Beneath the initial veil of drudgery with which Beyond the Veil is clothed, there is an interesting journey-to-self with strong women at the wheel as they deal with work, family, love and friendship in a conservative society…

By Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku

Amazon Prime video is playing catch up with Nigerian television. It doesn’t help that their local marketing team is doing anything but a great job. And yet, if you’re lucky to discover any of the new Nigerian series that found their way to the platform during this first quarter of 2023, you just might have found a gem. Especially with Beyond the Veil, a warm, somewhat slow-burn drama series created by Nadine Ibrahim and Sifa Asani Gowon, and produced by Ajifa Atuluku.

The series follows three friends and two sisters of one of the friends as they navigate the different facets of relationships that life has to offer them. Jemima Osunde stars as Na’ima, a self care professional who puts up a bubbly front at home and at work but suffers from insomnia and falls apart when she’s alone. Maryam Booth plays Hanifa, an artist, wife and mother who wants to return to school despite opposition from her husband, Ahmadu (Rikadawa Rabiu Mohammed). Norah Ego is Badriya “Baddie,” a social media influencer who is too vain for her own good and who doesn’t get along with her sisters. Ame Aiyejina’s Zainab is a fiercely independent security personnel who lives with her grandfather (Norbert Young) and has a tortuous relationship with her parents. And Habiba Tanko Zock-Sock plays Surrayah, a herbologist finding her way around life after a failed marriage.

(Read also: How Netflix and EbonyLife’s A Sunday Affair Makes a Feeble Case for Female Friendships)

These five women share various connections, with Na’ima generally involved with practically all of them. Na’ima, Hanifa and Baddie are close friends. Surrayah is Baddie’s older sister and also works for Na’ima. Zainab is Baddie’s half-sister and the personal security attached to Na’ima’s mother (Ummi Baba-Ahmed), a government minister. Zainab also happens to be falling in love with Na’ima’s brother, Kassim (Caleb Richards). And Na’ima, herself, is in a relationship of sorts with Hanifa’s brother, Amir (David Adoga).

A show about liberal Northern women living and working in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, Beyond the Veil could not have come at a better time. Of course, it’s significant that it was released in the month of March, which some parts of the world have dubbed women’s history month, and only five days before International Women’s Day. But there’s additional context. On one hand is the current need to see a positive representation of Northern Nigeria in the midst of ethnic tensions stemming from Nigeria’s ongoing general elections. On the other hand, there’s the fact that Beyond the Veil is the latest in a spate of femicentric Nigerian productions that have specifically portrayed female friendships in the last year, from Showmax’s Flawsome to Netflix’s A Sunday Affair, and The Plan.

(Read also: The Plan Review: A Wonky Storyline Hinders the Prospects of an Enjoyable Watch)

Where many femicentric films and shows struggle is in finding a balance between the love lives of their female characters and the independence they so eagerly want the women to be identified with. They are rarely able to walk the fine line between representing non-traditional women as self-sufficient and portraying these women’s very human relationships with men, usually settling for portrayals that come off as mere posturing or as a façade. This is where Beyond the Veil stands out. Ibrahim and Gowon manage to present modern women in a conservative and deeply patriarchal society who relate with men on different levels without taking the focus of the story away from the women in favour of the men.

In Beyond the Veil, there is a woman who will do despicable things to get a man she’s in love with to love her back. There is a woman whose husband is standing between her and her dreams, and another whose vanity leads her into an abusive relationship. And there are women who fall in love with good men who love them back. Yet, somehow, these women are never overshadowed. The screenplay never takes the women out of focal point. The camera does not see the women through the eyes of the men. And even when men become the source of conflict, they never take up more space than they need to in the women’s stories — at least not enough that the show loses track of what it wants to say about each woman. The women of Beyond the Veil have individuality and audacity. They’re whole and nuanced. They are real and certainly familiar. And it’s not just the women. The men, too, are worth the screentime, and almost every character has a personality that you can comfortably invest in.

Beyond the Veil Poster

(Read also: Flawsome Review: Once Again, Nollywood Women Aren’t Independent of Masculine Convention)

But Beyond the Veil requires an ocean of patience. The first half of the season is so slow-paced that it’s almost impossible to get through. The series doesn’t sell itself in its first episode, and while the pacing speeds up from the third and fourth episodes, it doesn’t really get explosive until the season finale. Plus, the dialogue is sometimes too heavy with commentary, made even more tedious by the mostly weak acting. Osunde is thoroughly good at channelling Na’ima’s anxiety and balancing it against the vivacious front that Na’ima puts up publicly. And it’s interesting (more often than not) to watch Aiyejina dig into the vulnerable parts of Zainab despite her staunch composure. But most of the cast struggle to breathe life into their characters, making the scenes feel longer and the slow pacing painfully obvious.

When I started watching it, I was interested in where it appeared to be going, but it dragged so tautly and was delivered with so little enthusiasm that I quit a few scenes into the second episode. It would take a Twitter mutual, whose taste in films I very much admire, to convince me to give the series another chance. “Maybe it’s easier for me to follow because I’m interested in the characters. Or we’re just accustomed to fast-paced, conflict-filled drama,” she said to me. She’s probably right. After all, I put off Succession for a year, and Game of Thrones for even longer, because I found the pilot episodes too slow. But like the two HBO shows — specifically in the context of slow pilot episodes — Beyond the Veil is, indeed, a gem that justifies the patience.

However, if the pace is too discouraging, Beyond the Veil supplies enough distractions. The locations are so beautiful that even though the cinematography fails to accentuate them, they still grab your attention and hold on to it. The set design is so rich and neat and attractive that it practically flirts with you, and the exterior world of the show is clearly on a mission to attract migrants to Abuja. Or your eyes can feast on the gorgeous people and the equally beautiful wardrobe. If nothing else, that budding romance between Zainab and Kassim should pull at your heartstrings a little and keep you going long enough for the show to plant itself in your heart.

I really hope that this series is given a chance by viewers, and more vigour by the creators. Because beneath the initial veil of drudgery with which Beyond the Veil is clothed, there is an interesting journey-to-self with strong women at the wheel as they deal with work, family, love and friendship in a conservative society. Sometimes, slow and steady really does win the race, and this show is one more proof of that.

Rating: 3.3/5

(Beyond the Veil is streaming on Prime Video here.)


Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku, a film critic, writer and lawyer, currently writes from Lagos. Connect with her on Twitter @Nneka_Viv and Instagram @­_vivian.nneka.

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