Photo Credit: Showmax

The First Season of 'The Real Housewives of Lagos' Was a Surprise Success

Arriving on Showmax with media fanfare and pomp, The Real Housewives of Lagos had to scale expectations of being watchable. It succeeded beyond that.

Ending its 12-episode run in June, The Real Housewives of Lagos was a surprising piece of franchise-making television. Winking at the theatrics within Housewives lore — the finger-pointing, voice-raising, altercations, slinging of profanities — the Showmax original convinced its biggest doubters.

RHOL gets serialized television right. With viewers in Nigeria as the primary focus, many have harbored misgivings about Nollywood because of its churn of poor movies. And while filmmaking and reality television aren’t the same, elements like plotting, pacing, characterization, and suspense overlap in these mediums.

Here, RHOL fares much better.

In no small part, the personalities of the housewives played a role, contributing to a shapeshifting dynamic. There's Toyin Lawani, the outsize fashion mogul with the cutting awareness of an apex shark; Iyabo Ojo, who can swing between motherly impulses and self-contained chicness; Mariam Timmer, who is happy-go-lucky and whimsical; Laura Ikeji-Kanu, the designated villain who would later come around with a redeeming arc; Chioma Ikokwu, who is always supremely cool; and Carolyna Hutchings, who nestles in quiet, self-congratulatory grandeur.

With ages benchmarked between 30 and 40, the show was a study on female-bonding practices. In the premiere, we see Laura stay mostly quiet in the company of other housewives in Chioma’s restaurant. The reason? She isn’t comfortable opening up to people who she just met. But Laura — the show would later reveal — isn’t just a wallflower. The show was setting up Laura to be a disruptive minefield. (Early complaints from viewers was that RHOL was boring; those critiques were premature in hindsight.)

Laura's peculiar social currency — and her relationship with her influential sibling blogger, Linda Ikeji — magnifies her seeming treacherousness. Known for pioneering a kind of indie gossip blogging in the mid-2000’s — which grew monstrous and impacted lives negatively — Linda’s name was invoked on the show using Laura as a proxy. It would be hard to believe if this wasn’t an intentional set up from the producers. As expected, it opened a can of worms. In episode three, her clash with Carolyna at the bohemian-themed picnic took an emotional turn after Carolyna brought up the medical crisis surrounding her daughter’s birth.

Carolyna Hutchings green dress

Throughout the season, Carolyna Hutchings who nestles in quiet, self-congratulatory grandeur.

Photo Credit: Showmax

Further, she mentioned how she suffered as a result of the news splashed as just another random clickbait material on Linda’s blog. I, for one, was moved by the scene. In a way, Laura’s “negative energy” had the potential to wrinkle the air with friction when hanging out with other housewives. (In the world of RHOL, the sexist narrative of “women don’t like each other” is milked as fan service.)

One of the most reoccurring topics in the RHOL universe is fashion. Not only is it a critical subject, the show turns fashion into an aggressive sport, from the slimming silhouettes of Chioma’s lace inset dresses to Iyabo’s cute hair transformations and styling.

More than halfway into the season, it became slightly obvious that Toyin felt bothered about the way Chioma dresses, and the confidence it came with. At the sip and paint event in episode nine, the mild argument between Toyin and Chioma about who looked better was proof.

Chioma Ikokwu green outfit

The supremely cool Chioma Ikokwu.

Photo Credit: Showmax

But Chioma — or RHOL — isn’t just about looking pretty. In episode eight, her community outreach through her foundation introduced genuine emotional stakes into the show. Toyin towed this path for her birthday rollout, reconnecting with families in mainland communities. This is Lagos, too. The bleak narrow streets holding up the economic underclass, eating up whatever hope and optimism is left. Here, the women are poor, doing whatever they can to sustain their families.

