Rape Culture And Sexism In Nigerian Movies

For about a week last month, I found myself watching several movies on Africa Magic* that left me feeling very disturbed. These movies were dramas with ‘romance’ in them…I’m not even sure if I should call it ‘romance’ but I guess that is the only way I can put these movies in a genre. The fact that these movies were supposedly depicting ‘love’ stories is what makes them all the more disturbing. To start off, I do not remember the names of the movies I watched, perhaps those who know their Nollywood can help me here. The first movie starred Desmond Elliot and was about a prince who raped a woman from his village. The village woman then discovered that she was pregnant after a while. When her father learnt of the news, he stormed into the palace demanding that the prince accept responsibility for his actions and marry the woman he had raped.

Obviously the prince refused to do anything and it was only when his mother insisted/threatened/cajoled that he married the woman he had raped and impregnated. Of course this prince is a typical ‘bad boy’, he did not want to marry this village woman and promised his girlfriend from the city (imagine the rapist had a girlfriend who was of his own social status) that he would divorce the village woman after she had given birth to her baby. However, things did not turn out the way the prince planned. After the village woman was taken into the palace, he realised that she was beautiful when she was dressed in fine cloths and covered in jewels. The prince ‘fell in love’ with her and after giving birth to a baby boy, his wife came to ‘love’ him as well and they lived happily ever after. Excuse me while I puke…

Needless to say while watching the movie, I was extremely angry. What on earth were the writers, producers, directors and actors thinking? Or, were they even thinking at all because I highly doubt it. I kept on wondering why watching the movie what kind of morals/messages it was trying to send. And if it was not sending any morals/messages, what on earth was this movie saying about Nigerian culture and the way it regards rape and unwanted pregnancies? After cursing at the TV screen for the duration of the movie (I just HAD to watch it to believe it), I was told not to let myself get bothered by the movie…I followed that advice.

However it was only a few days after watching that lame excuse of a movie that I came across yet another movie filled with the same disgusting garbage. Again I do not remember the name of the movie but it starred Desmond Elliot (the same guy who played the rapist prince), Genevieve Nnaji and Dakore Egbuson. In this movie, Genevieve played a good born-again Christian housegirl (maid) who was always resisting the sexual advances of her employer (Desmond) while being bullied by his sister (Dakore). The housegirl came from a poor family and for some reason or the other her brother was in the hospital ill and she needed a whole lot of money to pay for his surgery. Of course, her poor family could not afford to pay for their son’s medical bills and the housegirl took it upon herself to ask her employer, the same one who sexually harassed her daily, for help. Her employer agreed to give her the money for her brother’s medical bills…only if she had sex with him.

Naturally the housegirl was conflicted, she needed the money for her brother’s surgery but her religion was important to her and sleeping with her employer would be going against it. In the end, she slept with her employer and got the money but it was too late because her brother had died already. Being a good girl, she returned the money her employer had given her and one way or another as the movie progressed, he ‘fell in love’ with her. The housegirl was resistant at first and there were all those obstacles! For one, there was her employer’s fiancee who took any chance she had to remind the housegirl of her ‘place’ (i.e. lowly status) and there was the good Christian boy who wanted to marry her even though she was not ‘in love’ with him. The movie ended happily of course with the housegirl ‘falling in love’ with the man who had not only sexually harassed her while she was his maid but also had bribed her into having sex with him. Did I mention that he also hit his girlfriend?

*Sigh* I remember feeling extremely shocked after watching those two movies. I still do not understand what was going on in the minds of the people behind those movies and others like them. I also still do not understand what exactly it is movies like that are trying to say. I mean, they do not even make a lick of sense…people may argue that movies are for entertainment yet I do not see what is so entertaining about movies that are just oozing disturbing amounts of sexism in their horrible portrayals of women. Another problem is that of class/social status as shown in the movies. Basically rich men and princes get to do whatever they like and it does not matter what they do to poor women because in the end the women are going to ‘fall in love’ with them anyway as women are highly susceptible to Stockholm syndrome and give birth to sons that will continue their husband’s lineage.

