African Odysseys is a monthly strand at BFI Southbank.
Beyond Nollywood is a programme of films and events taking place at BFI Southbank on 21 and 22 September that showcases the work of contemporary Nigerian filmmakers. Films such Chika Anadu’s B for Boy (screening 20 September) and Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George (screening 21 September) have been shown at film festivals worldwide, garnering acclaim for a new generation of directors who have begun to create a vibrant, more personal native film culture that co-exists with Nollywood, Nigeria’s mainstream film industry.
B for Boy screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, as well as the BFI London Film Festival, where it played in competition for the Sutherland Award for best first feature. It subsequently won the breakthrough award at AFI (American Film Institute) Fest 2013. A highly accomplished directorial debut, it’s centred around Amaka, a middle-class woman nearing 40 who is under immense pressure from her husband’s family to conceive a male child.
We asked its director about the film’s strong feminist message and her cinematic influences.
On women’s rights
“In Nigeria, like a lot of places, feminism is a dirty word. People often ask me ‘are you a feminist?’ like that’s an accusation. Luckily I’m not afraid to admit what I am! Some people (in Nigeria) try to fight for women’s rights but it’s done in a very hush hush manner, because you don’t want to be accused of trying to break up the family unit. People always quote the Bible at you, so it’s not easy – it takes a particular type of character. My way of fighting for women’s rights is through my films.”
On B for Boy
“There are two main themes I explore in the film. One is an uneasy sense of traditional and modern culture coexisting in Nigeria, and the second is injustice against women, perpetuated and sustained by other women. The victims become the victimisers, so to speak. I think it derives from anger on the part of women who put up with this inequality – who are you to balk at tradition?”
On Steve McQueen
“I’m influenced by cinema that takes its time and is visually pleasing, and understands that film is visual storytelling. And I like films that just allow the scenes to be. Where’s the rush? I love Steve McQueen – I don’t have the words to express how much I loved Shame (2011).”
On Paul Thomas Anderson
“I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. The camerawork in my film is very much influenced by There Will Be Blood (2007) – I often leave the camera in one place, and don’t show the faces of everyone in the scene. I like to allow the audience to work a little mentally, and just immerse the viewer in the feeling and emotion of a scene.”
On female filmmakers
“In terms of female filmmakers, I especially admire Susanne Bier. What I love about her is her focus on family drama. I find it fascinating that your family are people that are supposed to protect and love you, but because they know you so well they can do you the most harm. I have a family I’m very close to, but the most hurt I’ve felt has been because of them.”
Interview: Paul O’Callaghan