7 Contemporary Nollywood Queer Films Changing Narratives

7 Contemporary Nollywood Queer Films Changing Narratives

In the few instances where queer people were the subject of Nigerian films in the ‘90s and early 2000s, they were invariably depicted unflatteringly. Lancelot Imasuen’s Emotional Crack (2003), Amaka Igwe’s Rattle Snake (1995) and even Moses Ebere’s Men in Love (2010), for example, portrayed homosexuals as satanically possessed. In some other films from that era, queer people were either characterized as mentally unstable, promiscuous, manipulative, or outrightly evil.  Those were not instances of cinema imitating life; the filmmakers were only dramatising the biases many Nigerians have toward queerness. This homophobia, caused primarily by religion, was further exacerbated by the passing of The Same Sex Prohibition Act in 2014.

These factors, coupled with the one-sided portrayal of queerness have shaped mass perception, further opening up the queer community to ostracization and emotional and physical violence. Unlike those films from the 90s, a new wave of contemporary Nigerian films has come to portray queer people in a more humane light. For instance, Ife (2020), written and directed by Uyai Ikpe-Etim showcased the humane nature of two lesbian women; their capability for love, and their lack of immunity to all the messy emotions that come with that.

Culture Custodian, has compiled a list of 7 contemporary Nollywood queer films that have contributed to changing the mainstream narrative about queer people.

We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2018)

We Don’t Live Here Anymore revolves around the love story of two teenage boys, Tolu Bajulaiye and Chidi Egwuonwu, students at Prominence High School, who must grapple with society’s harsh judgement of their relationship. Tolu faces potential expulsion, leading his mother, Nike, to attempt to erase the “shame” associated with her son. 

Produced by Tope Oshin, Olumide Makanjuola and The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs), the film features a talented cast including Funlola Aofiyebi Raimi, Katherine Obiang, Osas Ighodaro Ajibade, Francis Sule, and Temidayo Akinboro.

Executive Producer Olumide Makanjuola emphasised the importance of We Don’t Live Here Anymore in shedding light on an often-ignored facet of society. Oshin stressed the need to humanise and promote tolerance and awareness of the consequences of our actions towards others. Despite challenges such as stringent laws, an unestablished market, and potential backlash, the movie premiered at IMAX Cinemas in Lagos on October 14, 2018.

Walking with Shadows (2019)

Adapted from Jude Dibia’s 2005 novel, Walking with Shadows portrays Ebele Njoko’s life journey. Desperate for familial acceptance and love, Ebele reinvents himself as Adrian Njoko, a respected family man and upstanding society member. However, his newfound stability is shattered when his hidden past and secrets resurface.

When a vengeful colleague outs Adrian as gay, he is forced to acknowledge his attraction to men when confronted by his wife. Feeling betrayed, she asks him to leave their home. Public awareness of his sexuality forces Adrian to seek refuge with his gay friend and partner, while also exploring a romantic relationship with a French expatriate named Antoine.

Directed by Aoife O’Kelly, Walking with Shadows features Ozzy Agu, Funiola Aofiyebi, and Zainab Balogun. The film discusses betrayal, the relentless pursuit of acceptance in an adversarial environment, and the complexities of concealing one’s identity. Walking with Shadows was screened at the Göteborg Film Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Hell or High Water (2016)

Despite criticism for being overt, Hell or High Water fearlessly tackles the intertwined subjects of homophobia, religion, love, and sexuality. The central character, Pastor Gbolahan, serves as the nexus for these four themes.

Released two years after the enactment of Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in 2014, the film’s creation reflects a remarkable level of courage. Oluseyi “Asurf” Amuwa, the CEO of Asurf Films, avoids the harmful portrayals of gay characters prevalent in earlier Nollywood films and instead exposes the issues of homophobia and societal stigma.

The movie sheds light on how many Nigerian families, in a predominantly religious nation, perceive homosexuality. It depicts the internal struggle young individuals face as they grapple with their sexual identities.

Hell or High Water conveys the character’s journey of self-discovery. It also doesn’t shy away from portraying the emotions of women trapped in loveless marriages to gay men and the lingering taste of betrayal. A collaborative effort by The Initiative for Equal Rights and Asurf Films, with a screenplay by Habeeb Lawal, the film boasts an ensemble cast featuring Enyinna Nwigwe, Daniel K. Daniel, among others.

