Damaging narratives - By: Chika Unigwe | Dailytrust

Damaging narratives


I don’t know what it is, but there are times I deliberately punish myself. I watched – or tried to watch – two terrible movies back to back on Trybe a couple of nights ago. Both times, I fell asleep before either one ended. I love watching movies in Igbo when I can, so these two that I subjected myself to were in Igbo. Both have more or less the same thin plot, both have generous sprinklings of misogyny and domestic violence (or threats of it) and both explore the same tired tropes of the ‘good’ woman who is so self-sacrificing as to be absent and the ‘bad’ woman so comically bad that the movies come across like really poor comedies. In the first of the two I watched, the husband seems to be irritated by the mere presence of his wife (I don’t even think the reason why is ever explained), threatens to beat her, force-feeds her because he’s angry for some silly cause and each time she apologises to him for not making him happy enough. When a friend (the ubiquitous ‘bad’ friend in movies like this) tells her to stand up for herself, the ‘good’ wife accuses her friend of wanting to break up her marriage. She will suffer at her husband’s hand until he changes his mind and sees what a good and virtuous wife she is.

I don’t know if that ever happens because at some point, my body had had enough. I fell asleep, but I suspect it ends the way I think it does because that’s how those movies end.

In the second movie, the ‘good’ woman refuses to wear sexy outfits for her husband on their honeymoon. She complains that he wants her to dress like a prostitute rather than a married woman, while the ‘bad’ woman is married but dresses in clothes that show off her body, much to her husband’s anger. He threatens several times to beat her, (he actually beats her once) and accuses her of dressing like a prostitute. This woman too, apologises. Of course, the husband is having an affair all along, and I suspect we are supposed to see that as her receiving her just dessert. I fell asleep before it ended but I imagine that the ‘bad’ wife either changes or is kicked out of the home. And the ‘good’ wife probably changes her husband who eventually comes to appreciate her virtue. Again, I don’t know for sure because I fell asleep. The body is smarter than our brains. I really should learn to listen to it more often than I do.

Anyway, back to the first movie. We know from reading the news and from hearing stories that these kinds of narratives, in real life, rarely ever end with the husband turning over a new leaf and treating the wife like some precious object. In real life, these women are eventually forced out of the house: either alive or dead. Or they are forced to stand up for themselves and kill their husbands. The trope of the ‘good’ wife who takes all insults and beatings and professes love to the perpetrator of the abuse is tired and dangerous. In a society like ours where intimate partner violence is high, this is not the kind of narrative any of our movies ought to be pushing. Our young women shouldn’t be trained to think that being a wife means that one is bound forever to a man no matter how terrible the man is. And certainly not to think that quietly taking abuse is synonymous to being good. It is also curious to frame a woman’s decision to wear sexy lingerie on her honeymoon as a choice between good and bad.

Our movies have a huge audience and this late in the day (we are in the 21st century after all), should be helping to affect positive change in the society. Our daughters shouldn’t be watching any of these movies thinking that the way to be a good wife is to be self-effacing and self-sacrificing.  And our sons shouldn’t be exposed to movies that teach them that good husbands beat their wives into submission.

Terrible plot aside, the acting in both movies was dreadful, so that even if it was possible to look beyond the story line, one couldn’t enjoy the acting. The actors sometimes slipped up, forgetting their lines. In one the actor starts delivering his line, forgets it, stops. And then starts again. See how I punish myself? And for what? I like to think that it is homesickness that lures me into rubbish like this. 

Having said all that, I think it is important to confess that I’m writing this while watching a Ugandan soap and all I can say is: we can dump on Nollywood (in general) all we can but we are better than many others. Kai! These actors are delivering their lines with absolutely no emotions. One waits for another to finish speaking before they speak. Now, there’s a couple in bed referring to each other as, “My husband” and “My wife.” Choi! I have switched channels now. Let me watch an Indian movie. Even if the plot is thin, it’s bound to have entertaining music. That some other movie industries are worse than Naija’s doesn’t mean that (the worst of our movies) shouldn’t aim to improve. Directors like Kunle Afolayan and Mildred Okwo, among others, have shown that we are capable of making excellent movies, and I am here for it!

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