Shining a light on lesbian experiences in Nigeria

We live in a time where sexuality or gender identities that do not fit with the “norm” are considered unAfrican. (AP)

We live in a time where sexuality or gender identities that do not fit with the “norm” are considered unAfrican. (AP)

“If you haven’t come out to yourself, it’s difficult to come out to [other] people … At first, it might look like a difficult task, like something that’ll never end or something that’ll keep going on but once you get over it, you’ll see that you have your whole life ahead of you.”

Pamela Adie’s words describe her documentary, Under the Rainbow, a film that serves as a ‘visual memoir’ about her personal journey of coming home to herself. Walking us through her experiences, the documentary, which is the first lesbian documentary from Nigeria, points to the realities of some sexual minorities in the country, particularly black lesbians who are often left out of conversations about equal rights.

Like many other LGBTQIA+ black Nigerians, Adie’s journey of self-discovery, coming to terms with her sexuality and sharing it with her family wasn’t a romantic experience. She struggled through a marriage, depression, loss, rejection from her family and their attempt to ‘cure’ her of her sexuality.

More than our sexuality

“There’s more to an individual than their sexuality.
That’s why I identified with the word ‘under’ because underneath the rainbow there’s so much life and diversity. There’s so much of that in each of us beyond being gay, lesbian or bisexual and that’s often ignored.”

We live in a time where sexuality or gender identities that do not fit with the “norm” are considered unAfrican. While queer people fight for their right to love freely and live without harm, they are regularly reduced to their sexual orientation. Adie acknowledges how this overemphasis on sexuality can happen internally and on a societal level in ways that distract people from seeing queer people as individual storytellers and makers.

Throughout her story, for every tablespoon about pain, there are three about comfort.

Her awareness and discomfort with the fixation with pain when it comes to narratives that centre queer experiences challenged her to share how rich queer people’s experiences are, to encourage people to look beyond the pain in the moment and to increase the visibility of multidimensional stories told by black Nigerian lesbians.

“Even though we’re a minority group across the continent, we can still rise. I didn’t want this documentary to end on a bad note because those are the realities that have dominated narratives about queer experiences on the continent. I wanted to show people and remind that they can rise, we can rise, even when the situation looks hopeless.”

Storytelling as activism

Storytelling is Adie’s practice of advocacy. “[I chose to share my story using film because] there’s something powerful about moving visuals that’s different from photographs. Through film, you get to see a person, really see them. You see how their eyes light up when they speak, and their body comes alive with the different things that they say and feel. Film has the power to humanise a story through the storyteller’s voice, which allows people to see themselves through that story.”

She reflected on her struggle with depression after coming out to herself as well as her family and being isolated from them. “I read a lot of stories, that gave me hope, about people who had been through some of the things that I’d been through. Those stories kept me going and reminded me that there’s more. However, of all the stories that I read, and there were a lot of them, I don’t remember any of them being from or about black Nigerian lesbians. So, I did this, and I do the work that I do for the next generation. I do it for representation. I do it so that people will see that our lives can be full of joy and so that they see it from someone like them.”

“I believe in the work that I do. I believe in the need for representation. And, I’m fuelled by people’s stories [about coming home to themselves] that remind me about the power and importance of representation. I believe in love. I believe in kindness. I believe in compassion. And, if we’re going to help people unlearn and look at the world differently in ways that will change the human experience as well as change hearts and minds then it needs to be guided by love, kindness and compassion.”

Meaning in detail

The power of her story and how she tells it is magnified by the intention and eye for detail that’s carried out throughout the film. “Everything in the film means something. It was very carefully written and filmed … because how we tell our stories matters just as much as what stories we tell,” Adie says. These details can be found in the little things such as the visual representation of her relationship with water, which we see in the multiple clips of her on the beach throughout the film.

“Everything was deliberate. I was being deliberate about what I was trying to strip and destabilise. It’s a story for Africans, made by Africans and about Africans. The team was made up of black Nigerians, majority queer people and some very strong allies. It’s [a love letter] reminding people that we can rise and do things for ourselves. It was a deliberate attempt on my part to not only say that we aren’t unAfrican but that this is our home and we aren’t going to leave home to tell our stories. It was particularly important for me to do it from Nigeria.”

This article was first published on New Frame

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