Courtesy of Nadine Ibrahim.

In Conversation with Nigerian Filmmaker Nadine Ibrahim: 'The local stories matter the most.'

The filmmaker talks about the art of the short film and the evolution of Nollywood as an industry.

Nadine Ibrahim is a rising Nigerian filmmaker who is passionate about telling what she feels are the "real" stories of ordinary Nigerian people. In a country (as is the case with many African countries) where it's expected that one becomes a doctor, a lawyer or an architect, Ibrahim already knew that she was not interested in academics. After she was introduced to media, she soon realized that she was drawn to telling stories, and soon after, her filmmaking journey began. Her two recent short films, I Am Not Corrupt and Marked, have respectively explored the political landscape between citizen and politician as well as the traditional scarification practices in various states across Nigeria. More recently, however, she's currently documenting terrorism in several Nigerian states and working on her first feature-length film—a coming-of-age story of a young boy from rural Nigeria who moves to the city.

Speaking about the genre of film she ultimately sees herself in, Ibrahim says she doesn't want to be boxed in or limited to just one genre—she wants the freedom to explore and to inspire other filmmakers to do the same. "What I've noticed is that we stick to the dramas and the comedies but there's no Sci-Fi, fantasy or action," she says.

We caught up with her to talk about her current projects, what it takes to create a short film and the kinds of stories she wants to see more of in Nollywood.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your short films address socio-political issues in Nigerian society. Why has that been an important focus for you?

I think filmmaking came at a time where I really had a lot to say about what was going on around me, but I didn't know how to exactly be vocal about this. So using film as a medium to express myself and my thoughts, was the best way for me. I was addressing the issues that I wanted to address. I grew up watching my mom a lot because she was in the government sector, and she did a lot of humanitarian work as well.

Watching her work and then always being in that space, I was exposed to the truth behind what was going on in Nigeria—the poverty and corruption. I just thought it was important for me to, I guess, put my two cents in but in an interesting way where people would actually want to interact with it. If you sit down and talk in front of people, they're not going to listen too much. But once you put a film on, then you get their attention. For me, that was what was important, being able to voice my opinions in an interesting way and spark conversation.

What are some of the challenges in producing a short film versus a much longer feature-length film?

I think in this day and age, especially with I am Not Corrupt, it was a topic that needed to be discussed. Not just among our uncles and aunties and parents, but also young people like me needing to make an impact now. I thought when you think of corruption, nobody wants to really talk about corruption in-depth because there's just this singular opinion of, "Oh, it's never going to stop, especially in Africa. It's just going to keep going." We live in this day and age where social media is bigger and better than it's ever been. I thought if I was able to get all the points across in a minute or two, that would then engage people.

When I made, I Am Not Corrupt, I was thinking along the lines of something viral, something that was going to get the message across but also be interesting enough to engage young people. And I think we did a good job at that because I made sure it was cinematic. I made sure it had the colors in, and then I also made sure it was direct and very confrontational. The drama elements drive the audience a lot as well.


What inspired your follow-up short film Marked?

Marked was a story that was brewing in my mind for a very long time. We had this auntie that I grew up with who used to take care of us and she had these marks on her face and arms. Some of the designs on her arms were like lizards and I used to wonder when I was growing up why it was that she had these marks. When I'd ask her she wouldn't really have a direct answer for me and would say, "Oh, we were just doing it when we were teenagers because it was fun." But I felt there was more to the story because as I grew older, I started seeing it more and more on different people—different variations.

When I was Googling it and trying to research a lot about it in the library, I didn't really find a lot about it. Historically, all I would find were pictures or articles that people had done, university essays, and I just thought it was such an important part of Nigerian history and culture. No one had made something that made sense in terms of explaining how and why. So that's what drove me to do it.

Do you have a particular target audience when you're making your films?

I think the films are for everyone but I may be targeting people in my age group and people around me. It's important for me when I'm having these conversations with people. I'm speaking with people that are my age or five or ten years older. They're saying things but they don't really know how to address it or how to fix the problem.

As a Nigerian filmmaker, what kinds of stories do you want to see emerging from Nollywood?

For me, it's about telling the stories of the true Nigerian because yes, I'm Nigerian and I'm fortunate enough to come from I guess more of a privileged background than many others do, but we're a tiny percentage of that. If we're being true to the Nigerian stories, the local stories are what matter the most. It's about the farmers and the communities, and those are the stories I want to tell. This is what I actually noticed in Marked as I traveled.

At first we traveled to 20 States in Nigeria when we were filming. And the first reaction I got from everybody was, "Why are you doing a documentary, traveling to all these rural states when you can tell a story in Lagos or Abuja?" For me it wasn't about that. It was about finding the true Nigerian stories. Going to all these states and seeing their culture and how they live was a huge eye-opener.

Where do you see the industry in about 10 to 15 years from now?

I definitely think in terms of our quality, of production, that will definitely change because we're seeing a huge transition in that over the past few years. We're paying more attention to detail on the visuals, on the sound so I'm really excited to see where that's going to go. And I hope people actually continue to upscale in terms of production, but I'm also hoping that we open more studios. I myself have dreams of opening studios. We hear things about Tyler Perry opening a studio that's 10 times the size of the Hollywood studios. I'm thinking we have the land here, and we have the resources and the talent, so why not here in Africa and Nigeria?

