Nigerian theatre director Ifeoma Fafunwa encourages women to tell the truth. The result is immensely powerful – and capable of changing deeply rooted prejudice and oppression.
‘I was tired of complaining,’ says Ifeoma Fafunwa. So after having worked as an architect for many years, Fafunwa embarked on a completely new path. Now, with her production company iOpenEye, she works to achieve social change through performance art.
Fafunwa’s play Hear Word! is a collection of monologues based on true-life stories of Nigerian women. ‘I was drawn to stories around this culture of silence,’ Fafunwa told The Guardian. ‘Many women experienced domestic violence or psychological abuse and did not share it with anyone.’ Fafunwa stages the play in communities throughout Nigeria. As stars of the show she finds local women, almost all of whom are scarred from experiences with sexual abuse or other forms of violence.
In the exciting documentary Mrs F. she takes the play to Makoko, the floating shanty town at the edge of Lagos. There Fafunwa works with a group of women brave enough to tell their stories on a stage in front of the whole community. She encourages the women not only to speak out, but to aim for leadership positions. ‘It’s a universal story about inequality,’ she explains, ‘but also a story about what the world would look like if equality did exist, if women were part of decision-making and leadership.’
With Hear Word! Fafunwa also wants men to finally start listening. ‘Men sometimes don’t really know the trail of destruction they leave behind,’ she told The Boston Globe. ‘[They] don’t think: “Every action I take may have an effect on my daughter or the young woman I am sleeping with or the woman I rape or the child I molest.”’ The impact of the play is big, Fafunwa has experienced since she started staging it: ‘I have seen evidence of women moving beyond barriers in surprising ways, moving out of homes because of the show, starting dialogues with questions they never would have asked before.’
Mrs F. premieres at the Movies that Matter Festival 2020, where Ifeoma Fafunwa will be present as a special guest.