Nigeria’s first lesbian documentary

A new documentary film aims to promote awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ in a country where living openly as a gay woman is often a silent and secret struggle.

Pamela Adie. Still from Under The Rainbow.

I first watched Under the Rainbow, a visual memoir by Pamela Adie, the day after Binyavanga Wainaina died. This was not intentional. I was preparing for an upcoming research trip to Lagos and had been in touch with Adie about her film. She was kind enough to send me a screener so that I could watch it before our interview. But thinking about Under the Rainbow alongside the passing of Wainaina underscored the confessional texture of the film, which, like Wainaina’s “I am a homosexual, mum,” is a layered coming out story that is told in order to make a larger political gesture about queer visibility in Africa.

There are several reasons that one should take note of Under the Rainbow. First, the film is written and produced by Adie and shot by award-winning Nollywood director Asurf Oluseyi, who directed the ground-breaking queer short Hell or High Water. In other words, unlike so many documentaries about LGBTQ life in Africa, Under the Rainbow was not made by or for westerners. When I met with Adie she told me that she had two primary reasons for making the film: to combat the notion that queer Nigerians don’t exist and to challenge the idea that homosexuality is un-African by demonstrating that it is not a phase or a learned behavior. The documentary is intended to circulate in African contexts and, as Adie states in the film, to “create awareness and accelerate acceptance.”

It premiered at a private event on June 28th at the residence of the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos, who offered a safe space for the screening. Yet, the event was very much a Nigerian affair. Several high-profile Nigerians were in attendance—including Nollywood actors, media entrepreneurs, and human rights activists. At the premiere Adie emphasized that the film was also made to contribute to the conversations by and about Nigerian lesbians who are often excluded from conversations about equal rights in the country.

Under the Rainbow is very much part of a larger strategy within the LGBTQ movement in Nigeria to use storytelling for advocacy. “We’re at a point in Nigeria,” Adie says in the film, “where, as a movement, one of our immediate goals is to change hearts and minds.” This is being achieved in part by films and web series like Hell or High Water, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, and Everything in Between, all produced by The Initiative For Equal Rights which currently shares office space and several board members with The Equality Hub. But it is also being accomplished through the telling of personal stories. Under the Rainbow comes on the heels of Lives of Great Men, the award-winning memoir by Nigerian globe-trotting journalist Chiké Frankie Edozien, as well as two powerful collections of testimonials by queer Nigerians, Unoma Azuah’s Blessed Bodies and Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan and Rafeeat Aliyu’s She Called Me Woman. (Azuah is also currently putting finishing touches on her own much-anticipated memoir about growing up as a lesbian in Nigeria). All of these stories work to counter narratives that erase, undermine, and stereotype queer voices in Nigeria by insisting that queer Nigerians exist and feel and matter.

Another reason that Under the Rainbow stands out is that it highlights narratives of queer success without denying queer vulnerability. Adie talks about how at age 25 she married a man (whom she describes as a “true gentleman”) because she felt that that was what she was supposed to do. She talks about ending the marriage and her depression and the liquid that looked like gutter water that her mother asked her to drink as part of a spiritual cleansing. But she also talks about returning to Nigeria in 2014 (the same year the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was passed) and getting a job as a senior campaign manager for All Out Africa. She discusses her role in getting homophobic pastor Steven Anderson banned from South Africa and the UK and also kicked out of Botswana. She also mentions her attendance at the 2017 World Economic forum in Davos and her selection as one of 200 Obama Foundation Leaders in the Africa program. Despite, or perhaps because of, her struggles, Adie has been able to be an out, vocal leader in her community.

Under the Rainbow is decidedly not a story that perpetuates what Keguro Macharia, in 2010, called the single story of African homophobia. In fact, at one of the screenings in Lagos, Adie said that although some of her friends have distanced themselves from her because of her visibility, the film has actually helped connect her to many supporters and allies, both queer and straight. Adie, then, models some of the ways that queer people and allies can begin to change the narratives about LGBTQ Nigerians.

Towards the end of the film, Adie mentions how she tried to get other LBQ women to appear in the film but that they were concerned for their security. She then asks, “who is providing security for me?” What is fascinating is not the threat of violence that lingers behind the question but rather that she does not seem overly concerned by it. The film, helped by Oluseyi’s beautiful score and cinematography, conveys Adie’s self-acceptance as so steadfast that she seems to be saying that whatever happens (and nothing has so far) will have been worth it.

The film will be screening Friday, July 26th in Accra and more screenings will be organized in both Lagos and Abuja. If you are in any of these cities, or have friends or family there, please make sure this incredibly important film is seen. Information on screenings will be on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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