissiveness are conformed to. However, experience eventually turned out to be the best teacher and women started asserting themselves in the society where European influence is very evident. Discussing “Women Revolution,” Kumah states that,

Women’s participation in the struggle against European domination also goes unnoticed in spite their actual leadership in, and initiation of wars of resistance. One of the most noteworthy examples of said rebellion is the Women’s War of 1929, which involved the protests of Igbo women against British colonizers (7).

Post-Colonial Phase (1961-1991)

The Nigerian civil war hindered development. Before the civil war, there was a carry over of the colonial era which was evident in the presentation of cinema and concerts. This period witnessed the advent of black and white television, a little before the civil war. Towards 1990, coloured television became rampant. Some of the television dramas and soap operas at this time were Masquerade (Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo), which reigned in the 70s down to the 90s; Icheoku, which was broadcasted from Enugu; Village Headmaster from Lagos; and Ukonu’s Club from Aba, to name but four.

Females participated actively in the above listed television programmes as far back as that time. Their actions were geared basically towards entertainment. There was no sophisticated film in vogue then. The basis was mainly fictitious stories which showed traditional way of life, actions of the colonial masters, corruption among leaders, etc.

The later part of this period, 1988 precisely, witnessed a new development in the entertainment industry. This was the commencement of the shooting of literary piece into film as can be seen in the film, Things Fall Apart which is based on Chinua Achebe’s popular novel with same title. The participation of females at this period can be equated to the presentation of male characters in male-authored literary works as can be seen in Achebe’s portrayal of good woman in Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. Carolyn Kumah summarizes this as, “their roles often trivialized to varying degrees and they are depicted as silent and remaining absent from the public sphere”(7).

            Just as most Nigerian drama is deeply rooted in tradition, religious rituals, culture and festivals of the Nigerian communities, most Nigerian movies take their thematic concern from societal issues and culture. In like manner, Yemi Ogunbiyi, in “Nigerian Theatre and Drama: A Critical Profile,” states that, “…as an expression of the relationship between man, society and nature, drama arose out of fundamental human civilization” (3). The actors and actresses in Nigerian movie entertain, create awareness, and satirize the ills in the society. The nature of Nigerian culture and society as well as festivals/rituals therein explains the scarcity of female actresses and different stages and types of movie at different periods. For instance, women are prohibited to partake in certain aspects of culture and this forms the core of performance in Nigeria. J. P. Clark explains that,

the roots of European drama go back to the Egyptian Osiris and the Greek Dionysius so are the origins of Nigerian drama likely to be found in the early religious and magical ceremonies and festivals of the Yoruba, the egwugwu and mmo masques of the Ibo, and the owu and oru water masquerades of the Ijaw; dramas typical of the national repertory still generally unacknowledged today (58).


Female participation at this time is somehow restrictive and portrays in most cases the ideal nature of womanhood in conformity to the Nigerian culture and tradition. The female participants do not go into extremity when compared to what is obtainable in Nigerian movies of the 21st century.

Modern Phase (1992-2000)

Tracing the historical development of movie industry in Nigeria, one discovers that the film Living in Bondage ushered in modern film making in the country. Among the actors/actresses in that film are Kenneth Okonkwo, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Bobmanuel Udokwu, Francis Agu, Ngozi Nwosu, and Nnenna Nwabueze. As rightly stated in “Hollywood, Los Angeles, LA, California,” the movie, Living in Bondage, “which hit the market in 1992, marked a turning point in the Nigerian Movie Industry and heralded the trend in modern day movie making in Nigeria” (3).

            What made the movie industry in Nigeria vibrant and popular were the sponsors, otherwise known as producers. They are mostly found in Onitsha in the present Anambra State of Nigeria, in spite of the fact that the initial movie capital was Lagos. Over the years, Pete Edochie championed the shift of the movie capital from Lagos to Enugu. To Hollywood discussant, Pete Edochie is “a veteran in the communications industry who turned an actor and has become one of the most successful in Nigeria” (3). The base of movie industry in Nigeria however is not static. Cross River State of Nigeria has registered a significant input due to the beautiful scenery and attractive ultra modern facilities in Calabar too.

            The Nigerian movie draws thematic concerns mainly from the society. This they easily achieve by exploring the ills in the society, satirizing obnoxious cultures and traditions, and x-raying the Nigerian society at large. During this period, most of the Nigerian films showcased African traditional beliefs, slavery, e.g., Ekulu, Vuga, etc. The battle between Christianity and idol worship was also explored at this period as can be seen in Ulaga, Karashika, Captives, Izaga, etc. The movie industry was also much into love themes and comedy at this period. Ocultism and blood rituals for money were also treated as thematic concerns as can be seen in Alusi Iyi, etc. Even religious issues and moral decadence were satirized as portrayed in Beyond the Vow.

