Nollywood is no doubt at the forefront of world cinema right now. Our rich cultures and poignant stories stir conversations and provoke debates that resonate with audiences around the continent and beyond. Historically perceived to be a male-dominated industry, more and more women are creating, building and sharing stories, and rightly occupying space in the industry – in front of the camera, but also, and as importantly, behind it. Here, we talk to three leading women filmmakers; Tope Oshin, Biodun Stephen and Blessing Effiom Egbe, about their experiences as filmmakers in the industry and the importance of storytelling from a woman’s perspective.

 

TOPE OSHIN 

Director, Producer and Casting Director

Photo: Aham Ibeleme

 

A multi-award winning film director, producer and casting director, Tope Oshin has etched her name in the books as a leading filmmaker in the Nigerian film industry with top-grossing productions under her belt such as The Wedding Party 2, Fifty, Up North and Tinsel.

 

On her journey into filmmaking:

I grew up creating and telling stories and [engaging in] all forms of expression of art in general. Gathering every evening with my siblings and cousins and creating and acting out stories to entertain each other, as well as drawing and painting comics. So I would say, storytelling has always been a part of who I’ve known myself to be. It was only natural that, at the crossroads of life and choosing a career, I’d find my comfort leaning back into storytelling. Having started out acting on stage while studying Theatre Arts in Lagos State University, and then [going] into Nollywood on screen, my journey [took] me behind the camera where I found that I had greater power to tell stories in whole, control the narrative of what stories to tell, and be the driver of the process from scratch to completion. I found this a whole lot more fulfilling than acting alone, so I pitched my tent here and made it home.

Her experience in the Nigerian film industry as a woman behind the scenes:

Starting out as a female director took a lot of courage and doggedness on my part. The odds were not in my favour. A young woman – or [any] woman at all – directing in Nigeria 10, 12 years ago was not exactly the order of the day. While trying to get the moral boost to get started, I shared my dream and drive with a few senior male colleagues who were already directors, and what I got from most of them was laughter and not being taken seriously in the least. They wondered why I wanted to take on such a difficult and technical job that was “meant for men”. I got more raised eyebrows on film sets from actors and crew whenever I was introduced as the director. This eventually faded with time and experience, and my doggedness of course, and as more women came onto the directing space, the discrimination eased up.

 

“Today, there are many women writing, directing, producing, and in fact, taking the lead in the industry. There is no long way to go for Nigeria/Nollywood with the work of women filmmakers. The future is already here.”

 

Her thoughts on the film industry and what it’s like for women trying to break into it:

It’s definitely [less challenging] for women in film [these days] – writing, producing or directing. The animosity and raised eyebrows and second-guessing was suffered more by people like me, coming in at a time when there were only one or two women leading the storytelling process in Nigeria/Nollywood. Today, there are many women writing, directing, producing, and in fact, taking the lead in the industry. There is no long way to go for Nigeria/Nollywood with the work of women filmmakers. The future is already here.

On the importance of shedding light on women’s issues and telling stories from a woman’s perspective:

I do not feel it’s imperative to tell only female-oriented stories, because I’m a female filmmaker/storyteller. I’m interested in telling human stories – stories that shed light on the total human experience, relatable to everyone. Do I feel like we need more female led stories? Yes. Do I, for this purpose, pay good attention to stories with female led perspectives? Yes. Because in the past, we have had loads and loads of male protagonists and heroes, and women have often been represented in films as the antagonist responsible for the downfall of man, and not a character or heroine in her own right. In that sense, I like to tell stories where the female is also a hero, or the representation and development of female characters are more aspirational and/or authentic.

 

BIODUN STEPHEN

Writer, Producer and Director

Photo: Shutterspeed Projects

 

After a career in media and communications, Biodun Stephen went on to carve a niche for herself as a filmmaker. With films like All Shades of Wrong and Looking for Baami in her collection, she’s known for creating poignant stories that are sure to always engage and move audiences.

 

On her journey into filmmaking:

Filmmaking for me is the end product of many facets of my journey. From childhood, I have been a day dreamer. My imagination has been – for want of a better expression – wild and vivid. I however realised as I grew older, that most of my [thoughts] are actually realities. My first adventure was writing. As a teenager, though lacking professional clarity, I had scripted many [stories] from my imagination. After my first degree, I continued my expression through copywriting then radio.  Interestingly, my passion was to be on screen but I found my space behind the camera. My journey from scriptwriting to copywriting and acting all culminated in my decision to work behind the scenes, telling stories. Every project has been an experience worth the commitment.

