Women and the dynamics of movie representation

Women and the dynamics of movie representation

Lufodo Academy of
Performing Arts (LAPA), partnered by African Women Development Forum
(AWDF), held an interactive two-day forum addressing the representation
of Women in Nollywood. Tagged ‘Women and the Dynamics of
Representation’, the forum looked at the issue of female stereotypes in
Nigerian movies as well as the image of the African woman fostered
internationally through Nollywood; and suggest ways to improve both.

The event had in
attendance Abimbola Fashola, wife of the Governor of Lagos State as
special guest; and experts from various filmmaking fields such as
actors, directors, producers, marketers and talent managers. It was not
exclusive to Nollywood though, as television presenters such as Funmi
Iyanda and Agatha Amata; academics, Abena Busia and Okome Onookome; and
human rights activists such as Josephine Chukwuma and Mary Hilda Tadria
lent their presence and voices to address the theme.

The audience and
participants included: Iretiola Doyle, Dakore Egbuson, Monalisa Chinda,
Chioma Chukwuka, Lala Akindoju, Uche Mac-Auley, Doris Simeon; and
producers: Emem Isong, Amaka Igwe and Ego Boyo

It was not a women
only conference, however, as masculine presence was recorded in the
persons of Reuben Abati, Mahmoud Ali-Balogun, Akin Omotoso, Tunde
Kelani, Daniel Ademinokan, Paul Obazele, Bimbo Manuel and Saheed
Balogun amongst others. They came to show their support for the women’s
quest for better representation; while a number of others like
marketer, Emeka Isikaku, came to defend their practices in the movie

Telling women’s stories

The event opened
with a brief speech by Mrs. Fashola, who commended Nollywood for its
efforts at bringing entertainment to Nigeria and the world. She however
discouraged the need for movie makers producing movies with several
unnecessary parts just to make money when one would have sufficed. She
also spoke against nudity and the prevalence of occultic practices in
film portrayals.

Abena Busia,
Director for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora, and professor
of English and Women’s Studies at Rutgers University, New Jersey, in
her paper, titled, ‘Of Cooking, Cars and Gendered Culture,’ proposed
that Nollywood, as the third largest film making industry in the world,
can no longer be ‘treated as a child’. Addressing the issue of women
representation, she posited that, “We all become concerned about how we
are seen, especially by others who do not count themselves as one of
our number. And when we do not see ourselves reflected, or reflected as
we would like, there is the need for redress, to challenge the
discrepancies between how we see ourselves and how you know ourselves
to be seen”

Busia praised the
fact that Nollywood has depicted urban Africa, thus serving to erase
the misconception of Africa as a ‘Tarzan jungle’, however, according to
the professor, the success of Nollywood means that its negative
representations of Africa such as female circumcision, abuse,
witchcraft and gender subjugation are well received by negative
propagators. The academic also asked pertinent questions: What is the
interface between artistic freedom and social responsibility? Are
artists creators or reflectors of society? Where is the line between
truth and propaganda?; and advised that we respect the integrity of
every individual story, but must also be concerned with the multiplier
effect of a number of individual stories conveying similar things which
then multiply to become a collective story, while also seeking to
preserve the things that give us an identity.

Responding to
Busia’s paper, publisher and gender scholar Bibi Bakare Yusuf, said
colonialism has forged an image of women as housewives, a discrepancy
from what it traditionally was: a hard worker who contributed
financially and took up leadership roles. She also suggested that
Nollywood has shown ambivalence in portraying femininity, religion and
culture, not quite deciding what the notion of the ‘ideal woman’ should
be. She urged feminists to educate filmmakers along the desired lines
of representation.

Mahmoud Ali-Balogun
cited a similarity, “What the western media is doing to Africa is what
Nollywood is doing to women. Women exploitation sells in movies but is
that what we should keep portraying?” He charged that films be used to
correct aspects that are negative in our culture rather than emphasise
such aspects.

According to Bunmi
Oyinsan, “every movie is ideological, whether or not the producer knows
it.” She cited a few movies and their characterisation to show their
representation of women. Amaka Igwe however subscribed to another
school of thought, emphasising the primary purpose of films as
entertainment. As she said, movies are meant to “entertain and perhaps
educate”. Referring to herself as an “unrepentant commercial producer
and marketer,” she added that “most movies are not intended to teach
but to communicate with the audience and make money.”

Saints and Witches

It was an intense
session on day two of the event when Funmi Iyanda moderated a session
titled ‘Saints, Whores, Nags and Witches’. Emem Isong, while presenting
the paper for discussion held the masculine gender as culpable in the
stereotyping of women and identified the four major stereotypes of
female roles in many Nollywood movies. In her words, “Men are the ones
who say they don’t understand women, so if we leave them to tell our
stories, they will put us in boxes labelled ‘Saint’, ‘Whore’, ‘Nag’,
and ‘Witch’. The way out is to take our destinies in our own hands and
to tell our stories”, said the producer who was acknowledged in the
event for giving many Nigerian actresses their big breaks.

Presenter, Agatha
Amata seconded Isong’s opinion, as she said, “No one can tell your
story better than you”, she also cited America as an example, revealing
that the Cable News Network (CNN) shown in America is different from
that which is shown to the rest of the world. According to her, America
has used the media to create a ‘hype that is not true’, so Nollywood
needs to realise the power of the media and ensure that it is used
appropriately. She also put the blame of women’s negative
responsibility on, surprisingly, her own gender, stating unequivocally,
“Women are women’s own worst enemies.” An opinion which was supported
by Dakore Egbuson and Omoni Oboli; although Bakare-Yusuf disagreed

Funmi Iyanda’s
passionate opinion was that “Nigerian women are last on the pecking
order in Africa. They think that we are vain, vacuous and stupid; and
that we should be raped and abused.” According to Iyanda, the blonde,
blue-eyed female will never be raped or abused in movies unless there
is a strong message to be passed from it. “The American Marines
perpetrate such acts as rapes, but will never be depicted as anything
less than the hero in the American media,” she said, underscoring the
need for the media to broadcast more socially responsible content.
However, she insisted not on an insipid, if positive image of women in
Nollywood but on a more rounded and complex depiction.

Oyinsan in support
of this statement encouraged what she terms ‘jamming’. According to
her, if the reputations of witch or nag are foisted on us (women), then
let’s jam it, let’s own it. Let’s say to them, yes, I am a witch, but
this is why I have become so.” She cited ‘Jesus and the Giant’, a short
movie by Omotoso, which was produced using a series of still pictures,
as a movie which took violence as a theme and jammed to viewers’
consciousness, the message that it is wrong.

Rounding off

The event was not all serious talk though as it culminated with a poolside cocktail.

Film veteran, Olu
Jacob commended the initiative of his wife, Joke Silva, Director of
LAPA and Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Executive Director of AWDF for their
initiative in organising the forum. “I see women as equals and will
treat them no different from men,” said Jacob. Adeleye-Fayemi affirmed
a commitment to support LAPA’s efforts in convening such forums
annually or bi-annually.

Joke Silva expressed thanks to the participants, and surprise at the
large presence of Nollywood practitioners, the media and other
organisations, as she concluded that, “In the multitude of counsel,
there is safety.”

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