SEUN MANUEL FALEYE
“A renowned actor gave her an appointment to see him, so he could help her persuade her boss, another actor whom she was having an issue with at the time.” Yoruba actress, Bimbo Oni began, narrating to eelive.ng the sad experience of her colleague in the hands of a libidinous senior actor in Nollywood.
“The discussion got suspiciously longer than normal, which elongated her stay in his hotel room. After the discussion, the actor, locked the door and started to touch her in places that made her uncomfortable. She tried to leave, but he began to manhandle her. To the extent that he tore her dress. They struggled to the extent that she became weak and passed out. That was her saving grace. By the time she was revived, the sexual urge in the actor had disappeared, fear had taken over and he could only thank his stars that he did not have a dead body on his hands. My friend’s boss heard about the issue, but it was handled as a ‘we-we affair’, so the perpetrator was not arrested, nor was justice served.” Oni concluded.
Although, most of the actors and actresses who spoke to eelive.ng, said that they have not had personal experiences of sexual molestation in the course of their careers, they were unanimous in their agreement that there are many such cases in the industry. They have mostly credited their knowledge of the misdemeanor to third party testimonials; usually from their colleagues who were victims. Investigations by eelive.ng revealed that a substantial number of practitioners do not see it as anything more than an ordinary workplace hazard, something they need to grow the stamina to cope with.
Those who have been victims of the hydra headed pandemic at certain points in their careers stomach their experiences, accepting it as dues they had to pay or a requisite sacrifice for stardom, in the hands of their hot to trot and perpetually horny film marketers, producers and directors, who have been glorified to demi-gods in the industry.
Sexual Molestation As Old As Sin
On a broader spectrum, sexual assault has plagued our society from the early days. The menace is as old a sin – as the inception of the co-existence of man. Every profession, without an exception is confronted with sexual harassment. In academics, male lecturers put female students on the brink, and demand sex for marks, a requisite for them to graduate. Business executives demand sex from sales reps. and marketers to close business deals. Managers demand for sex in exchange for employments, certification and competence of applicants regardless. Even the sacred places of worship are not left out of the misdemeanor.
This much was buttressed by Actress and Blogger, Hannah Ogundare, she agreed that; “Sexual harassment is everywhere. It is not just in the movie industry. The reason why it is mostly heard of in entertainment, especially movie industry is because, practitioners are in the public eyes. The reason why we don’t really hear about such cases in other industries is because they are not they are the ones on television and radio, and they don’t make headline news in the print media.” she asserted.
The Situation in Nollywood
Regardless of this widespread nature of sexual molestation however, there is a worrisome permissive and liberal tradition that makes the act more prevalent within the film industry. Fast rising actress Oyinyechi Amos told of her experience as follows:
“I should have gone very far in my acting career, if not because of this so called sexual molestation. In 2014 when I first came into this industry, by my friend who introduced me. She introduced me to one director, they usually call him, Uncle J, he used to direct epic films for African Magic Epic. I usually played few waka pass roles in some of his films then. And he was also teaching me how to be a continuity manager too. But one day, he messed up. He called me, that he has a job to direct for someone and he wanted me to go with him to the location in Ogun State. And we would be there for two weeks. I packed my bags and told my mum where I was going. My mum had his number, they had spoken on a few occasions. So she freely allowed me. I was 21 years old then. I met Uncle J in his house at Apapa, then we drove in his car to Ogun State.”
On arrival, Amos explained that they drove to some hotel where the director said they were going to lodge and wait for the Production Manager for the film they were going to shoot to come for them in the morning. She was however shocked to see that the said Uncle J planned for them to sleep in the same room.
“We checked into same room. I told him, I have not slept in the same room with a man before, and I was not comfortable with it. He said I was behaving like I am not matured. He took off his clothes, trousers and pant in my front and walked naked into the bathroom. My heart was beating so fast. I didn’t know what to do or say.”
