Still taken from 'Walking With Shadows film trailer'

Nollywood & the Second Coming of Queer Cinema.

Opinion: Nollywood & the Imminent Second Coming of Queer Cinema

An exploration of queer representation and misrepresentation in Nollywood, jaded stereotypes and what the future of queer cinema in Nollywood could look like.

In a scene from Daniel Orhiari's 2018 psychological thriller Sylvia, Richard (Chris Attoh) and Obaro (Udoka Oyeka) are friends casually catching up while drinking at a bar. When Richard tells him that he's in love with a woman he's just met and intends to marry her, Obaro is relieved and chuckles. ''I was beginning to wonder, you know, if you were gay or something,'' he says. While Richard looks incredulous and rejects the notion, the scene devolves into both a commentary and cautionary tale about married gay men in Lagos sleeping with their houseboys, reinforcing the idea that homosexuality is synonymous with paedophilia.

The homophobia in the scene becomes truly apparent when the bartender, having heard their conversation, slips his phone number towards Obaro after Richard leaves. Although Obaro had told his friend he has nothing against gay people, he shows disdain towards the bartender and flees the bar. Queer representation may be non-existent in Nollywood, but pockets of homophobia like this have showed up in the works of overzealous filmmakers, as shown in Ramsey Nouah's Living in Bondage: Breaking Free (2019) where the male protagonist was assumed to be gay after he indicated interest in a woman.

Nollywood is a microcosm of the larger virulently homophobic Nigerian society, but queer cinema had somewhat thrived around the early 2000's before flatlining into oblivion. This era followed the home video boom that began in the '90s, and was marked by slightly changing attitudes–or curiosity–about sex and sexuality. Soft pornography was consumed in the form of magazines (Hints) and other variants, glossy booklets with hardcore images were openly sold in shops, depicting women engaging in sexual acts with men or with themselves, and video porn was widely available in public spaces.

"...queer cinema had somewhat thrived around the early 2000's before flatlining into oblivion."

Emotional Crack (2003), which portrayed two women in a relationship, was an outcome of such a sex-turgid atmosphere. Directed by Lancelot Imasuen, Emotional Crack was Nollywood's first attempt at having queerness central to a film's plot, offering a decently nuanced look at the affair between Dakore Egbuson-Akande's Camilla and Stephenie Okereke-Linus' Crystal. The internet memeing a still from the film and referring to a lesbian sex position couldn't have been funnier. Emotional Crack is not without its flaws though, parroting the ''sinful'' nature of homosexuality, but it was a commercial hit nonetheless.

Because of its success, filmmakers made queerness a recurring motif in their films, leading to a proliferation that appealed to audiences who found such concepts salacious or were merely bi-curious. Kabat Esosa Egbon's Beautiful Faces was released in 2004, a film about aggressive female campus cults. If Emotional Crack allowed a bit of complexity for its lesbian characters, Beautiful Faces stripped that away, portraying lesbians as dangerous predators.

It birthed queer characters as caricatures, one-dimensional props for amusement. Because these filmmakers weren't queer themselves, only making such films exploitatively, queer portrayals were grossly inaccurate and skewed towards longstanding biases. It was a push-and-pull device, fascinating audiences and repelling them at the same time. In Moses Ebere's Men in Love (2010), John Dumelo's character, Charles, refuses the advances of his business partner and friend Alex, played by the late Muna Obiekwe. He's then drugged and raped by Alex. The film wittingly establishes these events as a ''conversion'' process, because not long after Charles is furious with Alex for taking advantage of him, he softens and agrees to be Alex's lover.

"It birthed queer characters as caricatures, one-dimensional props for amusement."

Men in Love ticks all the odious, stereotypical boxes about gay men, debasing gay sexuality to harmful activities like rape and adult grooming, and allowing homophobia to run further deep. It is perhaps why these queer-themed films weren't banned. To the Censors Board, such films, while showing same-sex affection and sexual acts, had the power to enlighten the public about the dangers of homosexuality.

Desmond Elliot's In The Cupboard, released in 2011, had Ini Edo playing a closeted lesbian reduced to shock value. Queerness as the new frontier of Nollywood commercialism ran its course as the industry slowly pivoted towards cinema in the late 2000s. Independent filmmaking became the only way LGBT experiences could be told and represented, especially following the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that was signed into law during former President Goodluck Jonathan's administration. Non-profit platforms like The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) have pushed a media campaign for the rights of LGBT persons, through short films (Hell or High Water) and feature-length projects (We Don't Live Here Anymore).

In 2019, Funmi Iyanda's Walking With Shadows premiered at the BFI London Film Festival, an adaptation of Jude Dibia's 2005 groundbreaking novel about a gay man navigating a homophobic Nigeria. Not only are these films reconstructing the damage around the depiction of queerness in Nollywood, and not playing into harmful stereotypes, they have also laid the foundation of what could possibly be the second coming of queer cinema.

More recent, in fact, is Pamela Adie's evocative short film Ife released last year, a young-adult love story about two women's budding relationship. The film went on to premiere on a native streaming platform after a festival run.

Queer films in Nollywood today may be scarcely available, but blatant misrepresentations are now a thing of the past.

News Brief
Photo: Getty

Here's What You Need To Know About The Political Unrest In Sudan

Thousands have been protesting the Sudanese government over the weekend, supporting the military's plans for a coup.

Sudan's transitional government is in turmoil as thousands of citizens conducted a sit-in protest against them, over the weekend. A group of Sudanese citizens have called on the military to disestablish the nation's current government, as the country struggles with the greatest crisis they've seen since the end of former dictator Omar al-Bashir's controversial ruling, two years ago. The weekend's pro-military protests come as anti-military protestors took to the streets earlier this month to fight for civilian-ruled laws.

Military-aligned demonstrators assembled outside of the famously off-limits entrance of the Presidential Palace located in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum on Monday. Gatherers set up tents, blocking off access to two main intersections, cutting off access to the capital for those inside. Police attempted to wave off crowds with teargas, with Khartoum state officials saying they had, "repelled an attempted assault on the seat of government," in a statement issued Monday.

The assembly was called for by a coalition of rebel groups and political parties that support Sudan's military, accusing the civilian political parties of mismanagement and monopolizing power under their ruling. Demonstrations began on Saturday, but Sunday's gathering saw a lower attendance. According to Reuters, by Monday afternoon, thousands, between 2,000 - 3,000, had returned to voice their concerns. 52-year-old tribal elder Tahar Fadl al-Mawla spoke at the helm of the sit-in outside of the Presidential palace saying, "The civilian government has failed. We want a government of soldiers to protect the transition." Alongside a 65-year-old Ahman Jumaa who claimed to have traveled more than 900 kilometers (570 miles) from Southern region Nyala to show his support.

Protesters are demanding the appointment of a new cabinet that is "more representative of the people who participated in the December 2019 revolution that eventually led to the ousting of former president Omar al-Bashir", Al Jazeera reported from Sudan. Protesters headed towards the Presidential Palace, where an emergency cabinet meeting was being held when they were met by police forces.

Pro-civilian political parties have plans for their own demonstration on Thursday, the anniversary of the 1964 revolution that overthrew Sudan's first military regime under Ibrahim Abboud and brought in a period of democracy that the country still struggles to uphold.

Sudanese Twitter users shared their thoughts online, with many drawing similarities between the current unrest and other political crises the nation has faced.

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