How Nigerian Filmmakers Are Changing The Portrayal Of Queer Identity In Nollywood
“It comes with a certain type of boldness and artistic passion for one to say: ‘I want to make a queer film,’ especially when you are making that film in a country where queerness is unacceptable,” says Wapah Ezeigwe. They are a queer non-binary Nigerian filmmaker and one of the pioneers of a new wave of young creatives challenging negative portrayals of the LGBTQIA+ community in his country.
In Nigeria, homosexuality is not only socially unacceptable, but certain aspects of life are illegal and punishable by law. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill imposes a lengthy prison sentence of up to 14 years on individuals engaged in same-sex marriages, people who support LGBTQIA+ groups and those who openly display same-sex relationships in public. This has greatly restricted how queer stories and characters are portrayed in the media. Creatives know their work could lead to public anger, criticism and even threats to personal safety.
Nollywood – Nigeria’s Lagos-based film industry – has traditionally played a role in perpetuating pre-existing negative misconceptions about queerness.
But now filmmakers including Ezeigwe are challenging these portrayals by producing stories that humanise queer characters. Their 2022 debut film Country Love is a story of romance, memory and the idea of home. It centres around Kambili, a queer young man who comes back to his family after 15 years away to discover it is no longer the haven he once knew. Making Country Love was not without difficulties, which ranged from finding funding to keeping the crew safe from homophobic attacks during filming.
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Despite the challenges, Ezeigwe describes the landscape of queer representation in Nollywood today compared to a decade ago in one word: “progress”. “These are filmmakers that are fascinated about engaging stories critically but also with inept creativity,” they say. “It wasn’t so in the past. I know there were some queer stories, but they were never told with critical or insightful approaches. They were never told with a clear understanding of the queer experience and the nuances of queer lives.”
Ìfé, meaing ‘love’ in Yoruba, tells the story of lesbian couple Ìfé and Adaora. Directed by Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim and produced by Pamela Adie, it weaves a compelling narrative around their affection for each other while navigating the difficulties they face.
Despite the underrepresentation of queer characters in Nollywood up until now, the “belief that the future can be better” is what drives Adie to make stories like Ìfé. “I want to be part of creating that future of acceptance for queer people in Nigeria and Africa,” she says. “This is what inspires me.”
4 More Queer Nollywood Films To Watch…
- We Don’t Live Here Anymore, directed by Tope Oshin
- Hell And High Water, produced by The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs)
- Walking With Shadows, directed by Aoife O’Kelly
- All The Colours Of The World Are Between Black & White directed by Babatunde Apalowo
Torinmo Salau is a freelance writer and journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria. She has written for publications including Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, World Politics Review and the Guardian