The Nigerian entertainment industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, with many homegrown artistes collaborating with the biggest stars on the planet, and selling out massive event centres in major cities across the world. Indeed, Nigerian movies have also crossed several borders and have won over fans in some of the most diverse places on earth.
However, most of the top entertainers in this vibrant creative ecosystem are disproportionately male. TOFARATI IGE writes that factors such as childbirth, marriage, gender discrimination and sexual harassment hold many of these women down and hinder them from fulfilling their potentials
Though it is not exactly clear how this started, many people believe that females who go into the entertainment industry have loose morals and are of easy virtue.
It is not uncommon to see people (both male and female) watching movies, music videos or scrolling through social media, and commenting that most female entertainers (especially, actresses) don’t make the bulk of their money from movies, but through other ‘side hustles’, such as a high class of runs (prostitution).
People who say this back their claims by pointing out the lavish lifestyles of female entertainers, and the fact that the flashy ambience they luxuriate in is not commensurate with their earnings in the industry. It is also believed that many of them are richer than their male colleagues because of this factor.
However, that argument is often countered by those who say that most female entertainers have other (legitimate) sources of income, which boost their lifestyle.
In an earlier interview with our correspondent, the President of the Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria, Bolaji Amusan, aka Mr Latin, had asked those who referred to actresses as prostitutes to come forward with proof to back their claims. He had said, “Anybody that says actresses are involved in prostitution should provide proof. We all have our personal lives to live and I cannot monitor what anybody does in their private moments. We can only educate ourselves through lectures and seminars on how to manage stardom. I cannot follow anybody home to tell them how to lead their lives. Everybody has a right to freedom but there should be a limit to all things. Meanwhile, there is immorality in all professions; not just in the movie industry. I don’t know any prostitute among us; you can mention the ones you know.”
Childbirth is a natural and biological process that many women go through. Though this process involves a man and a woman, it goes without saying that women bear the brunt more. First, she would have to carry the baby in her womb for the nine months gestation period of human beings. During this time, women go through a range of physical and psychological changes, which may impact their work.
Just like it obtains in other industries and fields, right from the moment a woman conceives, it has a huge impact on her career and life. Many women have had to give up their dream jobs to take care of their children.
Though the entertainment industry is not a conventional one, it is not exempt from this phenomenon.
Quite a number of women have had to put their careers on hold because of childbirth, even when they were at the peak of stardom.
When the baby is born, the mother would also have to devote the first few months to raise the child. Medical experts encourage mothers to practise six months exclusive breastfeeding. While some women stop work in order to do this, those that return to work have to device a means of extracting breast milk and making it readily available for the child. They also have to get a good crèche, caregiver or trusted relative that they can leave their infants with while they go to work.
An actress, writer and filmmaker, Segilola Ogidan, noted that motherhood had ‘extended’ the time she should have had her big break in the industry. She told our correspondent, “I will not say I was affected by my having to take time out and have children per se; only that it has extended the time I believe it would have taken me to get my big break. The transition from full-time motherhood to being a working mum was pretty straightforward. I took my time with it and I made sure me and my children were fully ready for the transition before I went back to work. Was it easy? Absolutely not. But, we took it one day at a time and we were all okay in the end.”
Kaduna State-born singer, Di’ja Blell-Olo, aka Aphrodija, was signed to one of the most prominent record labels in the country, Mavin Records, headed by singer and music producer, Don Jazzy. To the world, she seemed to be on a fast track to the top of the music industry. But, barely three years into her stay with Mavin, she suddenly disappeared from the radar.
Taking to her Twitter page, she recently explained that she took a career break to take care of her family.
In a series of tweets, she wrote, “I took time out to have three amazing children and build my home. With all the ups and downs, I have never regretted my choices. (You have to) understand that everything is a choice. I love you all for being patient with me. I feel more comfortable coming into the limelight knowing they (children) are growing well.”
Though she released an eponymous Extended Play album titled, Di’ja EP, in 2019, many of her fans are of the opinion that if she did not take a break for some years, her career could have grown bigger than it presently is. She released a song titled, Jonah, in December, 2020, but its reception was not as impressive as what her earlier songs got.
A music analyst, Gbenga Ajayi, noted that for someone like Di’ja, it was practically as if she was starting her career from the scratch all over again. He told our correspondent, “These days, the attention span of people is growing really shorter. If an artiste is out of circulation for a year; when they return, they would have to basically re-introduce themselves to the industry and woo over their fans, who most likely, would have pitched their tents with other ‘available’ singers.”
Popular singer, Simisola Kosoko (nee Ogunleye), simply known as Simi, does not shy away from expressing herself, even if her ‘truth’ is uncomfortable for some people. In a bid to promote her single, Woman, in 2021, the singer launched a social media campaign tagged, #NobodyLikeWoman, while she lamented sexism in the country’s entertainment industry.
