Neptune3 Studios, founded by the Damina Sisters, is breathing new life into the teen drama, embracing subjects the Nigerian entertainment industry usually shies away from, like body autonomy and women's sexuality.
In July 2018, Neptune3 Studios burst onto the filmmaking scene with their web series, New Girl, not quite sure how the response to the show would be. The series, which follows the lives of teenagers in a Nigerian secondary school, as they go through their teenage years dealing with school, family, peer pressure, and love, has since gone on to have over 8 million views.
There are only a handful of titles in the teen drama genre in Nollywood. And most of them hardly scratch the surface of teenage life in Nigeria or they are depicted by adults. But Neptune3 Studios handles the genre differently.
"When we got into making the web series [New Girl], we didn't think much about how the genre is not explored,” Jemima Damina, Neptune3 Studios co-founder, tells OkayAfrica. “We just wanted to tell a story that resonated with our friends and us. And when we created the story, we were just echoing the things that had happened in our own lives growing up."
Jemima and her sisters, Jesimiel and Jeiel Damina, created Neptune3 Studios together, to tell stories that they themselves would want to see. The production company has faced some difficulties since its inception. It can be challenging for women in a male-dominated industry to get started, especially with no recommendation or previous work to showcase. "You don't have a chance to prove what you can do. No opportunities for you to grab" Jemima shares. "This is why we started Neptune3 Studios-we wanted to do our own thing. And it's hard because people are judging you or think you are unserious. For example, I see the look on people's faces when I tell them I am a filmmaker. They laugh and instantly write you up because they always find it hard to believe," she adds.
Working in a male-dominated field also comes with its own dose of gender discrimination, especially from the people they work with. They have had workers look past them on their first meeting, inquiring who the bosses are while expecting them to be assistants. There have also been cases where new crew members are shown more respect than the filmmakers themselves are purely because they are men. "We have been disrespected because they feel these men know more than us, overlooking our achievements and how far we have come on our own,” says Jemima.
Notwithstanding the disrespect, they let their achievements speak for themselves, and their interest in the entertainment world is visible to all. Jeiel, the star of their web series, isn't only an actress, she is also a creative writing student and musician. Jesimiel is a creative writer and an animator, while Jemima is a filmmaker, producer, and director. Together, they're like the Powerpuff Girls. Each of them has their own abilities and talents, and each is, in her own way, creating a shift in the industry.
"It's funny how three of us came into the film field, and now, we are doing something together,” says Jemima. Apart from being women in the field, they are independent too, which means that they finance everything on their own. "Our pockets take a hit all the time. And when you consider how unprofessional and undisciplined people can be on set, it gets discouraging. There are things only money can solve,” adds Jesimiel.
But there’s much to keep them encouraged. As an independent film production company, they’ve achieved some notable feats. In putting out the first episode of their web series just to hone their skills and tell a story for themselves, they ended up crossing a boundary and making an impact beyond their own hopes and desires. With over 74 million views and 600 thousand subscribers on YouTube, the Damina sisters are telling vital stories in a way that’s never been seen before in Nollywood. The reach of YouTube means they're taking Nollywood teen drama global.
The Daminas also acknowledge New Girl, which also goes by the name Best Friends in the World, is their baby project and might not be their best, but the love for what they do shines through when they speak. Despite being a small team, they always want to tell more stories. "We are definitely developing new projects we want to launch, so we are taking it one at a time. And we are always looking to expand, find sponsorships, and collaborate,” says Jemima.
Best Friends in the World | Web Series Official Trailerwww.youtube.com
The kinds of stories Neptune3 productions tell aren’t just in one lane. Apart from exploring friendships, school, and family as young adults, they also explore body autonomy and women's sexuality in their web series. Topics that are considered taboo by the majority of people, especially in Nigeria.
"We've had well-wishers tell us to be careful with the way we explore these topics because young people are watching,” says Jeiel. “But we continue to explore them because all these things happen, and we want to show young people how to deal with these things healthily. Even in the film industry in general, we see how young people do things, and it ends up in pregnancy or drug abuse; there is always the negative connotation. But with our stories, we want them to know that it doesn't have to end that way. And what better way to do it than in a fun way for them to always remember?"
A second season of their hit web series is due out next year. The Daminas are also planning to explore more of the themes from the first one "The new season is going to be different, and the fans are the reason we keep doing it. We can't wait for them to watch it,” says Jesimiel.
Their love for fans of their work can be felt in the way they talk about them too. "Sometimes, we want to give up, but we ask ourselves, 'who sent you?'" says Jemima. There is a pause and then laughter. "Then we go back and watch an episode and read the comments; that's what keeps us going. Together."
No matter the challenges that come with pursuing their dreams through their production company, the women share a bond that can't be denied or overlooked. Whenever they talk about how hard it can be, they never fail to mention how reassuring it is to know that they're in it with each other. As Jemima says, "It's encouraging to know that your sisters are with you, and we can all get through it together."