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The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) and the Lufodo Academy of Performing Arts (LAPA) recently held a press conference for the upcoming Women in Film Forum. The forum, scheduled for June 16 and 17, is themed ‘Women and the Dynamics of Representation.’ According to a statement released by the Fund, “This activity is... a crucial component of AWDF’s Popular Culture project, which is supported by the MDG3 Fund.” Speaking at the press conference, Executive Director of the AWDF, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, said the involvement of the grant-making body was to see “how we can engage more with practitioners in popular culture.” Adeleye-Fayemi said what little many people abroad know about Nigeria is courtesy the indigenous film industry. But matters have arisen over the portrayal of women in many of these films. In this regard, AWDF and LAPA convened the forum in the hope that there will be “more affirming images of women.” What a woman can do… Corroborating this view, renowned Nollywood actress and LAPA director of Studies, Joke Silva, told of a film she featured in where none of the female characters was positive. The script was written by a woman, who argued that it was a portrayal of how women are and what people wanted to see. Supporting Silva’s claim, Adeleye-Fayemi said in selecting women-friendly films that would be screened at the forum, she discovered that “films produced by men scored the highest in terms of good films portraying women in good light.” Concerning the forum, Silva said industry practitioners, academicians and civil society organisations will be amongst those taking part in the conversations surrounding the stereotypical role of wicked women in Nigerian films. “Nollywood is extremely powerful. If there’s any message you want to put out there, you need to involve Nollywood,” the actress said. Acclaimed filmmaker, Tunde Kelani said, “It’s not for nothing that man’s first language is termed ‘mother tongue.’” Kelani said in making his films, he took the trouble to make sure women are well-represented in his films. ‘Arugba’, ‘Abeni’, ‘Thunderbolt’, and ‘Campus Queen’ are some of his films in which women have played prominent and positive roles. He called the proposed forum, “a laudable initiative.” The responsibility to ensure that women were portrayed in a positive light in Nollywood, he however said, rested mostly with women. Strength of a woman “The greatest problem for us women is that we look at ourselves the way men see us,” said Nollywood actress Bimbo Akintola, pointing out that at the end of the day, “Actresses just want to make money.” The trained theatre artist, who has starred in movies like ‘Out of Bounds’ and ‘Dangerous Twins,’ said, “I got tired of terrible scripts, awful directors, which is why I went behind the scenes and started producing. “We don’t really think about the power we have as actresses and what we are portraying. Maybe this forum would help attend to that,” she said. Silva, who said she once took the roles of long-suffering women in order to make a living, listed the kind of roles she would like to see in Nollywood. “Our flaws are not our totality,” she said while naming some foreign actresses like Cate Blanchett and Judy Dench, who had played the role of Elizabeth I, a flawed, yet formidable and inspiring female character. “Even when you have a negative role, you can counterbalance with a positive female,” Silva said referring to her role in AMBO IV movie, ‘The Child,’ where she plays a controlling power-hungry mother, who is pitted against her son’s younger, more reserved and understanding love interest. Director of the hit film ‘Guilty Pleasures,’ Emem Isong described herself as being very particular about showing the strength of women in her films. “I think Nigerian women are really strong,” she said. Re-writing ‘Nollywomen’ Responding to a suggestion that a workshop be done during the forum to orientate scriptwriters on how to portray inspiring female characters, Adeleye-Fayemi said organising such capacity-building sessions will be looked at in the months following the forum. She said her organisation could share stories with filmmakers that would give a plausible edge to the movies and in turn ensure that the films have better commercial value. “(These stories) need to be told with a certain nuance and empathy,” she suggested. “One of the best ways to transform any nation is through the media. The film industry is a very important tool in changing the nation,” Silva concurred. Expected at the Women in Film Forum are prominent African filmmakers, thinkers and writers, including academic Abena Busia (sister to actress Akosua Busia of ‘The Color Purple’ fame), Tunde Kelani, Bunmi Oyinsan, Amaka Igwe, Emem Isong, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Akin Omotoso. They are expected to “start a gender dialogue on how we can reclaim popular culture to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment,” said the AWDF’s Executive Director, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi. The Women in Film Forum takes place at The Colonnades Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos, on June 16 and 17, 2010.
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