“Ìfé,” one of the newest Nollywood films coming out of Nigeria, is unlike any that has come before. Upon release, it’ll be the country’s first positive love story made by queer women about queer women.
“I have never been proud to release anything to the world as much as I am proud of this film.”
Pamela Adie, “Ìfé” film producer
“I have never been proud to release anything to the world as much as I am proud of this film,” said Pamela Adie, an LGBTQ advocate and producer of “Ìfé.” The film, Adie said, follows two women falling in love over a three-day date, “who then have their love tested by the realities of being in a same-sex relationship in a country like Nigeria.”
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Those realities can be wide-reaching. Under the country’s Same-Sex Prohibition Act, queer Nigerians face up to 14 years in prison for showing affection in public, a law which 75% of the country supports, according to a recent survey by The Initiative for Equal Rights.
The love story between Ìfé and Adaora is fictional, Adie said. But the plot will be familiar to queer Nigerians.
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“We fall in love. We break people’s hearts. Other people break our hearts. You know? And … we also want family. … So, all of these things really present a picture of the complexity of love — of same-sex love — in a country like Nigeria, where you have to deal with a lot of homophobic attitudes.”
Pamela Adie, “Ìfé” film producer
“We fall in love. We break people’s hearts. Other people break our hearts. You know? And … we also want family,” Adie said. “So, all of these things really present a picture of the complexity of love — of same-sex love — in a country like Nigeria, where you have to deal with a lot of homophobic attitudes.”
Adie said she knows the film “Ìfé” won’t get rid of all homophobic attitudes in Nigeria. Instead, she hopes it helps to reclaim the stories of Nigeria’s LGBTQ community on screen when it’s released later this year.
But the film won’t be played in theaters. Cinemas are largely still closed due to the pandemic, but the crew also knows the film wouldn’t be approved by Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). The Board’s executive director, Adedayo Thomas, said he’s seen the trailer and read about the plot.
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“The law criminalizes LGTB [sic]. … Such things are classified under obscene, blasphemous, indecent. So, it’s not going to be passed for public viewing.”
Adedayo Thomas, executive director, National Film and Video Censors Board
“The law criminalizes LGTB [sic],” Thomas said. “Such things are classified under obscene, blasphemous, indecent. So, it’s not going to be passed for public viewing.”
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For now, that’s OK with the “Ìfé” team; they’re planning a surprise release online. But Thomas said the NFVCB monitors streaming platforms, too, and “Ìfé” on the internet would also violate Nigerian law.
“So, if it goes [to an] online platform, the producers [and] those who act in it would be called for prosecution,” Thomas said.
“Ìfé” producer Adie said she isn’t worried about the censors board.
“They don’t matter,” she said. “Because we don’t need them for anything. This is art, this is film. And there is no law that says that we cannot produce this kind of content.
The point of this kind of content, according to Adie, is to show that queer people exist in Nigeria, and lead full, complex lives that Nollywood films have not previously featured.
“The whole essence of making this film is to really correct some of the wrong narratives that have come out of Nollywood,” she said.
A 2003 film called “Emotional Crack” is widely regarded as the first Nollywood movie to feature a lesbian couple. The film follows a relationship between a woman named Camilla and a married woman, Crystal.
“It was actually a nice film,” said Lindsey Green-Simms, an associate professor of literature at American University who has been researching LGBTQ representation in African films for the past decade. She added: “It ended with the death and psychotic breakdown of the lesbian character, but up until that point, it was a complex, emotional relationship.”
“Emotional Crack” has been criticized for suggesting that the character, Crystal, was only attracted to a woman because she was being abused by her husband. Critics also say that the violence at the movie’s end reinforces a homophobic stereotype. Green-Simms agreed that those negative stereotypes are prevalent. But, she said, “Emotional Crack” needs to be put in perspective.
“Especially in 2003, there was almost no representation of queerness in popular culture. … And even some of the films that are — hands down — stereotypical, homophobic films, they still worked to affirm the fact that there are queer people in Nigeria. And that, in and of itself, is groundbreaking.”
Lindsey Green-Simms, associate professor of literature, American University
“Especially in 2003, there was almost no representation of queerness in popular culture,” Green-Simms said. “And even some of the films that are — hands down — stereotypical, homophobic films, they still worked to affirm the fact that there are queer people in Nigeria. And that, in and of itself, is groundbreaking.”
While negative stereotypes dominate in the majority of Nollywood films, LGBTQ representation in Nigeria’s entertainment industry has expanded over the past 20 years. Both Green-Simms and Adie said this was most notable when LGBTQ organizations like the Initiative for Equal Rights began producing their own content that centered queer characters.
The films — “Hell or High Water,” “Walking with Shadows,” and “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” to name a few — all featured gay men.
“But they haven’t been love stories,” Adie said. “They’ve been stories about the difficulties of being a gay man in Nigeria.”
In contrast, “Ìfé”’s title translates to “love” in the Yoruba language. The film’s director, Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, believes it will stand out from the rest.
“I think that anyone who’s watching it is definitely going to be surprised. Like, ‘ooh, nice. Two Nigerian women in love.’”
Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, “Ìfé” film director
“I personally haven’t seen any films like this from Nigeria,” Ikpe-Etim said in a video posted on the film’s YouTube page. “So, I think that anyone who’s watching it is definitely going to be surprised. Like, ‘ooh, nice. Two Nigerian women in love.’”