By Ayo Onikoyi
Nigerian lesbian movie “Ife” produced by Pamela Adie and directed by Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim is set for release despite stern warning from Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) that the film (which means “love” in Yoruba language violates the country’s strict laws on homosexuality.
But according to a report by BBC, the filmmakers are determined to get the film across to the Nigerian audience. To get around, the report says the filmmakers are planning a surprise online release to catch the regulators off-guard. However, according to BBC in its report, the Censors Board is well aware and diligently monitoring all digital platforms to checkmate the release of the movie.
According to the Censors Board boss, Adebayo Thomas, both the producer and the director, and indeed all involved in the film could be risking jail terms of 14 years sentence for promoting homosexuality in a country where same-sex relationships are forbidden.
BBC in the report says the filmmakers are planning a private screening in Lagos at the end of the month for which they feel they do not need the nod of the regulators to go ahead. It was also reported that the film is being billed for international premiere in Canada in October of this year.
BBC quotes the producer, Adie as saying the film was to show an accurate picture of lesbian and bisexual women in Nigerian movies
If a lesbian woman does appear in a standard Nollywood movie they are often portrayed as being possessed, influenced by bad friends or forced into homosexuality and always needing “saving”, she told the BBC.
“You rarely see stories about LGBT people, especially about queer women that speak to the realities of our lives. “Ife was made to bridge the gap and to get the conversation going in Nigeria.”
“Ife” is a story about two women, played by Uzoamaka Aniunoh and Cindy Amadi falling in love as they spend three days together. They “then have their love tested by the realities of being in a same-sex relationship in a country like Nigeria”, according to the publicity for the film.
“Before now, we have been told one-sided stories. What we are doing with this film is normalising the queer experience, we are normalising the LGBT romance. It will begin to erase that shame that LBQ [lesbian, bisexual and queer] women face,” Adie told the BBC.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community in Africa is becoming increasingly vocal and visible, thanks to the internet providing a space for films, talk shows and websites.
But that has not stopped filmmakers from getting into trouble with authorities. The head of the NFVCB said there was no space for Ife or other homosexual movies in Nigeria, citing the law.
“There’s a standing law that prohibits homosexuality, either in practice or in a movie or even in a theatre or on stage. If it’s content from Nigeria, it has to be censored,” Mr Thomas told the BBC.
He said that whatever the platform was, “as long as it’s Nigerian content and it’s telling a Nigerian story, then we have a right to it”.
But there is no plan for large-scale screenings of Ife in Nigerian cinemas or selling the DVD, as the producers want to make it available online as pay-on-demand.
But even that will get them into trouble with the regulators.
“If it did not pass through NFVCB and it is released, the filmmakers will be prosecuted according to the law,” Mr Thomas said. As long as it’s Nigerian content, we will pull it down because we have collaborations with Google, YouTube and other key players.”
But that has not deterred the producers and Adie says her team will continue as planned, as they believe they have done nothing wrong and do not plan to seek permission for an online release.
This is not the first time an LGBTQ-themed movie has fallen foul of regulators on the continent.
“Stories of Our Lives”, a collection of five short films based on stories of LGBTQ life in Kenya was banned in 2014 for being “contrary to national norms”.
This was also the fate of Rafiki, Kenya’s first film about a lesbian relationship, which went on to be the East African nation’s first film to premiere at the Cannes film festival and also receive an Oscar nomination.
“Inxeba/The Wound”, a South African film about a relationship between two men in the context of the Xhosa initiation ritual was also banned from mainstream South African cinemas in 2018.
Despite the set-backs, some in the LGBTQ community in Africa say they are gradually gaining confidence and acceptance and link it to the increased visibility in films and literature which are encouraging greater tolerance among younger generations.