Stakeholders seek to address misrepresentation of women with disability Arden & Newton host symposium

Arden & Newton, a leading brand strategy consultancy in Nigeria, with support from Ford Foundation, organized a half-day symposium with Nollywood stakeholders to address the misrepresentation of women with disability in Nigerian films

The well-attended symposium hosted about 50 major filmmakers, actors, actresses, directors, producers, scriptwriters, leaders of the industry’s associations, and representatives from the Lagos State Government’s Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture to a roundtable discussion at Wheatbaker Lagos, Ikoyi.

In her opening speech, Onyinye Onyemobi, a representative from Ford Foundation, said that the portrayal of women with disability in Nollywood aligns with Ford Foundation’s focus on social inclusion and impunity surrounding the marginalization of women and girls in Nigeria.

“We believe that cultural and social norms affect and shape the way people interpret reality and perceive certain groups of people in every society. Today, we seek to throw light on the root cause of these injustices and inequalities that exist and how persons with disability are portrayed in Nollywood,” she said.

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For years, the stories of women with disabilities have been misrepresented and told without much context by Nollywood movies. To ignite a conversation on the portrayal of women with disability in films, Arden & Newton conducted a Critical Discourse Analysis on the representation of women with disabilities in Nigerian films through the first half of 2021.

Presenting the preliminary findings from the analysis during the symposium, renowned cultural critic and writer Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, said the research, which considered a dozen movies across different genres, featured at least one female character living with a disability.

“I have gone through a bunch of Nollywood films looking specifically for movies that have female characters who were people with disabilities,” said Aigbokhaevbolo. “I discovered that the characterization of these women are not strong enough in the media, and as a result, people assume that this is their reality.”

In Nigeria, Nollywood wields a powerful influence that is often a determinant of audience behaviour. They watch the content portrayed on Nollywood screens, internalize it and accept it as a representation of reality.

Disability is more about the barriers we encounter in society than the formal definition, said Helen Beyioku-Alase, the Executive Director of Deaf Women Aloud Initiative.

“Inclusion is king, and the best way to think about inclusive storytelling is by understanding persons with disabilities and then reorienting society and Nollywood practitioners on what disabilities mean,” Beyioku-Alase said.

Chris Ihidero, the founder of Pinpoint Media, agrees with Beyioku-Alase on inclusive storytelling.

“If content is king, then context is the kingdom. When we understand persons with disabilities better, we would be able to tell better stories about them,” Ihidero said.

In his closing remarks, Arden & Newton Creative Director, Perez Tigidam said the symposium exceeded his expectations.

“The quality of conversation and recommendations we’ve had today will strengthen Arden & Newton’s resolve to dedicate its effort to socially driven projects that elevate the dignity of humans in our society,” he said.

As part of its collaboration with Ford Foundation, Arden & Newton will continue the conversation by producing a documentary film that showcases the resilience of women with disabilities living in resource-producing communities in Nigeria. The documentary is scheduled for release in December 2021.

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