Body exposure: how well does it pay?

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Images of women on Nigerian screens (both TV and film) were modest, even prudish, until the era of video production called Nollywood, when the quest for the fast buck and perhaps the hunger to catch up with the rest of the world changed the picture.

You can't discount the influence of foreign TV cultures in all this, the impact of cable media such as Channel O which serves everything sex just short of outright mating act.

But there are those artists who would tell you that nothing about nudity is strange to our culture and that there is no such thing as foreign culture, that fashion is just universal. To such people, what fashion-conscious people do is only keep apace, rather than debase our traditional lifestyles.

Anyway, the argument goes, filmmakers are only reflecting society: Aren't our girls practically naked in the streets, with three-quarters of their boobs hanging out, the cleavages of their bums showing, below G-strings, sometimes with the tiny waste beads to complete the sex appeal? So, why gripe about the flaunting of that in movies?

One of the people who never agreed that such reflection of society was the function of film is the outgoing boss of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) Mrs Rosaline Odeh who has been strict in classifying films with such elements as “Not For Children”. That means limiting the audience base and, presumably, the sale of such films. Sometimes Odeh bans the movies outright.

But one of the most remarkable exponents of nudity in Nigerian movies is the actress called Cossy Ojiako. She has had two of the films in which she featured banned in Nigeria. Shattered Home and Night Out, however went on to show in other countries, one of them as reported in the press, being Ghana, Nigeria's fellow English-speaking West African country.

However, Nigerian movies have run into trouble in Ghana, partly because Ghanaian film producers demanded protection from the invasion of Nollywood productions which were putting them out of business. But one of the things they used against Nigerian movies was what they called, “the importation of pornographic Nigerian films into Ghana.”

What are the gains and pains of this approach to filmmaking? It is, of course, predictable that sex and nudity sell. They attract patronage of the youth audience which dominate the movie audience all over the world. That is why everything everywhere has the sexual undertone if they shy away from outright pornography. Nigerian film posters and video/VCD sleeves are not to be left out.

Early on in the Nollywood era of Nigerian filmmaking one of the actresses to have shocked the audience with the brazen act of exposure was ............................ in Glamour Girls. But hers was even modest compared to today's aggressive sexuality. She appeared only in a swimsuit in a hotel room with a client when she played a prostitute.

Later, Eucharia Anunobi came on the scene trying to be Nollywood's answer to Hollywood's Sharon Stone: doing sex scenes though with clothes on, perhaps because of the fear of societal reaction.

But, today's actresses have been bolder. Cossy Ojiako, for one, has bared her breasts totally, not only in movies but also on several music record sleeves, and she has said it repeatedly that she wouldn't mind doing a blatant sex scene (with the proviso that it must be for 'educational purposes')

The “most-exposed' actresses are ironically not on the list of the best-paid actresses as the recent ban on “overpriced” actresses has shown, for Genevieve Nnaji, Rita Dominic, Stella Damasus Aboderin and Omotola Jalade Ekeinde (who were banned) are known less for sizes, shapes and colours of their breasts and bums than their artistic performances in movies.

Whatever the gains of the nudity act, that less people would pay for videos in which its apostles appear than those in which the actresses listed above do speaks about societal tastes.

We bring you the views of some of the actress popular for nude and sex acts in Nigerian movies.

Bimbo Akintola, indeed, does not give a damn about what anyone thinks especially when it has to do with her conviction and profession. She said that the greatest thing that has happened to her was that at a tender age, she found out what she wanted to be, and took it upon herself stubbornly, which was how her mother describe her attitude to issues.

Speaking about her first English language movie, Out of Bounds, where she played a naughty, wayward girl, Akintola said feedback over that role has really not been bad. “First, that was the film for which I was awarded the best actress in English movies and best actress in Nigeria. so, I would say, for me, it was a forward movement. I don't think it gave me a negative image. Nobody has walked up to me to say, 'you were some kind of a bad girl.' instead, I hear comments like: 'Oh, I love that character; you played it so well!' So, I don't believe that it gave me a bad image”.

However, at the last AMA Awards night in Yenagoa, the Niger Delta audience appeared frightened by what they saw: a common dress sight in Lagos, that they somewhat shouted for help.

How does it feel to carry the burden of a negative identity? Shan George is worried that because of a few movie roles where she played the loose girl, some fans, whom she tried to satisfy by playing professionally, could turn around to call her a prostitute. “Somebody has to play the devil, at least, to pass the message that a movie intends,” she said.

The fair complexioned actress, whose popularity in television drama rose from a medic 5 – 5 drug advert, where she modeled the wife of a sick husband and a funny son, used to be excited when she walked the streets and was greeted with the accolade; “Shaky- shaky Mummy”, until the beat changed.

“But how many of these people have slept with me? 'Oh. Shan George is a hot pants!' the pants that they have never seen. Let us grow up in this country. This is not just about me, but about all the other actors and actresses who have had to play the devil. I have done over fifty films, but because I played a prostitute in a couple of them, they suddenly forget that I have played other good roles. It hurts really badly, when you talk about Shan George and the next thing that comes to mind is, 'That Prostitute!' It feels really bad. I should not be judged by movie scripts or roles that I played in movies.”

Beginning from her first film; The Only Nigerian girl, where she walked up the stairs shaking her bum bum, Cossy Ojiako's boobs, in most of the roles she played, have always been the object of focus.

But Ojiako finds a Madonna quote most appropriate, when she said that the public chose to see what they wanted to see about her because there are other precious organs of hers that could be appreciated. She said also that she had acted other good girl roles that the people failed to remember her for.

What could have been the pains for this actress? Ojiako, who claimed she does not really care about the bad effects as far as her act puts food on her table, is however bothered that two of her films; Shattered Home and Night Out, were banned by the censors board. “There was no nudity in the film,” she said. “They were all blabbing because it's me. They were just wondering, “Where did this girl come up from that she is overtaking most of the big artistes'. I was everywhere in the film and some people were not happy about it. Somebody walked up to the posters and just tore them. That is the work of my detractors, but I love them because they made me what I am today. without the bad ones, maybe my name wouldn't ring a bell”.

However, Ojiako says she is ever prepared to take up any big modeling contract that might require her letting loose her breasts, but with a condition: her boyfriend, Debo, must approve of it. She might also act in a blue film (pornographic film), if only Debo, would be the “Hit man” and as long as the movie will be teaching couples how to make babies.

Nollywood's sweet actress, Benita Nzeribe, acted in The Princess Must Dance Naked. Did she really dance naked? Benita said: “It was the body of a girl that I picked on the road. It was a body double,” suggesting that it was not she who did the erotic dance or whose seductive picture adores the film jacket.

The baby face mother of three did try to convince her fans that it was not her breasts that were shown flapping in the film, The Prostitute, but reactions from viewers say that whether her face was superimposed on another woman's body or not, there is a psychological effect that would always visualize and link those erotic pendulums to her face and person.