All the Colors of the World are Between Black and White (2023)

All the Colors of the World Are Between Black and White offers an oasis of relief within the desert of homophobia and stigma. While not enough to quench the thirst for change, it provides a measure of comfort.

In this feature film, debut director Babatunde Apalowo portrays the love between two young gay men in Nigeria. The film follows the journey of Bambino and Bawa, two young men whose deep affection for each other blossoms after a serendipitous encounter in Lagos. Their struggle to express their love fully in the face of societal challenges and constraints is at the heart of the narrative, highlighting the novelty of their emotions.

The Seattle International Film Festival describes the movie as “an understated but heart-wrenching exploration of love between two men in modern-day Nigeria, where such love is forbidden.”

The film earned the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film and premiered on February 17, 2023, at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival in Panorama. Michael Stütz. On February 14, 2023, it was reported that Coccinelle Film Sales in Italy had acquired worldwide distribution rights. Directed by Babatunde Apalowo and produced by Damilola E. Orimogunje, Imafidon Gift Jesurobo-Owie, David Wyte, and Nkechi Okere.

Country Love (2022)

Country Love unfolds in Enugu, Nigeria, as a coming-of-age love story following a queer man’s return home after fifteen years, grappling with the absence of compelling reasons to stay.

The film navigates memory, sibling bonds, love, and sexuality, with a particular focus on their profound impact on queer individuals, especially femme queer individuals. In a candid pre-release interview with OpenCountry Mag, first-time director Wapah Ezeigwe shared the challenges encountered during the making of this film.

“I wasn’t willing to compromise any of my artistic vision. I remember going from one lecturer’s quarters to another and getting a full-blown no. The fact was, I was making a ‘queer film’ and I had to be very picky about the places I chose to tell the story. I didn’t want to expose my actors to any sort of homophobia.”

Ezeigwe held the film’s essence as an endeavour to broaden the perception of queer identities, challenging the confines of masculinity within the few existing queer films. Country Love strives for inclusivity, confronting femmephobia and queerphobia ingrained in African society.  The film garnered recognition as an official selection at the Africa International Film Festival, one of only two Academy Awards-qualifying Queer Film Festivals in the United States. Additionally, it earned a spot among the selected films screened at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2022. 

Ife (2020)

Ife is another contemporary nollywood queer film narrating the love story of Ife and Adaora, two Nigerian women who grapple with the challenges of being lesbians in Nigeria. Their initial one-night date unexpectedly extends to three days spent within Ife’s home, fostering intimacy.

Despite Nigeria’s homophobic society, the film underscores the universal nature of love between queer and straight people. It depicts the initial nervousness and awkwardness experienced by the two lovers, akin to any pair embarking on a new relationship, eventually transitioning into a more intimate and comfortable connection.

With Ife, Uyai Ikpe-Etim, the writer and director, aimed to create a relatable narrative, affirming that queer folks are human beings capable of love, just like everybody else. 

While Ife encountered censorship and interference from the National Film and Video Censor Board (NFVCB) during production, it managed to avoid an official ban. To circumvent potential controversy, the film was not theatrically released in Nigeria. Instead, it premiered on October 11, 2020, at the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival and other international film festivals and online platforms. Starring Uzoamaka Anuinoh and Cindy Amadi, Ife earned recognition by winning The Liberation Awards in 2021.

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Tack (Live & Let’s Live) (2022)

Tack (Live and Let Live)  revolves around the love story of childhood friends George and John, who are forced to keep their romantic relationship secret due to societal homophobia. Eventually, their love is discovered by their families, leading to the demise of their relationship. The movie offers a glimpse into the lives of LGBTQ individuals in Nigeria and their struggles in their quest to lead ordinary lives.

Patrick Kidochukwu Iwe serves as the writer, producer, and director of this 45-minute short film, featuring Joseph Kelly as George, Peter Charles as John, and Yannick Davidson Annoh as David. Iwe’s primary aim in creating this film was to expose the hypocrisy of those who deny the existence of gay individuals. Through Tack, he asserts the existence of gay people and their ability to achieve remarkable feats, just like anyone else. The movie was released on May 11, 2022, and is available for free streaming on YouTube.

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