Nollywood Actress Says 'No' To Nude Hollywood Role

Nigeria’s booming film industry, Nollywood, ranks second highest in global film production (nestled between India’s Bollywood and America’s Hollywood), and its actors are now being sought by the higher paying US studios. This new development brings with it the need for complex conversations about gender, sexuality, culture, and the lure of money.

Kicking off these discussions is Omoni Oboli, a prominent actress who recently refused a leading role in a film that would have paid her half a million dollars. When Oboli found out her character would have three completely nude scenes in which she had sex with three different men, she asked the producer to modify what was shown on screen. The producer refused to alter the script, and Oboli walked away from the project.

“It is embarrassing that the outside world still thinks that with a fat big pay, you could just bend down and do any trash. I made it known to him that in my culture, you are only subjected to your husband…I don’t believe actresses in Nigeria have gone so low to get this kind of pay, but there are some who believe that acting nude can help them get a house in VGC or Lekki…You might be seen flocking around the big and mighty with the cash you got for being nude, but remember a time comes when a child of yours, unfortunately, may stumble on such films. What reasons are you going to give to him or her?” Oboli told the Saturday Tribune.

Okay, I can get down with that, to some degree. Some actresses are cool with commodified sexuality, though Oboli seems concerned that the moral price she would have to pay outweighs the actual dollar amount, and that kind of resolve is to be admired. What I find problematic is Oboli’s statement that the role is “trash” because the sentiment places a negative judgment on the actress who does choose to take this role, and that stigma is unfair. Furthermore, the paternalistic statement of Oboli’s manager, Gilda Amata, made me cringe: “We are happy that [Oboli] turned down the offer that could have turned her into something else. We are proud of her and the protection of her womanhood.”

In this view ‘womanhood’ is wrapped up with an appearance of chastity, the idea that sex for ‘real’ women shouldn’t be overtly depicted nor should ‘real’ women be having sex with multiple partners. Model, actress, and director Bukky Amos made her contradictory feelings clear: “Omoni has the right to her decision, but if another Nollywood actress accepts the role, such actress should not be tagged irresponsible or immoral…Africans have got cultural based beliefs, no doubt about it, but the movie we are talking about here is Hollywood, and not Nollywood movie.” What Amos seems to be saying is that so long as the film is produced by an American film studio, it’s okay for Nigerian actresses to shed their cultural objections, which is an interesting view.

Others criticize Nollywood for its one-dimensional depiction of Africa, while also not letting Hollywood completely off the hook for its own simplistic, stereotyped, and homogenous version of the continent. The hope is that both film industries will diversify their characters and plots in order to show a more nuanced and realistic picture of life for African people. My hope is that people like Oboli and Amos will continue to push Nollywood into the global spotlight, and make these very necessary conversations more prominent throughout the world.

by Mandy Van Deven
View profile »

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

9 Comments Have Been Posted

I respectfully disagree

I think this is being read too much into. I didn't see it as being an objection to depicted sex to women as a whole, but of her being objected to the role on the basis of her own personal beliefs. I didn't feel she or her manager were making judgments on women who do choose the role, either. I find it problematic, personally, when women are criticized for choosing to maintain their own sense of dignity and integrity, whatever that sense may's almost like if they use a certain catchword, regardless of what they mean behind the word they're going to get reamed.

I think I'm weird, because I don't get offended over stuff like this. If people want to define their sense of being a woman as different from my own, I don't automatically feel like my definition is invalid or threatened. This is one of the things I find frustrating about feminism, because it isn't always apparent that people are understanding that.

And in reference to this:

<blockquote>“Omoni has the right to her decision, but if another Nollywood actress accepts the role, such actress should not be tagged irresponsible or immoral...Africans have got cultural based beliefs, no doubt about it, but the movie we are talking about here is Hollywood, and not Nollywood movie."</blockquote>

I read it as being a comment on the different cultural standards between the two countries in general, that actresses should just be aware you're going into different territory...not as outright endorsement of anything at all. I could be weird there too.

Trash vs Culture Clash

Oboli's statement that the role is "trash" may seem unfair to you, but the fact that Amos takes a contrary view to Oboli's proves that the main issue for both actresses is really one of whether or not to step outside of their culture to do what wouldn't be deemed proper in their own culture.

From my viewpoint, it all comes down to personal choice (and acceptance of subsequent consequences) but, even in Hollywood, such a role would likely not be deemed exactly classy and desirable. How many women who consider themselves feminist would be lining up to take this same role? How many actresses with feminist leanings have 'no nudity' clauses in their contracts? How many times in feminist history have women spoken out against such exploitative roles?

