Last year, a colleague invited me to contribute a chapter to a forthcoming book on representations of women in contemporary popular culture in Africa. For a very long time, I wondered what I was going to write about. I wanted to do my own theorizing; offer my own original reflection on my material. I wanted no part of the usual infliction of the keywords of postcolonial feminist theory on some random primary texts – a routine I could do easily and be on to the next solicited essay!
Somehow, I started collecting and archiving media interviews of Nigerian women in the arts – Nollywood actresses, singers, dancers, etc. I made a conscious decision to concentrate on interviews in the five-year stretch from 2010 – 2015. I collected interviews from the entertainment pages of regular newspapers – Vanguard, Punch, Guardian, ThisDay, etc. I collected samples from Encomium-type soft entertainment magazines. I checked out interviews in celebrity blogs. I have over a hundred interviews in my collection. The plan is to devote some time in the coming summer months to write the solicited chapter on questions of representation and agency in media interviews of Nigerian female artistes.
However, two recent tempestuous interviews with two of Nigeria’s most famous contemporary female musicians have caused a cultural tsunami and I find myself having to make an early op-ed intervention ahead of the theoretical reflections I shall be doing on my collection of interviews in the planned academic essay. In fact, some folks had wondered why I was silent on the Tiwa Savage interview last week. They thought I had elected to be in the camp of many of our folks who lamented the national focus on the marital woes of a singer at the expense of serious national issues.
No, I did not keep quiet because I believed that a female artiste’s marital woes are trivialities unworthy of commentary. I am a Professor of Literature and Culture. If it is happening in the arts, that is my domain. Besides, I invest a considerable amount of time in Nigerian current affairs. I just didn’t want to dabble into the very public and messy spat of a Nigerian celebrity musician and her celebrity husband in an op-ed because this man and woman thing is dangerous and mysterious.
Those running their mouths supporting one party against the other could wake up one day to viral photos of Tiwa Savage doing her husband’s bi-weekly haircuts herself after learning how to handle a clipper. Or they may wake up to viral photos of the suicidal husband proudly doing the cooking, looking for money to buy nappies and selling the Rolex to pay up his debt after kissing and making up with his wife. King Sunny Ade advised: “Oro oko pelu iyawo, oju Oluwa lo le to.” (Only God can decipher what transpires between husband and wife). That is why I stayed away from that one.
However, I noticed that Tiwa Savage and Omawumi were respectively interviewed by female journalists. This is what caught my attention. The over one hundred interviews I have archived were also conducted by male and female journalists alike. As I collected those interviews over the past few months, I have been struck by the consistent, almost formulaic nature of the questions. It doesn’t matter whether the journalist conducting the interview is male or female. Once the artiste being interviewed is female, the consistency of the questions is stunning.
You’d be forgiven to say that there is an unwritten manual for Nigerian journalists on how to interview female artistes. Because Nigerian journalists will not share this manual with the public, I have decided to do it on their behalf. I present to you the instruction manual that Nigerian journalists work from when interviewing female artistes. If in doubt, pick up any Nigerian newspaper tomorrow. If it features an interview with a female artiste, the journalist who conducted the interview would have read this manual:
Start with the obligatory questions about her body:
Are your boobs real?
What is your cup size?
How do you cope with men’s reaction to your boobs?
Do you bleach?
So this is your real skin tone?
Once you are done with the anatomical examination, you are ready for the next phase of the interview. This is where you ask questions meant to determine her level of cultural conformity. The questions you ask here will depend on her position relative to the norm in Nigerian society: man. She could either be married to him, not married to him or divorced from him.
If she is single, you ask:
Why aren’t you married?
You are still single at your age?
Do you attend singles’ fellowship in your church?
When do you hope to meet Mr. Right?
Will you be satisfied with Mr. Available?
If she is married, you ask:
When did your husband meet you? (It doesn’t matter if she is the one who met him)
When did he marry you? (It cannot be that she married him)
How are you coping on the home front?
How are you combining motherhood and your ‘wifely duties’ with your career?
How do you cope with competition from other women?
If she is divorced, you ask:
What did you do to make him leave you?
Were you accepting of his people?
Did you cheat on him?
Are you submissive?
Can you cook?
If he was abusive, should you not have stayed for the sake of your children?
If he agrees to take you back, will you go back to him?
Then comes the part when you remember that she is an artiste and the interview is supposed to be about her work, her art. Start with her working environment:
Have you ever slept with your manager?
Have you ever slept with your producer?
Can you trade your body for roles in movies?
Can you do a nude scene?
Conclude the interview with one or two questions about her work:
When do we expect your next movie?
When do we expect your next album?
Thank her for her time and tell her how much you have enjoyed interviewing her. Make small conversation about fuel scarcity and how difficult it is to maintain cars in Nigeria these days. She will get the message and give you a brown envelope containing your transport fare. If she pretends not to get it and lets you leave without an envelope, don’t worry. Just bury this interview. Don’t publish it. Sooner or later, she will have a scandal or she will release a movie or an album that flops. That is when she will hear from you in your headlines.