So definitely more innovation and inspiring, engaging stories. Also, more genres because what I've noticed is that we stick to the dramas and the comedies but there's no Sci-Fi, fantasy or action. In the next few years, I'm hoping that filmmakers like myself will explore those genres and hopefully get a seat at international tables.

Courtesy of Nadine Ibrahim.

Speaking of improving the quality of production, why do you think Genevieve Nnaji's Lionheart was the first ever submission to the Oscars in what is a colossal film industry?

I think in terms of quality, we definitely do have a lot more work to do in terms of reaching the standards of international film. So on that part, I do think we need to do better. When Nollywood started, it was for entertainment but it was also a money-making business. People would shoot films in two days, edit it in another two days, and it's already in the market. They would make their money and then put it back in. It was more about making money rather than art.

And I think slowly now these days we're starting to realize that, "Oh wait, people actually are paying attention to our films, so maybe we should up our game in terms of quality and narrative." The stories have always been interesting, which is why you're seeing everyone tapping into it and coming down here, even the diaspora. People are streaming in but now we're getting more recognition because we're paying more attention to detail.

"It's is still a money-making business, but people are beginning to see it as art, which I think is great."

And that is what eventually will get us recognition from the Oscars. Genevieve's Lionheart for instance, their production is one of the best.

READ: The 7 Best Genevieve Nnaji Movies

Are there any other creators that you're keen to work with in the future?

There are quite a few, off the top of my head in Africa. There's a young woman, Wanuri Kahiu‎, who made a film called Rafiki which was touching on equality and sexuality and it gained a lot of recognition worldwide. She is definitely a filmmaker that I'd like to either meet or work with. Gelila Bekele of Life is Not Honey, Rungano Nyoni of I Am Not a witch, Mati Diop of Atlantics and Imoh Umoren of Children of Mud.

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

This Photographer is Capturing the Femininity of Congo’s La Sape Movement

Once a male-centric domain, women in Congo are disturbing the gender boundaries of La Sape, and photojournalist Victoire Douniama wants them recognized.

Even though the African fashion industry is finally getting the recognition it deserves, many under-the-surface subcultures that foster community and creativity expression still exist. One of those subcultures thrive in the Republic of Congo, where Congolese dandy culture, called La Sape (La Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes), finds provenance.

Its history dates back to the early 1920s and 1930s during the period of the French colonial era. Notably, it was a form of protest against French colonialism. La Sape or Sapologie is a movement of unique complexity. It is more than just a catwalk of sapeurs who dress ostentatiously in colorful suits but represents the socioeconomic and political knot that ties the population.

Messani Grace in blue tux

Messani Grace, in a tuxedo. She says: "My husband is a sapeur as well and he is part of the main reason I feel confident to do this because he supports me alot and teaches me all I need to know about fashion."

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

Since its inception, La Sape has had a masculine presence. Although women showed interest in La Sape, it was strictly reserved for men. Congolese women were expected to wear African print dresses and be housekeepers. Despite the challenges and backlash, a group of Congolese women kept challenging the status quo, fighting for their style of expression. Today, hundreds of women have joined the movement, dressing in suits, tuxedos, and bow ties.

Victoire Douniama wearing white

As a photojournalist, Victoire Douniama centers her project on female sapeurs because there was a gap in representation by other photographers.

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

Documenting these women is Congolese photojournalist Victoire Douniama. Raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Douniama has always been inclined towards art from a young age. She was inspired by her older sister’s sketchbook. “I was so fascinated by her art and her drawing talent," Douniama told OkayAfrica. "So visual arts has always been a passion of mine." Douniama's gift for drawing was evident by fifth grade and ,during her adolescent years, she developed a passion for photography.

As she settled back in the Republic of Congo, she was struck by the lack of representation of the nation in the media which mostly depicted negative aspects of the country. For Douniama, centering her craft in her native country is important, as it not only represents her roots but also it's an opportunity to use her passion to showcase the rich natural resources and cultures of the Congo. The neighboring country, Democratic Republic of the Congo, has also been a stage for Douniama to practice her work alongside various NGOs.

\u200bTsiba Mary Jane wears blue suit

Tsiba Mary Jane works as a thrift cloth vendor at the market of Mikalou in Brazzaville. He says: “I use my hair as a form of identity, as you can tell my hair is colored green, yellow, and red. Which represents the Congolese flag."

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

Her tenacity is certainly unmatched as she navigates her craft in a country faced with various economic challenges, especially since the pandemic. Being an independent photographer under such hurdles can be discouraging for some, but her portfolio speaks for itself. When asked about her secret to success, she said: “You have to develop your own style and clients will hire if it corresponds to their brand."

Of the various projects under Douniama's belt is her photo journal, Les Saupeuse du Congo. For Douniama, La Sape is more than just a fashion statement. She recognizes the political elements of the visuals. The emergence of female sapeurs is revolutionary and, without a doubt, impressive.

