The ‘high school’ genre isn’t one that you’d associate with Nollywood on a regular day. When you think of the genre, you probably imagine White kids in a school that permits virtually everything and teenagers doing ‘bad things’. Besides prominent Nigerian high school movies like Binta and Friends, which thrived on TV in the early 2000s, this particular genre doesn’t have as much hold in the industry. Thirteen years down the line, it appears that Nollywood is now paying more attention to youth-centric productions.
Lately, Nollywood has been taking us to another level of premium entertainment with these movies and series; the stories, the drama, the suspense, the clashes and conflicts – all of it! But entertainment is not the sole goal of these productions, awareness also is. The Nigerian movie industry has begun to mirror the life and struggles of the average Nigerian teenager in their rawest and most honest forms. Struggles rooted in adolescence and early adulthood such as bullying and pressure surrounding sex, abuse, drugs, and emotions are now being acknowledged.
Through these stories, Nollywood is showing the youths that they are seen and heard and is letting the older generations know what goes on in the youths’ lives and how to help them navigate through the issues that come with the phase. In this series, we take a deep dive into the four outstanding Nigerian High School movies and how they have helped to shape culture and address issues affecting young people; MTV Shuga, Leaked, Far From Home, and Schooled.
MTV SHUGA NAIJA
MTV Shuga Naija was the third season of the series MTV Shuga which eventually aired for three more seasons. It was produced in partnership with the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) so that probably gives you an idea of one of the themes of the production. It addressed other young adult issues such as love, entanglements, sex, abuse, betrayal, and ambition.
The first season centred on university students and was aimed at spreading HIV awareness through the lives of the main characters, Foye (Maria Okanrende), Ekene (Okezie Morro), Sophie (Dorcas Shola-Fapson), Femi (Emmanuel Ikubese), Princess (Sharon Ezeamaka), Tobi (Timini Egbuson), Sade Banjo (Tiwa Savage), and Weki (Olumide Oworu).
At the beginning of the season, Ekene and Foye are lovers and, of course, sexual partners, but shortly after the season opens, we find out that Ekene had been cheating on Foye with her best friend, Sophie! To worsen the case, Sophie finds out that her sugar daddy, Solomon (Sani Mu’azu) has HIV after snooping around and finding his anti-retroviral drugs, and it’s all chaos from there; hearts are broken, trust is broken, and everyone has to get tested.
On the other hand, Princess, Sophie’s younger sister, is sent to visit Lagos to check on Sophie. Her sister sends her back home with money for her transport fare, but she decides to stay in Lagos with two roommates, David (Efa Iwara) and Tobi (Timini Egbuson). Tobi and Princess fall in love, but one thing threatens their relationship; Princess’s sugar daddy, Solomon – yes, the very same Solomon! Unfortunately for her, she tests positive for HIV (and from what we find out in the later episodes, pregnancy as well).
From Princess’s experience and how the situation was handled, we learn that HIV is not a death sentence and that it’s possible for a mother not to pass the virus to her baby. Through the compelling story, they took us through a lesson on how anti-retroviral drugs reduce the chances of passing the virus from one person to another as the drugs give room for the immune system to repair itself and prevent further damage. Foye, Ekene, and Sophie’s story tells us a bitter truth – young people are having more sex than we think and it is only wise to use protection! However, it’s still best to try as much as possible to stick to one sexual partner.
An issue that is common to teenage girls is addressed in the next season; getting infatuated with older men as a result of fast-growing emotions. A high school student, Mary, gets infatuated with a man, Nii (Chris Attoh), who comes to give a talk at her school. She finds a way to get close to him and he eventually takes an interest in her as well. When she tells him about her parents’ difficulty in keeping up with her school fees, he pays them a visit and offers to loan them the money, in exchange for their daughter, of course. As time goes on, Nii buys revealing dresses that he had encouraged her to wear for him, and eventually, he invites her over and physically abuses her. Fortunately for Mary, her mother stands by her side and gets Nii arrested for inflicting wounds on her daughter.
Mary’s story addresses the common misconception among teenage girls that suggest that older men are attracted to them because they are ‘more mature than their peers’ by showing us that many adults who make advances to teenagers do so with bad intentions in mind. However, it acknowledges that it is not out of place for a young girl to be infatuated with an older man, but it is advised that the young girl does not act on such feelings. It also shows young girls that when older people splash gifts in whatever form on them, it is no indication of love.
The next two seasons take us to Molade Memorial Secondary School, in Lagos. We’re given an insight into the struggles of dealing with puberty and peer pressure. We see students like Diana (Helena Nelson) and Wasiu (Tomiwa Tegbe) who are feared by most of their classmates and are perceived to be more knowledgeable than everyone else because they’re the leaders of their respective packs – you probably just had a brief flashback of the popular girl in your class who called the shots back then! Diana believes she’s above her peers simply because she’s dating an older man and Wasiu’s loud personality gives him an edge over the other boys, coupled with the fact that he’s quite ‘experienced’ for his age. They both exert their ‘influence’ by bullying their classmates.
Diana spreads a lot of myths about sex and gets her friends into trouble as the plot unfolds. She uses her influence to pimp out some of her classmates to her adult boyfriend, Chike (Shawn Faqua), for a party he would be hosting for his friends. During the party, the men attempted to drug and rape the girls, and all but one were lucky to escape – Frances (Ruby Akubueze), whom they successfully drugged and gang-raped.
