For about a week last month, I found myself watching several movies on Africa Magic* that left me feeling very disturbed. These movies were dramas with ‘romance’ in them…I’m not even sure if I should call it ‘romance’ but I guess that is the only way I can put these movies in a genre. The fact that these movies were supposedly depicting ‘love’ stories is what makes them all the more disturbing. To start off, I do not remember the names of the movies I watched, perhaps those who know their Nollywood can help me here. The first movie starred Desmond Elliot and was about a prince who raped a woman from his village. The village woman then discovered that she was pregnant after a while. When her father learnt of the news, he stormed into the palace demanding that the prince accept responsibility for his actions and marry the woman he had raped.
Obviously the prince refused to do anything and it was only when his mother insisted/threatened/cajoled that he married the woman he had raped and impregnated. Of course this prince is a typical ‘bad boy’, he did not want to marry this village woman and promised his girlfriend from the city (imagine the rapist had a girlfriend who was of his own social status) that he would divorce the village woman after she had given birth to her baby. However, things did not turn out the way the prince planned. After the village woman was taken into the palace, he realised that she was beautiful when she was dressed in fine cloths and covered in jewels. The prince ‘fell in love’ with her and after giving birth to a baby boy, his wife came to ‘love’ him as well and they lived happily ever after. Excuse me while I puke…
Needless to say while watching the movie, I was extremely angry. What on earth were the writers, producers, directors and actors thinking? Or, were they even thinking at all because I highly doubt it. I kept on wondering why watching the movie what kind of morals/messages it was trying to send. And if it was not sending any morals/messages, what on earth was this movie saying about Nigerian culture and the way it regards rape and unwanted pregnancies? After cursing at the TV screen for the duration of the movie (I just HAD to watch it to believe it), I was told not to let myself get bothered by the movie…I followed that advice.
However it was only a few days after watching that lame excuse of a movie that I came across yet another movie filled with the same disgusting garbage. Again I do not remember the name of the movie but it starred Desmond Elliot (the same guy who played the rapist prince), Genevieve Nnaji and Dakore Egbuson. In this movie, Genevieve played a good born-again Christian housegirl (maid) who was always resisting the sexual advances of her employer (Desmond) while being bullied by his sister (Dakore). The housegirl came from a poor family and for some reason or the other her brother was in the hospital ill and she needed a whole lot of money to pay for his surgery. Of course, her poor family could not afford to pay for their son’s medical bills and the housegirl took it upon herself to ask her employer, the same one who sexually harassed her daily, for help. Her employer agreed to give her the money for her brother’s medical bills…only if she had sex with him.
Naturally the housegirl was conflicted, she needed the money for her brother’s surgery but her religion was important to her and sleeping with her employer would be going against it. In the end, she slept with her employer and got the money but it was too late because her brother had died already. Being a good girl, she returned the money her employer had given her and one way or another as the movie progressed, he ‘fell in love’ with her. The housegirl was resistant at first and there were all those obstacles! For one, there was her employer’s fiancee who took any chance she had to remind the housegirl of her ‘place’ (i.e. lowly status) and there was the good Christian boy who wanted to marry her even though she was not ‘in love’ with him. The movie ended happily of course with the housegirl ‘falling in love’ with the man who had not only sexually harassed her while she was his maid but also had bribed her into having sex with him. Did I mention that he also hit his girlfriend?
*Sigh* I remember feeling extremely shocked after watching those two movies. I still do not understand what was going on in the minds of the people behind those movies and others like them. I also still do not understand what exactly it is movies like that are trying to say. I mean, they do not even make a lick of sense…people may argue that movies are for entertainment yet I do not see what is so entertaining about movies that are just oozing disturbing amounts of sexism in their horrible portrayals of women. Another problem is that of class/social status as shown in the movies. Basically rich men and princes get to do whatever they like and it does not matter what they do to poor women because in the end the women are going to ‘fall in love’ with them anyway as women are highly susceptible to Stockholm syndrome and give birth to sons that will continue their husband’s lineage.
The most distressing movie to me was the first one. I watched that movie with a friend and as I watched the scene where the queen (the prince’s mother) scolded the prince telling him that he must marry the woman he had raped because she was pregnant for him, I blurted out something about abortion. My friend was quick to react, saying that she did not agree with abortion and that it was wrong. I understand that sentiment but I fail to see how abortion is worse that being forced to marry your rapist! I did not argue with my friend as I know most Nigerians do not agree with abortion and many view it as a sin/murder/’why would you abort your baby when your mother gave birth to you?’ (which I think is ridiculous, please check out Roslyn’s blog to find out why)/etc.
When abortion was mentioned, I started reflecting on how women who abort are treated in Nigerian movies. It was then that I realised that in all the Nigerian movies I have watched (baring one) which dealt with this sensitive issue, all women who aborted their babies ended up dead! I find that amazing…the message these movies are sending suggests that women who abort will either die
or deserve to die. Granted abortion is illegal in Nigeria and in the movies, women had to either go to fake doctors or bribe doctors into giving them abortions. However regardless of whether they went to quack doctors or qualified doctors, there were always complication and the woman ending up dying due to her having an abortion. If they wanted to send a message about the perils of abortion, instead of admonishing/shaming raped women for aborting unwanted babies they could have talked about legalising it. I mean, some women are going to abort unwanted pregnancies anyway so if people really care about female mortality due to abortions by quack doctors, you’d think talking about legalising abortion was the first step to take.
The only movie I have watched in which a woman actually lived through an abortion, and lived to be a successful woman at that, was incidentally a Yoruba movie. I remember the name of the movie, it was Kilebi Olorun. I liked the message that movie sent because it stressed the value of female children. Kilebi Olorun is a movie about a man who wanted a son to inherit his business while ignoring that he had FOUR daughters. He wanted a son so badly that he threatened to marry another wife if his wife couldn’t give birth to a son within a certain time limit. His want of a son was amplified when it was discovered that his first daughter had not only gotten pregnant ‘out of wedlock’ but had also aborted the pregnancy leading the father to have ‘valid’ proof that his daughters were worthless. The wife had to resort to extreme measures (visiting a babalawo**) and when she gave birth to a son, he grew up to be a useless, stubborn and disrespectful gangster who manhandled his father’s business. On the other hand the man’s FOUR daughters grew up to be successful, respectful (married of course) women.
One reason I avoid watching TV and movies most of the time is due to their problematic portrayal of women (and people who can be or are considered minorities). I feel that Nigerian movies should be doing more to educate people and to challenge archaic notions that are still upheld today as opposed to just being useless (which in my humble opinion most of them are). Watching Nigerian movies infuriates me due to the blatant sexism masked as ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ that is present in most of them. The fact that they are popular is even more worrying to me. Of course there are movies that defy the sexist code but they seem to be few in number. Again, all I am asking for is realistic three-dimensional and positive portrayals of women in movies, films, TV series etc. It is really disheartening to watch Nigerian movies about rapists who marry their victims and then ‘fall in love’ with them.
*Africa Magic is the channel we on the African continent tune into for Nigerian movies.
**Babalawo is a traditional priest or medicine man as we called them today. Historically and perhaps even today, babalawos are those who communicate with Ifa who is the Yoruba god of divination. I guess they are Oracles in their own way.