Consider these movie scenarios. They are scenes straight out of your typical Nollywood production. A man and his wife were engaged in a heated matrimonial argument. The justifiably aggrieved woman had questioned her husband’s reckless philandering and constant late nights. Then in a flash, the man, in a fit of rage, descended on his wife. He delivered a flurry of slaps and pushed her to the ground raining blows on her in the process. He threatened to kill her and “nothing will happen’’.
He stormed out of the house, leaving her to nurse the wounds while she lay curled up in a corner sobbing. The traumatised woman sought refuge in her parents’ house. The mother, ignoring her sorry state advised her to endure her violent husband. She promptly sent her back to her matrimonial home. The film ended with no restitution for the woman. The abusive husband was not brought to justice-typical Nollywood script.
In another Nollywood movie, an indigent young lady (Ini Edo) is wrongly accused of stealing. The poor lady had obviously been set up by her “wicked” stepmother (Patience Ozokwor). In a scene that reeks of jungle justice and without proper investigation, the Igwe (Olu Jacobs) ruled that the girl be punished. She was paraded round the town.
The entire town descended on the suspect, beating her to stupor. With a bloodied face and bruised body, she was banished to the evil forest. In yet Nollywood movie, a woman whose husband had died prematurely was labelled a witch. She was accused of being responsible for his death. She suffered the most bizarre form of violence in the hands of her in-laws.
Another one had a group of girls on campus who were ganged-raped by cultists. They got away with the crime. The police even made a mockery of them when they reported the crime. One can go on and on.
Welcome to Nollywood.
An industry where movies after movies have either demonised women as glamorous “Jezebels” or cast them as powerless victims of violence unleashed by men who often get away with the crime.
The Nigerian film industry has long been rated the third biggest in the world. If you have ever wondered how the industry grew so quickly in recent years to become the third largest, you need not look any further. A trip to Upper Iweka in Onitsha or Ebinpejo Lane on Lagos Island will reveal incredible volumes of home videos churned out on a daily basis. This is what has placed the industry ahead of Hollywood and Bollywood.
But the comparison stops right there. The industry is still largely known for its amateurish acting, poor directing and uninspiring scripting. This still leaves Nollywood as a mostly neophyte film industry light years away from other major movie industries it has been gleefully compared to. In spite of its fairytale fame, Nollywood has also stagnated in the last few years. Is it not surprising that despite the sheer volumes of movies that have come out of its stable, no major movie telling the Nigerian story has made it to international film festivals?
Now back to today’s topic
Nollywood fame has come at a dangerous price to the womenfolk. Allegations of sexual harassment are as old as the industry. But none of the unforgivables in Nollywood can be compared to the scripting which is dominated by scenes of misogyny and extreme violence against women. How many times have you witnessed a murder in your lifetime? How about a rape, an assault or a kidnapping? Chances are, the answer is “never.” Unless you watch a Nollywood movie where women, of course, are the victims.
How many times also have you seen a movie where a woman was not cheated on, slapped, raped or kicked around the place? Ok, maybe these scenes are a reflection of the evils done to women in the larger society. But they become more acceptable and reinforced because viewers now see them done in movies. In another home video I saw recently, a man, played by Ramsey Nouah, slapped his new bride and slammed her on the couch punching her cruelly so many times.
The actor walked off only to emerge in a restaurant dining with another woman! He returned later without apologising and demanded his dinner while the wife sheepishly complied.
In Nollywood, scenes upon scenes of movies that have given the industry its fame have depicted severe violence against women and girls. It beats the imagination how these so-called Nollywood star-actresses have allowed themselves to be used as the symbol of stories that deepened and portrayed, as still do though, women as the victim or sex objects. In a scene that depicts women as sex toys, a bus load of girls was driven to a location where lewd men performed orgies on them.
I have often wondered why movies have to be written to perpetuate these horrors. But of course, these scripts are written and produced by men; a fact that shaped their perception of how women should appear in the movies. In Nollywood, a female character is more likely to be strangled or stabbed and raped. But is that a symptom of reality pervading art, or is it an example of television hyping up the drama to get a bigger reaction? The first answer is likely the simplest: history.
For ages, women have been portrayed as the weaker sex in literature, film, and eventually television. This funnels into the age-old gender narrative and the power imbalance. The truth is that though movies may be a reflection of the violence women suffer in the larger society, in actual fact, they also make them acceptable. Media shape our understanding of sexual violence, and there’s a line between art and torture porn. So, if it is normal to hit a woman or gang-rape a girl in a movie, it also in reality emboldens the rapist because he knows he can get away with it. For some time now, if the women in a Nollywood movie are not labelled as witches, raped or assaulted, they are portrayed as sluts, tramps, or greedy, grasping, hardened characters out to deceive everyone and use their sexuality as a means to their own selfish ends.
With the increase in violence against women in our society, we are beginning to see the effects of these stereotypes of our young women. How much longer before our young men begin the violence against women that they are constantly exposed to? Are we now going to punish them for doing what we trained them from infancy to view as normal, even entertaining, behaviour?
The portrayal of women in Nigerian films often works to cement longstanding patriarchal narrative. It is sad that over the years, the industry practitioners have shirked the responsibility of challenging the stereotypes. Instead, they have chosen to play into the misogynistic milieu to ensure viewership. Worst still, many Nigerian women and young girls have accepted the misogynistic sentiments. Now the question is; does sadistic violence against women in films ever have a point? I’m not suggesting we start censoring films. But let’s be aware that violent portrayals of hate against women in Nollywood are anything but a senseless portrayal of sexist sadism.