Among the actresses of this period are Ngozi Nwosu, Ngozi Nnaeto, Chinyere Wilfred, Liz Benson, Sandra Achums, Omotola Jarade-Ekeinde, Stella Damascus, Edith Jane Azu, Hilda Dokubo, Camila Mberekpe, etc.

Post-Modern Phase (2001-Present)

This marks the advancement of Nigerian movie into different genres that depict the inclusion of globalized issues rather than mere cultural issues. Video films go sophisticated as universal issues dominate the thematic concern. Jonathan Haynes, however, explores “three video genres that embody forms of political critique: the hardy genre of films about traditional rulership; the crime thriller, with several variants; and family melodrama, which tends to infiltrate other genres” (1). Classification of genres is based on political critique.

            One unique thing at this period is the portrayal of modern society through the use of things like GSM, Bluetooth, modern cars and technology, cinematographic effect, e.g., disappearing and appearing, etc. Thematic concerns like abortion, HIV, child trafficking, drug abuse, etc. They project love films, comedy, action films, and adventure films like Egg of Life. Women play prominent part in Nigerian films as can be seen in Women’s Court in which Onyeka Owen played part. The Igbos based mostly at No. 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha, and Idumota-Lagos, are the producers and marketers of Nigerian films. Some of the feminist films during this period are Abuja Connection, Queen of Aso Rock, August Meeting, Alice my First Lady, etc.

            Among the actresses that form the bandwagon of patriarchal break launchers in Nigeria’s movie industry are Patience Ozokwor, Caroline Ekanem, Ini Edo, Florence Onuma, Rita Edochie, Chinwe Owoh, Susan Obi, Ngozi Ezeonu, etc. Others are Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Genevieve Nnaji, Nkiru Sylvanus, Stephanie Okereke, Tonto Dikeh, Camilla Mberekpe, Kate Henshaw, Monalisa Chinda, Anita Hogan, Uche Jombo, Georgina Onuoha, Chioma Chukwuka, Oge Okoye, Sandra Achums, etc.

            The exploration of some films within this period shows the diversity of the themes acted. Again, the participation of women depicts aggressive attack on patriarchy as they are not selective of their roles. Looking at the film, Queen of the Mountain, the Igwe’s first wife as described by the producer, Okenwa Moses, is “…arrogant, heartless and wicked. All she wants is power, wealth in detriment of others…” (Jacket cover). The film is a political satire on the ills in the society. In the same vein, Alice, the major character in Alice My First Lady, being empowered by her business, refused to be intimidated anybody including her women folk. Her attitude however, lies on the power of curse of a disappointed mother. The producer described Alice as, “a young woman that doesn’t know that she has been living with a curse since she was 11years old until when she thought that the end of the world has come” (Jacket cover).

            The film that actually depict the current issue in the globalize world is titled, Meet You in Hell. HIV/AIDS are post-modern outcomes of sexual promiscuity and excessive desire for materialism. The actresses conform to the societal trend and shun the dictates and restrictions of patriarchy as they create awareness of the deadly virus and ways of contacting it. This phase knows no bounds in the treatment of thematic concerns just as the actresses become more assertive and self-actualized as the days go by.

Interrelatedness of Culture and Gender-based Roles

In this section, attention is paid to women. Gender roles are culturally determined through biological construct and discrimination. Each individual is expected to conform to the prescribed roles. Such roles, which are norm based, are featured in drama and films though the dynamic nature of Nigerian contemporary society influences it a lot. Drama projects attitudes and societal expectations revolving around gender roles just like films. However, the female gender is stigmatized, especially for their roles which the society may see as contrary to the societal norms.

            Gender is cultural construct and so are gender roles. The society has already classified distinct roles to each gender. Dramatists work very hard to be explicit in the acting just as Nollywood actors and actresses. In the film, Alice, My First Lady for instance, masquerading is exclusively for the males while the females are prohibited. Alice however took laws into her hands to mete punishment on the masquerade that beat up her only daughter unjustly. She damned every consequence and set it ablaze. However, this is due to the developmental trends in Nigerian society, especially with the jet age. Several male characters have also acted female parts and vice versa. The shows the common features of both drama and Nollywood films which could be deceptive or purposely designed for specific purposes.

Challenges Confronting the Nollywood, Especially Women

The Nollywood film industry is faced with diverse challenges ranging from social, economic, cultural, political, etc. One very ugly incidence that tends to pull the industry down is the case of piracy which has become a canker in Nigeria. Piracy is a high corruption breeder and needs to be nipped at the board for progress and sustainable development to be achieved. Piracy is currently a game of cheat as can be seen in the relationship between monkey and baboon.