“It originated as a political protest during the colonial era and a movement that called for change in Congo Brazzaville and the DRC," Douniama said. “It challenges the conservative role of women in Congo and it normalizes freedom of expression, which is vital for Congolese people to become more open-minded."

Kourissa and her son Okili Dojido

A portrait of Kourissa and her son Okili Dojido at a funeral outside a home at “La tchiemé.”

Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama

As a photojournalist, Douniama centers her project on female sapeurs because there was a gap in representation by other photographers. “I wanted to give the ladies a space to share their experiences and what exactly inspired them to join this movement, and how people within their societal circle responded to this," she said. "Because at some point, this conservative movement was only reserved for men."

This photo project has given her a look into the dynamic of La Saupeuse and their self-fashioning practices. The exuberant sapeuse is in her mid '30s to early '50s. She’s a wife, mother, and can be found in various walks of life as a market vendor, police officer, thrift clothes vendor, or government official. She carves her hair into an undercut or taper fade, with touches of different dye, borrowing masculine-considered accouterments and accessories like smoking pipes, hats, and umbrellas.

In colorful suave suits, these women are overturning gender norms, which require them to dress in traditional “lady-like” attire known as Liputta — a bold move for a conservative country as Congo. For this reason, regardless of how liberal much of society has become, some women are scorned, discriminated against, or even receive backlash.

So, can Les Saupeuse translate into a social upgrade for the lives of Congolese women? As the world continues to interrogate patriarchal standards, it’s a movement that is still forging its identity within the culture. “Many people did not think women can do all of this," Douniama said. "That is why they mostly wanted women to be reserved and submissive."


10 African Documentary Films You Should Check Out

Featuring Music Is Life, African Moot, Cesária Évora and many more.

For its 24th edition, the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival,running from June 23 to July 3, returns to physical locations in Johannesburg and Cape Town for the first time in two years. OkayAfrica took a deep dive into the festival’s program and presents ten of the most anticipated films playing. You don’t want to miss these titles.

Keep reading...Show less
(Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

Rise Immortalizes Giannis Antetokounmpo's Story Of Victory

The Greek-Nigerian sports star and his family give the world their sincere story and show us that "When one of us wins, we all win."

Disney+’s RISE is a charming, family-friendly film depicting traumas that one couldn’t fathom. The movie tells the story of Greek-Nigerian basketball superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo (Uche Agada) and his ascent from poverty to National Basketball Association champion. The film retells the years the Antetokounmpo family spent dodging immigration officers, the four children sharing a single bed for years while their parents slept on the couch, and the sacrifices that led to the Antetokounmpo brothers’ domination in the NBA. A harrowing tale of perseverance and dedication to family that could be an empathy-building tool for the sports fans that are attracted to the brothers’ professional escapades.

Keep reading...Show less

The Alluring Distinction of Falz

Falz' contributions to Afropop are masterfully encapsulated on BAHD. We speak to him about his vast scope of sounds on the new album, Nigerian politics and more.

Falz is one of Afropop’s most distinctive figures. His songs have defined several periods of Nigeria’s push into international spaces, formed on the background of rap but possessed with amorphous creativity. With the backdrop of a global pandemic, the 31-year-old musician again found himself staring down the well of reinvention.

Having made appearances across several facets of the entertainment industry, he wanted to move into a new soundscape. He poured that motivation into his fifth studio album BAHD, a collection of twelve songs which show Falz at his most risque and naughty. “To be honest it’s a big mix,” he mentions to OkayAfrica some days after its release. “It’s arguable whether this is actually pop. This can even be looked at as an Afro R&B project, it’s an Afro-fusion project as well. I definitely touched on a few different genres while making BAHD. That was the aim from the beginning: I just wanted to have an album with a vast scope of sounds”.

Each featured guest uniquely broadens his vision. Whether it’s Tiwa Savage on “Beautiful Sunflower” or The Cavemen on “Woman,” there’s a seamless entry into the lush sonics of Falz’s universe. He tells me animatedly that he’s always wanted a song with the iconic Ms. Savage, and already has multiple songs with the Highlife-influenced Cavemen. His curatorial skills are present on “Inside,” combining the unusual duo of Timaya and Boy Spyce to fine effect. Apparently the record was created way before the latter was signed to Mavin Records, pointing towards Falz’s continued inclination for digging deep and leaning into new styles and sounds.

Keep reading...Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox


Korty EO is the YouTuber Documenting Contemporary Culture in Nigeria

Thanks to her confessional-style videos and high-concept shows, Korty EO is one of Nigeria's rising YouTube stars.

Tems Is Taking Over The World

The Nigerian songstress made history as the first female Nigerian artist to be awarded BET's Best International Act at this year's award ceremony.

Ghana’s LGBTQ+ Community Faces Increased Backlash During Pride Month

The marginalized community fights an uphill battle for acceptance as lawmakers push a bill that criminalizes the group’s existence.

The 6 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Kizz Daniel, Tekno, Focalistic, Ckay, Davido, Mayorkun and more.


Africans Are Taking Surfing Back

We sat down with Ethiopia-American director David Mesfin to discuss the importance of knowing where you come from, and his upcoming surf doc 'Wade In The Water'