Tackling the Bias Against Women in Nollywood
After decades of slow growth, Nollywood, one of the largest film industries in the world in terms of number of films produced, is a story of runaway success.
As of 2016, the industry made up N 853.9 billion ($7.2 billion), or 1.42 percent of Nigeria’s GDP. It employs more than a million people directly or indirectly and can be considered the country’s second-biggest source of jobs after agriculture. Based on the sheer quantity and quality of films being made, economic observers consider Nollywood one of the major planks on which to diversify the Nigerian economy.
However, the industry is faced with problems ranging from a lack of funding to piracy and copyright infringement to poor management and disunity and ultimately, a lack of established institutions to support its creatives.
In the midst of these challenges, many feel that there are underlying issues of sexism and misogyny against women in the industry.
The issues regarding female representation and depiction of ‘women in Nollywood’ topic was inspired by the ongoing saga involving Nollywood actress, Iyabo Ojo, Baba Ijesha, and TAMPAN. While we can collectively agree that the Nollywood industry is lacking in many areas, this incident seems to be an eye-opener to the already-existing problems of misogyny, lack of representation and
The Iyabo Ojo and Baba Ijesha saga started on the 4th of June after Olanrewaju James, known as Baba Ijesha, was accused of sexually molesting a minor.
In a bid to show support for his male colleague and friend, Yomi Fabiyi, came to his rescue and asked for video evidence to prove that the allegations were true. Even after the video was released, Yomi insisted that Baba Ijesha did no wrong.
Even with the glaring evidence, Baba Ijesha was released from jail only after a few days.
To worsen things, the Theatre Arts and Movie Practitioners Association of Nigeria, (TAMPAN), announced Iyabo’s suspension from the body in a press conference not long after.
Apparently, there had been a series of warnings from the association to Iyabo Ojo to desist from making further comments on the sexual harassment matter. According to TAMPAN’s leader, Bolaji Amusan, Iyabo had ignored these warnings and continued to relentlessly press on the issue.
To punish Iyabo for disobeying the instructions to stay silent on a matter of molestation against a minor, TAMPAN decided that the way forward was to blacklist Iyabo. She was labeled one of the black sheep of the industry and was suspended indefinitely. In addition to that, the group warned producers against working with her until the association rescinds its decision.
Interestingly enough, Iyabo is not even a member of the association.
The woman who decided to speak up about injustice and sexual crimes against a child was blacklisted and wrung out dry while the perpetrator and molester is walking about as a free man.
This is just one out of many incidents of discrimination against women in the Nigerian film industry, both on and off screens.
On screen, the early years of Nollywood cinema was a period of creative quiet for women in the industry. Nigerian society is steeped in a tradition that thinks women are unfit for positions of power, authority, and leadership. Under the patriarchal gaze of the male filmmakers, this resulted in a one-dimensional and sexist image of the Nigerian woman in films.
The female characters, no matter what archetype they were—campus babe, evil mother-in-law, mamiwater—always met a terrible end.
These male filmmakers advanced Nigeria's rape culture through rape storylines that were typically sympathetic to rape offenders rather than rape victims, who were frequently depicted as "bad girls" whose “immoral” behavior, and manner of clothing made them deserving of rape.
Nollywood has continued to be mostly dominated by men, and worrisome numbers of women are involved in its production and direction.
One would think that the popularity and impact of the films across the country and continent as well as its export viability would give women all the push they need to get more involved.
Unfortunately, these women are unable to get to because of a lack of awareness, lack of economic independence, and sociocultural barriers. This is why it seems like women depend on men to tell their stories. What major stakeholders in the industry need to realize is that a story cannot be told better than by the owner of the story.
Off screens, Nollywood female filmmakers discuss how Igwe utilized incentives to prod them into becoming filmmakers and strengthened them to defy naysayers—chief among them, their male counterparts—in the documentary Amaka's Kin.