            Another ugly challenge in the Nollywood industry undermines the reputation of the females. Stigmatization is very destructive. The foremost objectives of the Nollywood industry are to entertain and to educate; hence, the script writers, actors and actresses draw their materials most often from the societal ills. Several of their fans quite understood the messages but due to the patriarchal nature of the society, the actresses are given very negative identities. Some of them are seen as prostitutes and as such tagged ‘not the marriage type.’ This negative portrayal of the good intentions to teach, expose, create awareness to the public is a serious source of worry as some men with myopic thinking, who have not fully understood the necessity of the messages they convey.

            The thematic concerns are becoming monotonous. Among the dominant themes of the Nollywood film industry are love, class distinction, marriage, adultery, quest for wealth, cultism, witchcraft, abuse on women, power, to name but few. Most films in the recent time lack suspense. No sooner the film started than you predict the next line of action. They also face technological and funding problems. Production of one film has cost implication and there is no government subsidy for them. Several of them also have the challenge of improper editing of scripts, poor language use and a lot of grammatical errors. These affect the quality of some films.

            Actresses encounter a lot of problems in Nigerian movie industry. Some of these problems are sex-based, status wise and role-conflicting. The commonest problem encountered by Nigerian actresses is societal based and will be discussed in the next sub-section of this paper. Discussing “Patriarchal Suppression and Neurosis in Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country,” Ayo Kehinde states that,

African women subvert and disrupt patriarchal modes of representation and containment. It also suggests that African women’s full enjoyment of their human rights is a prerequisite for their empowerment, and constitutes the trademark of democracy in their content (1).

Just as Magada in the above named novel calls for “an end to patriarchal suppression in Africa, as well as for order, unity, security, and gender equality” (1), so do the Nigerian female actresses launch attacks on patriarchy and subjugation of the female gender.


The Nigerian culture placed females as second fiddle in Nigerian society. This limits the exposure and role performance of the females within and outside the country. With the increasing developmental stages and technological age, exposure and empowerment became imminent. Emergence from cocoons becomes a necessary end for Nigerian females to be empowered.

            The movie industry creates the easiest way of females’ self-assertion and entertainment in Nigerian society. The first prominent Nigerian movie, Living in Bondage, registered female actresses like Ngozi Nwosu, etc. Her high maintenance of moral in the film earned her a lot of admirers. But then, patriarchy engulfed her talents as marriage gradually withdrew her from the entertainment scene. Consequently, several actresses exist in Nigerian movie. Some of them who were interviewed by Ovation 4 of Nigeria in December, 2007 with the title, Nigeria Films, are “Ego Boyo (Nee Nnamani)… Bernadette Ruscoe Balogun… Bukky Ajayi… Azizat… Susan Harvey… Amaka Igwe… Genevieve Nnaji… Nnenna Agba… Cossy Orjiako… Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde” (3-6).

            Among others is Liz Benson, who is now an Evangelist. The Nigerian females have stormed the movie industry and are patriarchal break launchers, having highly reduced intimidation and oppression existing in the world of making films. Most male producers strive to know the actresses carnally before allowing them to act. Most of the Nigerian actresses have subdued such sexual exploitation and male chauvinism especially the enlightened ones who have been empowered by education.

            Just as literature, movie is a systematic study and depiction of society. The positions occupied by females in movies are reflections of societal attitudes towards females, and life in general. The colonial and pre-colonial phases of African movie depict marginalization of females in Nigerian movie due to power holders. These phases registered minimal female participation in movie. The situation can be likened to Ifi Amadume’s views in Male Daughters, Female Husbands, as quoted by Carolyn Kumah: “whereas indigenous concepts linked to flexible gender constructions in terms of power and authority medicated dual-sex divisions, the new Western concepts carried strong sex and class inequalities supported by rigid gender ideology and constructions” (1).

Following the current trend in Nigerian movie industry, females are not limited to acting alone. Some of them have graduated into producing and directing films. Males dominated direction and production of films in the early phases of film making in Nigeria. The females are however making impact in these areas. For instance, in discussing “Nigerian films,” it was stated that Amaka Igwe was a “notable writer, producer, actress and movie maker” (5). This has not just empowered her to survive, but has emancipated her from male chauvinism. Most Nigerian females still live at the mercy of their male counterparts. This calls for gender mainstreaming in all spheres of human endeavour so as enable females meet up with the growing age of technology and globalization world wide. This is in line with the millennium goal which stipulates that efforts should be made to “promote Gender Equality and Empower women” (1). This millennium goal cancels stereotypic and parasitic ways of living in the lives of the female gender. Most actresses like Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Lilian Bach, etc, can no longer be burdens to anybody because they have actualized themselves and successfully detached themselves from second fiddle role which is anti-globalization.

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