By Rosemary Iwunze
Arden & Newton, a brand strategy consultancy in Nigeria, in partnership with Ford Foundation, is propagating a change in the manner women with disabilities are represented in Nigerian films.
For years, Nollywood has misrepresented and mis-told the stories of women with disabilities without context. Despite its remarkable development in the last decade, women with disabilities are still being negatively represented in the industry, often giving them inferior roles or characters without factual contexts.
To address this age-long problem, Arden & Newton, a leading brand strategy consultancy in Nigeria, in partnership with Ford Foundation, organised a roundtable conversation with Nollywood stakeholders to discuss how women with disabilities are represented in Nigerian films.
The conversation hosted about 50 recognized filmmakers, actors, actresses, directors, producers, scriptwriters, leaders of the industry’s associations, and representatives from the Lagos State Government’s Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture to a Symposium at Wheatbaker Lagos, Ikoyi.
“In Nigeria, Ford foundation focuses on social exclusion and impunity that surround the marginalisation of women, girls and persons in minority groups that are usually sidelined or disadvantaged in our communities,” Onyinye Onyemobi, a Ford Foundation representative, said in her opening remarks.
The symposium is part of a broader gender and disability project undertaken by Arden & Newton in partnership with Ford Foundation to produce written and visual documentation, hold dialogue and showcase the resilience of women with disabilities in resource producing communities in Nigeria. One of the outputs of the project is a critical analysis report on the representation of women with disabilities in Nollywood films. The preliminary findings of this report formed the core of the conversation at the symposium.
In his presentation, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, a renowned cultural critic and writer, said the research, which considered a dozen movies across different genres, featured at least one female character with a disability.
“I have gone through a bunch of Nollywood films looking specifically for movies that have female characters who were people with disabilities,” said Aigbokhaevbolo. “I discovered that the characterisation of these women are not strong enough in the media, and as a result, people assume that this is their reality.”
In Nigeria, Nollywood wields a powerful influence that is often a determinant of audience behaviour. They watch the content portrayed on Nollywood screens, internalise it and accept it as a representation of reality.
As the conversation progressed, industry veterans, filmmakers, distributors, scriptwriters and producers agreed that the misrepresentation of persons with disabilities exists in Nollywood. But arguments were made about investors’ willingness to part with funds to tell these stories and the commercial appeal of these stories to the general public.
“Film business is business,” said Dorothy Njemanze, a Nollywood producer and social activist.
“There are a lot of stories about persons with disabilities, but how many people are ready to fund these stories? Generally, filmmaking is a risk; will investors be willing to take that risk and produce movies about persons with disabilities,” she said.
Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, a filmmaker and producer, said that the inclusion of women with disabilities in Nollywood does not necessarily mean they must produce a separate movie for them.
“A movie like the wedding party, for instance, might feature a woman with a disability as the lead character. If it’s a strong character, that might even endear the character to viewers,” she said”.
However, featuring persons with disabilities prominently in Nollywood, training actors and the society on what disability means is surely needed.
“Stakeholders also agreed that understanding disability in Nigeria is the first approach to provide the right idea for Nollywood producers.
In his closing remarks, Creative Director at Arden and Newton, Perez Tigidam said the symposium has ignited a long-overdue conversation and will serve as a model for future dialogue.
“Today’s discussion has been long overdue for years in the Nollywood industry, and I’m glad we started that conversation today with valid suggestions from industry stakeholders capable of implementing them,” he said.