Two women lay in bed in a tight embrace, one is stroking the other’s hair and whispers that she is in love with her.
These intimate scenes wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood movie, but in Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, they are near taboo.
“Ife'” means love in the Yoruba language, spoken in West Africa, and most prominently in southern Nigeria.
LGBTQ characters are described poorly in Nollywood and are viewed in problematic roles that encourage violence or judgment from viewers, Ikpe-Etim says.
“I’m queer so ‘Ife’ is dear to my heart. I wanted to represent LGBTQ characters in a different light than how they are shown in past stories, to change how heterosexuals view them,” she explained.
Homophobia in Nigeria
“They come into problems when they are not certain of the future of their relationship considering that these two women live in Nigeria which is a homophobic country,” she said of the storyline.
Homosexuality is frowned upon in Nigeria. The Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2014 says anyone found guilty of same-sex marriage faces up to 14 years in prison.
Censorship of queer films
Ikpe-Etim, 31, says “Ife” has no fixed release date yet but will be out before the end of the year.
What is certain is that it faces an uphill battle with Nigeria’s film censors, who have said they may “go after the producers,” if they find that the film promotes homosexuality.
Adedayo Thomas, executive director of the NFVCB, told CNN the board will not approve films that promote themes that don’t conform with the country’s “constitution, morals and traditions.”
“We are monitoring the progress of the movie, and if it goes against the law by promoting homosexuality, we will be forced at some point to go after the producer and executive producer,” he added.
According to Thomas, Ife was never submitted to the NFVCB before its trailer was released, making it impossible to classify or censor the film.
Actor Cindy Amadi is one of the lead characters in the movie. Credit: The Equality Hub
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“We look at the content of the film and we look at the end. For example, in a movie that glorifies fraud, we look at how it ends, did the fraudster meet their waterloo? How the movie ends will determine our censorship. You wouldn’t watch your kid to watch a film that glorifies fraud,” he told CNN.
“Ife’s” producer Pamela Adie says agencies like NFVCB suppress the creativity of filmmakers.
“If there is a demand for films like Ife and if people want it, and the censor’s board does not approve then it means they are indirectly stifling the creative powers of filmmakers. To deny a film simply because of queer characters is discrimination,” she said.
Stereotyping queer characters
Both women kicked off a relationship that eventually ended when Crystal became unsure of remaining in a same-sex relationship.
Adie told CNN that she wants to challenge other filmmakers in Nollywood to create more nuanced queer stories devoid of the usual stereotypes.
“My hope is that Ife shapes things up, and mainstream Nollywood starts to think about stories that portray the reality of LGBT Nigerians,” she explained.
The 36-year-old added that “Ife” is one of few films with a focus on lesbians in Nigeria, “a lot of representation has been geared towards gay men,” she says.
Actor Uzoamaka Aniunoh plays the role of “Ife” Credit: The Equality Hub
Outpouring of support
Nigeria is not the only country with strict rules regarding films with strong LGBTQ representation.
Despite the challenges around creating queer centered films in Nigeria, Adie says there has been an outpouring of support for “Ife” from audiences in the country.
“It is something that is groundbreaking. We have received support, from when we released the poster to the trailer. It feels like people didn’t know they wanted this kind of content till now.”