Another of Diana’s ’followers’, Simi (Sharon Jatto) shared with her that she was concerned because she had sex with Wasiu, who didn’t use a condom as he promised, and Diana who barely had any knowledge on the subject told her all she needed to do was to keep jumping and down so the sperm flushes itself away – ridiculous, isn’t it?! She also says that one cannot get pregnant or infected with an STI the first time they have sex and that if you suspect that you might be pregnant, drinking large amounts of gin could flush it out. It may interest you to know that these myths are not peculiar to the production, people really do stand by them, so it was important to the production that these myths are cleared up.
Wasiu, Diana’s male counterpart, also prides himself in his ‘vast knowledge of sex’. He is quite sexually active for a boy his age and some common misconceptions are also projected through him such as ‘if a woman says no, it means try harder’ and the ‘half and half’ protection method which involves using a condom only halfway into sex.
Anyway, all Diana’s and Wasiu’s ‘knowledge’ comes to nought when Chike abandons Diana and she finds out that she’s pregnant and Wasiu ends up getting infected with HIV.
Amidst all these, we have boys who are aware that they’re gradually becoming men. A sense of responsibility grows from within them and they start to look for money in all the wrong places. This is projected through Ebisinde (Alvin Abayomi), another student at Molade Memorial Secondary School.
Ebisinde is his deadbeat father’s only son and second child and his older sister goes out in search of video vixen jobs to get money to provide for the family. However, he feels like he’s not doing what he should by letting his sister be the sole provider of the family and so he begins to make money through shady means. He graduates from placing bets to stealing car parts, and then to stealing cars. Another motivation to start making money early was to attract girls – and maybe even older women. We notice when Ebisinde and his friends, Wasiu and Shina, start to steal car parts to sell to mechanics that they begin to spend money buying new shoes, expensive jewellery, and even partying, in an attempt to prove to themselves and all who care to listen that they have now become men. But the lifestyle comes to an abrupt end when the boys get caught; Wasiu who was on watch duty escapes, but Ebisinde and Shina get arrested.
From here, we see that it is normal for teenage boys to feel like they’ve become men and develop a need to make money. Through the film we get to understand that the right way to handle this is to acknowledge it and guide them because if we shun them, they may likely heed dangerous counsel and turn to crime. Besides, the age that we’re in has made the situation easier to handle. Digital skills are in high demand, so if our adolescent boys (and girls) want to earn income, they can start to learn those skills so they can use them to make money legitimately. Regardless, we should also advise them to pay more attention to their studies.
And of course, puppy love is not left out of the theme! We see Cynthia (Uzoamaka Aniunoh) and Ebisinde in a cute, happy, and healthy relationship – as far as teenage relationships go. From their relationship, we see two teenagers who are simply happy to have someone to explore their feelings with and no one pressurising the other to do anything. As much as we tell teenagers that they have no business in relationships at their ages and stages, sometimes, they genuinely care about each other. Cynthia and Ebisinde’s relationship in the series shows us that teenage relationships are not always harmful.
In a particular scene, Cynthia’s mum asks her whether she likes a boy, and we see how easily she tells her mum all of it. There, the importance of emotional safety and trust between adults and teenagers is established. In our society, it is commonplace to reprimand teenagers for having feelings associated with hormones and exploring them, and this is seen in the Mrs Olotu character (played by Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi), who represents the older generation of adults. Thankfully, the students have Corper Yasmin (Rahma Sadau), a young adult serving as a teacher in the school.
Corper Yasmin is that adult we wish we had as teenagers; someone to answer all our questions and not judge us when we brought our issues to them. Her character serves as the ideal example of how adults should handle the matters of teenagers. In the series, we see how everyone can approach her boldly – even the troublemakers Wasiu and Diana. Corper Yasmin takes it upon herself to enlighten the students on safe sex and family planning. And then we have Mrs Olotu who represents the category of adults that are still in denial of the fact that teenagers are very much sexually active and believe that knowledge and understanding of safe sex and family planning is best withheld from teenagers.
But this production shows us that all they need is just gentle but firm guidance. Puberty is a stage involving immense changes in the body and mind of a person, so it is expected that an adolescent will want to understand all that is happening. If they are left to themselves, they will make all the wrong decisions. Adults need to be there for them because they know better, so it takes nothing to guide them through the tumultuous adolescence phase. This message is passed through Corper Yasmin’s character.
She always encouraged them to go to the hospital to find out what was wrong with them or to simply ask questions surrounding sex.
A key lesson to be learnt from the last two seasons of MTV Shuga is that teenagers should never look to their peers for enlightenment when it comes to sex and navigating through emotions because they are just as clueless as they are. The series encourages teenagers to speak to trusted and responsible adults about whatever strange thing is going on in their lives and it encourages adults as well to answer the teenagers’ questions. It puts to mind that the teenage years are the years that shape children into proper and responsible and that proper adult guidance is very crucial to the phase.
All that being said, it is apparent that MTV Shuga Naija does a great job of encouraging us to look after young adults and be open and non-judgmental towards them. It also debunks many misconceptions about HIV and enlightens viewers on sexual health and family planning.
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