RHOL takes a small break from showing the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge as an analogue for wealth and prosperity. With worsening conditions in Nigeria, the show briefly ponders on the realities that the cast members aren’t living. The cosmetic attempts to portray African countries as a landscape of skyscrapers and flourishing urban cities doesn’t feel sustainable.

There are also serious pockets of conversation on RHOL, highlighting domestic abuse and sexual violence. This was an admission from Toyin in episode seven, in the dinner scene hosted by Mariam and from Iyabo as a young adult in the premiere. Last year, Iyabo severely called out an actor in the industry for sexually assaulting a minor, a moment that proves she isn’t performative, trading off traumatic experiences for likability.

Perhaps one of the biggest thrills on RHOL was seeing the collapse of friendships. The friendship pairings that started the show dissolved by season’s end. Now in the footnote of a two-part reunion, it has given viewers a chance to process the aftershocks. Further, it has resurrected tucked away feelings from the past. The bickering between Carolyna and Toyin skewed towards affairs we weren’t privy to.

Reunions can be messy. It can also be a place of healing. How the housewives choose to navigate this space, and the out-of-continuity interactions in the future will be interesting to watch. RHOL has quickly established itself as a surprise hit, trending in Nigeria and South Africa. With goodwill from fandoms in the diaspora, the show can go anywhere from here.

Photo Credit: Damilare Kuku

Damilare Kuku on How Real Life Inspired Her Hit Novel ‘Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad’

OkayAfrica spoke to author Damilare Kuku about her salient breakout novel ‘Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad.’

Damilare Kuku is new to Nigeria’s literary scene. But her short story collection, Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, came with a buzz. Released in October 2021, the book is a collection of twelve salient tales of young Nigerians in Lagos. Capturing the complexion of the city, it grapples with themes like love, sex, deceit, infidelity, companionship, and heartbreak.

The characters in Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad are women. However, they are not just any kind of women. They are people with whom Kuku shares certain connections with.

Some of these women are friends, close acquaintances, and relatives. "One of the aims of my work as a creative artist is bringing human beings closer, especially women," Kuku told OkayAfrica. "Because women need to know that whatever they are going through, they are not alone. There are other people with the same thing happening to them."

Kuku, who loved reading books as a child, grew up between Lagos and Ile-Ife. Before her debut novel became a hit, Damilare played roles in movies. She’s made appearances in Africa Magic's television series Unbroken and Nollywood blockbusters like The Set-Up (2019), Chief Daddy (2018), and Love is War (2019). As her writing career enjoys attention and success, she landed her most important Nollywood role yet — in the Biodun Stephen-directed drama The Wildflower, released in May.

OkayAfrica caught up with Kuku on Zoom to talk about this anthology work, its inspiration, and her most important role in Nollywood yet.

Damilare Kuku book

How did you come up with the title?

The title of the novel came to me after a prayer session. I'm an unapologetic child of God, which means I rely heavily on God. I was actually in between projects and remembered I was in my one-room apartment in Yaba, Lagos — a very cute little place. I liked it, and I was so proud of the space.

Whenever I am not working, I pray. Somehow, somewhere, I was praying, inspiration came and was like, "how about you write a novel titled Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad?" It wasn't even the inspiration for the stories; it was only the title. So immediately, I sent the title to a very well-known Nollywood actor's assistant. I never got a response, which discouraged me a bit, but I thought maybe it wasn't the right time, so I let it go. This was in 2019. A year later, I submitted a book to my publisher. This was the publisher who later published Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, and they were like we see potential, and we'd love you to come in for a meeting. So I went in for a meeting and they wanted to sign me on the spot.

Your book deals with themes like deceit, companionship, infidelity, social class, friendship, and heartbreak. Was there any of these themes you wanted readers to pay more attention to?

All stories in the novel are as personal as they can be. I don't have a story in the book, but each story was carefully written, which is interesting because I had all of these things written out, hoping anybody reading the book would get the message. When the message was clear, it was pretty comforting. Every particular story was of clear intention. The same thing with any of my work has always been clear. I'm always delighted when people see my message's clarity. Each story is a love letter to some woman I know.

