Media entrepreneur, Mo Abudu is no stranger to using TV to offer a more glamorous depiction of Africa. Her media company, Ebonylife TV produces films, lifestyle shows and even scripted series that attempt to debunk the narrative that has haunted the continent by offering a more nuanced version of our reality.
Directed by Biyi Bandele, her latest feature film venture, Fifty maintains an unspoiled and glossy depiction of Lagos; luxury cars, townhouses in the city’s most expensive neighborhoods with large bay windows and enough modern African art and print accessories to denote the owners allegiance.
In the film, Mo unfurls the lives of four women whose experiences converge to tell a story so ubiquitous in its real life occurrences, but rarely displayed on our TV screens.
One might immediately shy away from calling Fifty a coming of age film, since the term has been relegated to films that depict teenagers or young adults going through some rite of passage only for the characters and the viewers to emerge with a renewed sense of the world and themselves, but I believe Fifty very well fits into the coming of age category.
The ensemble cast might not be teenagers, but they are women who leave viewers questioning what they’ve been told thus far to know as true. Maria, Tola, Kate, and Elizabeth are women who are established in love, life or both.
With professional accomplishments, thriving businesses or picture perfect marriages, to the world, these women are well off, but Fifty wastes no time shattering the russe and diving into the truth.
As the film progresses, viewers are struck with a sense of nostalgia, because the chances are that if you’ve ever lived in Lagos, you know these women or women like them. Unlike popular western films featuring an all female cast (i.e Sex and The City) the women of Fifty are not conjured, they are as real as they come.
Tola, played by Dakore Egbuson is a 50 year old trust fund baby/ reality star. Although Dakore plays (and sometimes overplays) the character of a slightly neurotic, excessive and painfully impatient diva, (the only thing missing to complete her character is a small Chihuahua) she is endearing and a poster child for the phrase “everything that glitters isn’t gold”
Elizabeth or “Lizzy” as she is fondly called is a famed gynecologist with a penchant for lovers 3 decades her junior. What the film does with the character Lizzy is almost unheard of in Nigerian cinema; we are presented with an openly flawed and sexual 50 year old woman.
A memorable scene from the film was seeing Lizzy in a crowded Lagos club, slithering on the dance floor; she gyrated in motion with her lover boy and threw her head back as she danced, almost in defiance of society’s expectations of a woman her age.
Seeing a character so unapologetic for her life and sexuality shouldn’t be a brave thing to do in Nigerian film, but it is and Mo did it well. Lizzy is played brilliantly by Ireti Doyle.
Kate, played by Nse Ikpe Etim has the unfortunate role of being Tola’s party planner for her 50th birthday celebration. Unlike the other women in the film, Kate is not particularly wealthy, which is one of the things I admire most about the film.
Wealth plays a central part in the film; the numerous shots of the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge symbolize that these women live and work in a wealthy area and when they do decide to make a trip to other side of the city, it is for hip, anti-establishment gatherings like seeing Nneka in concert at Freedom Park or going to the Shrine to see Femi Kuti.
They choose to go there and after soaking in as much as they want to, they return to their houses in Ikoyi. For Kate, it is not the same. Kate represents what we Nigerians have come to know as the middle class, which is made up of people whose wealth is only established by their relationship and proximity to the wealthy.
Kate has a husband who dresses in kitsch versions of expensive outerwear, has a gambling problem, and is horrified by the idea of a 9-5 job; he prefers the term self-employed not unemployed.
He is delusional about his chances of becoming wealthy and consistently squanders their money on get rich quick schemes. The choice to write Kate’s character as is another nod to the film’s attempt to stay grounded in reality.
Maria, played by Omoni Oboli is a construction company executive and unsurprisingly the only woman in her boardroom. She is smart, obviously successful and adverse to children. It is Maria’s milestone 50th birthday that sets the film in motion.
Fifty is easy and enjoyable, but it lingers. The pace of the film is slow and almost effortless in its ascent and when it’s over, the stories follow you and if it’s done its job, you won’t look at Nigerian women the way you’ve been taught to.
The film adds texture and truth to what we’ve told to believe about Nigerian women, and most importantly, it proves that their stories and experiences are not singular.