A new Nigerian film called Ife depicts a lesbian love story and is being censored within the filmmakers' home country.
Love stories are some of the most popular genres of film. Over the years, they've been hugely impactful in how we perceive relationships within the mainstream. And because cinema is one of our most powerful empathy machines, seeing interracial couples, same-sex couples, and generally diverse couples have helped society move forward.
But that's not the case all over the world.
In Nigeria, same-sex relationships are theoretically punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Nollywood, a colloquial term for Nigeria's film industry, is not only one of the world's largest producers of film but also has an important role to play in the country's public perceptions of LGBTQ individuals. (LGBTQ characters and stories are usually bias or shown as evil.)
Ife—which means “love” in the Yoruba language—is a movie determined to take on this unjust law and show a love story that may help change social stigma in Nigeria. But that may never happen if it is censored inside the country.
Producer Pamela Adie said, “I really feel that the censor's board is playing a big part in stopping these kinds of stories from coming to the big screen... and it is just really stifling creativity.”
“The role of film is not to say ‘this is right,' or not. I think that the role of film, and a filmmaker, is to portray reality as it is,” said Adie.
According to Reuters, "Nobody has yet been convicted under the law banning same-sex relationships, which came into effect in 2014. But the case of 47 men charged last year with public displays of affection is being closely watched."
Uzoamaka Aniunoh,one of the actors, said Ife offers a glimpse into the everyday lives of people in same-sex relationships.
Nigerian filmmaker Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim knew what she was doing when she put this movie together.
"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.
So, we made a film. It’s a love story about us, for us, and by us. All I can say for now is take this poster and manage it because y’all are not ready for what is about to hit you. Introducing ÌFÈ; written and directed by @uyai__ and Produced by me😊. EP @equality_hub pic.twitter.com/noAzPP1V03
So, we made a film. It’s a love story about us, for us, and by us. All I can say for now is take this poster and manage it because y’all are not ready for what is about to hit you. Introducing ÌFÈ; written and directed by @uyai__ and Produced by me😊. EP @equality_hub pic.twitter.com/noAzPP1V03— Pamela Adie (@pamelaadie) June 29, 2020
As of right now, Ife has no set release date, but they hope to show it by the end of 2020.
The National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) is the government agency set up to regulate films and videos in Nigeria. Adedayo Thomas, executive director of the NFVCB, told CNN that 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.
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.
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 until now."
So, what can we do to help?
Well, the good news is that Ife will be released through an on-demand streaming platform later this year in an effort to dodge film censors, who would be highly unlikely to allow the film to be distributed in Nigeria.
While we don't have details on when this will happen, it would be good for people to tweet and remain socially active while talking about this movie. Encourage places like Netflix and other streaming services to pick it up later.
And obviously pressure your congressmen or government to keep Nigeria in check when it comes to human rights violations.
Cinema has the power to change the world, but first, you need people to watch your film.