She informed eelive.ng that when she asked him to give her the script they came to work on; he dismissed the request and asked her to leave work until the next morning. Done with his bath, he allegedly came back into the room, ordered food for two from the kitchen and then settled down to sleep.
And this is where Amos’s story gets very sordid as she told our reporter:
“After we ate and it was time to sleep, he started his moves, touching me all over and that night, he had sex with me multiple times. I didn’t struggle with him, I just cried, but he didn’t mind. As soon as I saw day light the next morning, I left the hotel with my things before he woke up. Until today, I have not set my eyes on him again. I told my mother what happened when I got home, because, I don’t hide anything from her. My mother called him and laid curses on him. Since then, my mother forbids me from chasing my acting career. It’s just now, that I am gradually coming back. I think I can handle things better now, and acting is really my passion.”
In her own case, actress Bisola Omoniyi shared as follows:
I went for an audition and I was picked, after the casting, the producer asked me out but I refused due to that I wasn’t called for the shoot. There was another shoot I went for and during the process of the shoot, the director single handedly picked that he will like to have me in his bed but I clearly stated that ‘ko le werk’ because of that, he started frustrating me on the set . But of course I finished the job despite the frustrations and bid him good bye.”
Celebrated film director, Tope Oshin , who started her career as an actor equally testified about the existence of the practice in the industry when she told the BBC World Service as follows in an interview: “I have practiced in Nollywood now for about 20 years, I started as an actor. I was more aware of it (Sexual Harassment) as an actor, because it seemed more as an unspoken culture. There were instances where producers would say to me, I have a role that is perfect for you, if you could only come see me at so so hotel, the role could be yours. “I had instances where I turned such offers. But there were people who took those ‘opportunities’, they saw it as a step forward in their careers, and truly it did pushed them forward.”
Eelive.ng findings showed that sexual assaults in the industry take a variety of dimensions. Sources tell us that there are a few senior female producers who unduly woo their younger colleagues in exchange for roles, there are the pimps who set their peers and younger colleagues up for men who wishes to have them at a fee, there are the male marketers, directors and producers who offer roles for sex to up and coming actresses, a practice that is also otherwise known as “couch casting”.
A Yoruba actress who wanted to be anonymous shared her experience with a senior female practitioner; “A female producer once invited me for her production. She was the friend of the boss that trained me in the industry. You know in Yoruba movie scene, we usually have bosses. I trained in Ogun State. So I have always begged the aunty to invite me for her production whenever she wanted to shoot. So she invited me for the production too. After the shoot, she begged me not to go home yet, that I can play with her in her home. So we went to her house on the outskirts of Lagos together. I just noticed she’s fond playing with my breasts at the slightest joke. Or hit my ass. The major surprise was when she said we should go and bathe together. I didn’t even count it. I just told her to go first. After all that she brought out Hennessey from her refrigerator, she made me comfortable, we talked like mates, even though she was much older than me. I got very high that evening. Next thing I knew was she started to touch my private part. I was still in my bra and panties because we were alone, and I didn’t think anything like that could happen. Although, I was drunk and too weak and put up some feeble resistance and at the end of the day, she left me alone. Eventually, I saw her bringing out her vibrator and satisfied herself. None of us said anything about it. I just acted matured about it, but I can never make the mistake of being in the same room with her again.”
Adenike Ayodele shared her experience with a director who assured her of a leading role in his soon-to-be shot TV series.
“A particular Director wanted something else and began to promise me some big roles in a particular TV series. Maybe he was thinking I was a greenhorn. After all was said by him and he noticed I didn’t oblige him. He decided to give the role he promised me to someone else. Till date, he avoids me like a plague and he keeps saying I offended him by behaving like a child. It really doesn’t matter as long as my integrity is intact.”
