*CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Violence, Sex Trafficking*
Set in Lagos, Nigeria, Òlòturé (meaning endurance in Yoruba) revolves around a female journalist going undercover as a prostitute to expose Nigeria’s sex trafficking trade.
The film highlights the very real issue of sex trafficking in Lagos, with a trade horrifically worth 150 billion dollars. The Global Slavery Index estimates that over 1,386,000 people are living in the terrifying entrapment of modern day slavery. Òlòturé is a hugely important film in depicting the lives of sex trafficking victims. Director Kenneth Gyang’s choice to use a female journalist creates a different relationship with these women. Òlò (Sharon Ooja) can relate emotionally to these women, by experiencing this torturous lifestyle first-hand − and her character is based on a real story. The film’s plot is heavily influenced by award-winning Nigerian journalist Tobore Ovuorie, a courageous investigative journalist who risked her life to investigate this criminal trade that’s hidden from Nigerian society.
Òlòturé shows the female victims of modern slavery to be cut off from the real world. They are forbidden to have communication with anyone or have any privacy. The violent rituals in the film’s trafficking ‘bootcamp’ show these women being tortured, abused, and told they must be seen as a ‘forza speciale’ (meaning ‘special force’) in order to attract clients. The animalistic treatment of Òlò and these women makes us uncomfortable and reflect on how this is not just a journalist’s report, but a trade that destroys lives.
From the very opening of the film, the lines between trafficking and prostitution are blurred. Òlò is seen to get out of a car with her fellow colleague and join what appears to be a group of women negotiating prices for sex. Òlò’s male colleague assures her ‘as long as you know this isn’t the real you,’ that she will be ok, despite not agreeing with her perilous plan entirely. Being the only woman in her workplace, we see her to be an example of breaking boundaries in her field. She is told that she has ‘more bravery than sense’ when wanting to cover the world of sex trafficking through a prostitute’s perspective. Her brave journalism is beyond commendable and illustrates how tenacious Òlò is to expose the modern-day slavery that lurks beneath our seemingly civilised society.
The film illustrates how easy it is to be a victim of trafficking, as well as the psychological, physical, financial, and emotional abuse women in this situation go through. The reporter is no longer reporting but becomes the story. After being abused and exploited herself, Òlò must investigate further. Òlò is no longer a spectator, but a victim to this terror, and must endure the same pain as these women to bring down the parties involved. When her colleague tries to take her story, she fights to keep it. Òlò takes control of her story and becomes a voice for those women who cannot speak.
The depiction of sisterhood between the women in the film is wholesome. Despite living in a violent and exploitative lifestyle, we see the women to look out for one another. There is a shared sense of community as Òlò and the other women fight for a sense of freedom. The older and more experienced women in this lifestyle give advice, and a shoulder to cry on for the newer and younger girls that have been exploited by pimps. The theme of sisterhood is important in the film, as it validates the women’s experiences. They are all seen, heard, and appreciated by other women. Òlò gains comfort from being around people that have endured what she has, from her all-male workforce to her new colleagues.
Ultimately, the film makes Òlò and the audience grateful for the lives we live. We applaud her brave journalism in exposing such a horrific trade, and making these women heard. The film ends with the display of the eye-opening statistics of the trafficking trade, as we walk away sympathising with the strength of these women and the pain inflicted upon them every day.
Òlòturé is available to stream on Netflix now
by Hia Alhashemi
Hia Alhashemi (she/her) is an undergraduate studying English Literature, Film and Television at Aberystwyth University. Her favourite films include Shrek 2, Black Swan and Joker.