In the story “Beard Gang” from Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, you explored how Gay men use marriage to straight women to conceal and hide their sexual orientation. Do you think Nearly All The Men in Lagos helped in any way to pinpoint how this is problematic?

Firstly LGBTQ+ community is very precious, and I'm cautious with what I say. I believe my work mirrors what is going on in the society. Take from it what you will. I tell most people I'm not here to educate you, and I'm more of a timekeeper. That's what I am as a writer. I'm saying this is what is happening. As Damilare, I believe people should be who they want to be. People should learn to accept people for who they are. That's my phenomenon; that is my theory about life. When a person shows you who they are, accept them, but on the other hand, I'm not doing that in this book. I'm simply saying that this is where our society is. Read it and then take from it what you will.

Because it would be foolhardy of me to say this is wrong or right. I'm not here to teach anybody, I'm just here to mirror the society and say how it is. I've had many reporters ask me what my view on queer people is. I don't have an opinion, and that's not because I'm trying to play it safe, but this is what society is.

Damilare Kuku green shirt

"I'm very intentional with my work, and I feel like, as a woman, I can only share stories about what it feels like to be a woman," Damilare Kuku said.

Photo Credit: Damilare Kuku

Let’s talk about the theme of sex. Why was it so essential to the stories being told in your novel?

For me, it was the characters telling their stories, and I can remember older people who had read the book who called me and said, "Is this what is happening now?" and I said yes. I told them it was different from their time when women were very conservative about their sexual life and sexuality. Nowadays, if a woman consents to sex, she's doing it of her own free will. So is that necessarily a good or a bad thing? Then again, it is not my place because if I pass judgment as a writer, I'm not doing my job telling the story. It is left to the readers to make with it what they will. I remember I did an interview a while ago and the interviewer and critic called NALMILAM not too far from pornography, and I laughed. Similarly, the book is dedicated to my mom Oluremi Abake. She started reading the book, but she also says the sex talk is a bit too much for her. But I feel like it's a normal phenomenon; young people living in Lagos are having sex, so why sugar coat it?

Was there any story in Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad that was tedious or mentally draining to write?

The only thing that was quite tedious was emotions. So when my friends — the inspirations behind the stories — went through what they went through, I related as a listener. To write about their experiences, you have to become them. So I found myself being them. Sometimes I would even cry. In the story "Ode-plus complex," the main character (Jide) was a family member's experience. I became the character to understand what they went through, which helped me as an actor. It was very therapeutic.

Let's talk about your latest role in The Wildflower. Share with me what it was like to play the role

As I said, I'm very intentional with my work, and I feel like, as a woman, I can only share stories about what it feels like to be a woman, either through what friends have been through or what I know someone else has gone through. I can tell what other women go through because I am one myself, so when I got the role in The Wildflower, after several auditions, I was very excited. I wanted to tell the story of women and what they go through, abuse in the workplace and many girls go through that. They are being marginalized. Women go through a lot, and most times, some people who do these things to us don't think they've abused the woman.

In The Wildflower, my character was abused by her boss, and there was a scene after the abuse where he said to her, "If only you've been a little bit more cooperative..." and I believe most men think like this. They think, "I didn't rape you — we had sex." But no, it's rape. I told you "no." You didn't listen and went ahead to do what you wanted. When someone says "no," no should mean no. I have often heard some ridiculous views like, "when an African woman says no, she means maybe."

We are here in a society where men don't respect boundaries. They don't respect personal space, and they think it's okay to touch a girl because she's wearing a short skirt. I read a review about The Wildflower from a popular site, and the reviewer said, "absolutely not recommended because abuse has been talked about," and I actually wish I could talk to the person and say, "just because abuse has been talked about many times, doesn't mean it shouldn't be explored."

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