B For Boy

Chika Anadu's debut feature film, B For Boy, is in competition in the London Film Festival's first feature section. Having delivered two ambitious and acclaimed short films on a similar subject, Chika has delivered an incredibly bold, strong film about what it means to be a woman in modern day Nigeria. Her feature film is wonderfully ambitious, for which she deserves credit and applause as an emerging screenwriter and producer, and she shows great promise as a director. Chika is an unashamed feminist and her film is a morality tale that will only help to propagate arguments for women's independence and liberation.  

Chika met with Women and Hollywood to talk about the film and her experiences as a female film director.

WaH: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your film?

Chika Anadu: B for Boy is a contemporary drama set in Nigeria, about one woman's desperate need for a male child.  It explores the discrimination of women in the names of culture and religion.

WandH: You wrote, produced and directed this film which is your first feature. Can you talk to us a little about the journey and the challenges?

CA: I've always loved films.  Since childhood, I've always seen things that no one around me could see – now I understand that is part of being a cinematographer.  But it never occurred to me to actually to be a filmmaker or make films for a living, because there was nothing around me in Nigeria when I was growing up to make me think of becoming a filmmaker.  If you can't see it, you can't be it. 

The epiphany for me was watching Cinema Paradiso.  A light bulb went on in my head and everything changed for me.  I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker.  I tried to work on other people's projects, but I couldn't find anyone I wanted to work with - I have a certain aesthetic.  Then someone gave me some really good advice – they asked if I'd written anything and they told me to just shoot it.  That's how I came to make my two short films. 

I'd only been making films for three months when I dared apply to the Cinefondation residency.  I won Focus Features' Africa First prize when I was in Paris and I was already working on the script for B for Boy.  It was all very quick.  That is, until I started to look for funding.

WaH: What do you think the issues were with funding?  Why do you think it was difficult to fund this film?

I guess there are issues because I am a woman, I am Nigerian and it was my first feature.  But I'd say it's mostly the inexperience - no matter how lauded your shorts might be, features are a different ball game.  It's a catch 22 – nobody wants to give you any money until you have the experience, but how are you going to get any experience without any money?  I am lucky to come from a family that had some spare change and this film was funded by my family and the family of my producing partner. 

WaH: There are several tensions in the film - the modern vs traditional, the urban vs rural, male v female.  Can you talk us through these tensions and the themes of the film? 

CA: In this story I was interested in exploring two main themes - first, the uneasy coexistence of modern and traditional culture in Nigeria.  A woman is encouraged to go as far as she can with her education, to get a great job and do well, but it all means nothing if you're not married and if you don't have children and, in Nigeria, if you don't have a male child. 

And the second theme is that many of the injustices against women are perpetrated and sustained by other women – the victims become the victimizers, if you like.  I've always found that fascinating.  It's almost anger at other women for balking at the trend and trying to go a different way. 

When it comes to the tension between male and female, I was just thinking in terms of female.  I'm many things, but the main thing about me, the thing that I can't get away from, is being a woman.  It effects everything. 

WaH: Could you talk a little bit about the character of Ijeoma, the seven year old daughter of Amaka, and what she represents for you?

CA: Ijeoma is the future - she is the possibility of what could be in 20 or 30 years.  She could be in her mother's position – her mother has only one child.  She could have the same challenges as her mother.  Amaka's decision to stand up to her mother-in-law is designed to protect her daughter's future.  Somebody has to stop the cycle of abuse and Amaka will do it for the sake of her daughter.

WaH: There's a very powerful line in there, the mother in law says - "There's something wrong with your womb.  You're evil.  You are a man."  Can you tell us what that line means to you? 

CA: The essence of being a woman is to reproduce.  In my culture if you don't reproduce, by choice or otherwise, you are not a woman and you'll be called a man - which is an insult.  It's ironic, of course, given that men have it much better than women in Nigeria and in most places in the world, but to call a woman a man is to insult her.

WaH: Were there many women on your crew?  As a woman, did you have any difficulty leading the crew?

CA: With regard to my cinematographer, right from the beginning I wanted to work with a woman.  There are so few female DOPs  and I felt that I wanted to employer her - we women need to employ each other and help each other.  It just so happened that she was perfect - I saw her work and we share a similar aesthetic. 

Even though there were many women working on my film, the balance was still towards men.  Perhaps I was lucky, but I didn't have any issue with the crew.  My crew was pretty young and they are more relaxed and feel less threatened than a more experienced crew.

WaH:  Your cast is heavily female and the lead character, Amaka, is a true protagonist, the driving force of the story and the centre of almost every scene.  How did you find Uche Nwadili? 

CA: Uche was brought to me by the actress who plays the mother in law, who acted in my short film.  Immediately I loved her face – it was so expressive. 

I put Uche and the actors who play Joy and Nonso into acting classes with a Nigerian acting teacher.  He did workshops with them because our theatrical tradition is overly dramatic - we don't have the same acting skills that are required for film and I had to regularly ask for things to be toned down.  But Uche was amazing - she could give me any emotion I needed for the scene. 

WaH: Without giving too much away, can you tell us about the film's final scenes?  

CA: The films I love the most don't give you everything, you have to use your imagination.  I like to use a still camera and allow the action to come in and out of the frame.  When things go quiet, that's when things are really frightening.

In terms of Uche's character, from being the abused, she becomes an abuser.  She's perpetuating the cycle and it won't end because nobody is willing to take a stand.  Even Amaka, with her education and money, she can't take a stand.

WaH: Do you have any advice to share with other female directors hoping to shoot their first feature?

CA: Don't be afraid to take a chance.  There will always be naysayers.  If this is your first feature you need to be bold and go crazy - just do it.  It is important for people to see who you are as a filmmaker.  Be true to yourself, be bold.

WaH: What is the biggest misconception about you and your work? 

CA: I guess it's that I'm trying to fight something or someone by writing about women.  I'm always asked, Why are you a feminist?  It's an accusation.  It's always the first question at a public showing and I always give the same answer:  Yes - I am a feminist.  I don't know what it means to you but I know what it means to me, and I think women should have equal opportunities.  I'm not fighting anything, I'm just living my life the way I want to live it.

WandH: Can you name a woman director who has influenced you and your work?

CA: Susanne Bier - she is amazing, even way before I became a filmmaker I was fascinated by her study of family. 

Londoners, you still have another opportunity to see this film.  Info here.