Netflix's latest movie Citation is more important than you realise

Nelson C J
·6-min read
Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

From Digital Spy

Note: The following article contains discussion of sexual misconduct that some readers may find upsetting.

Citation arrived on Netflix last Friday (November 6) with minimal fanfare, but their latest original movie is more significant than you realise.

Nollywood (a term to describe the Nigerian film industry) does not know how to talk about sexual assault. It's a well-known and dispiriting fact that, thanks to Citation, might be changing soon.

The movie, directed by renowned Nigerian filmmaker Kunle Afolayan and written by Tunde Babalola, focuses on the life of Moremi (played by first-time actress Temi Otedola), a young postgraduate student at Obafemi Awolowo University.

She meets Professor Lucien N'Dyare (Jimmy Jean Louis), a charismatic and calculating serial abuser, who attempts to rape Moremi after he had managed to get close to her and lured her away from those who were closest to her.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Said to have been inspired by real life events, Citation sees Moremi in the process of convincing her university's senate tribunal of the truth of her story. It takes a deep and necessary bite at Nigeria's longstanding culture of sex for grades, sexual assault and the illicit sexual relations encouraged and facilitated by university lecturers.

It also takes a critical look at systems of accountability and what it would mean for survivors of sexual assault, if they worked as they should.

This is much more than any Nollywood movie has attempted to do.

Despite the ever-expanding body of the Nigerian movie industry as one of the most viable film industries in the world, with multiple cross collaborations and increased global positioning (the latest being with Netflix), the stories Nigerian filmmakers tend to tell around sexual assault remain linear, archaic, scarcely informed and often dangerous.

Dangerous because for many Nigerians, our socio-cultural understanding of the world usually begins from the often misleading and unimaginative portrayal of what it means to be a Nigerian by Nollywood.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

In the Nollywood movies many Nigerians watched growing up, women who exhibit signs of boldness or individuality are allowed to express it until the end of the movie where they are severely punished for it. Men who deviate from the expectations of what it means to behave like a man are mocked and turned into objects of comical relief.

And occasionally, female characters who get raped or sexually assaulted are often cajoled into forgiving their rapists after enduring the shame and stigma usually lumped on women who have been raped.

Little has changed in these Nollywood storylines since the early 2000s. Regardless of the growing awareness around gender-equality, sexual assault, gender expressions, queerness and other progressive sentiments, many of these harmful tropes still find their way into the Nollywood movies that are produced today.

While some progress is being made in telling more nuanced, objective and bigotry-free stories that do more than reflect Nigeria's most toxic cultural beliefs, there is still a lot to be done around telling sexual assault stories in the country. Nollywood needs to do more to engage with a generation that is more informed than ever.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

This is where Citation shines the most. This is a sexual assault story where the assault is the focus, and the focus is objective and sufficiently informed, instead of being merely an inciting incident to a separate overdramatised storyline.

Citation thrives as a nearly-successful work of social commentary because there are signs that the makers paid enough attention to the changing tides of how we talk about sexual assault and the culture of sex for grades in Nigeria.

One such notable influencer of that change is the 2019 BBC Africa Eye Documentary produced by Emmy-nominated Nigerian journalist Kiki Mordi. The documentary provides an important look into how power comes to play in conversations around sex for grades, a necessary factor that often gets omitted in the stories Nollywood make about it.

Another widely overlooked fact is the deep, long-standing trauma this harmful trend impresses on the students involved.

Nollywood has, over the years, dramatised this deplorable academic culture, such that many Nigerians only saw it as a mere inconvenience, a stressful rite of passage perhaps, and not the systemic form oppression wielded mostly against female university goers.

Some Nollywood movies occasionally highlight the truth of university lecturers demanding sex from female students in exchange for grades they have already earned. However, in cases where the student offers sex in exchange for better grades or gives in to the lecturer's offer without much struggle, the repercussions are even more dire.

The movies go as far as putting the moral flaw on the student who often ends up regretting the decision, instead of focussing on the ineptitude of the lecturer or professor who encourages it in the first place.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Citation makes a strong case for itself as a well-told story, while setting yet another example of how stories of sexual assault ought to be told going forward. With nuance, introspection, objectivity and an imagination that dares to project a future where systems work in favour of victims and are not tilted towards the perpetrator as we often see happen in real life.

Although the dialogue in Citation could have done with a bit more critical fine-tuning to fit what actual Nigerians sound like, and the lead character Moremi could have been less sanitised, and more layered as a person. Nevertheless, the movie greatly succeeds in its use of location, embracing the enclosed world of the university and the visually pleasing sights in Senegal and Cape Verde.

It also does well in its rich, yet sombre, cinematography and excites with the brilliant acting from both established and other first time Nigerian actors who make up the movie.

Ultimately, Citation is a good way to come at a most pressing Nigerian problem and it would be nice if other Nollywood movies begin to follow suit, or even dare to take it up a notch.

Citation is available to watch now on Netflix.

Rape Crisis England and Wales works towards the elimination of all forms of sexual violence and sexual misconduct. If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.

Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.

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