By Chilee Agunanna

Dry art

Produced by Jane Lawalata and Stephanie Linus

Running time: 122 minutes

Stephanie Linus’ movie, Dry, hit Nigerian cinemas on August 14, 2015 and some of those who have watched are heralding it as another major contribution of Nigeria’s Nollywood to the world’s collection of good movies. Here, still, are a few more thoughts on the movie.

Firstly it has to be pointed out that most underage marriages in Nigeria happen in the northern parts of the country and sadly have some religious and cultural undertones. Most of the men that marry underage girls are Muslims (even highly placed individuals like the then governor and later senator Ahmed Yerima is a major case in point) and most polygamists are also Muslims because their religion allows for up to four wives, hence the efforts of Alhaji Sani (played by Tijani Fariga) to always complete his women flock to four and immediately after sending Halima (played by Zubaida Ibrahim Fagge) away accepts the injunction from his mother to go and marry even when he had three young beautiful women sitting on the ground before him.

There is also an economic issue raised in the movie. Halima was cajoled and forced off to Sani for a dowry of not more than 12, 000 Naira because the parents are not well-to-do themselves and are indebted to Sani’s kindness towards them. The folly of their speed and willingness to sell her off so cheaply is also revealed when we discover that they are not even her real parents.

There is a bigger problem of economic bullying as it doesn’t seem Halima would have been released easily at that age if Sani’s wealth and her family’s poverty are not in play. Even the village gossip, Dilaliya, expresses some reservations at the marriage which means it might not be a generally accepted practice even in such backward culture as portrayed in the movie.

That being said, the issue of Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) raised in the movie is very relevant and even if it exists in just a part of the country, it’s still a genuine issue of concern and should be addressed with all seriousness and immediacy.

The movie begins with the prologue of a young Zara (played by Stephanie Linus) escaping the scene of violence in northern Nigeria which had claimed the lives of her parents. Then follows the scene of Zara, as a UK-based Nigerian doctor, receiving an award while the main body of the movie oscillates between the present life of Zara and the life of Halima (played by Zubaida Ibrahim Fagge). One initially thinks that Halima was a younger Zara and what she went through before a white messiah nurse came to repair and rescue her from Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF). But we find out much later in the film that Halima is actually Zara’s child who is also suffering the same fate as a result of getting married to the 60-year-old Alhaji Sani at the tender age of 13.

The story is genuine and intelligently put through but the initial link-up between the juxtaposed life of Halima and the present life of Zara is rather vague. There is also no clear narrative about the details of how Zara was rescued by the white woman who she calls mother. She only finds out that her daughter is still alive after her foster mother is taken ill and unable to fulfill another medical mission to Africa. Here the plot still looks a bit hurried as the major deciding point that makes Zara come to Africa for the mission is not really shown. But the various occurrences—her child and her mother not being able to come can be assumed to be the combined causes.

Imperialism and encroachment

The constant reference of ‘Coming to Africa’ in the movie sounds a bit condescending and imperialist. Africa is a continent and Zara and the mom’s different visits to the same location were only to a part of Africa and they should know the name of the area of their visits. Also the continuous importation of white people to tackle problems we should be capable of addressing in Nigeria is almost colonialist and the classification of the VVF as an infidelity and witchcraft borne disease plays along this line. Zara virtually usurps the lead character of Halima by running a concurrent plot to Halima’s and forcing a unification by making herself Halima’s mother. The movie is the tragedy of Halima and if it had just been produced strictly as a work of art, then Halima’s story was enough attention to VVF and underage marriages in the north. But commercialism must be considered and as the producer, Stephanie feels her face is capable of selling the movie, hence her presence, and this is allowed but it is at the detriment of the greatness of the movie. Zara’s Amazonic arrival in Nigeria to become a fistula champion is, however, not enough to abdicate the tragic sequence of Halima and grant her the heroine.

The long speech towards the end of the movie is an encroachment of Stephanie’s person into

Zara’s persona and virtually turned the movie into a documentary and a personal advertisement into public speaking and possible Globacom ambassadorship. It sounds `beggy’ and preachy and one suspects it’s just to attract government’s funding to a personal project and any attempt by the government to ignore the forceful plea, is pre-empted by a direct visit to the minister of health to make sure the message is received.

Dry is however a beautiful movie whose new star should be up for some major awards during the next awards season. The issues raised in the movie are genuine and demand attention while we await another offering from Stephanie Linus, in which, hopefully, she would take a more behind-the-scenes role.

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