Numbing her physical pain with the succour her children provide, and emotional pain with gracious laughter, Sista’s action visually embodies the stories of women who struggle to provide comfort for their children.
By Seyi Lasisi
In one of the deeply intimate scenes of Biodun Stephen-directed Sista, the eponymous Sista (Kehinde Bankole) is talking to her daughter, Anu (Chiamaka Uzokwe). Towards the end of this scene, her son (Akintoba Adeoluwa) returns from school: Nigerian universities are on another lap of prolonged hiatus. In this scene, Anu grumbles about her mother veering every conversation into a lecture to pass a moral lesson. Within a few seconds of watching, it’s easier to feel the tenderness that permeates the children-and-mother relationship. This observable bond seeps through their actions constantly. I left this scene with this thought: Sista is an on-screen version of my mother.
Sista begins in the past. Two young lovers are burdened with a responsibility: a pregnancy. From her reassuring words and calm posture, the lady is ready to accept the consequences of their love affair. For the boy, Fola, (Chiemezie Imo), it’s easier to see he isn’t inclined towards accepting this sudden responsibility thrown at him. This subtle trait, which this scene hints at, will manifest in their actions as they get older. The boy runs miles away from nurturing the fruits of their love affair. The girl throws herself into nurturing the children. By cowardly distancing himself from his fatherhood-related tasks, young Fola’s actions necessitate these questions: are men innately irresponsible? And does the biological bond women share with their fetuses instill in them a sense of passionate care and responsibility towards their babies when born?
It’s interesting to note at this point that rather than adopting a judgmental stance, similar to the one taken by the parents of young Fola and Victoria, Stephen, as writer-director, approaches the story with compassion. The economic reality of Fola and Victoria is dented with challenges but they find a way of easing this economic stress. Stephen directed the film with such understanding.
After the birth of her children, Sista’s mantra, like that of countless women, is to afford her children a life of ease. By constantly toiling and discomforting herself, Sista gradually achieves her intention for her children. Numbing her physical pain with the succour her children provide, and emotional pain with gracious laughter, Sista’s action visually embodies the stories of women who struggle to provide comfort for their children.
Human society is stratified into the elite and proletariat. The first scene of Sista, aside from showing how industrious the titular lead is, subtly captures the distrust between the rich and poor. Sista constantly alludes to “inventorying” prior to and after cleaning activities. She hints at how rich people stereotype poor people as thieves. In Sista’s relationship with Jemina, (Tope Olowoniyan) this wall of distrust has collapsed. Their relationship, though still dented with fragments of class difference (Jemina provides Sista with financial and material assistance), hints at something different. Their conversation isn’t the usual compulsive one between two people of varying social classes.
Deyemi Okanlawon is slowly building his portfolio as Nollywood’s go-to wife-beater and absentee father. The catalogue of films in his filmography is gradually securing him a spot as the on-screen definition of masculinity and toxicity. In Toyin Abraham Ajeyemi-directed Imade, his actions — beating and having non-consensual sex with his wife – as Jide is tainted with toxic masculinity. For Kayode Kasum’s experimental musical, Obara’M, he plays the role of a father who after discovering the existence of a child doesn’t want to be bothered with playing the role of a father. One must also not quickly forget his role as Kola Ademola in Blood Sisters. In the late Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang-directed series, when Ademola is away from public scrutiny, he physically batters his partners. Now in Sista, after more than a decade’s absence from his children’s lives, he wants to build a cordial relationship without experiencing hurdles. This action reeks of the entitlement mentality in many men. These actions point towards this: If Bankole is an on-screen representation of Nigerian women, then Okanlawon’s role as Fola is an on-screen representative of a large number of Nigerian men whose actions are guided by patriarchal-influenced manual and convention.
My passionate affinity with Bankole starts after watching Segi Ogidan-written and directed Tainted Canvas. Within the occasional scenes she appear in the film, her acting carries the definition of a loving and distant mother. With the recent conversation her real-to-life acting in Sista is generating, it becomes important to retrospect her filmography. In the Netflix Nigerian crime Blood Sisters, she is the scheming wife behind her husband’s (Gabriel Afolayan) move. Niyi Akinmolayan’s Prophetess is unmemorable for many things. But Bankole’s acting in the film is memorable. In these films and series, her acting easily inclines the audience at first glance to the significance of the characters she plays.
In recent Nollywood history, two scenes from two distinct films are safely stacked in my mind. Both scenes are monologues. The first monologue is in Jadesola Osiberu-directed Gangs of Lagos. In this monologue, Chioma Akpotha’s acting, as Mama Ify, captures the bereavement that trails the demise of a loved one. The other monologue is in Sista. And you guess right, Bankole is the actor. Unlike Mama Ify, Sista, who is occasionally called Vicky, hasn’t lost a loved one. But the gradual creeping in of her children’s once-lost-but-now-found father threatens her intimate relationship with her children. This monologue captures her protest against her children’s father’s actions. The two monologues reaffirm the range of the actresses.
Sista is layered with frequent flashbacks. However, it’s interesting to note that the numerous flashbacks aren’t just aimless detours from present reality. They are recourses to the past that guide us to understanding the present. Another interesting observation is that Stephen knows what she is aiming for, and the actors bring this intention to life in their distinct roles. Stephen understands the plight of the working-class Nigerian, and Sista is a testament to this assertion. The film is a repository of the daily heart-wrenching stories of many Nigerians.
(Sista is currently streaming on Prime Video.)
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.