The most distressing movie to me was the first one. I watched that movie with a friend and as I watched the scene where the queen (the prince’s mother) scolded the prince telling him that he must marry the woman he had raped because she was pregnant for him, I blurted out something about abortion. My friend was quick to react, saying that she did not agree with abortion and that it was wrong. I understand that sentiment but I fail to see how abortion is worse that being forced to marry your rapist! I did not argue with my friend as I know most Nigerians do not agree with abortion and many view it as a sin/murder/’why would you abort your baby when your mother gave birth to you?’ (which I think is ridiculous, please check out Roslyn’s blog to find out why)/etc.

When abortion was mentioned, I started reflecting on how women who abort are treated in Nigerian movies. It was then that I realised that in all the Nigerian movies I have watched (baring one) which dealt with this sensitive issue, all women who aborted their babies ended up dead! I find that amazing…the message these movies are sending suggests that women who abort will either die or deserve to die. Granted abortion is illegal in Nigeria and in the movies, women had to either go to fake doctors or bribe doctors into giving them abortions. However regardless of whether they went to quack doctors or qualified doctors, there were always complication and the woman ending up dying due to her having an abortion. If they wanted to send a message about the perils of abortion, instead of admonishing/shaming raped women for aborting unwanted babies they could have talked about legalising it. I mean, some women are going to abort unwanted pregnancies anyway so if people really care about female mortality due to abortions by quack doctors, you’d think talking about legalising abortion was the first step to take.

The only movie I have watched in which a woman actually lived through an abortion, and lived to be a successful woman at that, was incidentally a Yoruba movie. I remember the name of the movie, it was Kilebi Olorun. I liked the message that movie sent because it stressed the value of female children. Kilebi Olorun is a movie about a man who wanted a son to inherit his business while ignoring that he had FOUR daughters. He wanted a son so badly that he threatened to marry another wife if his wife couldn’t give birth to a son within a certain time limit. His want of a son was amplified when it was discovered that his first daughter had not only gotten pregnant ‘out of wedlock’ but had also aborted the pregnancy leading the father to have ‘valid’ proof that his daughters were worthless. The wife had to resort to extreme measures (visiting a babalawo**) and when she gave birth to a son, he grew up to be a useless, stubborn and disrespectful gangster who manhandled his father’s business. On the other hand the man’s FOUR daughters grew up to be successful, respectful (married of course) women.

One reason I avoid watching TV and movies most of the time is due to their problematic portrayal of women (and people who can be or are considered minorities). I feel that Nigerian movies should be doing more to educate people and to challenge archaic notions that are still upheld today as opposed to just being useless (which in my humble opinion most of them are). Watching Nigerian movies infuriates me due to the blatant sexism masked as ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ that is present in most of them. The fact that they are popular is even more worrying to me. Of course there are movies that defy the sexist code but they seem to be few in number. Again, all I am asking for is realistic three-dimensional and positive portrayals of women in movies, films, TV series etc. It is really disheartening to watch Nigerian movies about rapists who marry their victims and then ‘fall in love’ with them.

*Africa Magic is the channel we on the African continent tune into for Nigerian movies.

**Babalawo is a traditional priest or medicine man as we called them today. Historically and perhaps even today, babalawos are those who communicate with Ifa who is the Yoruba god of divination. I guess they are Oracles in their own way.

14 thoughts on “Rape Culture And Sexism In Nigerian Movies

  1. Ah, but Eccentric, you’re acting as if you don’t know the Empirical Nollywood Formula.

    Shame on you.

    The Nollywood Law states that:

    Any woman that has sex will either get pregnant or contract full blown AIDS (instantly)

    In the case of pregnancy, any woman who aborts it will die.

    Any woman who keeps the pregnancy shall give birth to a BOY who shall then grow up to become a doctor (observe the message that fallen women can only be redeemed through male offspring)

    In the case of AIDS, the woman shall first give her life to Christ at the last moment before dying fully repentant of her sins and blaming her immoral actions and bad deeds

    Also, any woman who is raped either deserved it or didn’t.

    In the case of women who did NOT deserve it, they are either rewarded or they continue to suffer.

    If they are rewarded their rapist marries them (because women want to spend the rest of their lives with the men who traumatised them)

    If they continue to suffer, they either become pregnant or they don’t.

    If they don’t become pregnant they return to a life of suffering in the village or become a street girl.

