SET in the shady underworld of Lagos brothels, Nigerian thriller Òlòtūré gives viewers an inside look at the sex trafficking schemes that ensnare thousands of Nigerian women each year.
The film is fictional but aims for a realistic and gritty picture to raise awareness of what is a persistent and little-discussed problem, said 36-year-old director Kenneth Gyang.
For decades, scores of Nigerian women and girls have been lured to Europe with promises of work, then trapped in debt bondage and forced to sell sex.
The United Nations migration agency estimates that 80% of Nigerian women arriving in Italy – more than 11,000 in 2016 – are potential victims of sex trafficking.
“I know people are not always receptive to documentaries, so sometimes you have to put these things in fiction so that people will see it,” said Gyang, who won international acclaim for his first film, Confusion Na Wa, in 2013.
His thriller debuted on Netflix this month and quickly became the streaming service’s most-watched film in Nigeria, reaching the top-10 list in another 13 countries.
“For me it’s about people watching the film and then trying to push for policies that will protect these young women from getting trafficked,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In the movie, a journalist goes undercover as a sex worker to expose human trafficking and quickly gets in over her head.
It is worlds away from the films that are usually popular in Nollywood, Nigeria’s massive film industry, which favours comedies and light-hearted tales about rich people, said Gyang.
“The producers were not sure how it was going to be received,” he said.
“When the film came out, it was #1 on Netflix in Nigeria and on social media, everybody was talking about it. People were angry. People were talking about the fact that they didn’t know this is what happens when people get trafficked.”
In one scene, sex workers undergo a religious ritual that binds them to their traffickers with black magic – a common practice that renders women too fearful to mount an escape.
Gyang said he sought support from NAPTIP, Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency, to make sure he got the details right.
Part of his motivation, he said, was seeing Nigerian women on street corners when he travelled in Europe.
Foreign donors have poured money into anti-trafficking programmes in the traditional industry hotspot, Edo State, but experts say sex traffickers are now moving to other parts of Nigeria to avoid detection.
“I hope what will happen is that the right people in the right places will see the film, and then the relevant bodies will push for policies to try to help these young women,” said Gyang. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.