Reel women of Nollywood


The second edition of the NollywoodWeek Film Festival Paris, showcasing the
cinema of Nigeria to French audiences, was held from 5 to 8 June. Among the
highlights of the festival was a panel discussion featuring five successful women
of Nollywood, who discussed the position of women in Africa’s largest film

They are five outstanding women known for their work either behind or in front
of the camera: Mildred Okwo, producer and filmmaker, who won the
NollywoodWeek Audience Award for her latest feature, The Meeting; Michelle
Bello, producer and filmmaker, who presented her acclaimed film Flower Girl;
Tope Oshin-Ogun, producer and filmmaker who came with Journey to Self’s lead
actress, Ashionye Michelle Raccah; and Omoni Oboli, actress and director, who
screened her first feature, Being Mrs Elliott.

Each commented on when they first became aware of the impact their gender
made on their work and the interaction with their industry. Yes, they are women
– “reel’ women and “real’ women. But they taught us that gender does not
define a filmmaker.

Omoni Oboli: I discovered I was a woman… maybe before I turned 10?! Is that
a good enough answer?

Mildred Okwo: I realised I was a female director when I went back to Nigeria to
shoot my first film (30 Days – editor’s note) and a very popular actor that
I had cast told me: “I’ve never been directed by a female director before.’ And
he said that with such disdain. I looked at him – I was a little bit taken aback – I
fired him and I hired another person to take his place. The guy looked at my
script and said: “You think Nigerian women can do this?’ – with reference to the
story where I wrote women were killing all the corrupt people. So, he said:
“Nigerian women don’t think like this,’ and I answered: “Well, I can take
creative licence; I want Nigerian women to think like this.’ It was the first time I
realised how unusual it is to be a female director.

Michelle Bello: While growing up, I was always a tomboy. So I was very
adventurous, I played with the boys even from a young age and I think that
helps me now in filmmaking because I’m never afraid to break barriers and I’ve
never seen a limit because I am a woman. When I shot my first film on the
streets of Lagos, under a hot sun – and I’m tiny, you know – I was running all
over the set and people thought I was crazy, especially those who came from
abroad. But for me, I don’t know, I’ve always been able to push myself as a
female and not limit myself because of that.

Tope Oshin-Ogun: I grew up as a tomboy as well. I had sisters but I was always
in the company of my brothers, so for a long time, it wasn’t in my consciousness
that I was a female or a girl or that I had any limitations or barriers. Even when
I started out on the acting side, I didn’t want to be pretty all the time. I wanted
to make things happen. When people ask me during interviews: “What does it
feel like to be a female director?’ I answer: “Same thing as being a male
director,’ because I don’t think I can be defined by gender. I’m just a
practitioner, a filmmaker trying to get my voice out there and create my own
stuff. I have no such gender barriers, or think about myself as a female doing
what a female normally wouldn’t be doing. So, I generally give people that look
(looks up archly from under raised eyebrows, editor’s note) when they say
“Oh! She’s a girl!’ because I am a human being, a filmmaker, like anyone

Ashionye Michelle Raccah: Like Michelle and Tope, I was a tomboy. Actually, I
thought I was one of the boys until I hit puberty which came very early. I
would say that I realised I was a woman when I was in my teens, starting to
discover things about myself and my body. I worked on radio, presenting lots of
things from men especially things like: “Females can do that or only this.’ But
I’ve never seen limitations and never believed in the world’s restrictions. So,
yes, I just decided to do something about it and that’s why I got into films.


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