Highlighting some of the words people often use to discriminate against women, Simi wrote, ‘She’s a mother, she should stay at home’, ‘Why is she going out at night if she’s not a prostitute’? and ‘Why aren’t you married yet’?
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, the singer stated that she cried as she scrolled through some of the hash-tagged posts on her social media feed. It was about a woman who had been mocked for having four Caesarean sections.
Simi said, “She is not any good. Imagine; she cannot even have her children naturally. They had to do C-section for her, and she still lost one of her children.’ That was so traumatising.”
The singer also claimed that some people insinuated that when she was pregnant, she shouldn’t charge as much money as she usually did.
Comedian and actress, Chioma Omeruah, aka Chigul, once noted that many up-and-coming actresses had confided in her about alleged sexual misbehaviour by powerful men in the film industry. According to her, some of them (up-and-coming actresses) were told by some male directors, “Come and sleep with me, I’ll make you a star. I can get you that role.”
A budding rapper, Favour Anosike, aka Ugoccie, told our correspondent that sexual harassment had become routine occurrences in the music industry. She said, “I feel it has become a routine. A lot of people in this industry need one to do things for them before they can do anything for one. As a matter of fact, this issue made me fall out with a certain producer who I won’t name. He wanted to produce songs for me but he wanted me to meet him in a secluded place, to ‘chill’. It is very sad because they might say they just want to ‘chill’, but when one points it out to them (that it may be inappropriate), they would say that one should not take it that way. However, that would already have created an awkward situation between both parties. My advice to male entertainers is that they should stop making female artistes uncomfortable around them. They should not be sexual with people who just want to work.”
Some months ago, a female disc jockey, Rachel Martins, aka DJ Dimplenipple, called out singer and record label owner, Charles Enebeli, aka D’Prince, for asking her to meet him at a hotel for a business meeting.
She told our correspondent that she refused to honour the invitation. She said, “I never had issues or any business with D’Prince, and that was not my first job as an (social media) influencer. I have had meetings at hotels. So, when I saw those comments (criticising me), I just laughed. I have worked with so many artistes. You want us to do business and you say, ‘Hello dear’ and ‘Can you come to a hotel’? For what? All I had to do was ‘vibe’ to your artiste’s song, and that could be done over a call or even a chat.
“Since we were not signing any contract, what were we going to be discussing at the hotel? Why did he suggest a call, then block me? Everyone wants to act smart and sound ‘woke’. Why did he (D’Prince) lock his comment section if he had nothing to hide? I had nothing to gain from calling him out. I have always minded my business. I can stand by what I said anytime.”
Maintaining that it was tougher being a female in the industry, Dimplenipple added, “It is actually tougher being a female in the entertainment industry, not just as a DJ. But, I thank God the ‘game’ is changing gradually and we are finally being seen for what we can do and not what gender we identify as. One has to rise above all that and keep fighting.”
Need for support
A popular Pan-African singer, Yemi Alade, is one of the biggest female artistes on the continent. She rode to limelight on the platform of Peak Talent Show— a talent hunt competition she won in 2009. Ever since, the singer has continued to flourish, with several hit songs to her name. However, she also feels female entertainers should be intentionally supported by stakeholders in the industry.
She told our correspondent, “I know society favours the male child in places like Africa but that has never stopped me.
“The media also has a significant role to play and should consciously make efforts to support female musicians and give them the platforms and exposure they deserve.
“Even the questions asked (by the media) can be phrased differently. Instead of always asking what the difficulties are and doing nothing about them, they can ask how they can help. Females need a level playing ground, instead of always having to prove themselves. We actually need that kind of support from the media.”
Partner’s support important too
Popular drummer, Aralola Olumuyiwa, simply called Ara, became popular as the first female popular talking drummer, and she has continued to make waves in her career. In an interview with our correspondent, she stated that the help and support of a partner is very important for a female entertainer. She said, “The most support should come more from their (female entertainers’) spouses or partners. Many men love the fantasy of dating a star but find it difficult to handle or accept what comes with the package. It takes a truly self-confident man to love and stand by a star/celebrity.”
She also urged female entertainers to devote a lot of attention to developing their talents. She added, “My advice to them is to focus and improve on their talents, and seek opportunities from the different ‘secure’ platforms. Don’t let money be your driving factor or force. If it is, you will most likely fall victim (to manipulation). Learn to say, ‘no’ and walk away. Respect yourself. There are loads of information on social media; so, be informed. Nothing good comes easy. You should be ready to face the challenges and see them as spring boards. Keep pushing till you get there.”
In an interview with our correspondent, the incumbent President of the Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria, Pretty Okafor, admitted that women had to battle some peculiar challenges in the course of their careers.
