Nollywood and Toxic Masculinity
Many of the films created in Nollywood promote toxic masculinity as an essential characteristic for men. Men are intentionally depicted as know-it-all, incapable of hurt and women are available purely for male pleasure. These films reflect the way our society is, but Nollywood has the capacity to shape society by creating stories that offer hope, start necessary conversation and offer possible solutions to some of the problems in our society.
One way the film industry has not explored stories on the contact of men and women is in how stories of domestic violence are being told. Stories of domestic violence often feature the problem and employ the tactics of pitiable men to excuse abuse. In a society filled with violence and with attendant grief, we have watched so many stories of women being beaten to death and their men going to jail for it. In such cases where the men are violent, women are showcased as venomous creatures that frustrate their men to violence. Creating foul-mouthed female characters, suffering violence from their husbands affects the viewer’s perception of the whole topic of violence. It is so easy to watch a woman share a different opinion from a man on screen and then call her rude, for daring to talk.
Women are continuously trained to massage male ego. We compensate male crime with abominable women, so that in the long run, it looks okay for violence that should not take place in a relationship.
“In Sickness and Health”, a new film by Muyiwa Aluko, explores domestic violence in a different way.
The film basically preaches the message – damaged people should stay out of relationships or they will damage those they go into the relationship with.
Many men that are violent were not born violent. Family and the environment of growth socializes them to the habit. It was important that a filmmaker goes into such a story with a different dimension.
“In Sickness and Health” features Priya Martin (OC Ukeje) and Tinuke Atanda (Beverly Naya) two young people in a toxic relationship. Their relationship struggles because Priya has not confronted important and damaging aspects of his childhood. As an adult, that aspect of his life affects him so badly that the only way he knows how to feel better is to abuse his wife. Priya had no business going into a marriage but he goes into it hoping that it will heal him. His unusual behaviour comes as a result of shame from experiencing his parent’s marriage.
A bad family structure socialised Priya to silence. He went into marriage with unresolved issues and expected the love he thought he felt, to solve problems that had existed for many years. When the marriage does not comfort these needs, he becomes extremely abusive.
As a grown man, he is unable to talk to anyone about those damaging experiences, not even his wife – of course — pride.
Stereotypes have been instilled in us so deeply: Women should conform and men should show nothing less than strength. Priye did not have all of that strength to give. When he needed to grieve, he showed frustration. When he needed to talk to someone, he used his fist.
Deranged emotions that are often shown on screen as normal are being explored in a meaningful context – in “In Sickness and Health”. People go into relationships damaged and expect their experience in the relationship to transform them. Nobody can repair anybody. The only person to make the decision to go through the difficult phase of change is the damaged person.
In stories like this, the usual escape for the filmmaker will be to send the couple to Church, for counseling with the pastor. A pastor with no concrete psychological background will only give a pamphlet containing bible verses to the couple to work out their issue. After that, they will appear in Church to give testimonies and the end credit will roll with TO GOD BE THE GLORY.
Muyiwa does more than bring a Church or a pastor to the topic. We meet a psychiatrist that helps Priya through some of his mental challenges. Priya makes the decision to become a better person after seeing the therapist and it was important for such a story to be told.
For Tinuke, who faces violence from Priya, the filmmaker toils with the option of self-defense classes as an essential skill for women. If more young girls are trained to defend themselves, they will be able to show the same level of strength used in attacking them.
Getting the opinion of a real-life psychiatrist to share experiences on violence makes “In Sickness and Health” a progressive statement on the topic of abuse.