By Eniayekan Hope
Recently, an article published by Cinema Shed summarily posits that the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) were preventing the Hausa language film from getting rated officially, hence couldn’t be released in cinemas. The film however, has seen its run in Zimbabwe where it was met with favourable reviews. So, why is the NFVCB disturbed by this film that paints clear realistic images of insecurity, patriarchy, child marriage, and the psychological trauma experienced by thousands of Nigerians up north? What National interest are they trying to protect by refusing a film that speaks very well to the twinge of its own people? With the current climate following the #EndSars protest and how regulatory bodies are going against ethics to serve the whims of Government officials rather than the people, it is safe to say the NFVCB is towing same lines. This is not the first time that the board has been under scrutiny in the dispensation of its duty as it came under fire for being a tool in the sudden halt of Kayode Kasum’s Sugar Rush screenings at the cinemas citing incomplete approval amidst the rumored EFCC dislike for its portrayal of her image.
The Milkmaid is a soulful film inspired by the two milkmaids on the ten naira note of the Nigerian currency. Written and directed by Daniel Ovbiagele with Danono Media, and shot over a period of three months in Taraba state in 2018, the milkmaid leads the herd. The film explores the plight of Aisha (Anthonieta Kalunta) a Fulani milkmaid caught in the cross-fire of insurgency and extremism in Northern Nigeria where she must search and rescue her younger sister by returning to the camp of her former captors – the terrorist group. It is a fictionalized tale mirroring what could have been the story of the Chibok girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram militant group in 2014. It explores this sad reality through the eyes of women who are often the magnet of these harrowing situations.
The narrative is simple yet complex, written with the much needed care and fragility required in telling a story of this nature. Desmond Ovbiagele proves himself a better storyteller than many supposedly acclaimed masters of the art who are empowered by mediocre audiences. He maintains a narrative tone and picturesque technique that is akin to defining African cinema. He takes his time to build character arc, relationships, conflict and climax that it is easy to spill tea while watching. In an interview with Dangerousminds.net, he renders;
“…creatively, I find myself drawn to themes that are of contemporary social relevance. Perhaps it’s because I believe that the medium of film is imbued with such amazing power, and the process of realizing a story can be so incredibly daunting and challenging; therefore one needs to tackle issues that justify all the palaver. And clearly the prevailing insurgency and general insecurity in my immediate environment was a natural candidate for attention…following the much publicized outcry and placard-carrying by presumably well-meaning international celebrities over the abduction of the Chibok girls in 2014, it was rather disheartening to watch the widespread moral indignation steadily (and surprisingly quickly) vaporize to near-total silence (both locally and internationally), even when the atrocities were clearly still being committed, albeit largely to victims from a different demographic, perhaps. And given that literally millions of survivors are currently wasting away in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) that dot the country, their lives at a total dead-end, I guess I felt a burden to use the craft and my privileged position to speak on behalf of those who lack the facility to make themselves heard.”
The honest and authentic performances from the ensemble leave us enthralled, with a riveting debut star performance by Anthonieta Kalunta as Aisha whose quiet yet powerful presence carry us through her journey to save her sister and find redemption in this distressing yet peaceful plateau and culture beautifully captured by cinematographer Yinka Edwards. The film also features popular Kannywood actor Maryam Booth, Gambo Usman Kona and Jamal Ibrahim (Green White Green, Delivery boy) and Patience Okpala.
The film emphasizes the mobilization and brainwashing of children and women into becoming suicide bombers – terrorists, spilling innocent blood, destroying the lives of our fellow compatriots, leaving death and ruins in wake which is very much present today. The Milkmaid is a body of work that the nation and the world need to see. I dare say it stands as a solid contender for Nollywood’s submission for The Oscars and would score high points – critically. It is a reminder about the sordid acts of terrorism by the Boko Haram and terrorist groups all over the world. It conspires to theorize and expose the connection between the Sect and her international terrorist community, highlighting the moles and holes evident in the Nation’s security system in their continued futile attempts to battle the terrorist group up north. This film is timely and must be seen.