The Gods are not Chauvnists; a Reading of “Tolu” by ‘Chukwu Martin

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It is quite obvious that Nadine Ibrahim is attracted to stories heavy on child- friendly, nuclear,societal and cultural influences. Her film ”Through Her Eyes” (2018), tells the story of Azeeza, a young girl abducted by a terrorist group and forced to witness and carry out their plans and of course “Tolu” (2017) which translates as TOLU (Ti’Oluwa) meaning “god’s own” a story about a girl who proves to be more than she appears to be.

Shot in a time when talk about women empowerment and various shades of feminism have frequently become the meal at the table, Nalia Media in 2017 presented TOLU, directed by then 23 year old Nadine Ibrahim. In an interview with Enuma Okoro for Guardian, March 2017, she said “ I want to tell stories that can change the world”. She appears to have rated true to her mandate with films like “Tolu”.

How well can the story of Tolu change the world as Nadine desires?

When we move past the obvious ham acting, continuity errors in CGI manipulations, very poor subtitling and somewhat displaced modules/variations in language articulation, we find levels of depth to Nadine Ibrahim’s TOLU, a supposed adventure film.

But why Tolu? Why that name? (her parents obviously didn’t sound Yoruba) Was she adopted, found by the sea maybe? This would be plausible as it provides context in her desire to duck the societal norm and try out fishing, a male dominated profession. Has she been chosen by the gods? (Laughable but culturally believable) Is she simply a vehicle, a metaphor, for the travails and eventual successes of women empowerment? Is she an audiovisual griot of some sort for the feministic agenda? Many questions arise from this 12minutes film. The story is simple. A brief adventure of a girl Tolu (Halimat Olanrewaju) who goes out to fish all by herself with hope to return with a basket full of fish to impress her nagging father (Karibi Fubara) and her mother (Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama).At sea, she meets an ‘old man’ who helps her. It is that simple. The surface theme in this film as we learn from the OLD MAN played by Wale Ojo is that “whatever a male can do, a female child can do too and even better” (6:48) (pardon that poor sentence construction. Editors and subtitles huh? Sounded much better in Yoruba language when said by the Old man).The line above is suggestive of an attempt to propagate a social feminist ideologue.

Usually when you see females in movies, they feel like they have these metallic structures around them, they are caged by male energy.” 
― Björk

Feminism/ˈfɛmɪnɪz(ə)m/ (the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.) This is easily noticed in her recent offering.

Olokun makes an appearance in this film as might be unintended by the filmmakers but his appearance as the Old man makes the intention of the adventure at sea valuable to the essence of this film. Olokun in West Africa is believed to be the Orisha of great wealth and of the bottom of the ocean. Olokun is revered as the ruler of all water bodies and authority overother water deities. Communities in West Africa and the African Diaspora view Olokun as female or male (this gives light that the gods are not gender bias). In this case, Olokun chooses to come as a man, so to speak, the gods are not chauvnists. Maybe if Olokun had appeared in form of a woman to Tolu, the story would have further laid credence to its feministic intentions. In his appearance in the film, the Old man gifts Tolu with his wisdom, tells her about patience and how she must approach life. The most important thing he does is to teach her how to use a net to fish. She needed a father to teach her and she got one. The Old man also gifts her with a pendant and suggests that he’s always there to guide her. The relationship here is very warm and abolishes gender wars as seen in today’s modern society.

However, this film happens to fall flat without an after-cinema agenda/effect, as I believe films like this are supposed to make a grounded statement through its style and form, making an impact on its specific audience after seeing the film, for me it did not. But perhaps this article helps make the neccesary understanding of Nadine’ s supposed subtext. Tolu’s story would have led a major campaign in recent times in the path of societal gender revolution, end gender wars or in its stead “Power to Womanhood”, through the hands of a girl who is gifted unknown powers, powers that might change the whole concept of womanhood and its inferiority.  Anyway, this is to my own accord. The film “Tolu” is an enthusiastic, adventurous project that deserves a remake with a patent vision and a more mature statement with the elements as suggested in this reading.




‘Chukwu Martin Uzo is a Film enthusiast, curious Filmmaker, Voice actor and Critic with degrees from the University of Ibadan, Theatre Arts Dept. He’s pro-environmental and a Humanist.

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