Òlòtūré: A Bold Attempt with Minor Hiccups

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Vanessa Obioha

Since last year, EbonyLife Films has been promoting its latest flick ‘Òlòtūré’ — locally translated as ‘endurance’ — as a must-watch thriller. The hype continued this year with the news of Netflix picking up the movie as part of Nigerian films to debut on the streamer. A trailer accompanied this news to whet the appetite of movie fans. Thus, when ‘Òlòtūré’ finally premiered on the platform on October 2, it dominated trends on Twitter and on Netflix chart of Top Films in Nigeria as at the time of filing this report. The frenzy surrounding the film gave it a top-rated aura.

The Kenneth Gyang directed movie is an audacious attempt to unravel the world of prostitution in Nigeria, a theme that is not ubiquitous in the fictional world since the classic tale of ‘Domitila’. It tells the story of a naive journalist who is intrigued by the adventures of investigative journalism that she went undercover as a prostitute to expose the perpetrators of human trafficking.

Like the Enola Holmes character of the Netflix spy movie of the same title, Sharon Ooja who plays the titular character dons different togas. As a prostitute, she is known as Ehi, an attractive young lady who is envied by her peers. As a journalist, she is the bubbly and hardworking rookie who unknowingly has captivated the heart of her editor, Emeka (Blossom Chukwujekwu).

Gyang draws us into these two worlds with his delicate and seductive shots. He takes the viewer on a visual ride of the underworld of prostitution. From the grittiness of the night to the hustling of the day, his visuals are magnetic.

However, the narrative does not segue seamlessly. If anything, the intent of the characters is hastily revealed. For instance, Òlòtūré’s plan to leave Nigeria comes too early in the film without the viewer taking in her character. There is also an inconsistency in the day time. A particular scene shows Òlòtūré boarding a public bus at night time only to arrive at her destination in the daylight. Was the journey a long and tiring one or did she cool off somewhere before returning to the house she shares with other flesh hawkers? Notwithstanding, it manages to keep the viewers entertained as they follow the fate of the characters.

One of the beauties of Òlòtūré is the language. It is raw and authentic. Be advised to sanitize your ears before and after watching the almost two-hour-long movie. So also are the images. Nudity, drugs, cigarette smoking have a filled day in the flick.

At the heart of Òlòtūré is a story about hopelessness even if it comes in different hues. We see it in the fate of Òlòtūré who in her quest to be a heroine in storytelling ends up being a victim like her subjects. She was raped by a notable politician Sir Philip (Patrick Doyle) who throws lavish parties where immorality and drugs are dominant.

That painful experience hardened her heart and spurred her to take actions in her hands despite pleas from her editor to close the case. But Òlòtūré clings to the hope that she can make the lives of the prostitutes better, that she can disentangle them from the web of deceit. Her naivety will cost her dearly.

That same hopelessness is mirrored in the lives of the prostitutes. From the dream of Linda (Omowunmi Dada) to escape the shackles of poverty by travelling to Europe to the gullible Blessing (Lala Akindoju) longing to flee the abusive hands of her pimp Chuks (Ikechukwu Onunaku), who likewise is struggling for some relevance in a world that is dominated by digital dating apps.

Written by Yinka Ogun and Craig Freimond, the film attempts to illuminate the undergoing in the human trafficking world which is worth $150 billion globally. It shows what the impressionable ladies are subjected to in their pursuit of a better life. The objectification of their bodies and the ruthlessness they suffer in the hands of their traffickers. They are humans but to the traffickers, they are commodities. And the higher the quality, that is, virgins or forze speciali like they call them, the better for the traffickers.

Its trump card lies in the characters. They are diverse and almost peerless. From Alero (Omoni Oboli), the prostitute cum trafficker who disguises her profession with her textile trade to Beverly Osu non-speaking role.

While Òlòtūré boldness to depict the world of human trafficking in Nigeria is laudable, it still staggers in delivering a seamless story. It fails to show the interest of the journalist in pursuing that story. What’s her backstory?

The film is still streaming on Netflix.