Ife – “love” in the Yoruba language – gives a powerful voice to the African LGBTQ+ community. The movie tells the story of a lesbian couple in Nigeria, one of the 30 countries on the continent where same-sex relationships are criminalized. Ife’s director, Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, and producer, Pamela Adie, could face up to 14 years in prison for “promoting homosexuality on a screen,” according to the Same-Sex Prohibition Act of 2014. However, this is not holding back Ife’s lionhearted production team, who have finally chosen a release date for the movie: December 10th, Human Rights Day.
Ife’s trailer has been out since July 15th. We have had plenty of time to meditate on the glimpse of semi-cold colorimetry we were offered, giving a realistic twist to the plot and beautified by catching lines. The gorgeous cinematography is just what we need for this pivotal story.
But this means that the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (N.F.V.C.B.) has had time to think the film over, too. “There’s a standing law that prohibits homosexuality, either in practice or in a movie or even in a theatre or on stage,” N.F.V.C.B. Head Adebayo Thomas states. Thomas claims the board has the right to the film, no matter its platform. “If it’s content from Nigeria, it has to be censored.”
Ife’s director of photography, Oluseyi Asurf, adopts a reassuring tone in the face of those authoritative threats. Talking about an LGBTQ short movie, Hell or High Waters, that he produced, Asurf affirms that “when we finished, it felt like things were going to happen but nothing did. Nigerians are also humans. The day you remove the homophobic law that we have in Nigeria, you will realize how much of LGBT people we have in this country.”
Ife wants to put this community and its struggle into light. The solution is to raise the voice of the people who are compelled to stay in the shadows. However, all of this has to be done while avoiding censorship. Indeed, Adie revealed that the film will not be uploaded on YouTube or any domestic streaming platform. Additionally, there is no intention for any large-scale screening in Nigerian cinemas or intensive DVD sales. Instead, the passionate Ife crew came up with a brilliant idea. They built their own on-demand streaming platform, the Nigerian LGBTQ-centered website ehtvnetwork.com, where anyone can access the movie by simply paying a fee.
Even if they are still risking trouble with the regulators, producer Pamela Adie is adamant to make the December 10th release a success. The film shows a profound pain Adie has lived since the moment she came out, and one she shares with many others in Nigeria. But she isn’t stopping with Ife. Adie intends “to make more films that centre stories about LGBTQ people, particularly Nigerian lesbian, bisexual, and queer women.” For her, Nollywood shudders to accurately depict these characters in cinema, because they are only shown as “people to be feared, […] imprisoned, […] killed, people who deserve no rights in the Nigerian society.”
In 2018, the Cannes Film Festival premiered Kenya’s first lesbian feature film Rafiki, in defiance of its then-extant domestic censorship. Hell or High Waters was pitched and unanimously applauded in numerous festivals outside of Nigeria. Today, Ife wants to fight for all of those ‘films in exile’ that must at all costs arrive to the ears of the African people to finally conduct a cultural revolution.
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