Asked to list the biggest challenges that female entertainers battle with in the country, he said, “The females in the music industry are hindered by most of the same issues faced by their male counterparts, such as lack of access to financial resources, lack of proper industry structure, and sexism.”
On whether the association has any programmes to help women deal with some of the challenges he highlighted above, Okafor said, “PMAN currently does not have any programme dedicated to women performers. But, we take special interest in dealing with complaints from them, and we are open to collaborating with organisations that promote women empowerment initiatives.”
The singer also noted that female artistes should not let things such as marriage and childbirth derail their careers. He said, “Every female artiste should look at the likes of Beyoncé, Tiwa Savage and Jenifer Lopez. They have been able to manage their brands properly. They got married at different times and had multiple children, yet they still maintain mainstream relevance who rose to prominence during the #EndSARS protests. If they can do it, I believe every female artiste out there can do it too.”
When asked to itemise the common mistakes female entertainers make that affect their careers negatively, Okafor said, “Any female artiste that does not stay consistent in a male-dominated industry will fall easily. Female artistes must also be able to remain disciplined and not give in to certain ‘attractive advances’. The ones that give in to advances usually become worthless as a brand, because everyone in the industry is connected with one another somehow, and news flies.”
On women’s rights
A human rights advocate and community organiser, Rinu Oduala, is of the opinion that
On whether women in the entertainment industry should be given certain concessions as men seem to have the upper hand in the industry, Oduala (though some of them are now divorced). said, “Although I think everyone is equal, I also think that the industry sometimes discriminates against women who are developing and rising. There is no such thing as preferential treatment for women, and when there is, it is sometimes cloaked in tokenism because women have always had to fight to get a seat at the table and simply to be heard. If intimidation, media prejudice, and tokenism—barriers to women’s advancement and participation—were eliminated, we wouldn’t even need to talk about ‘preferential treatment’.”
She also urged female entertainers who were facing harassment to speak up. She said, “Women need to use their platforms to speak out against the problems, and denounce the perpetrators. By remaining silent, they are allowing another lady to experience the same issue. We must combat harassment and keep filing reports. The days of waiting for people to discuss our problems or for the media to draw attention to our own problems are long gone. As we have become the new media, we must put our own problems on the front burner.
“Women can join already existing support groups that are tackling the problem from all sides. It is important to also spotlight legal organisations that concentrate on harassment in the entertainment industry and encourage them to support and assist in defending women.
“It is not just a woman’s body that ends up being harassed. It is her career, life, future, and everything she stands for.”
In a similar vein, she encouraged women not to ‘tolerate’ slut-shaming. She said, “The origins of slut-shaming and body-shaming can be traced to cultural, social, and media expectations of how a woman should act, and what her body should look like. It is part of a bigger issue with how society views its ability to govern a woman’s body and how she should behave. Simply put; it is sexism. It continues to be harassment of women and a type of violence, mostly aimed at stifling our voices. And what should we as women do to that? We raise the middle finger. One crucial step is to raise awareness of the fact that it won’t be tolerated, secure the backing of significant institutions like the government, and maintain our inner ‘coconut heads’. Madeleine Albright (the first female Secretary of State in the United States of America) once said that it took us (women) quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that we have it, nothing is going to silence it.”
Role of record labels
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Bankable Music Company, Bankole Olaoluwa, told our correspondent that when dealing with female artistes, he gives them more incentives than their male counterparts because he knows that at status quo, the odds are stacked against them.
He said, “The music industry is a tough place to function, irrespective of one’s gender. However, I must admit that women have it tougher than the men. Many people in this industry are predators, and before rendering any assistance to females, they usually demand for sex. As a matter of fact, an associate in the industry once told me that before he helps any female entertainer, he must have sex with them. According to him, he particularly enjoys doing that because when the artistes become successful, they usually become arrogant and inaccessible. He argued that because of that, he had to get the ‘fruits of his labour’ immediately.
“However, on my part, I try to create a conducive atmosphere for any female I want to work with. I was born into a family of five children, and I was the only boy, so I know what women go through when it comes to things like this.”
The record label executive also advised other record labels to give certain concessions to women so as to give them ‘a soft landing into the entertainment industry’.
However, Olaoluwa noted that women also had to do more to support themselves. He said, “From my experience, I have seen that many women in this industry don’t like to support one another. On many occasions, men tell themselves about deals, gigs and other information that can advance their careers. But, many of the women I have worked with don’t seem to have that disposition. They are usually more competition-minded. They see other female acts as rivals and because of that, they exhibit some hostility towards one another.
“My advice for them is that they should collaborate more. There is strength in numbers. People are able to ride roughshod over the females in the industry because they are not united. Thus, it is easy to break their ranks and take advantage of them.”