The Movie 'Unspoken' Tackles A Nigerian Taboo

Claire Hayward

Sunny King’s short film Unspoken has won critical praise for its depiction of the taboo of homosexuality in the Nigerian diaspora, and the complicated social and cultural issues which surround the issue. It has been the recipient of numerous awards, and has been cited for its bravery in tackling an often controversial issue.
King’s second short film, Unspoken won Best Film in the LGBT Film category at the London Independent Film Festival (2013) and has been selected for several film festivals, including The British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), Africa in the Picture Festival, and the Sixth International WAMMFEST Women and Minorities in Media.

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The film may be less than ten minutes long, but it packs a great deal of softly written drama within it. It is a story of commitment to love and friendship in the face of societal taboos. The film is being developed into a full-length feature film, in which the themes and issues introduced in the short will be further explored. An excellent example of up-and-coming indigenous Nigerian cinema, Unspoken delves into a difficult subject sensitively.
It tells the story of four people and their intertwining relationships. It is just two days before Lola’s wedding, and her maid of honour Sandra discovers a secret that wrecks her own relationship with her boyfriend of over four years, and could well jeopardise the relationship of Lola and her groom-to-be.

Exploring friendship, secrecy and sexuality, Unspoken is exemplary in its portrayal of the usually taboo subject of homosexuality. King has said that the film was influenced and inspired by the increasing interest and profile of Nollywood — the sometimes controversial term for the Nigerian film industry — and also the contemporary issues concerning the victimisation of gay people in Africa. It does justice to both influences, as a smooth film with excellent cinematography, and a critical yet tender view of the issue of homosexuality in West African communities. Filmed and set in London, it also shows how issues in West Africa impact on communities and individuals outside the continent itself.
These themes and aims of Unspoken embody the ethos of the Afrinolly Short Film Competition, for which it was in the top ten finalists this year. Afrinolly is a competition that aims to expand discussions on issues about the African continent by Africans, which Unspoken undeniably does despite being set in London.

King has said that Unspoken being a finalist in the competition shows that “there is an audience out there that appreciates good stories that deal with issues affecting us all”. Co-written by Ola Laniyan-Amoako and Edith Nwekenta (who also stars in the film), the film should appeal to audiences both within and outside Nollywood, other African film scenes, and the LGBT community.

One reviewer wrote that Unspoken “expertly nails the hidden secrets buried beneath the guise of love and companionship. It also captures the energy of real friendship and the bruise of betrayal.”
Contemporary issues in Nigeria, which have had a great influence on the film, make Unspoken‘s impact and success at film festivals even more significant. This year, Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed a bill making gay marriage illegal and outlawing any groups supporting gay rights.

It also remains illegal to have homosexual sex, and there is a high level of abuse directed at homosexuals in Nigeria, as well as Africa in general. Unspoken does not discuss or portray homosexuality in Nigeria, but in London, where protests for and against equal marriage are regular, making the film timely.

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