The first part of the film is explicit in its depiction of sexual violence, teasing the audience to assume that the rape perpetrators will experience a cruel punishment. But, when the concluding part commences, there are no consequences in sight for the rapist.
By Seyi Lasisi
When trailers and promotional contents of the Jay Franklyn Jituboh-directed The Origin: Madam Koi Koi were making rounds in media spaces, it unearthed a feeling of nostalgia for those familiar with the West African folklore. For viewers who attended boarding schools, they may have been reminded of the regimented ways of dormitory lives. For others, it could simply have been the overbearing presence of callous seniors from secondary school days. But whether one attended boarding school or not, the urban legend of Madam Koi Koi or Lady Koi Koi, the nocturnal feminine spirit with pointed red heels who fancies boarding school dormitories and haunts corridors with the “koi koi” sound from her shoe, sends chills and thrills into the hearts of impressionable students.
Co-written by Jituboh and Boladale Falola, the two-part film explores this deep-rooted myth using the story of adolescents Amanda (Martha Ehinome) and the all-male quartet: Lashe (Chuks Joseph), Idowu (Iremide Adeoye), Tokunbo (Kevin T. Solomon), and Ejiro (Ejiro Onojaife), who are all students of a boarding school in Malomo village. The four boys are supposedly the epitome of academic excellence, and their victory at school competitions helps the school’s fame and keeps the school afloat. With the boys’ continuous academic achievements, Mother Superior (Ireti Doyle), the headmistress’ troubles with the State Education Board’s decision to take over the school are temporarily solved. But the boys’ fame goes beyond their academic prowess. They also have a history of sexual violence against the female students, one that the chatty Edna (Nene Nwanyo) is familiar with, and in one of the opening scenes, we are made privy to how the boys sexually assault Ibukun (Ejito Onojaife), another student.
A decade prior to this incident, Sister Rosemary (Omowunmi Dada), one of the school teachers, is violently raped and killed by three men. The aftermath of their act invites the presence of a vengeful spirit to envelope the almost-lifeless body of Sister Rosemary. This spirit, as the film will have us believe, has one aim: to mangle rape perpetrators, and Sister Rosemary becomes its conduit. Although Mother Superior is unaware of the spiritual undertones of the murders in the village, she is aware of the deaths. The plot development sets up Mother Superior as a headmistress experiencing multiple pressures from an omniscient Father John and the State Education Board. All through the run time of the film, Mother Superior’s actions disunites with the religious dogma she’s supposed to be a custodian of. News of death keeps filtering into the school, but she keeps denouncing its connection with the school to Detective Theopulius (Deyemi Okonlawon) and Oscar (Baaj Adebule). But Baba Fawole (Jude Chukwuka), the school’s security officer, familiar with the age-long pattern of the killing is quick to recognise it.
Through a series of lengthy flashbacks, the film connects the patterned killing to the vengeance-seeking spirit of a woman killed innocently in Malomo in the past, and herein lies one of the dilemmas of the second part of the film. The first part of the film is explicit in its depiction of sexual violence, teasing the audience to assume that the rape perpetrators will experience a cruel punishment. But, when the concluding part commences, there are no consequences in sight for the rapist. Madam Koi Koi, despite the detailing of its opening part, falls prey to a prominent issue in Nollywood: how filmmakers constantly treat sexual assault as a narrative device.
Before The Origin: Madam Koi Koi, there is the Tolu Lordtanner-directed A Young Time Ago and Uyoyou Adia’s written and directed Hey You with a similar disposition. But, Madam Koi Koi takes it a step forward to graphically detail scenes of sexual violence. The cinematography makes a point of compelling our eyes to witness the traumatic acts. The film is explicit in showing the rape scenes but not meticulous enough in meting out justice. In all of these films, the repercussions of sexual assaults are treated lightly and casually. Despite how graphical all these portrayals are, the consequences aren’t as vividly displayed. In recent Nollywood history, only the Biodun Stephen-directed Wildflower presents a nuanced treatment of the criminal acts of sexual assault. In the film, despite the top-tier position of the rapist in society, we witness him being brought to justice through the concerted efforts of the women he assaulted.
What Madam Koi Koi does, with its flashbacks, is reiterate how society casually addresses sexual abuse and the treatment of women who are perceived as “witches” in Africa. Although the film does give the rapist “crushing judgment”, the intention to punish them is not particularly because of their criminal deeds, but simply to restore peace and order in the troubled village.
The Origin: Madam Koi Koi sets itself up as a horror flick but, except on a few occasions, does not adequately capture that gore. There is little that hints at horror, save for the red filter that announces Madam Koi Koi’s presence, a few mutilated bodies, and students’ bodies dripping with blood. For a film which should rely heavily on scare and fright, it depends more on the conflicted stories of the characters to hastily move it to the finish line.
However, there are noteworthy aspects of the film, a lot of which are carried on by the actors. Doyle gives commendable acting with her intimidating presence as the conflicted Mother Superior who often overwhelms those who scrutinise her methods. Chuks’ acting as Lashe is different from the quotidian performance we see in Nollywood. Chuks understands how to place the emotional depth of a role he plays, not on his dialogue or actions, but on his facial expressions, which often carry the emotions of his character.
With the kind of social media attention Madam Koi Koi has attracted, one thing is sure, Nollywood has a thriving audience and viewership among Nigerian audiences. And there is a palpable stan-like culture being built around Nollywood actors who give laudable on-screen performances. With more Nigerians convinced of the need to watch Nollywood films, filmmakers are encouraged to be deliberate in how they address different subject matters in their stories.
(The Origin: Madam Koi Koi is streaming on Netflix)
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.