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Chioma Onyenwe: Speaking Through Theatre

August Meeting was one of the most poignant plays at the 2018 Lagos Theatre Festival. It is a unique story about the legacy of the Aba Women’s Riots from the perspective of the rioters. These riots have been lauded as they championed the worthy cause of anti-colonialism, but it also brought to light some harrowing consequences.

This play piqued the interest of many, as there are far too few stories that explore or interact with history. The producer of August Meeting is the seasoned and celebrated film producer, Chioma Onyenwe. Her first film, 8 Bars & A Clef, received an Africa Movie Academy Award nomination. She has also worked on web series, television shows, and documentaries. Onyenwe shares her journey on her first foray into theatre.

A scene from the August Meeting play

You are a well-established filmmaker. Why did you decide to stage a play? What are the differences between film production and theatre?
I love watching theatre, so I didn’t see it as much of a leap. I just had another story to tell, and I thought theatre was the best medium for it.
The energy that theatre has is unparalleled because there’s no second take. Rehearsals are imperative. Teamwork among the cast and crew is also crucial, so every performance has to be perfect. I definitely plan to produce more plays. Film is a lot more technical and there are a lot of moving parts. Post-production is a big part of a film and the reach is much wider.

Your play, August Meeting, characterised the Aba Riots as an anti-colonialist movement asopposed to a feminist movement. What are other misconceptions about the Aba Women’s riots?
Generally, there isn’t a lot of awareness about Nigerian history. Gender relations in pre-colonial Igbo culture were egalitarian and very dynamic. Colonialism and Christianity introduced Victorian-style gender roles and patriarchy into the Igbo culture. Women held strong political, military (where necessary) and economic roles in pre-colonial Igbo societies.

With the Aba Riots, the women united and organised themselves to deal with elements that violated their rights as they navigated their daily lives.

There are many conversations on feminism in Nigeria. Do you have a personal perspective?
The goal of feminism is simple to achieve equality of the sexes. And frankly, I don’t see how that is not to the benefit of everyone.

A scene from the August Meeting play. Photo: Instagram

The play also touches on the fact that the key custodians of patriarchy are women, so we really need to focus on how, as a collective, we can be on our own side. Even though Nollywood is still dominated by men, women are doing well in producing high-value films.

Do you see more women like yourself taking on leadership roles?

Nollywood is a great example of what an ecosystem can be when men and women have the same opportunities, especially with access to finance. Women are front and centre doing great things across the industry from production to institution building.

In addition to running a production company, I am also the Programme Director of the Africa International Film Festival. So I’m definitely in a place of constant growth and knowledge acquisition

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