Blessing Effiom Egbe, the producer of hit TV series Lekki Wives, narrated her experience of how a male director had asked her to partner with him and let him direct her films because as a woman she would be unable to manage actors. Other challenges the filmmakers face include being disrespected on set by cast and crew. Film/TV director Adeola Osunkojo said “every time I go on set, they probably think I’m the makeup artist.” She also shared an experience: “I remember once on set, a guy asked me, are you the director? Are you really really the director?”
During the April edition of Inkblot Women in Film (IWIF) lunch, actor and producer, Eku Edewor made reference to the portrayal of sexism in Nollywood, mentioning that some female producers and writers are guilty of this as well.
According to Edewor, “Report shows that women make up 60% of the Nollywood film audience. It is important that women are represented better in films, rather than telling the story from the male gaze: from characterization to story, costumes and more."
Another issue that was discussed is the gender pay gap. Many of the attendees at the IWIF event confirmed that women still earn less than men, for doing equal work in some productions. What’s even more shocking is that there have been cases where male supporting actors got paid more than the female leads.
Actor and presenter, Michelle Dede narrated that once she got to Nigeria, she first noticed that people felt the male host of a show should be better paid than the female, even when the woman would have done all the research and is better equipped than her male counterpart.
In the same way, Omowunmi Akinnifesi suggested that “secrecy in fees is also one of the reasons the pay inequality thrives.”
There are, of course, women who are redefining the narratives and setting the stage for women to come in the industry.
A filmmaker like Amaka Igwe defied the regressive traditional notions of what a woman should be and became the first known Nigerian female filmmaker.
She is the mastermind behind "Violated", "Checkmate", "Fuji House of Commotion" and "Rattlesnake; Ahanna's Story" —which is currently being remade by executive producer, Charles Okpaleke and director, Ramsey Noah.
Genevieve Nnaji with her movie, "Lionheart" —a feminist story about a woman who seeks to save her family's company from bankruptcy while highlighting the underlying sexism in the corporate world— paved the way for the entry of Netflix into the Nigerian industry.
Interestingly, Genevieve dedicated this movie to the now late Amaka Igwe's memory.
In 2020, Netflix partnered Mo Abudu’s Ebonylife TV for a slew of films and series including the adaptations of Lola Shoneyin’s "The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives" and Wole Soyinka’s "Death and The King’s Horseman". While this is wonderful news, it comes as no surprise, as Mo Abudu has become a Nollywood powerhouse since she came into the industry with her first feature film production, "Fifty". She rules the Nigerian box office, having three of her films —"The Wedding Party 1 & 2", and "Chief Daddy" — as the highest-grossing Nollywood films of all time. She also struck a three-series deal for the production of a series about the Dahomey warriors of Benin with Hollywood studio, Sony Pictures, in 2018.
Other women such as Ego Boyo of "Keeping Faith" and "The Ghost and House of Truth"; Tope Oshin of "Fifty" and "Up North"; Blessing Effiom Egbe of "Lekki Wives"; Jadesola Osiberu of "Isoken" and "Sugar Rush"; director Kemi Adetiba behind "The Wedding Party" —produced by Mo' Abudu and "King of Boys"; Ema Edosio of "Kasala"; and Ifeoma Chukwuogo whose short film "Bariga Sugar" caught the attention of international film festival, AFRIFF, are just a few of the women making a lot of noise in Nollywood.
While Nollywood still has a long way to come, women in the industry have already begun to move against discrimination, regressive profiling and injustices by making big strides.
The Women of Nollywood are Fighting Misogyny, Telling Stories and Making Giant Strides by Culture Custodian - https://culturecustodian.com/the-women-of-nollywood-are-fighting-misogyny-telling-stories-and-making-giant-strides/
Women and Representations in Nollywood: Questions of Production and Direction by Agatha Aga Ukata
Nigerian women in film discuss challenges, proffer solutions at forum as reported by Premium Times Newspaper - https://www.premiumtimesng.com/entertainment/nollywood/454929-nigerian-women-in-film-discuss-challenges-proffer-solutions-at-forum.html
Iyabo Ojo in The Eye of The Storm as reported by The Will - https://thewillnigeria.com/news/iyabo-ojo-in-the-eye-of-the-storm/