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“Momiwa” Review: Family is Redefined in the Biodun Stephen-Directed Drama

“Momiwa” Review: Family is Redefined in the Biodun Stephen-Directed Drama

Momiwa beautifully illustrates that the true essence of family lies in the sincere efforts and unwavering love extended by those who surround us.

By Joseph Jonathan 

Nigerian director Biodun Stephen has solidified her place as one of Nollywood’s consistent filmmakers, carving a niche in the drama genre. Her rich repertoire boasts romantic dramas such as Breaded Life (2021), A Simple Lie (2022), and Big Love (2023), alongside family dramas like Introducing the Kujus (2020), Sista (2023) and more recently, Momiwa. With a keen eye for storytelling and a knack for capturing the intricacies of human relationships, Stephen’s films resonate deeply with audiences, showcasing her versatility and creative vision within the ever-changing landscape of Nollywood.

Momiwa begins in the past. The cries of two siblings locked in an apartment have attracted the attention of neighbours as they frantically try to get the door opened. They’re about to break down the door when the children’s father rushes in with a key. In the present, we’re introduced to Momiwa/Chinonso (Blessing Jessica Obasi-Nze) who now lives as a housekeeper with the children who we know as Abel (Michael Akpujiha) and Vida (Precious Udoh). Momiwa has been a presence in the family for over ten years, since their mother, Kiki (Iyabo Ojo), absconded (hence their being locked up in the opening scene). Things seem to have turned around as the family now lives in a tastefully furnished apartment, unlike the shabby one where they were locked in, and their father, Naeto (Uzor Arukwe), now looks well-groomed, unlike his former unkempt self. 

Momiwa | Biodun Stephens film review| Afrocritik

Momiwa has a rather close-knit relationship with both father and children. In fact, it was difficult to decipher the nature of her relationship with them at first, given the motherly manner in which she prays for the children and how she helps Naeto pick out his clothes for work. Through this close-knit relationship, the film tries to impress upon its audience that family can sometimes transcend blood ties. And like the Bible says “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”. Here, Momiwa, despite not being blood-related, takes care of the children as her own, perhaps better than a mother could. However, the return of the prodigal mother threatens the peace of the family as she tries to forcefully assert her authority as the “madam” of the house — a title that Momiwa now carries —  setting off tension for everyone in the family. 

Kiki’s actions mirror the realities of many families where wives who feel threatened by their (female) housekeepers resort to ill-treatment as a means to “put them in their place”. This has become a pervasive issue not just in Nigeria but in other African societies. For instance, in Zimbabwe, a 14-year-old maid was assaulted by her employer for allegedly snatching her husband. Similarly, there is no shortage of news reports on maids’ maltreatment in Nigeria. However, the time and resources invested in this ill-treatment seem misplaced, as that energy could have been used instead to bring the family unit closer. For instance, in the scene where Vida discovers that her menstrual pads are finished (because Momiwa hadn’t stocked them), she gets a strong reprimand from Kiki who still makes no effort to get said products for Vida. It is actions such as these that put a strain on the relationship between absentee parents and their families while strengthening the bond between those present  — and in this case,  it is the maid who is more available. 

One key characteristic of Stephen’s films is that they try to touch the emotional core of audiences and Momiwa toes that path with moderate success. It achieves this through the use of flashbacks which builds the backstory of each character and helps the audience understand their motivations. For instance, audiences can relate to Naeto’s initial refusal to allow Kiki back into his life because of how she treated him in the past. In fact, while watching the film, I’d hoped that there would be no reconciliation between Kiki and Naeto. 

Part of the strengths of Momiwa is in the acting performances. Arukwe, being a frequent collaborator with Stephen, delivers a commendable performance as Naeto. He elicits the emotions required of him at any given time: exasperation when he runs home to open the door for his children, and anger when he sees Kiki for the first time since she absonded. Another frequent collaborator of Stephen is Obasi-Nze, who gives a good account of herself as Momiwa. Although she falters sometimes with her cringe Igbo accent, she does well to deliver an emotional performance when required, particularly in the scene where she faces off with Kiki. The pleasant surprise for me was Ojo as Kiki, perhaps because I haven’t seen a lot of her films. However, she does well to portray the frustration of a wife who feels threatened by her maid. Her performance could be enough to dislike her in real life, which in this case is good as she’s the villain of the story. 

Momiwa poster 1 jpg

See Also
2024 Pan African Film & Arts Festival - Afrocritik

Momiwa is a worthy addition to Stephen’s growing repertoire of compelling drama films, showcasing her directorial prowess and narrative finesse. At its core, the film presents a profound lesson that transcends conventional notions of family, challenging the belief that familial bonds are solely defined by blood ties. Instead, Momiwa beautifully illustrates that the true essence of family lies in the sincere efforts and unwavering love extended by those who surround us.

Rating: 2.8/5

(Momiwa is showing on Prime)

Joseph Jonathan is a historian who seeks to understand how film shapes our cultural identity as a people. He believes that history is more about the future than the past. When he’s not writing about film, you can catch him listening to music or discussing politics. He tweets @JosieJp3.

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