Her experience in the Nigerian film industry as a woman behind the scenes:

[Throughout] my journey, I’ve never considered gender as either an advantage or a disadvantage in the pursuit of my dream. I’m a firm believer in achieving all I can. This has helped me function without restraints. I see professionalism, diligence, planning and attention to detail as virtues in the filmmaking industry that transcend gender biases.

 

“For women who have [that] determination, backed by the qualities attributable to success, there isn’t a better time than now to come out and express who they are and what they have to offer.”

 

Her thoughts on the film industry and what it’s like for women trying to break into it:

I believe it’s a level playing field. Gender restrictions as a script writer, producer and director are societal norms acceptable to some but not me. We have women who have made and still are making a positive impact and defining their mark in the film industry. I guess attention has only just been drawn to them. This is without prejudice to the great work done by our male colleagues, [but] for women who have that determination, backed by the qualities attributable to success, there isn’t a better time than now to come out and express who they are and what they have to offer.

On the importance of shedding light on women’s issues and telling stories from a woman’s perspective:

My stories more often than not are human angle stories. I’ve definitely told stories and created films addressing issues from the female perspective, but I don’t restrict myself. Storytelling is a gift and it matters not, what gender perspective is being addressed. I endeavour to pass my story clearly and vividly. But one area I am passionate about is reducing the objectification of women in movies. I’ve touched on many topics affecting [women] and our struggles. I will continually strive to do my best to address any form of negative stigmatisation of the female gender.

 

BLESSING EFFIOM EGBE

Director, Producer and Writer

 

Formerly a top model who graced runways and TV screens around the world, Blessing Effiom Egbe ventured into the world of filmmaking with her first film, Before the Vow. She has since gone on to create critically acclaimed films such as Two Brides and a Baby and This Thing Called Marriage.

 

On her journey into filmmaking:

My call to action came from a place of need. A need for my stories to be told the way I intended during writing, with no changes, no translation loss or sugar-coating of any kind. When I started, there weren’t many women producers/directors, so any woman who ventured into that terrain was in it for the right reasons; the passion to create and bring stories to life. I believe members of the cast and crew [always] recognised and appreciated [this].

Her experience in the Nigerian film industry as a woman behind the scenes:

My experience has been very positive and full of many triumphant moments. I started off with scriptwriting and producing only. I never envisaged I would direct until that overwhelming feeling of, “I can do this” got the better of me. In 2011, I plunged into it and I haven’t [looked] back since. Indeed, there have been times when I had it in my subconscious to prove a point. This was after some male counterparts made snide remarks concerning the work of women filmmakers. Some attributed our success to storytelling with heart, others thought we used our “feminine prowess” to get things done, while some said it was all sheer luck, but I think they now know better. That women indeed put in the work and that, film has no gender. So yeah… There is nothing to prove anymore.

 

“Times have changed and we are now in an era where gender equality in the workplace is preached. Thankfully, the film industry has conformed to that theory and have allowed women to be/do what they want.”

 

Her thoughts on the film industry and what it’s like for women trying to break into it:

Times have changed and we are  now in an era where gender equality in the workplace is preached. Thankfully, the film industry has conformed to that theory and have allowed women to be and do what they want. It’s exciting to see this change. Women are venturing into cinematography, lighting, sound recording, editing and every other area of filmmaking you can think of. Not just makeup, costume, location scouting and welfare.

On the importance of shedding light on women’s issues and telling stories from a woman’s perspective:

Well, if women don’t tell women’s stories and shed more light on issues that are of concern to the womenfolk, who will? Especially in these climes where a lot of stereotypes need to be changed. So yeah, I do feel like it’s [imperative to tell women’s stories] and I know many other women filmmakers who have done work to shed light on issues affecting us. But while it is imperative for women filmmakers to push this narrative, that cannot be all one does, as there are so many other entertaining, informative and educative stories to tell.  For me, I script what I feel and it could be anything, anything at all, not only women’s issues. Even in telling these stories, it is not all the time I convey the message from a woman’s POV. I have had cases where I sought men’s perspectives and included it in the stories to balance it out.

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