9jafeminista: Why Nollywood?
Rita Onwurah: I’ve always been fascinated with film and wanted to be a screenwriter.
9jafeminista: How did you chase this dream down? It couldn’t have been easy.
Rita Onwurah: I had heard about Emem Isong from 2002/03 and had been a part of one of her productions then. So I’d always wanted to meet her, but then, she was out of the country so I couldn’t meet her. Fast-forward to 2004 and I finally got to meet her through my friend Uduak who happens to be her sister. So when I met her and told her I was interested in writing for film. She said she’ll call me up when something comes up. But then I had to travel for NYSC and then came back to work for Farafina, I was there for 4yrs. Then I quit and decided to face screenwriting fully. The opportunity came when Emem needed to shoot a movie and needed a story. I had a story Id been working on, I presented it to her and the rest, like they say, is history
9jafeminista: Would you say your gender has in any way affected your rise in the industry?
Rita: I don’t think it has. I’m good at what I do and I get referrals because I’m good at my job.
9jafeminista: We know that Nollywood has taken a lot of flak for badly written, badly acted movies, and I know you’re one of the few who have worked at writing world class films. In which ways have you tried to change things from the way they are?
Rita: I guess everyone tries in their own little way. The genesis of every film is a story/ script, the story telling is important and it falls on the screenwriter to make a good story happen.
9jafeminista: From what you said earlier women helped you gain traction in the movie industry so what do you think of this narrative that women are usually jealous of one another?
Rita: Well I wouldn’t term it as exclusive though. If there are women jealous of each other, there are women supporting each other, in my journey in Nollywood, women have been most helpful and supportive
9jafeminista: In what ways have you been instrumental in helping other women?
Rita: Well I give advice to upcoming female screenwriters who are starting out in the industry. Sometimes, I refer them to producers who are looking for scripts and my hands are full. I do recommendations for them as well. The sky is big enough one can’t feel threatened by the presence of another writer. There’ll always be demand for content and truth be told, no one person can meet them all.
9jafeminista: You’re young intelligent, hip and pushing frontiers in nollywood with your skills. Would you say you’re also a feminist?
Rita: I don’t like being typecast. I’m not struggling for a man’s position with him.
9jafeminista: What’s a man’s position?
Rita: I just want to be respected for who I am & what I can do.
9jafeminista: We know that … But what’s a man’s position?
Rita: Maybe I didn’t phrase it correctly. Let the men do them. And let us women do us.
9jafeminista: What do men do? what do women do?
Rita: All that ‘weaker’ sex thing is annoying. Let me be respected for what I can do. Not necessarily my gender
9jafeminista: You do understand gender stereotypes though … Men change tyres, can’t cook, don’t cry kind of thing…
Rita: That gender matter can be very restrictive sometimes and annoying. If a woman can do it, by all means let her. Don’t say she’s a woman therefore she can’t
9jafeminista: Do you in any way challenge these stereotypes in your writing or you’re letting things be?
Rita: I challenge them. But I do it wisely. There are ways one can pass the message across without awakening the ire of people
9jafeminista: Can you give me an example of how you negotiate gender norms in your writing?
Rita: In most male written scripts in Nigeria, there’s a certain stereotype thats given to a woman. She’s either dumb, a gold digger, indecisive, weak…I like to write my female characters as human but strong. She’s the strong mother, the hustling wife, the corporate exec calling shots in the office. Even if she’s in a position of weakness, she’s still strong. Not easily bossed around, can hold her own
9jafeminista: So in a quiet way you’ve been changing things and perspectives. What are your sentiments about mass produced videos that seem to follow the same pattern … Of justifying the abuse of women, women as witches and bitches, stigmatization of women who don’t have children… These are recurrent themes in Nollywood and from all indications it seems that things won’t change anytime soon
Rita: I’m not a fan of those things at all. These guys have no idea about the power of the media, and how they’re feeding a stereotype. For them, the average Nigerian woman is a witch, a bitch or a prostitute and that’s so wrong. Those mass production guys don’t care about the message they’re passing. For them, it’s all about the money. But I’ll take Achebe’s advice when he said “If you do not like the story that is told, write your own.” So I’ll continue to write and eventually produce scripts and stories that edify women and not vilify them.