In 2020, a little known Uyaiedu Ikpe Etim had received a threat from an agency of the Federal Government. A film she wrote and directed last year was being monitored as it contravened the rules of the land. The head of the National Film and Video Censors Board had dispensed the threat “If it goes against the law, we will be forced to go after the producer and executive producer.”
For Uyaiedu, she’s been waiting for long to tell stories like this. “These kinds of stories were rare, not popular in the Nigerian film industry, and I had this urge for long to tell stories about marginalized groups in Nigeria.” When we link over Google meet to discuss about “Ife The Movie” and her career as a filmmaker, Uyaiedu briefly left an ongoing virtual meeting that cold Thursday morning and switched to our discussion.
She’s still delighted over the success of that film, telling me about the encouraging messages that poured in from several parts of the world. The homophobic comments came in too coupled with the threat from the National Film and Video Censors Board. Still, Uyaiedu is unfazed and is propelled by the impact of that movie to telling more stories from the perspective of the LGBTQ.
Tell me about your entry into the film industry, how did it all begin?
Uyaiedu – So, I’ve been writing for film and Tv for ten years, working with independent filmmakers. After, I went to the university and studied radio, television and film. But I’ve always been interested in storytelling as long as I can remember. There were certain kinds of stories I wanted to tell that I didn’t see from other filmmakers, they were not making those kind of stories in the Nigerian film industry.
Up until sometime in 2019 when I met with the executive director of the NGO, Equality Hub that was also committed to telling the kind of story I wanted to tell.
Before Ife The Movie, were there film projects you had worked on?
Uyaiedu – I began my career by writing for Emem Isong productions then, I also wrote for Jeta Amata. Those two people pretty much kickstarted my writing career. I did that for a bit before taking a break to continue my education at the university. Uni ended and I began writing for Nemada Bridge, an on-demand visual platform. That’s where most of my jobs come from.
Let’s talk about Ife the movie, a major highlight of your career. It’s a daring move for you to have worked on a film like that, how did you gain such confidence?
Uyaiedu – Every time people ask me this question that I’m so brave, I honestly don’t think I was doing a brave thing. I did it afraid, I didn’t feel brave doing it.
This was my first time directing and there was this fear of ‘doing something for the first time’ apart from the kind of story it was. I don’t think I was brave during the process, I was mostly scared.
What inspired Ife The Movie? Your past experience or stories you’ve heard from people?
For me it was many people’s stories, right, a combination of the stories of many bisexual, queer and lesbian women in Nigeria and just my own experience as a young woman who didn’t have the language for who she was.
You know that you like the scene but you don’t have the language for it and because of how important language is, language is what gives power to a thing, you don’t know that this thing is actually a thing.
Filming that movie must have been an arduous one for you especially since it was your first. Walk me through any challenges you had while filming.
My main challenges were during the writing of the film, I wrote the film during the lockdown. I started writing in April, but the challenge I had was mostly an internal challenge.
The lockdown has just begun then, and you know I’ve never lived through a pandemic, so as soon as the lockdown started, I couldn’t create anything, I couldn’t write anything.
I had the worst anxiety and that was mostly the main challenge for me when I first started writing, I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But the task of writing itself was a healing process for me because that was the first thing I created during the lockdown and it sort of brought me out of the anxiety I was feeling about the pandemic.
The period from the pre-production to the final release of the film took maybe eight months.
How would you describe the controversy that shrouded the release of the film especially with the threats from the Cinema board? How did you feel?
I didn’t feel anything at all and the reason is when we first released the trailer of the film, the LGBT community went wild with joy. I’ve never experienced such a thing in my life, people being happy as a result of something I did.
People were happy, sending me hundreds of messages, Nigerians from all over the world messaging me online, thanking me for making this film. When I now started hearing about the National Censors Board together with receiving messages from homophobic people, it didn’t mean anything to me because what they saw didn’t matter. I didn’t make this film for them, the people that I made this film for, their joy was keeping me every day.
It’s a new year for you, what are your next plans? Are there plans of making more films from the perspective of LGBT community?
Yes, I’m committed to telling these kinds of stories. Last month, I finished a documentary that focused on the lives of queer men in Nigeria. I’m honestly also focused on telling the stories about the marginalized groups in Nigeria.
When you find out you were listed among in the BBC list of 100 women of 2020, how did you react to that news?
I had gotten an email from them one month or so earlier informing me I had been nominated to be on that list. To be honest, they asked me for certain things, I sent those things but I just didn’t believe it was happening. I didn’t believe the person who had emailed me was actually from them.
I just went ahead and responded to the mail, sent everything they asked for. I honestly forgot about it. I wasn’t so surprised though but at first I was skeptical about it, I thought it was a sort of scam mail first.
Eventually when the list came out, I was just getting tagged on social media, I was like what’s going on today and I saw that I had made the list in an actual thing. I don’t know how I felt, I was just mostly grateful. I don’t see what I did as such a new thing but I understood the importance of what I had done, I understood that, the work that I had done was an important one and it mattered to scores of people.
How do you feel identifying as queer in a society opposed to the idea of LGBT, how was that experience for you when you came out?
What helped me during that period was my community. This is why my experience must have been easier, not many people are fortunate to have the kind of community that I have.
I feel the young people that are coming out now at 19, 20 are the brave ones, I could never have done it at their age. But I’ve come to a place where I’m at this age and less afraid of what people will think of what my family will do to me.
When I came out, it was a convenient time. I wasn’t really bothered by things like family members who were homophobic because I was already independent. So it was a very convenient time for me. I didn’t have such a terrible experience.
Is there anything that can change the perspective of Nigerians towards LGBTQ?
I think storytelling. Storytelling is such a powerful tool. It has been used for centuries to either segregate people or a group of people or to include them.
For centuries that has been the power of storytelling. I now recognize that this can be one way, and I’m speaking also as a storyteller, I know how my life could have gone differently If I had seen a film like Ife when I was barely 16.
Apart from queer people or homosexuals, we can normalize how heterosexual and parents of queer people, we can normalize how we think of queer people when they see them represented in books, in literature, in music, in films, on TV; these are forms of storytelling.
And the more that we put queer people as normal people, normal people who can be good and bad, normal people who can fall in love and break hearts, just regular people, this will greatly contribute to how these groups of people are perceived in the society.
How do you feel about the filmmaking industry in Nigeria? What new material do you think should be incorporated into the industry?
Alternative stories. That’s what I’m already doing, writing alternative stories. I plan to tell stories that are not exactly been told.
This article was written by Olabode Otolorin; connect on Instagram with him here