The Girls of ShantyTown
From its talent studded cast to its thrilling fight scenes, Netflix's Shanty Town has received enormous critical acclaim in just a short period of its release.
A vicious pimp and drug lord named Scar is torn between serving two masters for his personal gain and a larger seat at the table, a twin sister goes undercover to seek revenge on behalf of her dead sister, and a community of sex workers strive to pay for their freedom out of the life that Shanty Town offers and everything in between, the show is packed with gore, lots of drama, commendable cinematography and actors who understood the assignment.
While the storyline was powerful, critical even, and one that needed to be told, the execution was not without its flaws and plot holes. All in all, Shanty Town gave us quite a collection of unforgettable female characters, whose roles and contributions to the show as a whole painted a theatrical picture of the mistreatment of women in society as we know it and how even within the context of the show, we are expected to pillar communities whilst being treated as less than within those same communities.
Beneath the gore and drama, it is a show that mirrors the larger fabric of our society's disservice to women, even when it asks of our sacrifice to hold it up the most.
There’s Inem, brought to life by the talented Ini Edo who also happened to be a director on the show. Inem, who despite her efforts and sacrifices for Shanty town was thrown under the bus after their drug-selling operation was curtailed by the police, and left to rot in a prison cell until she died from a terminal illness. Inem’s character is then taken upon by her twin sister Amanda who is a special agent in the police force.
The sisters were violently torn apart from each other's lives after an attack on their hometown by political bandits that cost them their father’s life, Inem being captured into sex work and Amanda taken to an orphanage. Amanda is determined to avenge her sister and bring ShantyTown and the powers that control it to the ground by going undercover as her sister and installing herself back in the system.
Amanda comes face to face with the life that her sister was forced to live for years and realises it is much more than she had expected or bargained for. When she is asked to take hard drugs before meeting clients and then raped and beaten to a pulp by one of said clients, who happened to own the prostitution ring she worked for, she is more determined than ever to burn Shanty Town to the ground and free its captives.
Enewan, a character vesseled in the phenomenal Nse Ikpe-Etim, a role she embodied so effortlessly and authentically. Enewan, a well respected “area mama” is like an older sister to the girls at Shanty Town, she is in charge of their wellbeing and seeing to the smooth running of their engagements with clients. Enewan, who came to this role without hesitation was more than happy to fill up the vacuum Inem had left after being carted away to prison.
Yet another pawn in the hands of the movers and shakers of Shanty town, as most of the women who lived there, who just wanted to pay her dues as well by aiding Scar do unimaginable things. Enewan feels threatened in her position and usefulness to the system by Inem’s return and although the two seemed to have been close friends with a shared history, who spoke the same language and regarded each other as sisters, Ene was determined to ensure Inem did not stand in her way.
This situation is one we are all too familiar with, where two women are left to fight themselves to the death for the one seat at the table of men in our society.
There’s Shalewa who was sold into sex work to pay off her father’s debt to Scar, the pimp and druglord in charge. Nancy Isime’s execution of Shalewa's character was quite commendable. I must mention, the car sex scene is one of the most authentic sex scenes i’ve watched in Nollywood history if I do say so myself.
Though Peter Okoye in his role as her lover did not carry his own weight in the chemistry they needed for the role in the same capacity that she did, she came with enough vim to almost distract us from the cheesy lines and action. Shalewa who was thrust into this life as collateral damage for her fathers decisions, much like the other girls has to do all she can to pay her way out of the life at Shanty town. When a friend agrees to help her with some money to pay up her dues, she is faced with the reality that her debt may not be clearable any time soon as Scar recounts all that is outstanding.
It is this situation that Scar holds over her head when he asks her to perform a high risk task that will supposedly set her free from Shanty for life.
There’s also Jackie played by BBN Star Mercy Eke, who bodied the character better than expected. When Jackie comes on our screens, she’s earned her freedom from Shanty Town, a party is thrown in her honour, she has something that is the dream of every girl at Shanty Town. But Jackie’s fate is a gruesome one, one that has befell every girl who has successfully paid for their freedom out of Shanty Town. Jackie never gets to taste freedom as she is intercepted on her way out of Shanty by Scar, Enewan and the gang, and butchered to her death. Jackie’s death is what propels Inem’s agenda forward and brings Shalewa to the realisation that she may never be free from Shanty Town unless she joins Inem to bring it to the ground.
We have Mama T, a role no one else would have played better than the renowned Sola Sobowale, the shaking, the crying, the Yoruba lamentations. Mama T is a priestess and a channel to the spiritual on behalf of the Shanty community. She blesses the girls and the gang before operations for their safety, she makes charms the girls wear to receive favour from clients, she is their spiritual mother.
Even though Mama T has an upper hand in the dealings of Shanty Town she is still a slave to the drug lords’ beadings and a pawn in the larger scale of things. Mama T, looking back on her life also seeks her freedom for the normal life that she once had. In the end her influence pushes the girls to take a collective stand against Scar.
The Dame, played by Shaffy Bello, her power suits and theatrical prowess as a powerful and dangerous woman in the city of Lagos who has double dared as a woman and a person in general to go against Chief Fernandez in the gubernatorial elections of the state. The Dame does not just want to win the elections, she also wants to burn Chief Fernandez, his entire operation and his hold on the city to the ground, she is determined to use whatever means to get what she wants.
I think my favourite thing about The Dame’s character is that she is just as much of a villain as Chief Fernandez and Scar, her motive behind putting Chief to his end is purely fed by Vengeance and it is always refreshing to see women devoted to giving men a cup of their own medicine on television.
The Dame’s all female bodyguard is also an eye catching phenomenon about her person and character in the show. The girls fight beautifully and viciously to keep her safe.
Lastly, the girls of Shanty Town, who symbolise our collective struggle as women in society, are all victims of unfavourable circumstances. The show portrays their sense of community amidst the conditions within Shanty Town, in how they celebrate Jackie’s freedom, in how they celebrate Inem’s return and in the end, through their collective efforts to bring Scar to his end. The scene where they brutally bring Scar to his end weirdly painted a sense of sisterhood and a shared bond as each girl took their turn towards freedom.