    If they become pregnant please refer to the Universal Law of Nollywood Pregnancies.

    As for those who deserved it, they either continue to be bad or they repent of their ways (because wearing nice clothing is a ‘way’ to repent of).

    If they continue to be bad, please refer to the Universal Law of HIV.

    That or they become Armed Robbers and undoubtedly are shot by the police.

    Yes, Nollywood is really progressive. Yay Feminism!!

    1. lmao! this is so true. i’m really ashamed >.< tbh i didn't watch much nollywood till i now. your Nollywood Law is sooo true. very progressive indeed.

  2. lol @that picture!

    I have never liked Nollywood movies. The acting is usually overdramatic for my taste and the story lines are usually so linear.

    I have never actually seen a Nigerian movie where anyone contracts HIV. I think Nigerians are in denial about HIV, therefore Sugabelly’s comment is interesting to me.

    I do have to say the fact that majority of the movies depict a pregnancy means that unprotected sex is the norm?

    There are so many double standards with preaching ‘Christian’ values but at the same time contravening them without regard to health.

    1. you know the only reason i’m watching Nollywood movies is because my unstated new year’s resolution was to open myself to things i never would have been open to before. with Nigerian movies i can now safely say that i was right never to have watched them in the first place…most English-speaking movies do not make any sense. i do enjoy a few Yoruba and Igbo movies esp the historical ones.

      clearly you haven’t watched much Nollywood! i have seen too many movies in which a ‘good’ virginal girl contracts HIV when she decides to join the ‘bad’ party girls and has sex for the first time.

      Nigerians are in denial about HIV because we do not talk about it, we’re ignorant and we stigmatise people living with HIV. i’ve seen a few TV programmes and billboard adverts trying to raise awareness on HIV but most people remain ignorant. some even refusing to be tested because getting a test automatically means you have HIV…

      unprotected sex is the norm because Nigerian parents do not talk to their children about sex and a sizeable amount of the youth have not had sex education. and even where there is sex education this usually includes advising girls to ‘wait till they find the one’ (read: the husband). the issue of unprotected sex is linked to the HIV issue; people do not like talking about it but all hell breaks lose when a young unmarried woman announces she is pregnant.

      one can argue that the very foundation of modern Nigerian society and culture is built on double standards.

  3. I think that abstinence is a great message but I don’t see what is wrong with telling people to protect themselves in the event that they fail to be abstinent. What happened to preserve life at all costs?

    It really does sadden me to see this. A lot of HIV sufferers are stigmatised too in Kenya. A girl in my school actually refused to shake the hand of a man with HIV who had come to give us an awareness talk. We had so many talks on HIV and we had sex education as a compulsory part of our learning too (i.e Kenyan curriculum requires it).

    It is not right that people are not educated or fail to educate themselves as adults. Really sad.

  4. Ah Nollywood movies. Did I not tell you about the time when I was doing my hair and AfricaMagic was on the TV? 3 different films, ALL of them featured cheating husbands. And in one of them, the man claimed he had been “tricked” into sleeping with someone else. scheeeeeeew. I’m surprised at the sexual harassment and rape storylines though. So did the man “change his ways” or “become born again”, or was it just that for the women, their only salvation lay with their oppressors? *scheeew. Foolishness.

  5. wow….great post. Like JC, I have never seen a Nollywood film that mentioned AIDS…and I’ve seen alot. But then again, I have not had the chance to watch many of the newer films over the last year so I am probably woefully behind.

    When watching with family the films def provoke arguments! From my experience, the films are made the way they are because so many agree with the precepts behind them.

    1. hey puregoldlady! you know there are just too many Nollywood movies out there, most tend to not mention AIDS but i’ve seen a few that do.

      i agree with you, the films are made in accordance to Nigerian society. *sigh* i just wish more film-makers were doing more to challenge the outdated customs and beliefs rather than encouraging and/or validating them.

  6. I just read this, I don’t know how I missed it/forgot about it… I don’t know how I never reflected on it either… but it’s so true! I watch Nollywood for the ludicrous (read: sometimes hilarious) nature of the stories, but as I read your post, I thought about the films that I had seen that featured rape (forced marriage to the rapist) or just mistreatment of women in general… never thought that I would happy in any of those situations, but it seems to me that people of my parents generation don’t question those kinds of happenings.

