• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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The African woman is not a monolith, we’re not just one directional – Austen-Peters

The African woman is not a monolith, we’re not just one directional – Austen-Peters

Bolanle Austen-Peters,” director and founder of Terra Kulture in this spotlight with BDWeekender, dismantled the idea of the singular “African woman” and discussed how streaming services like Netflix are changing the one-sided narrative, altering perceptions worldwide. Her coming project “House of Ga’a” will be released globally on the streaming service in 2024. The film set in 18th century old Oyo Empire, is an ancient biopic based on true life events surrounding Bashorun Ga’a, a ferocious and feared Prime Minister/kingmaker who became more powerful than the kings he enthroned.

Austen-Peters, dubbed the “Queen of Nigerian Theatre, also shared the keys to success in the entertainment industry include persistence, hard work, and the right infrastructure.

How did you transition from being a lawyer to a producer and filmmaker?

I began my career as a lawyer but always had a passion for storytelling and delving into different worlds. When I decided to leave law, I followed my passion for storytelling.

Over the last two decades, I’ve dedicated myself to narrating stories about our art, food, and culture. Initially focusing on stage productions for about 10 years, we later ventured into the film industry, recognising its broader reach. The rest, as they say, is history.

What really inspired you to pursue this path?

I found joy in doing what I love. I’ve always been drawn to storytelling, even as a child. Sometimes at nights, I turn off the lights and dive into books to explore other worlds. I constantly questioned the world around me, trying to comprehend our existence and the reasons behind things.

This innate curiosity led me towards artistic expression. I believe in questioning, whether you’re a science student or an artistic individual, as it helps understand the world.

I will add that my obsessive nature and relentless pursuit of excellence in anything I do also fueled my success in theater and movies over the years. Notably, it was not an overnight achievement but a continuous effort towards perfection that has shaped my creations over the past few years.

 The African woman is not a monolith. We’re not just one directional. There’s a lot that we bring to the table and it’s that knowledge that we’re transferring to the rest of the world

Your biopic, ‘Funmilayo: The Lioness of Lisabi,’ skillfully portrays the life of women’s rights activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Did you have a personal encounter with her, or what qualities of hers inspired you to tell her story so vividly?

I didn’t meet her, but I was alive during her time. Funmilayo’s story is crucial for many reasons. Her fearlessness stands out—she confronted colonial and traditional powers and aligned with people across social classes to fight for truth.

She also embodied the courage needed for progress. Additionally, she exemplifies what a woman can achieve—accomplished, educated, a leader in various fields, successful in marriage, and a political activist. Funmilayo covered every aspect of life—motherhood, wife, business, politics, activism—making her story incredibly powerful; she is a perfect example of what a woman can be.

What fascinated you about the 18th-century Oyo Empire, portrayed in your upcoming film “House of Ga’a,” and what challenges did you face in creating this historical biopic?

The Ga’a story is a powerful African narrative that delves into human nature and the pursuit of power, exploring the dangers of megalomania and the belief in invincibility. It follows a man who, in his quest for power, eliminated four kings using methods like juju (voodoo), power connivance, deceit, and backstabbing. The Ga’a story is crucial for historical understanding, showcasing the sophistication of our political structures before colonial influence.

The film highlights the well-structured Oyo Empire, with checks and balances through entities like the ‘Oyomesi’ Council, including the ‘Oba’, the “Are-Ona-Kakanfo” for war, the ‘Basorun’ as the prime minister, and the roles of women, such as ‘Iyaloja’ and ‘Iyalode’. The biopic emphasizes the intricate and excellent structure of our society.

Secondly, we showcase the richness and beauty of our culture through proverbs, remarkable costumes, and compelling storytelling. Featuring a star-studded cast including Funke Akindele, Toyin Abraham, Lateef Adedeji, Ibrahim Chatta, Adebayo Salami, and others, we delivered a hot, captivating experience.

Importantly, House of Ga’a was a big story that needed to be told but we couldn’t do it alone. So, Netflix throwing its might and financial resources behind it, enabled us to tell the story on the scale we envisioned. The collaboration allowed us to successfully bring this significant narrative to a global audience.

House of Ga’a was a big story that needed to be told but we couldn’t do it alone. So Netflix throwing its might and financial resources behind it, enabled us to tell the story on the scale we envisioned

Why did you establish BAP Productions and Terra Kulture?

In my journey as a lawyer entering the entertainment industry, I faced challenges in learning the ropes due to the absence of dedicated academies. Although some industry veterans shared valuable insights, formal training avenues were lacking.

To address this gap, I founded an academy to share my knowledge and make the learning process smoother for future enthusiasts. Thanks to support from the MasterCard Foundation and Netflix, our Terra Academic for the Arts has trained over 20,000 young individuals in Ogun, Kano, and Lagos. We also offer workshops, equipment, and scripting classes, aiming to empower aspiring talents.

In bullet points, what significant challenges have you encountered during your filmmaking career, and how did you overcome them?

In my years of filmmaking, challenges abound, but I can’t pinpoint the worst.

Whether it’s securing investors or facing other hurdles, the key is to persist. The worst mistake is to stop and succumb to setbacks; there’s no such thing as failure, only lessons. My advice? Just do it. The more you engage, the better you become, with helpers always around.

Along my 20-year journey, I’ve encountered supportive individuals who lift you, even when you falter. Remember, they can only cheer if you’re in the race. So, join, be counted, and embrace the unknown.

In light of International Women’s Day, how has your gender influenced your storytelling?

The first thing is, I’m very excited that women are being celebrated. African women are recognized for their strength, but the rest of the world often lacked access to our stories and this led to misconceptions about who we are. But by sharing our narratives, like those of Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and other Nollywood actresses, we showcase the diverse roles African women play, showing us that the African woman is not a monolith. We’re not just one directional. There’s a lot that we bring to the table and it’s that knowledge that we’re transferring to the rest of the world.

Personally, having studied abroad and worked with the United Nations, and travelled to so many countries, I have seen that African women are equals on all levels with every type of woman that I’ve seen. And so it’s for me, it’s a beautiful time to be alive as an African woman

The worst mistake is to stop and succumb to setbacks; there’s no such thing as failure, only lessons. My advice? Just do it.

As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, what advice do you have for women aspiring to excel in this industry, and how can they achieve success?

It is important for women to realise that, like men, success isn’t handed to you; you must seize it, ‘jagba’. Whether aspiring to be a director or any other role, take the initiative—no one will guide you step by step. There’s a tendency for women to seek perfection before starting, unlike men who dive in confidently. Women should embrace the spirit of taking calculated risks and learning as they go.

And then to the younger generation, witnessing other women already thriving in the industry is a powerful motivator. When I saw female directors like Kemi Adetiba, Jade Osiberu, and Omoni Oboli, I was inspired to join them. Honestly, the best encouragement is leading by example, and by showcasing successful women in the field, we can attract more talented individuals to the industry.

Where do you envision the industry in the next five to ten years?

The industry is on a promising trajectory. Visibility-wise, our stories are reaching global platforms, altering perceptions worldwide. Establishing more infrastructure, like film schools, and providing training for practitioners, from scripting to sound, is also crucial to have more reach and audience. Investment and additional streaming platforms and cinemas will broaden our reach and audience. Ultimately, I aspire for our industry to flourish akin to the Korean phenomenon, where our narratives captivate the world overnight.

In addition to that, more training for the key practitioners in the space; from scripting to lighting, to sound and more investment in this case. I think we need more streaming platforms as well.