In over sixty years of filmmaking in Nigeria, local stories have been the preeminent foundation for storytelling. In Africa, local storytelling involves stories deep-rooted in culture. African culture, though diverse, has universal, unifying cultural beliefs that cut across the different nations. Sexual orientation being one of the unifying cultural beliefs. Nigeria’s infamous Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2013, evidently stemming from historical cultural beliefs, is a major influence on the kind of stories are being told about queer people in the Nigerian film indutry.

Demonizing queer people and relationships in the African society is not new practice, and neither is it in film. A quick timeline of queer representation in Nigerian films will help us see the evolving state of the Nigerian society towards queer people.

Emotional Crack (2003)

This 2003, revenge seeking romantic-drama follows the lives of a couple, Chudi (Ransey Nouah) and Crystal (Stephanie Okereke) and their combined mistress Camilla (Dakore Egbuson). Chudi, an abusive husband and serial cheater, breaks of his fling with Crystal and in an attempt to make him pay for breaking her heart, Camilla seduces his wife and starts to sleep with her. A solid plotline in my opinion, and surprisingly doesn’t entirely demonize the antagonist solely for her sexual preferences, rather it focuses on the fact that she’s a crazy, stalking, heartbroken girfriend.

Mr Ibu and Keziah 2 (2007)

This story captures a corper, Keziah (Mercy Johnson) who is initiated into the ‘world of lesbianism’ after using an enchanted soap given to her by her roomate Monica (Adaora Ukoh). In this film, lesbianism and lesbians are an established organization, set on recruiting and liberating women from heterosexual relationships. This film – as society in 2007 – portrays being queer as a being spiritually downtrodden by demonic forces. While its rather interesting to compare the portrayal of Nigerian lesbians in film in the early 2000s and now in the early 2020s, it’s also interesting that the concept of female empowerment is synonymous to lesbiansim. Synonymous in the sense that for women to seek independence from male-dominated sectors means one also suffers the spiritual disease that is lesbianism. This explains why a number of Nigerians suffer with the concept of feminism and fema empowerment.

Men in Love (2010)

This 2010 film follows the film of a young couple a few years into their marriage. The wife, Whitney (Tonto Dike) discovers her husband, Charles (John Dumelo) is disturbingly promiscuous. After bumping into an old university friend, who open up to him about his sexual orientation, things start to take an unusual twist. The old friend, Alex (Muna Obiekwe) ends up raping Charles at a party and after a stint of anger, Charles is then overcome with a new found love for his dear friend Alex. Whitney ends up teaming with her pastor to cast out the homosexual spirit out of Charles and soon after Charles is exorcised and is freed from Alex’s clutches. As per expected of a 2010 film, though surprisingly slightly more progressive than I thought, portrayed the queer characters in all the stereotypes known to man.

Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water is a 2016 short film that tells the story of a married pastor, Gbolahan (Enyinna Nwigwe), who is loved and adored by the members of his church. Things take a different turn for him when he has to confront the reality of his sexuality. A confrontation that tears him emotionally, spiritually,and psychologically. This 2016 short gives the Nollywood audience a change of narrative for queer people. From the stereotypical, two dimensional antagonistic characters, to three dimensional lead characters who have personalities like everyone else. This thirty-one minute film is the one of the first steps taken by Nigerian filmmakers to represent the realities of queer Nigerians.

We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2018)

A scandal brews at Prominence high school that would not only redefine the fate of the two teenage boys involved but would shake the foundations of the people they love and the town they live in. This 2018 film directed by Tope Oshin sheds light on the complexities involved in society’s behaviour towards queer people and the effect it has on those involved. The film presents real life problems that trouble a number young Nigerians.

Ìfé (2020)

The 2020 film directed by Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim revolves around the lives of Ìfé and Adaora who go through the awkwardness of a first date and then the comfort that comes as the walls break down. The film, like Hell or High Water is centred around humanizing queer relationships and the difficulties that come with living as a queer Nigerian. While the film is infamous for its battle with the National Film and Video Censors Board on the films theatrical distribution, it makes me wonder why NFVCB was so against it.

Looking back on the films in this brief timeline, although the early films were distributed via dvd’s, there was no record of hassles with the NFVCB. This could be attributed to the fact that the films didn’t lack the appropriate amount of homophobic representation, and now that the narrative is slightly changing in favor of queer people, it’s posing a threat to the board.

That being said, it’s rather revolutionary being able to witness a pattern of change over the years in Nigerian storytelling and inclusion.

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