By Ariane Kamdoum
I don’t know if you are aware of this but the entertainment industry in Africa is going through a massive stage of growth. Be it movies, music, sitcoms or TV-shows, the continent is going forward and holding its head proudly up as it should be. Kudos to the Nigerian entertainment industry. I’ve been addicted to their movies for more than 10 year and I’ve seen how much change has occurred. One thing though that doesn’t seem to be moving or changing is the way women are being depicted.
Before going further, I would like to make one thing clear: this is not a Nigerian issue. Far from it. Every time you have a look at womanhood in most African movies, you are sure to find these common characters:
- The Helpless Lady. Hint: she’s Cinderella’s cousin. She’s usually depicted as going through all kinds of hardships that life viciously throws at her until prince charming comes to the rescue. She can’t stand for herself and when she tries, the wicked stepmother or mother-in-law (to be) scares the poor thing away, so she goes to find refuge in the arms of…yea, you guessed it, her perfect man! What do you know? He is the only one able to change her situation.
- The Wicked Woman. You know, the one who is always bitter and angry, but you never get to know why. I refuse to believe that she was born wicked. This one, her life’s goal is to alienate and ruin everyone’s happiness. Even when she succeeds in doing that, she still needs more and won’t let go. At the end, she always dies because that’s how wicked people are supposed to end up anyway.
- The Strong, Independent Lady. You might think that they got it right, but just wait. She is (too) hard working, (too) smart, (too) confident. If she is into business, she usually holds a top management position or owns the company. Or she surely is a lawyer because these are the only areas where they can be successful. But that success comes with a price, a very high one. The lady usually doesn’t have a love life, not because she isn’t appealing or anything like that. She is just too assertive and her tongue knows no limit. The kind of woman who doesn’t know her place.
- The Woman Who Got The Perfect Guy But Is Too Dumb To Recognise It. This one seems to have everything going for her (great job, great friends, great man), until one day she meets a man who convinces her that she is not with the right guy and he, the new guy, is the perfect match. She will happily give up everything she has for that fling and lose everything in the process, only having her eyes to cry. A befitting end because that’s what you get for wanting more.
- The Selfish Brat. She is into a guy as long as he suits her needs, she will never go out with some broke bloke. She has tastes that match the bluest of blue blood and she also is the worst friend/sister/daughter ever! The kind that will not stab you in the back but in your face. Husbands snatcher is one of her most beloved attribute.
Those are just a few, I could go on and on about the woman who once happily married, starts neglecting herself and implicitly gives her husband permission to go visit greener pasture; or the lazy wife whose only pursuit in life is to spend her husband’s money and nag at him.
My point is, in our movies women are either annoyingly helpless, overwhelmingly greedy and/or wicked or desperately husband (man) hunting. Nothing more, nothing less. No one cares to depict our complexities (and yes, it is a beautiful thing to be complex), we get labeled into these 3 main categories.
What’s the big deal, you may ask? This is just entertainment; we all know it’s not the whole truth. Allow me to disagree. The way we are depicted in the media matters, it really matters! The kind of representation we have on TV hurts how we are perceived in real life and how we perceive ourselves. We would like to think other wise, but we do not only repeat what we see, but we also believe in it.
Are we then surprised when the other half of the world sees us as caricatures without depth? And what about when young women think that no matter how great their lives are going they are incomplete without a man by their side? Disrespectful and racy jokes about women are common now and if you are bothered by them you are a killjoy or a virago. And let’s not forget the way women go around saying, “Oh, I don’t have many girlfriends because women are just evil”. This last one still gets to me every time!
Moreover, in these movies, our main purpose in life revolves around men and money. Those are not bad things, but they are not the only things we look for. We long for real friendship and sisterhood, we long to positively change our societies and to lead, we long for respect and well deserved recognition. Our quest doesn’t end when we find some man and money, this doesn’t even begin to fulfill our deepest needs as human beings and as women.
Dear directors and producers of the African movie industry, let me give you some ideas about your next lead female character. Make her strong, bold and beautiful in every way. Make her smart, witty, and quick-minded. Make her successful and accomplished (and not because she is a lawyer and married “well”). Make her a leader and an inspiration to those around her.
In fact, repeat after me:
The next female lead in my movie will be a gentle soul with a low tolerance for nonsense. Her tongue will be a powerful weapon, quick to destroy whatever deserves to be destroyed, but also quick to elevate. She will be a friend, a sister and a giver. She will not need permission to let her light shine and she won’t dim her light for anyone because she knows she was created to shine.
This character will not take much work to create because you meet her every day. Just pay attention and you will see. It is your mother, your sister, your daughter, your friend, it’s not hard to find them so why won’t you give them fair representation?
Frankly, I am tired of weak and nasty female characters, give us the real deal. I solemnly promise to cherish and treasure a scenario where the time has been taken to present the multiple faces a woman can have. A scenario that brings to light her complexities without confining her to one category. A scenario that celebrates and elevates womanhood.
I would be most grateful because right now, FED UP I AM (Yoda’s voice)