July 11, 2020

Film Rats Club

Let's Talk Movies


Lola Shoneyin’s debut novel “The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives” (TSLOBSW) was first published in 2010. It is such a well woven story on African womanhood that, even now, ten years after it was published, it is still a very relevant commentary on present day social discussions on feminism, toxic masculinity, rape culture and much more. Not only is it very popular as a novel, but its subsequent adaptations into other artistic media — stage plays, radio plays, graphic novels and just recently, a ‘tweet’ evidence confirming that a movie adaptation is in the works, have all been very well received.

In an era of #MeToo, ongoing debates on toxic masculinity, feminism, domestic violence and fights against long standing patriarchal setups, a movie adaptation of TSLOBSW couldn’t have been disclosed at a better time. Film adaptations of popular books are generally met with a lot of skepticism. This reaction is understandable when we look at what became of the adaptations of literary bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, and Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun, to bring it back home. While some criticisms can be discarded as just petty reactions from book-club ideologues that have developed sentimental attachment towards the book, others are much more credible and informed, citing a blatant disregard for the original material.

Not all book to film adaptations have turned out horrible or have stoked widely polarized opinions. Some have crossed over seamlessly, seemingly satisfying fans of the source material and eventual cinematic product. The Hunger Games franchise is a go to example of a film adaptation that appears to have been done relatively well and is quite successful. Other examples are Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence, Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and so on. Nollywood is also not a stranger to literary adaptations as a good number of old time classics were created from well-known literary pieces: Kongi’s Harvest, Things Fall Apart, Aiye, Ija Ominira. Even as recently as the past decade, the likes of Maami, Dazzling Mirage and Married But Living Single, are credible testaments to Nollywood’s familiarity with the world of literature.

A motion picture adaptation of TSLOBSW would first and foremost require a filmmaker with an informed understanding of the fragility and delicacy of the issues addressed in the story. Especially in these times where discussing social issues require abundant amounts of sensitivity and tact, an informed and socially aware filmmaker could make the difference between a severe social media backlash and a well-treated story on African womanhood that spurs meaningful conversations. The art of transitioning creative content from one artistic medium to the other will always be a tricky venture. There are those who expect that, to do justice to an adaptation, one must visually duplicate every detail of the written material. This is simply untrue. Scott Tobias in his crosstalk with Tasha Robinson on The Dissolve puts it best when he says, “The questions filmmakers should ask is not ‘How can I bring this story to the screen without losing anything?’ but ‘What in this book do I want to emphasize?’”. In summary, adaptation calls for practicality and shrewdness in discerning what is and what is not a prerequisite in this transitioning process.

The complexity of book to film adaptations lies in the fact that book and film are two very different mediums, each with its own core principles and preconditions. One must understand that the need to pull off a good literary adaptation should not come at the expense of making a good film. In fact, precedence teaches us that the two are very achievable. For example, a well-used tool of the film medium is the tool of suspense. Every filmmaker knows how to make the element of surprise work in his/her favor. This is a tricky thing to do with an adaptation as a majority of the audience (having read the book) already know how the story proceeds till denouement. Although, some critics have argued that when it comes to adaptations, fans of the book are kept glued to their screens not because there are in suspense but because they are intrigued at how well the mental pictures created from reading the story have been translated to a full-fledged visual story; I still opine that the same reaction that suspense generates from the audience can still be gotten by delaying reveals. In the TSLOBSW, for example, the wives’ infidelity is exposed very early on. This is because we are made privy to their thoughts and their conversations amongst one another. Cutting out some, if not all, of these internal conversations in the film allow for the audience to only make inferences based off character’s actions. The film should not spoon-feed them in the way that the book does, hence, even though they know the truth, they are stuck, waiting, possibly biting their nails, to see how it unravels. Better yet, it can go the other way. The movie can begin at the big revelation in the doctor’s office, and take us all the way back to where it all began.

Flashbacks were a very integral part of the book. Seeing how each of these characters encountered very specific life ordeals that led them to the point in which we meet them at the start of the story is vital to the story. This could be significant in the movie as well, if the production team choose to. The source material already provides well rounded character arcs with individual backstories that are so interesting in themselves, it will be no surprise if the production suits looking to milk the material for all its got, see the need for spinoffs inspired by these backstories. I, for one would not mind a movie based off the life of Iya Femi alone, pre-Baba Segi’s house. I see the flashbacks being worked into the film similar to how we get bit by bit flashback scenes on Eniola’s life trajectory in Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys, like an alternate timeline that says enough with much fuss. The way the flashbacks pop up even as the story progresses, would work equally well in this story. It’s very likely that the use of voice overs to propel the narration might appeal to the production team. It doesn’t have to be so, as character action and dialogue should be enough. But if a voice over narration must be used, it should be delivered with skill and nuance, probably a little introduction from Bolanle at the beginning, similar to how it was done in Jade Osiberu’s impressive feature debut,  Isoken.

In conclusion, regardless of whatever route the production team decides to go, the story of the four wives and their massive secret deserves a beautiful visual retelling that instead of duplicating, would serve as a compliment to Shoneyin’s very credible work in the original material. You should be excited about the upcoming adaptation for screen. I know I am.