Zina Saro-Wiwa - Phyllis (2010)

This year, I've been very intentional about reading works only by women of color, especially Black and African women. I've extended this to include all forms of art. This week I went searching for African women filmmakers and found this short film by British-Nigerian video artist + filmmaker - Zina Saro-Wiwa. A founder filmmaker of the alt-Nollywood movement, Saro-Wiwa draws connections between Nollywood filmmaking tropes, food, faith, the blurred lines of identity politics and emotional landscapes. Her short film Phyllis focuses on a lonely woman living in Lagos, Nigeria who is obsessed with Nollywood dramas. The film explores the significance of wig-wearing in Nollywood film and critiques the stereotypes associated with being a single woman in Nigeria. Other underpinning themes include loneliness and mental illness.

"Phyllis, this character, is an obsessive. She’s mute and she lives in this one room. She’s obsessed with Nollywood and the emotions and passion she sees within these films, and she has Nollywood posters everywhere. She’s a Christian, and she has these plastic Jesus clocks all over her two rooms. She lives alone. She’s a single woman. And I think with Nollywood, women like that, they’re called “ashawo” — which literally means “wayward woman.” Women who are single are seen as a threat somehow. But ultimately, Phyllis represents the gap between our true essence and the plasticity — represented by plastic flowers, knick-knacks and furnishings, and the performative emotiveness that exists in Nigeria. Phyllis is trying to access what she perceives as humanity through the wigs, through synthetic representations of Jesus, and through Nollywood. They are short-term hits, and she is ultimately doomed to a cycle of longing and short-term satisfaction." - Zina Saro-Wiwa (on the meaning behind her short film Phyllis)


*images above are photographic works created alongside the film