Nollywood: The Misrepresentation Of Queer People

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Nollywood movies are popular for mirroring our society, feeding off the fear that engulfs us and teaching us life lessons. From cultism to black magic to myths about sex work to religion and blood money, the movie industry has left no stone unturned. Since the Nigerian movie industry emerged in the 1960s, queer characters were largely unreflected until the early 2000s. When we witnessed queer characters in Nollywood, it was characterized by demonizing and offensive practices. The characters depicted blatantly affirmed how society perceived the marginalized group – as relentless rapists, possessed people, affiliated with the devil, and people in need of psychological and spiritual help.

Occasionally, Nollywood did the job of touching on various subjects but failed woefully when it came to the LGBTQ community. In 2003, Nollywood debuted its first movie with queer characters, Emotional Crack. In the movie, the lesbian character Camilla (Dakota Akande) was presented as a home-wrecker who eventually became an obsessive heartbroken lover to the point she committed suicide. In 2010, the infamous Men In Love was released and lived up to the trend of demonizing gay people. Alex (Muna Obiekwe) was presented as a gay man who would not take no for an answer until he raped his old friend Charles (John Dumelo). A few days after the incident, Charles realizes he is also gay and asks Alex to date him. After catching Alex and Charles getting intimate, Charles’ wife is heartbroken and goes to church. She cries for 5 days until she meets a pastor who claimed Charles was under a gay spell. Alex is arrested for being gay and Charles’ gay spell was prayed away. 

These movies are just evidence and products of religious bias, poor research, and the projection of stereotypes imposed by society. It’s the same hackneyed portrayals. We see the outing of queer people as a weapon for blackmail. Another is queerness akin to a communicable disease that can be passed between people and queer characters ending up with sicknesses like HIV/AIDS and/or eventually dying or seeking divine intervention. Non-binary artiste, Raven Nelson is not impressed with how queer people are represented in Nollywood movies. She believes some of those responsible for the portrayals have made up what they think queerness entails because queer people are not seen as human beings or natural. “When you don’t humanize people enough, you now fill in the blanks on what you think it’s like to live like queer people or what queerness entails. Queerness has been demonized to a point where it’s a choice or a bad habit instead of a biological trait or feature.”

Another aspect Nollywood failed to reflect when queer characters were featured was diversity. Back then, the queer scope was limited to just lesbianism and gay even though in the palmy days of Nollywood, the acronym ‘LGBT’ had already been coined. Of the two popular identities, lesbians were usually the go-to. It seemed perhaps Nollywood wanted to play it safe when they featured queer characters because, between gays and lesbians, lesbians are seen as the lesser evil, as the object of fantasy of straight men and being unlikely to spark an intense outrage. In the movie Men In Love, one can argue that Charles was bisexual because he was intimate with his wife and Alex but the projection of his sexual identity was flawed. Commenting on the misrepresentation of queer people in Nollywood, Nigerian queer YouTuber, Chukwudi Okoye notes “It’s tragic. I don’t know why they don’t accurately present Nigerian queer people because there are so many gay people in Nigeria”.

While Nollywood can be applauded for its efforts and immense contribution to the entertainment industry, it should also be criticized for the poor representation of the LGBTQ community. It’s evident that the ill-portrayal of the group contributed to the hostility towards them. Understanding the role it has in shaping perception and public narratives, the onus falls on the movie industry to conduct more research on the community and channel that insight in its portrayal of the LGBTQ community to offset the antagonism towards the marginalized group. 

We are still a long way from a utopia where normal stories centred around homosexual couples can exist. The Same-Sex Prohibition Act requires review while the films need to do a better job of documenting the experiences of the communities. That said, the likes of Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim and Pamela Adie have challenged the status quo to produce creditable queer movies like Ife.