Casting-couch syndrome is Nollywood's dirty little secret

Just like Hollywood, Nollywood is full of sexual predators who demand for sex in exchange for a movie role.

Recently, the ugly tales of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who sexually harassed and assaulted numerous actresses, including Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne and Kate Beckinsale, were revealed. Harvey demanded sexual favours from these actors in exchange for a movie role.

In 2004, Bollywood filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar was accused of rape by actress Preeti Jain, who alleged that filmmaker raped her 16 times for a role in his film.

Popularly known as casting-couch syndrome, this isn’t just a Hollywood or Bollywood problem. This depraved culture exists in Nollywood as well, even in hushed tones.

Any unwelcome advances - physical or verbal - that insinuates that an actor’s employment is dependent on sexual favours, is harassment.

In Nollywood, the casting couch is the place where sexual favours are demanded by producers and directors from mostly up-and-coming female actors, who want a role in their production.

Over the years, many actresses have come out to talk about their experiences, but have refused to name the perpetrators.  The culture of silence has made the casting couch syndrome Nollywood's little secret.

If you follow the paper trail, you will get to read about instances of sexual harassment and molestation in Nollywood. During an interview with Daily Post, actress Juliet Patrick Odigwe revealed that a popular producer asked her for six rounds of sex for six movie roles.

In 2015, Rahama Sadau took to Instagram to accuse Adam Zango of denying her of a role because she refused his sexual advances. She, however, apologized the next day, describing her post on a matter as sensitive as sexual harassment, as ‘childish.’

In 2014, Emeka Ike reportedly listed Emma Ogugua, Murphy Stephen, Sunny McDon, Okey Bakassi and Ifeanyi Dikeh as producers who demand for sexual favours from aspiring actresses.

Speaking to Ynaija, Okey Bakassi denied it, saying that Ike was misquoted and was simply referring to members of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, who failed to fix Nollywood.

As a newbie in Nollywood, Blessing Egbe, who is popular for “The Women” and “Lekki Wives,” once had to slap off the “smelly hand” of a big producer/marketer, who caressed her breast when he saw her at a producer’s office.

Narrating her experience to Pulse Nigeria, Egbe said: “He walked in, looked at me for a while and said “nna this gal will be very god for epic feem ooo… I returned his words with a polite smile which he mistook for softness.

Next thing, he came to me and started to caress me. The push slap that followed shocked the other producer who exclaimed “Ah, Blessing, that is big marketer Oh. And my reply? And so what?”

Popular actress Bayray McNwizu also admitted  she has gotten sexual advances for roles. “I have been approached; I have been asked this question and I have said ‘no’ because I never engaged in it. But the offers have come up,”Bayray McNwizu told Vanguard.

The nature of these predatory relationships are not strictly heterosexual. Veteran actress alleged that some of these movie producers sleep with young male actors who are in search of fame.

“The producers are messing up and it is killing the industry by the day. Some sleep with the girls before they give out roles, some sleep with the boys,”Patience Ozokwor said in an interview with Encomium.

Most times, the victims feel powerless against these producers, who supposedly have the power to end their career.

“They may feel that exposing these culprits may leave them jobless or blacklisted or ridiculed by others who feel it’s no big deal. What ever their reasons are, it is not worth it. Grow your craft and know your job so you wont have to put up with any rubbish,”  Egbe told Pulse.

If the casting-couch culture is as common as it is in Nollywood, why isn’t there more outrage about it? Perhaps, victims are scared of stigmatization. Or perhaps, we don't consider it such a big deal in Nigeria.

“There are indeed active conversations about it, but like most presumably soft crimes, it is swept under the carpet and tagged “à no big deal,” Blessing Egbe said.

Egbe has counseled some actresses against going down that route no matter the situation. However, after the issue was brought up in an industry forum that she belongs to, Egbe came to the conclusion that "Nollywood is a sick industry that needs special deliverance.”

Several filmmakers excuse the casting-couch mentality with outrageous comments ranging from “it is not a Producer or directors fault if an actor decides to go the extra mile for the role’ or “it is what it is, an Actor must pay his or her dues.

Some actresses who eventually become victims are coerced by producers, who list names of superstars who have ‘supposedly slept their way through.’

undefinedSurprisingly, there are actors and filmmakers, who believe that there are no cases of producers asking for sexual favours in return for career advancement.

Mercy Macjoe once told Vanguard that actresses with nothing to offer are actually the ones who harass the filmmakers in exchange for a film role.

Filmmaker and actor Solomon Akiyesi told YNaija that the actresses seduce the directors and not the other way round.

In 2016, Yoruba actress Opeyemi Aiyeola said women are mostly responsible for the cases of sexual harassment in Nnollywood.

With the expose on Weinstein, came a seemingly endless list of actresses who have been abused by powerful filmmakers. A hashtag #MeToo was created to encourage women to share their experiences of harassment in their own industries — It was tweeted over 500, 000 times.

undefinedJust like several industries, sexual harassment has been lurking in Nollywood - it's the industry's 'little' dirty secret.

But all the Nigerian film industry needs is one bold victim to expose tens of Nollywood’s Harvey Weinstein.

Who will speak up?

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