    It wasn’t Nollywood, but I remember watching Nigerian Idol a few months ago (might have been season 1) while getting my hair done by a Nigerian aunty. One of the hopefuls talked about and was almost at the point of tears about being brutally raped at the age of 8 by either a house boy or a family member, I can’t recall, and how music helped her get through that.

    The aunty’s reaction was one of “why did she need to say that on television?” it just seems to me that many women play a role in perpetuating these problems, perhaps unconsciously or because they are convinced that nothing is wrong.

    1. Lol, thanks for reading and commenting gazelle. When I watch Nollywood, it is just for mind-numbing entertainment. Then again there’s only so much I can take with all the problematic messages in the average Nollywood movie. If it is not something offensive to do with religion, then it’s to do with ethnicity or with sex or gender. It can get frustrating, which is why I tend to keep away from English speaking Nigerian movies. At least with Yoruba ones I can marvel at the language and traditions.

      The aunty’s reaction was one of “why did she need to say that on television?” it just seems to me that many women play a role in perpetuating these problems, perhaps unconsciously or because they are convinced that nothing is wrong.

      The general consensus seems to be that we shouldn’t talk about things like this. As if ignoring it will help things go away. Someone mentioned that with shows like Shuga it is possible that there is some sort of sexual revolution happening across the continent. I can only hope.

      I was in the cinema last year watching this movie that had a rape scene. Most of the audience were women and you should have heard the comments some women were making, ‘yes! that’s what she wants!’, ‘yes she deserves it!’ but as the scene progressed they must have realised that they were saying stupid things. I still don’t understand how some women themselves seem to have little to no sympathy for rape survivors unless it happens to them or their daughters. There is so much that needs to be changed in the way our culture regards women.

  7. This is a little late. However I feel a need to mention this.

    I was sexual abused ( rape is such a brutal word) by my half-brothers and some neighbourhood fellas i knew from when i was about 7 till i was 10. When it was happening i didn’t really understand what it meant, sometimes I’m sure i approached them myself. When i realised what i had happened to me i was broken for a long time( did the typical go from man to man thinking i’m worthless).

    When I turned 15/16 I told my mother had happened she wasn’t as proactive as i would have wanted (i know i lost a lot of respect for her) she cried as i cried that day and never mentioned it again. I expected her to chastised my brothers or something.

    I love my mother and she gave me the sex talk when i was 15 and already pregnant (I had an abortion- much too young and stupid, I’m now happily married and pregnant with our 1st kid so yay me!)
    I told my husband about the abortion but not the sexual abuse from when i was younger because i know/feel he could never forgive/ handle seeing my brothers if he knew.

    On reading the comments i thought about my attitude towards rape and although i find it despicable i have always been steadfast in the attitude that it would not be ALL of who i am.
    As i have seen too many people be raped and abused who then go on to live their lives around that and nothing else. They are then know as the ‘raped girl’ which to them is like perpetuating negative tags like ‘Nigger’. I never want sympathy just empathy unfortunately Nigerians tend to be one of the extremes. You are either going to pity me and look at me with sadness all the time or look at me with scorned like that ‘raped girl’.

    I recently saw some Hentai (Japanese cartoon porn-simple curiosity, never again) and it had that mentality entirely ( girls begging to be raped and so on- crazy) even in the UK only around 25% of rapes are reported and this is in the alleged ‘westernised free world’. Ignorance is international, Nigeria is simply popular with it.

    I’m not encouraging of abortion (it’s an intense decision) and because they’re too many things you can do to avoid it. But still rather no baby that suffering baby really.

    In the end I would pray and suggest that people like ourselves would be sure to have the talk with our children and let them know they are worth so much to us and the world.

    Sorry about the length. Got emotional there.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, the length is fine.

      As this is your personal experience, I don’t have much to add except I think it’s brave that you chose the best way to handle through such a traumatic episode in your life.

      Our society still has a long way to go with showing sympathy to people who have experienced sexual abuse, assault or rape. It is something that needs to be learnt all over the world to be honest, as you noted, even in the UK things are not so good with responses to sexual abuse.

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