SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN NOLLYWOOD IS NORMAL —BETTY NJOKU
Betty Njoku is not your normal run of the mill actress but one that is on a mission in the movie industry. A native of Mbaise, Imo State, the final year Creative Arts student of the University of Lagos, in this interview spoke candidly about sexual harassment in Nollywood, her crusade to put an end to it and her leading role in Faces, an MNET soap that will hit the screens soon.
Q: What has been happening to you lately?
A: I made up my mind to face my studies and get over it so that I can have time for my career. So, I have been very busy with my studies and by the grace of God, I will soon be through with it. And of course, I wanted to take things easy until the work load is lighter and also till am more matured to take care of things myself. I am definitely much more matured now.
Q: You said more matured; what do you mean by that?
A: If I am not going to deceive you, there are a lot of things that go with the industry that you need a matured mind to handle.
Q: Things like what?
A: I am sure you know them.
Q: You can't be sure I know them; I want to hear from you!
A: Things like pressures bothering on sexual harassment and stuff like that. If you are not matured, you cannot handle them.
Q: Are you afraid of sexual harassment?
A: I have had a couple of them in the last six months but because I am matured, I have been able to handle them well. I am not scared of being harassed sexually because it is normal in the industry.
Q: Can you give me a graphic detail of one your experiences?
A: There was a producer to whom I was introduced and he invited me to attend an audition. I went, read my script and he said I did well. He kept calling me for auditions and kept saying I am a good actress. So, one day, he invited me to come to his office which I did. He kept the script on the table but said I cannot just have it like that. According to him, I am one of those who will become stars and forget them. He insisted I meet him in a hotel. I asked him what we are going to do in the hotel and he said I should know and people can testify to it that he does not just give out his scripts without having the actress 'pay her dues'. I told him if that's what he wants, he won't have it. I left and he never called after that. That was how I lost the job. I have had several others after that.
Q: What do you then think about the state of the industry?
A: If it is as it relates to sexual harassment, I think it should be expected because that's the way it is all over the world. I know a lot of upcoming actresses abroad who keep sleeping with producers and directors just get jobs, and most times, they don't even get it. So, if it is about sexual harassment, I think the industry is fine.
Q: So it is not a strange thing?
A: No, it is not a strange thing.
Q: If it's not strange, why then did you run away from it?
A: If you want to do it, you do it and if you don't want to do it, you walk out. Fortunately, I am one of those who do not want to do it.
Q: Is it that you don't like the guy?
A: It is not about the guy. It about the fact that if I like you and I want to have sex with you, fine I will do it but if I don't like you, there is no amount of scoping will get me into it.
Q: Are you saying you are not the kind of actress that will do just any thing to get there?
A: I am the kind of actress that will get there when the time is right.
Q: When do you think the time will be right when most producers and directors want to get between your legs before they give you the opportunity to express yourself?
A: That's why I am doing my own job. I know with that, my time will be ripe real soon. I want to help put an end to this sexual harassment thing by encouraging female producers because I don't know how possible it will be for female producers to harass their female artistes sexually.
Q: Are you saying you are on a crusade in the movie industry?
A: If I have people to back me up, yes. But if I don't get support, I will still try and affect those that come in contact with me in a positive way.
Q: Let's talk about who Betty is?
A: Betty is a fun-loving young lady and I think a pretty one also. A lady who hates lies and backbiting but is very outspoken and open-minded.
Q: You said fun-loving, can you explain that?
A: Fun-loving as in going out, having fun and getting drunk on Friday nights, though not too drunk.
Q: Does that include hanging out with male friends also?
A: It depends on what you mean by male friends.
Q: Male friends are male friends anyhow.
A: Yes, I have male friends but it is not as if they are my lovers or that we have anything intimate. I have male friends I hang out with.
Q: Let's talk about your love life.
A: I think that's private to me.
Q: It cannot be private because you are in the eye of the public.
A: Okay, I have somebody I am going out with. We have been dating for the past five years and he has been very good to me. I am not going to tell you his name or what he looks like. He is the most important person to me in the world.
Q: You mean you have been together for five years? How have you been able to sustain it?
A: I think it is because we have come to know each other and have been faithful. Or should I say I have been faithful. We understand each other and we know what we like and don't like.
Q: What about you trips him?
A: I think he should be the one to answer that but I think he's tripped by everything about me. My personality generally speaking must have endeared me to him because I have seen prettier girls out there but most of them don't have what I have.
Q: What in him made you stick to him this long?
A: Oh my God! He is so understanding, caring and always there. He is always there to solve one problem or the other for me. And apart from that, he is also fun-loving. We actually have a lot of things in common.
Q: Are you targeting the altar?
A: May be. And if it happens, you will be the first to get an invitation.
Q: You just finished work on Faces, an M-NET production. Can you tell me about it?
A: Faces is a very captivating soap opera. It is about campus and student life. It was shot in Ife and the production is something I am proud of. I played the role of Emily, a girl that was constantly raped by her father from the age of eight. When Emily grew up, she was able to leave the house. She became grossly wayward just to get back at her father. The soap is a cool one and I really love the character I played.
Q: You said Emily was a character you loved. Did you have an experience close to that while growing up?
A: I have never gone through that before but when I went through the script I realised these things happen. It may not be rampant in Nigeria, but it does happen. So I felt it was good that somebody is exposing the problem for once to direct the attention of the world to the fact that there are psycho fathers out there, committing such grave atrocities. Even while we were on set, I met a lady who said the same thing happened to her friend and somehow, she just died. They still don't know what killed her. They got to her house and the father told them she was dead.
Q: I learnt that you also starred in a movie done in honour of Dr. Nelson Mandela in South Africa. How did you get into it?
A: I was in South Africa and a friend of mine asked that I go for the audition of a movie that a South African firm was putting together for Mandela's birthday. When we got there, I was so scared by the sheer number of girls that came for the same audition that I unconsciously started shedding tears. Unknown to me, that was what they were looking for. I got the role of Lilly because I was scared to tears. Though I did just few scenes, it was nevertheless a thrilling experience. The way they do their stuff out there is completely different. They are more organised and of course, their pay is far better.
Q: Let's talk about your production
A: I am planning to hit location, latest next week, by the grace of God and the movie is about campus life. I really do not want to disclose the story line until we have concluded production. But then, it is a story that will get movie lovers excited. It is definitely not going to be the normal Nigerian stuff.
Q: What is the budget like?
A: Since this is my first production, the budget is not big. It is going to be around three million naira and a bit over. The production will be handled by Nextup Studios.