Yet, People Are Mum
Those who spoke to eelive.ng indicated that most of the cases of sexual harassment in Nollywood are, like in other industries swept under the carpet. They identified reasons ranging from desperation of girls not to ruin their chances of getting more opportunities, ignorance as to the relevant criminal laws against forceful sex as well as the fear of stigmatization. “This is more so, as history has shown that most people accused of rape do not just commensurate punishment at the end of the day, so why ridicule yourself unnecessarily,” an artiste asked
Once speaking with this writer, award-winning actress, Genny Uzoma said in reaction to questions about what her she would do if she ever faced sexual assault in the industry that: “I’ll probably not speak up. I’ll deal with it my own way by refusing the person’s advances and moving on except if it’s rape. I hate being the center of attention in controversial cases though it can’t be helped sometimes.
She said further:“Truth is, anyone speaking up on sexual harassment faces a lot of things – scorn, disbelief, and even detestation by her fellow women, who would be like ‘it happened to us, it’s the norm, why are you screaming blue murder?’ She might even be unofficially blackballed and blacklisted in the industry. You must be very brave and strong to speak up on issues like this. I’m strong but I’ll save that strength for other issues. All those ladies in Hollywood coming out to accuse Harvey Weinstein kept it secret for years for one reason or the other, till one person summoned up courage because she felt she had nothing to lose.
Corroborating the position that offenders either get away with this crime or just punishments that are nothing more than a mere knock on the head, human rights lawyer, Evans Ufeli, recently informed that despite the overwhelming cases of sexual assaults in Nigeria, only 18 rape convictions have been recorded in the country’s history. Nollywood practitioners therefore reason that if the entire country has such a poor record of convictions, how could the film industry be different!
Those Who Have Spoken Up
In the wake of recent allegations by Busola, wife of Gospel Soul Singer, Timi Dakolo that Abuja based Preacher Biodun Fatoyinbo of Common Wealth Zion Assembly had illegal carnal knowledge of her about two decades back, some Nollywood actresses have raised similar allegations.
One of such actresses is Kemi Afolabi who accused a Yoruba filmmaker, Laide Olabanji of alleged sexual molestation while she was yet to find her footing in the industry. And just as she voiced out the allegation, three other actors, Wunmi Toriola, Funmi Awelewa and Hannah Ogundare all claimed to have had similar experiences with the same person.
Olabanji however denied these claims in an interview with eelive.ng insisting that these ladies whom he brought into the industry only aimed at tarnishing his over three decades experience in the history.
He explained: “I met Kemi Afolabi through Mercy Aigbe in the Gbagada area of Lagos. She had shown interest in acting, and I offered to give her a role in my movie. We usually assemble somewhere before proceeding to location to next day, usually for rehearsals and production meeting. It is like a suite. So that faithful day, we were in the sitting room of the suit, I was guiding Kemi for the role, and held her, to demonstrate an action. She then asked why I was holding her in that manner. That was it. I told her she needed to be flexible to be an actor, actors are not rigid. The following morning she left for Ebute Metta with the pretext to be going to move her wardrobe and costumes for the shoot we wanted to do. And that was how she left. Until date, almost 20 years later I have not set my eyes on her. Earlier this week, the association called us to mediate between us, she said she saw me in 2017 at AMVCA but I didn’t see her….”
Speaking about Wunmi Toriola, Olabanji said: “everyone knows her character. She has even fought Toyin Aimakhu that brought her into the industry from Ilorin. She once hit something on the head of a girl that was her personal assistant during one of my movie shoots and constituted a nuisance on the set. Since then, I decided not to invite her for my productions again. I have a name to protect. I can’t allow young girls, who just came into the industry to spoil it for me.” He clarified.
The pattern usually is for these directors or producers to invite actresses to come read for roles or audition for roles at hotels, or their homes. And mostly, these invitations come with stern instructions for these actresses to come alone. Sadly, the naïve once sad fall for the gimmick.
In 2015, cross-over actor, Rahama Sadau took to Instagram to accuse Adam Zango of denying her of a role because she refused his sexual advances. She, however, apologized the next day, describing her post on a matter as sensitive as sexual harassment, as ‘childish.’
