B for Boy: London Review

"B for Boy"
A powerful examination of maternity and family life in Nigeria’s male-dominated culture.

This festival-friendly Nigerian drama tracks a middle class woman's desperation when her inability to produce a male heir threatens her marriage.

First-feature director Chika Anadu delivers an effective, moving drama about a wealthy Nigerian woman who, after a miscarriage leaves her infertile, attempts to illegally buy another woman’s unborn child in order to produce a son in B for Boy. Much more arthouse in spirit than the usual sort of “Nollywood” fare, it represents an eminently exportable property for festivals, especially those wishing to showcase new African cinema. Adventurous distributors in territories with substantial diaspora populations might want to check this out, even if its earnings are unlikely to be anything more than niche. Anadu, meanwhile, makes a mark for herself here with her confident handling of actors and technique.   

Amaka (Uche Nwadili), the formidable protagonist, seems to have it all. Seemingly somewhere in her late thirties, with a high-ranking job in television, a fancy apartment in Lagos, a loving, rich and modern-minded husband (Nonso Odogwu), an adorable daughter young daughter, and another child on the way in a few months’ time, it would seem life couldn’t get much better for this modern Nigerian woman. However, the familial joy, especially from her in-laws, that greets the news that her next child will be a boy suggests that more traditional, intensely patriarchal attitudes are still a powerful force in her life.

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While her husband Nonso on business is away one week, Amaka suddenly discovers her child has died in utero, and she’s forced to go through physically and emotionally painful process of giving birth to the stillborn infant. Suffering through the experience entirely alone, she tells no one what’s happened. As luck would have it, sometime earlier a friend from the health-service leant Amaka a cloth body suit, complete with swollen fake breasts and a weighted belly bump. Amaka was supposed to give it to Nonso to help him develop empathy for what his wife is going through during pregnancy, but she never did. By strapping the undergarment on like suit of protective armor, and wearing flowing caftan-like dresses, she can disguise the fact that she’s lost the child and buy more time. Adding on pressure, she knows that if she doesn’t produce an heir, her village-reared mother-in-law has a second wife already lined up for Nonso in order to save the family reputation. (A very similar plotline featured in the recent Half of a Yellow Sun, also set in Nigeria/Biafra.)

With the clock ticking down towards the due date, Amaka seeks out a desperate measure. Through a shady go-between, she arranges to buy a newborn from poor pregnant woman named Joy (Frances Okeke) who is due to give birth about the same time Amaka was. At first Amaka treats Joy with imperious coldness, much like she does her own house servants and underlings at work. But when Joy’s partner suddenly does a bunk and leaves her alone and frightened, Amaka shows a more maternal side, caring for the young woman, even becoming friends in a way.

Grounded in the realities of contemporary Nigerian culture but never hectoring or crudely didactic, B for Boy makes it clear that it’s mostly on Amaka’s side but admirably doesn’t make her too sympathetic. She’s one tough cookie, determined to get what she wants by any means necessary. Uche Nwadili’s outstanding performance as Amaka strikes just the right balance in service of the script. She has an incandescent smile that could light up a house, but a ferocious set brow when angry and intricately expressive eyes, always making her character’s hidden feelings known with the slightest flicker of expression. The rest of the supporting cast also impress, refraining from the overplayed dramatics that makes most Nollywood films strange and inaccessible to Western audiences.

Mostly shot on handheld cameras by AFI-alumni Monika Lenczewska, the visuals have a quietly nervous energy that resonates particularly well with Enis Rotthoff’s brooding, ominous score.

Venue: London Film Festival (First Feature competition)

Production: No Blondes Productions

Cast: Uche Nwadili, Nonso Odogwu, Ngozi Nwaneto, Frances Okeke, Iheoma Opara

Director: Chika Anadu

Screenwriter: Chika Anadu

Producers: Chika Anadu, Arie Esiri

Executive producers: Ijeoma Jatto, Ogheneochuko Esiri, Ifeoma Esiri, Albert Esiri, Didi Esiri, Dele Alakija, Dundun Peterside, Atedo Peterside

Director of photography: Monika Lenczewska

Production designer: Anthony Prince Tomety

Editor: Simon Brasse

Music: Enis Rotthoff

No rating, 114  minutes

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