There’s a funny scene in Omoni Oboli’s Wives on Strikes: The Revolution where Sola Sobowale, who plays the Iyaloja of the Areja Market Women Association, passionately tells her fellow aggrieved market women in an outdoor meeting to starve their husbands of sex. “No more janglova! No more up and down!” she incites the women, “We are going to lock upppppppp!”
The reason for this drastic move isn’t funny, though. They are protesting domestic violence against women, the ones who have died from it and the ones whose lives are in current danger. They have had enough and want the state government to intervene. Their impending strike is the only way they can be reactive. As a heavy-handed social commentary on domestic violence, Oboli’s sequel to the first volume released in 2016 throws a nod to the Aba Women’s Riots of 1929, an anti-colonial revolt organised by women to redress social, political and economic grievances.
The Revolution delves into a feminist politics about survival and visibility,and told from the nuanced viewpoints of the wealthy, educated Vera (Chioma Chukwuka-Akpotha), the logical, reserved Iya Amina, (Ufuoma McDermott), the effervescent, semi-literate Jemima (Uche Jumbo), the politically-inclined Ejiro (Omoni Oboli), and the goofy, loquacious Mama Bola (Toyin Abraham). Their lives are simple but interesting, revolving around the familiar domesticity of house keeping and the internalized neuroses that comes with it. Oboli deftly handles the triple task of producing, directing and writing the screenplay of this passion project; she builds the story around a death – Mama Beatrice, a market woman, is accidentally murdered by her husband during a physical assault on her and the man thinks has successfully covered up her death but, unbeknownst to him, his teenage daughter Beatrice witnessed it all and is burdened with the secret.
It all feels subtly noirish. In another household, Chigurl plays the docile wife to another violently-tempered man (Odunlade Adekola) who she calls “Daddy.” She’s had three miscarriages as a result of the intense domestic hostility and has never thought of leaving the marriage, not made obvious to the audience anyway. She gives the daily profits from her livelihood to her husband, and even the money her sister-in-law cheerfully gives her for “taking care of her brother” is snatched from her hands. Uncharacteristically, in one of their quarrels, she resists being bullied and smacks her husband unconscious with a frying pan. It’s one of the most satisfying moments in the film, this resistance to patriarchal male authority that has allowed to go on for so long but, taken together, the problem with The Revolution is that it doesn’t present its female characters with the choice to abandon such toxic marriages.
And perhaps this is deliberate on Oboli’s part. The stoicism of these wounded women is rooted in a sharp cultural reality that prioritizes the preservation of marriage over their humanity. In the recent past, the news cycle was populated with stories of victims of domestic violence, women who didn’t survive and became obituaries. Sometimes, walking away from the stifling violence can also be a show of strength and not weakness. But popular culture likes to make women strong when they necessarily don’t have to be. The 2002 Michael Apted thriller Enough has Slim (Jennifer Lopez) taking up martial arts training so she can face her abusive husband in a battle. The 2012 psychological thriller Damage shows Sarah (Uche Jumbo) enduring repeated assaults from Taiwo (Kalu Ikeagwu) in times when the atmosphere rapidly changes from love to hate.
Beyond that, The Revoltuion’s social theme in domestic violence is cushioned by a dependable comic engine, as if to make its raison d’être easy to swallow. Its male characters aren’t totally relegated; they are, whenever we see them, always contemplating the actions of the women in their lives and how it affects them. With The Revolution, Oboli makes us understand that women have the power and not necessarily physical strength, but one of sheer will and agency and that men must be held accountable for their own actions. Towards the end of the film, Beatrice visits her father in prison after testifying against him. The scene is emotionally wrenching. They hold hands across the table and it’s the last time they would make physical contact, and we know this because Beatrice tells her father so. “I want to see you and your younger ones grow,” he pleads with her. But Beatrice stands up with tears in her eyes and pauses, then says defiantly, “No. You deserve it.”