A young female actor turned producer who does not want to be mentioned confessed that she had to compromise in a few ways before she made an inroad into the industry and would in fact love not to let her daughter grow up in Nigeria given the deep patriarchal sentiments in the country.
She explained: I would really wish my daughter grow up out of Nigeria, the male dominance psyche makes it natural to victimize women. I can’t wish for my girl child to experience what I experienced surviving. Although I’m not proud of some of the things I have done trying to survive. First as an actor, now as a producer. It is tough, but what can we do? I have had to shamefully bend my back, compromise on my values to survive.”
When Actress Lay The Bait
Investigations by eelive.ng however show that there are situation when actresses are either complicit or even initiators of the sexual relationship with some of the men in the position to influence their careers.
As a matter of fact, men who make passes at ladies themselves go after soft targets such as greenhorns and mediocre, without the requisite talent that can stand them out. A source told us that “these men go after those who show traits of desperation and naivety and are probably not been to any film school to learn acting formally. These ones are usually seen as having nothing to offer apart from their beautiful faces, and their bodies.
Buttressing his point that actress who know their onions and are confident about themselves would hardly find themselves in this situation, our source referred to recent interview Tana Adelana had with London based DJ Abass on his programme, “For the Record”. Asked if she knew ‘couch casting’ in Nollywood, she replied saying she wouldn’t know because they have not come to her and vowed to expose anyone who makes such unholy passes at her.
In further support of this position, Actress Hadiza Abubakar recently released a video where she took a swipe at her colleagues whom she accused of willingly offering their bodies to producers and directors, sometimes even production managers. She noted that most of these actresses already gave themselves cheaply for a slot on the screen and should not have the guts to call out any producer or director,
A production manager, who simply asked to be called Okechukwu agreed with Hadiza that some fast-rising actresses rely on people like him to lobby directors for roles for them and that such people were usually ready to do anything.
Okechukwu said; “There are a lot of ‘I want to act’ girls out there. Once they know you are into production, they start to ‘chewing gum’ you. Usually, I quickly chop and clean mouth, before taking them to film locations, because, once they get to location, and directors and producers start to like them, they will forget us the PM, that once helped them, unless she is your normal girlfriend!”
Another source revealed that: “90% of the time, it’s the women offering the men sex for roles in the Yoruba movie industry,” she informed further that most marketers and producers accept this “free sex” without scruples! The question is can this also be referred as harassment?
When Male Actors Try Their Luck
There is another existing although rather uncommon situation wherein male actors sexually harassing female producers and directors. Director, Tope Oshin recounted her experience during an audition exercise in the BBC interview quoted earlier: “I’ve had a situation where I was casting director and an actor walked to the front of the camera, introduced himself and said, ‘lovely hair’. I said thank you. He went on, ‘My name is so so so, I’m an actor, but I have other hobbies that could interest you. I replied, what are these other hobbies? He responded; ‘any way you want me to please you ma’am.’ It took all of me to keep a straight face, then I told him, we would only be needing your acting skills today. The he said, ‘Okay, but it’s still open ma’am, anytime you want me.’ I had to tell him, can we see your performance, we don’t have all day. This has necessitated my stance as at auditions, which makes me wear plain looking face, no emotions. I just go straight to the point, I don’t crack a smile. I ask for your name, and straight to what you have to offer,” she posited.
A veteran filmmaker, once told this writer in confidence that these assaults and unabated sexual character displayed by Nollywood practitioners was a one of the factors responsible for actors lack of show of commitments to marriages.
“As a people, it is important we understand that rape experience leaves it’s victims with a lot of damage. Apart from increasing their chances of contacting sexually transmitted infections, it also causes mental and emotional imbalances. Rape is causes low self-esteem too.
“One wonders why a lot of our actors and actresses cannot stay in a committed relationship for a long time without break-up and divorce. These are some of the after effects that these victims suffer but cannot speak of, for fear of being misunderstood.” He explained instructively.