At the end of the day, though, none of us are actually privy to the finer details of this supposed role. However, as I mentioned in a response to a comment on my own blog post about this matter, what is the likelihood that a role requiring a dark-skinned, unknown African woman to appear nude and have sex with three different men is going to be a “good” role? …unless it’s in adult entertainment.

to me...

i don't at all condemn Oboli for her decision or what she said about her reasons for coming to the decision. i'm not so much concerned with whether someone chooses a role with nudity. in my view there is nothing inherently feminist or anti-feminist in simply being nude in a public way. there are more aspects to take into consideration in order to make that kind of determination, and even then it's not always so clear cut.

the decision to take or not take the role (as you and i both point out) is wrapped up in the confluence of cultural and gender norms and that is certainly worth exploring, though i don't feel qualified to explore it myself given that i'm not an 'expert' on nigerian culture or gender norms. and Oboli and Amos speak just fine for themselves in this area.

the way the Oboli's 'trash' judgement stigmatizes whoever does take the role without regard for the reasons they may take it (e.g., needing the money or b/c they don't share the cultural objections of Oboli or Amos, etc.) opens the door to having many different kinds of necessary conversations: what is nigerian culture? how is it depicted in film both in Hollywood and Nollywood? how has it changed over time? how is it changing presently? (all of this was touched on in the link to your 'shadow and act' post - for others who didn't read it yet.) how does financial need or desire shift aspects of one's culture? what is the social cost to those who don't or can't adhere to cultural norms? i could go on, but this is just a blog post. anyone have suggestions for further reading?

We're certainly in agreement

We're certainly in agreement about the issues of cultural and gender norms being worth exploring and, with regard Oboli's statement about this being a "trashy" role, we're just viewing it from different angles. I write for a film blog, and I'm British, of Nigerian heritage, and lived in Nigeria for 10 years, but even I wouldn't say I fully qualify to talk about Nigerian gender norms and culture in great depth. However, I certainly find that, even while I've spent most of my life in the UK, my moral compass is very much guided by those 10 years of my life - and I consider myself very liberal in my views.

In Omoli's denouncement of the role, and Amos' counter view, they are both very much talking to a Nigerian audience more than an international one, whilst also giving their own personal stance as to how "trashy" the role may or may not be. I'd never heard of Omoli or Amos before coming across the story (though I may have seen them while watching Nollywood films on TV with my Mum), and even if you or I never hear of them again, they're very much stars in Nollywood and they're both aware that, regardless of which cultural context it's done in, their actions will always be followed by Nigerians and fans of Nollywood. I'm not saying that Nigeria is full of saints, far from it, but what you'll do in public (and film, after all, is a very public medium - even if it is just acting) is usually very different from what you might do behind closed doors, no matter how much you might need the money.

As to further reading on Nigerian culture and gender norms... There's a wealth of literature from Nigerian authors and, although they may not necessarily deal with gender norms, per se, they will certainly give an insight into Nigerian culture (though there are many cultures within Nigeria) and what is generally considered right. Some authors to start with would be Buchi Emecheta, Flora Nwapa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and those are just some of the women to begin with; for a more historical take on Nigerian culture (specifically Ibo culture - incidentally, all the writers I mention are Ibo...), Chinua Achebe is my fave. A non-Ibo Nigerian author would be Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka and another would be Ben Okri. As well as authors of fiction, most of these writers have also written essays and articles about various issues of Nigerian culture and how it's viewed/interpreted by the West.

As someone who currently resides in India, I'm assuming you have an interest in various cultures and how they impact the lives of women, so do drop by on S&A from time to time. We're not all women writers but, as black writers, we're very much on the outskirts of "mainstream" culture, looking in.


I added you to my Google Reader!

It seems like there is

It seems like there is another interesting cultural dynamic revealed in these comments, in addition to the question of whether or not to be nude in film. I'm curious about what Omoli or Amos' comments reveal about attitudes toward the west and women among people in Nigerian. What Omoli's comments suggest to me is a Nigerian woman who wants to resist being sexually objectified by the west. However, her resistance is framed within very traditional notions of femininity like motherhood and good-wifey-ness. Based on the culture in Nigeria, these comments might preserve the status quo or challenge it. As everyone is pointing out, it’s so hard to make this call from the outside. Is anyone else reminded of Possessing the Secrets of Joy?

"a time comes when a child

"a time comes when a child of yours, unfortunately, may stumble on such films. What reasons are you going to give to him or her?"
At this point she's absolutely right! Everyone knows the story about Pamela Anderson's children and the movie they've "discovered" at their 11-th. I think their mom gave them a good sex ed lesson... So, my personal respect to Oboli for her sacred-sex views.

Say no to nude

Oboli shows that money can not buy anything. She could be in great fame, could have enough money if she accept the offer. But she didn't sell his culture against handful of money.

I am an American male and I

She is a classy move.

Add new comment