A filmmaker and filmmaker faces the prospect of imprisonment if they ignore the authorities ’strict warning and set out to release a film about a homosexual relationship between two women.
The film itself deserves to face a confrontation with the supervisory authorities (the Nigeria Film and Video Control Authority).
Producer Pamela Aide and director Oyaido Itim are determined to bring “Effie” (Love in Yoruba) to Nigerian audiences, but the country’s film watchdog says it will not approve it because it violates the country’s strict laws on homosexuality.
To get around the ban, the director and producer plans to release it online by surprise, but the film watchdog is monitoring all digital platforms seriously to prevent the movie from showing.
According to the head of the commission, Adebayo Thomas, both Edebayo and Ikpayitm may face prison sentences for promoting homosexuality in a country where same-sex relations are prohibited, and their sentences may reach 14 years in prison.
Despite this, the director and producer is organizing a special show in the commercial capital, Lagos, at the end of the month and believes they do not need a license. The film will also have an international screening in Canada in October.
Eddy said the film was intended to show the true image of lesbian and bisexual women in Nigerian cinema.
Often if a gay woman appears in a normal Nollywood movie, she is portrayed as bewitched, influenced by bad friends, or forced into homosexuality and always “rescues”, she told the BBC.
“You rarely see stories about gays and transsexuals, especially about gay women who talk about the realities and realities of our lives.”
“Evie was produced to fill the gap and opened doors to talk about it in Nigeria.”
Appearing for Nigerian mother
The story of “Evie” tells the story of two women who fell in love after spending three days together, according to the movie’s promo. Their love is then tested by the fact that they are in a same-sex relationship in a country like Nigeria.
And if the trailer that was shown in July alludes to sex and does not present it in reality, then this means that the film certainly tells the story of homosexuality according to the standards of Nigerian films.
In one of the clips, the film’s protagonists Evie and Adora are in bed talking about the love and challenges that gay and transgender people face, especially within their families.
Their dialogue forms the backbone of a trailer for the movie.
“I told my mom first about my homosexuality,” says actress Ozamaka Anionuh who plays Evie. “It took me a week to accept it.”
“It’s a short time for a Nigerian mother,” said Adora, played by actress Cindy Amadi.
“Is it too early to say I might fall in love with you?” Adora asks her and they are embracing.
Effie replies, “We’re gay, it’s a very good time.”
“It must be censored“
Homosexuality is a highly contentious issue in many parts of Africa, and Nigeria is no different.
It is a very religious and traditional community, and the Christian and Islamic organizations influencing it are opposed to homosexuality.
As a result, Nigeria is one of 30 countries on the continent that criminalize homosexuality.
Legislation banning same-sex relations was passed in 2014 and built on a colonial-era ban on the practice of sodomy.
Police in Nigeria cracked down on suspects of homosexuality and forced most of them into hiding.
Feeling marginalized and the need to challenge beliefs that homosexuality is immoral is what inspired director Ikpe Itim to direct this work.
“We were hearing about this subject from one side. What we are trying to do in this film is normalize the gay experience, and normalize the romantic relations between gays.”
“This will start to erase the shame that lesbian, bisexual and transgender women face,” she told the BBC.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) community in Africa is becoming increasingly visible and overt, thanks to the internet that provides space for movies, talk shows and websites.
But that didn’t stop the filmmakers from getting in trouble with the authorities.
The film and video watchdog chief said there was no space for movies like Evie and other gay movies in Nigeria, citing the law.
“There is a law prohibiting homosexuality, whether in practice, in a movie, or even on stage,” Thomas told the BBC. “If the content is from Nigeria, it should be censored.”
He said that whatever the platform is displayed on it, “as long as it includes Nigerian content and tells a Nigerian story, then we have the right to do so.”
But there is no plan for large-scale showing of the Evie movie in Nigerian cinemas or for selling on DVD, as producers want to make it available online for a viewing fee. But even this would put them in trouble with the censorship apparatus.
Increase acceptance of community members Homosexual
“If he does not go through the censorship board and get approval, the makers of the film will be prosecuted according to the law,” Thomas said.
“As long as the content of the movie is Nigerian, we will remove it because we have cooperation with Google, YouTube and other major viewing platforms.”
But that did not deter the makers of the film, and Eddie says her team continues to work as scheduled because they believe they have done nothing wrong and are not planning to obtain permission to view it online.
This is not the first time that a gay movie has fallen victim to the continent’s censors.
“Stories from Our Life”, a collection of five short films based on stories of gay life in Kenya, was banned in 2014 for being “inconsistent with national values”.
This was also the fate of “My Companion”, the first Kenyan film about a gay relationship, and the first film of an East African country that made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival and also received an Academy Award nomination.
South Africa has also banned the movie (The wound), which was about two men, and banned it from showing in cinemas in the country in 2018.
Despite successive setbacks, some members of the gay community in Africa say they are gradually gaining confidence and acceptance and link this to increased visibility in films and literature that promotes greater tolerance among the younger generations.
A poll in Nigeria in 2019 showed an increase in acceptance of LGBT people even though the balance of equality remains tilted against them.
About 60 percent of Nigerians surveyed said they would not tolerate a member of their family if he was gay. But this was much lower than the 83 percent who classified themselves in this category in 2017.
The need for more change in the community’s attitude is why people like director Ikpei Item want to continue telling the stories of the LGBT community.
“As a member of a marginalized group, you are always at the mercy of people who do not understand what it means to be sexually different.”
“I realized that if I want society to view LGBT people from a different perspective, I have to tell the whole story,” she adds.