Women Are Collateral Damage in Editi Effiong’s The Black Book
Editi Effiong’s The Black Book was released to Netflix on 22 September 2023, garnering accolades for its star studded cast and its $1 million budget, backed by Nigeria’s tech ecosystem. The Nigerian crime thriller film boasts of a stellar cast, including Richard Mofe-Damijo, Sam Dede, Shaffy Bello, Femi Branch, Alex Usifo, Ade Laoye and Ireti Doyle.
The two-hour film starts in Lagos traffic with the husband and infant of Professor Stella Craig (Bimbo Akintola). Craig, the director general of the Nigeria Energy & Oil Company, is shown to have revealed secrets of corruption, including an investigation into oil blocs owned and controlled by a cartel led by General Issa (played by Alex Usifo). Mr Craig and the child are then kidnapped and the captors demand Professor Craig’s resignation as a condition for their release. Craig accepts but eventually, her husband and child are killed.
To cover their tracks, the plotters of the killings, sought to pin the killing on an innocent Damilola Edima (Olumide Oworu), son of Paul Edima (Richard Mofe-Damijo). Now, Paul Edima is shown to be a God-fearing, community-serving Deacon but as the film unfolds, we see that he had been a part of the system he is now a victim of, carrying out assassinations for the political class dating back to Nigeria’s military rule.
Following the murder of his son, Paul Edima seeks to clear his son’s name, dusting off his skills and going after the people responsible for framing his son of kidnap, his former boss, General Issa. In a review, Premium Times likened Paul Edima to John Wick, as the plot toes the line of a former hitman reluctantly returning to the criminal underworld he abandoned.
This is where journalist Vic Kalu (Ade Laoye), the film's female lead, comes in to try and help Paul get to the root of the case. The plot then spins off into the workings of Nigeria’s corrupt system, involving the media and the police who work for General Issa. Distraught, Paul turns to the past, hoping to take General Issa down by stealing the Black Book, which contains the accounts of all Issa’s criminal activities.
The thing that stayed with me long after the film credits rolled is this: Men's actions and violence, even towards themselves, always leave women and children as collateral damage. We see it with Professor Craig and her baby and we see it with Vic.
In one scene, we see a forlorn Professor Craig talking to Vic and Paul Edima, mourning her baby and husband, telling them how she went through 14 failed in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles.
"I fought against corruption all my life," Craig says in tears. "I fought and I lost everything."
Though not murder, Craig reminded me of the late Dora Akunyili, who faced significant opposition during her tenure as the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in Nigeria. Her appointment to this role in 2001 came at a time when NAFDAC was grappling with widespread corruption, weak regulatory enforcement, and the proliferation of counterfeit and substandard drugs and food products in the Nigerian market. In December 2003, her office at NAFDAC headquarters in Lagos State was set on fire by unknown individuals.
In the film, we are shown Vic’s connection to Paul Edima. We see Paul, at the height of a drug trafficking boom in the country, being sent by General Issa to eliminate a journalist who had uncovered a smuggling operation. This journalist (surprise surprise) was Victoria’s mother. Paul killed her, but spared Victoria, who was in the house at that time.
A mother without her child and a child without her mother.
We see Vic struggle with a haunting past, striving to fill the immense shoes left by her mother's legacy. In her pursuit of self-discovery, she seeks answers and, along the way, confronts her anger and grief.
In a broader societal context, divisiveness and violence are a tool. These tools reinforce notions of male dominance and female submission, even on a political level. A woman having her capability for governance and leadership questioned along the lines of “Will you be able to play politics?” is not unheard of. The collateral damage here extends to how women are constrained and limited in their impact and contributions to their community. The most significant evidence of this is the ever-widening gender gap in politics and governance.
In addition to corruption and police brutality, The Black Book serves as a commentary on violence and its impact on women. Men's actions and violence towards themselves often reverberate through the lives of the women around them, leaving them as collateral damage in the wake of their choices. This collateral damage takes on many forms, from the emotional trauma endured by wives and daughters who witness the self-destructive behaviours of their male loved ones to the physical harm and fear inflicted upon them during violent outbursts. These women grapple with the turmoil of trying to heal, protect, or even escape from the turmoil wrought by the men in their lives.
The impact on women is not limited to immediate relationships; it extends to the broader societal context as well, reinforcing harmful stereotypes and expectations about gender roles and the silence that often surrounds such issues. The cinematic portrayal of this phenomenon serves as a poignant reminder of the intricate connections between personal struggles and the larger societal implications of men's actions and violence, emphasizing the urgent need for dialogue and change.