THE TROUBLE WITH NOLLYWOOD’S WOMEN - By Raliat O. Sunmonu

“Art imitates life” is a common saying, the premise of which is that artistic expression finds its inspiration in real life. When it comes to Nollywood movies and their (usually) misogynist interpretations of the Nigerian female character, you have to wonder which life their art is imitating. It is frustrating that years after Nollywood became a local and international phenomenon, and despite the (in many ways well-deserved) trumpet-blowing about its impact, female roles are written as one-dimensional, archetypes seemingly pulled from the same standard list. Pick any Nollywood movie—the latest ‘blockbuster’ with an English-speaking cast or one in any of the local languages—and I guarantee that one or the other female characters below will make an appearance: The Shrew This is one of Nollywood’s favorites, played to perfection by Patience Ozorkwor or Sola Shobowale. Don’t pull any brain cells trying to figure out what her motivation is, how she got to be that way, etc. She harangues her hapless spouse/child/neighbor because she can. Usually she’s a member of some witches’ coven or demonic cult but that’s not why she’s a misanthrope; she just is. Naturally she gets her just desserts by the end%20of the movie when she realizes the evil of her ways, either miraculously (DO NOT try to look for cause & effect in Nollywood plots!) or because some of her evil deeds have boomeranged. By then she’s weeping copiously begging for forgiveness or if the scriptwriter/director has run out of time and patience with his project, he takes the easy way out and she simply runs mad. Case closed. The Saint The most annoying of Nollywood women. This woman is so saintly that even you are tempted to do her in just so you don’t have to suffer her uber-annoying tears, sighs and hang-dog looks.%20Her husband (or if it’s a Yoruba movie it might be her husband’s relatives) throws her out of their home in the meanest way imaginable and all she does is cries and begs. Her mother-in-law calls her all kinds of names for being childless and she cries even harder. No matter what life throws at her she has the same response: cry, cry, cry and pray. She is the culmination of every chauvinist’s fantasy—the meek, patient, forgiving wife who will always stand by her man and/or take him back  no matter what. The Bad Girl The most asinine and infantile of Nollywood’s stock of female characters; and that’s saying a lot. How do we know she’s a bad girl? We know because she’s wearing short, tight-fitting clothes, smokes and drinks. She goes out to night clubs. She dupes men, usually after sleeping with them for money. The minute you see a woman drink and smoke in Nollywood you know nothing good can come out of her. She hasn’t a single redeeming feature.  If it’s one of the better movies you might get a little bit of her story and how she came to be that way—usually told in a flashback that is half the length of the movie or covers in every detail scenes that you’ve already seen –more often than not you’re stuck with what you see. She was born bad. Deal with it. The Floozy She’s usually a young, college student using what she’s got to get what she wants. She will sleep with any man as long as he can satisfy her material needs. Although Sulia/Jenifa is the most notorious example of the floozy, I think many Nollywood female roles are variations of this: sometimes it’s a married woman with a little something on the side; or it could be a regular woman who does no more (or so it seems) than pester her husband/lover/boyfriend for money and the good things of life. She is greedy for wealth and power but seems dis-inclined to work for it herself. Apart from girls in the ‘Aristos’ group, things usually end up working out for these women, after initial setbacks. The message seems to be that most women are like this and that’s not all bad. Why is it that I struggle to recognize myself and the women I encounter everyday in these movies? Strong women; hard-working women who try even harder than their male counterparts to make a living. Adventurous women who embrace life boldly? Funny, witty women? Women who go gaga over shoes and jewelry but who also work hard to get these things for themselves? Everyday women who are just trying to make a living and have a good time doing it? When people talk about the problems with Nollywood the focus is usually on the technical details that can be fixed with technology, money and expertise; like sound quality, lighting, editing, etc but how come we are not crying out more about the casual misogyny reflected in the scripts and the chauvinism it encourages? What message are we sending out to ourselves and the world at large about how we see our women? How do they reflect Islam? Perhaps the problem goes deeper than how our movies portray women. Maybe it’s not Nollywood but our society that has prescribed borderline-misogynist, scripted roles for women. Could it be that when it comes to women Nollywood art really does try to imitate Nigerian life? What is the Nigerian life? What is the Nigerian Muslim life? What should it be? Please let’s discuss.

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