The Nigerian lesbian film “Ife” produced by Pamela Adie and directed by Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim is scheduled for release despite severe warning from the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) that the film (which means “Love” in the Yoruba language violates the country’s strict laws on homosexuality.
But according to a BBC report, the filmmakers are determined to get the film out to Nigerian audiences. To get moving, the report says the filmmakers are planning a surprise online release to catch regulators off guard. However, according to BBC in their report, the Board of Censors is very conscientious and diligently monitors all digital platforms to checkmate the release of the film.
According to the head of the Censor Board, Adebayo Thomas, both the producer and the director, and indeed everyone involved in the film, could risk being sentenced to 14 years in prison for promoting homosexuality in a country where women same-sex relationships are prohibited.
The BBC in the report says the filmmakers are planning a private screening in Lagos at the end of the month, so they feel they don’t need the go-ahead from regulators to move forward. It was also reported that the film will be billed for its international release in Canada in October this year.
BBC quotes producer Adie as saying that the film was aimed at showing an accurate picture of lesbian and bisexual women in Nigerian films.
If a lesbian woman appears in a standard Nollywood movie, she is often portrayed as possessed, influenced by bad friends or forced into homosexuality and always in need of “saving,” she told the BBC.
“You rarely see stories about LGBT people, especially queer women who speak to the reality of our lives. “Ife was created to bridge the gap and to start the conversation in Nigeria.”
“Ife” is a story about two women, played by Uzoamaka Aniunoh and Cindy Amadi who fall in love while spending three days together. Then “their love is proven by the reality of having a same-sex relationship in a country like Nigeria,” according to the film’s publicity.
“Until now, they have told us one-sided stories. What we are doing with this movie is normalizing the queer experience, we are normalizing the LGBT romance. Will begin to erase that shame that LBQ [lesbian, bisexual and queer] face of women, “Adie told the BBC.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community in Africa is becoming increasingly vocal and visible as the Internet provides a space for movies, talk shows, and websites.
But that hasn’t stopped the filmmakers from getting in trouble with the authorities. The NFVCB director said there was no room for Ife or other gay films in Nigeria, citing the law.
“There is a permanent law that prohibits homosexuality, whether in practice or in a movie or even in a theater or on stage. If it’s content from Nigeria, it has to be censored, ”Thomas told the BBC.
He said that whatever the platform, “as long as it’s Nigerian content and it tells a Nigerian story, then we’re entitled to it.”
But there are no plans for large-scale screenings of Ife in Nigerian cinemas or selling the DVD, as the producers want it to be available online as pay-on-demand.
But even that will get them in trouble with regulators.
“If it didn’t go through the NFVCB and is released, the filmmakers will be prosecuted according to the law,” Thomas said. As long as it is Nigerian content, we will remove it because we have collaborations with Google, YouTube and other key players. “
But that hasn’t deterred the producers and Adie says his team will continue as planned as they believe they have done nothing wrong and do not plan to ask permission for an online release.
This is not the first time that an LGBTQ-themed movie has taken on regulators on the continent.
“Stories of Our Lives”, a collection of five short films based on stories from LGBTQ life in Kenya, was banned in 2014 as “contrary to national standards”.
This was also the fate of Rafiki, Kenya’s first film about a lesbian relationship, which went on to become the East African nation’s first film to be premiered at the Cannes film festival and also received an Oscar nomination.
“Inxeba / The Wound”, a South African film about a relationship between two men in the context of the Xhosa initiation ritual, was also banned from major South African cinemas in 2018.
Despite the setbacks, some members of the LGBTQ community in Africa say they are gradually gaining trust and acceptance and link it to increased visibility in films and literature that are fostering greater tolerance among younger generations.