Heartbeat and Wedding Party writer Tosin Otudeko looks back at 2016 and stories of sexism in Nollywood.
“Women should continue to do what they’re called to do.”
It has been a difficult year for most. We are in a recession and as a country have watched the value of our naira freefalling seemingly without end. Hardship is all around and frustration is the order of the day.
So it is perhaps very apt that the musical to close 2016 is an epic tragedy telling the story of a distrustful society torn apart by corruption and how young people clamber through it all with little more than dreams and goals to help them.
It is a testament to Tosin’s determination that the musical Heartbeat has made it to the Muson Centre in these testing times. It is also notable the writer of Heartbeat and The Wedding Party is a woman, especially in the light of recent news events. Actress Rahama Sadau’s lifetime ban from Kannywood the Hausa film industry for an ‘offensive’ hug made international newsreels this year and Tinsel Director Tope Oshin complained to the BBC earlier this month about sexism in Nollywood after being mistaken for a tea lady.
However, Tosin is not so convinced that Nollywood has a particularly outsize problem with sexism. “I think sexism is prevalent in all industries but sometimes the boundaries are easily crossed in this industry,” she says. “I personally haven’t seen any challenges or let them stop me doing my work. Women should continue to do whatever they believe they’re called to do.”
That does not mean it has been easy. The production has had to battle a worsening recession in which, says Tosin, luxury and corporate spending has been severely hit. In fact, the auditorium was not as full as it could have been given the hype around the musical.
“Ariola is not just a victim crawling out of a sense of loss,”
In Heartbeat, a young photographer is left homeless after rioting impacts her family. She finds refuge at Grace House like so many others, but the road to self-empowerment is paved with broken glass and the mix of Afrobeat songs and ballads pierce the soul whether rousing or reducing the audience to tears. The musical sidesteps cliché – all the familiar types are there, the area boy, the corrupt politician, the young naïve girl- but their journeys are complicated.
“Ariola (the main character) is not just a victim crawling out of sense of loss,” explains Tosin. “Like me, she wants to tell stories through her art and stories that matter. She is saying I am still dealing with my loss but not in a way that is crippling. It was important she had a strong narrative drive herself. She wanted to use what she had suffered to tell stories that matter and to make a difference.”
This resilient female character was developed over time, Tosin says, by other strong women (and men), renowned UK-based theatre director Olusola Yeyele, Debo Oluwatuminu and Joke Silva. She also has a continued admiration for Hollywood actresses Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Jessica Chastain.
2017 is just few heartbeats away now and, once the fuss has died down, Tosin has more work to dive into, a movie script called ‘Over the Bridge’. She is also very open to working more in films.
You may also have seen Tosin recently on the EbonyLife TV show First Stars, where she sits on the panel of a reality -show finding Nollywood’s next actors, filmmakers and writers. She is a bit of an all-rounder herself being an actress, director, poet and songwriter.
She said that working alongside powerful producers such as Joke Silva and Bolanle Austin-Peters (who produced the musicals Saro and Waka) has inspired her.
“You need unrelenting drive to produce,” she said. “You step out headfirst. You create a picture and vision that’s bigger than yourself.”
Heartbeat runs until December 18th at the Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos. Tickets are available at the door and online.