ADDED ON: 05/14/2022

Two Nigerian filmmakers discuss the future of queer cinema in Nollywood

5/13/22 | Xtra Magazine

In the 2003 feature film Emotional Crack, one of the first Nigerian films to depict a queer relationship, a woman in an abusive marriage with a man finds comfort and solace in the arms of another woman. When her husband learns of her affair, he throws her out of his home. She eventually returns to him after ending her affair, but her ex-lover attacks her out of anger. The film implicitly suggests that homosexuality is a result of domestic violence and leads to violence itself. “When a film is telling a story about human lives—about people’s existence—approach to the story matters. They need to tell the story in a way that dignifies their humanity. And I don’t think that [Emotional Crack] did that,” says lesbian Nigerian filmmaker Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim. Ikpe-Etim, whose 2020 short film Ìfé concerns two women who fall in love over the course of a three-day date, is part of a new generation of young independent filmmakers whose voices will not be stifled by the country’s anti-gay laws. Traditionally, the Nigerian film industry, known as Nollywood, is imbued with very conservative notions of family. Marriage is sacred, and any perceived attack must be met with vigour, and even divine vengeance. Homosexuality is still illegal in the country of over 160 million people. In 2014, the Nigerian government passed into law the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which forbids cohabitation between same-sex partners as well as public displays of “amorous” affection between persons of the same sex. Sanctions are up to 14 years in prison. Other Nollywood films, like Women Affair (2003) and Busted (2017), effectively debase homosexuality by portraying gay people as predatory groomers. But the worst depiction was in the 2010 feature Men in Love, where rape is depicted as a gay conversion process. By the end of the film, homosexuality is portrayed as an evil spirit only a Christian pastor can cast out. In recent years, Nollywood has shifted from its Christian dogmatism to exploring stories that are made mainly for entertainment. At best, these newer films just avoid discussing homosexuality altogether. For example, the sexual education TV show MTV Shuga included queer representation when produced in Kenya and South Africa, but the Nigerian edition repeatedly avoided mentioning it through its four seasons. While Nollywood continues to villanize homosexuality, independent LGBTQ+ activists and advocacy groups have filled in the gap in the little ways they can. Their films and shows like Hell and High Water and We Don’t Live Here Anymore, created by the nonprofit The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), are different from those of mainstream Nollywood as they attempt to be empathetic to the lived experiences of queer and trans communities. Two recent films by openly queer Nigerians, Ikpe-Etim’s Ìfé (2020) and non-binary filmmaker Wapah Ezeigwe’s Country Love, are even bolder in their narrative of what it means to be queer and in love in a place where it is taboo. Ìfé is a unique study on how lesbians navigate romantic relationships in a place like Nigeria, where homosexuality is outlawed. Ezeigwe’s Country Love is set in the countryside of Nsukka, a quiet town in Southern Nigeria, and concerns a femme young man, Kambili, who returns home after 15 years for his childhood love, only to find that things are no longer as they were. Both films represent a shift from Nollywood’s queerphobic, agenda-driven stories to truthful and authentic stories about queer Nigerians by queer Nigerians. I spoke to both Ezeigwe and Ikpe-Etim to hear their thoughts on Nollywood’s negative portrayal of queer people and the future of queer filmmaking in Nigeria.

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