AV Club: How Kayode Kasum’s film ‘This Lady Called Life’ examines verbal abuse at home
How verbal abuse can manifest in our adult years
How verbal abuse can manifest in our adult years
Last month, Kayode Kasum’s 2020 film ‘This Lady Called Life’ saw its digital release on Netflix Naija, eliciting positive reviews from the new set of viewers acquainted with the film. Viewers commented on the ways in which the director had dealt with parental abuse, anxiety, insecurities and more, all through the lenses of a single working mother trying to make it in life for her young son–who we later learn is actually begotten from sexual abuse.
Navigating life as a single mum fuels the actions and motivations of the lead character, Aiye (played by Bisola Aiyeola), however, the film’s main plot follows the budding love story between her and Obinna (played by Efe Iwara). It tracks how the pair handle the challenges coming their way while working through Aiye’s years of trauma, and ending in true Nollywood fashion with a wedding. While Nollywood is never lacking in its arsenal of love stories, the sub-plot that unpacks verbal and emotional abuse is worth giving this film a watch, as it tracks how these triggers can manifest in our adulthood.
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Our relationship with our parents and our primary family unit frames is our earliest source of socialisation during our formative years. It has a bearing on how we relate with the world, how we relate with other people, and most importantly, how we relate and view ourselves. In ‘This Lady Called Life’, we see that Aiye’s upbringing with a verbally abusive mother has scarred her and left her feeling unsure of herself and her abilities.
Aiye is a gifted cook. She knows beyond the rudimentary education of working as a professional cook but she’s been down on her luck struggling to make ends meet in a city like Lagos. But Aiye is buried in self-doubt about her capabilities. We see her constantly mulling over the actions she wants to take, but can’t. We hear the words she chooses not to say out loud to others around her. We see her dreams and her fears and the face she puts up to the people around her.
She even has nightmares of flopping on stage during her chef presentation while her entire family is in the audience. When Aiye takes centre stage to deliver her presentation, she chokes. She’s somehow gone mute and no matter how audible she tries to be, the angry crowd jeers and sneers at her, including her mum who’s front row to her worst nightmare armed with insults, make her feel worse. Because she has internalised years of criticism and berating from her mother, she’s constantly afraid of making any big steps in her life.
When Obinna signs her up for an audition for ‘Amateur Chef’, she almost self-sabotages her chances by reliving her nightmare in reality. During her audition, she stumps again just like her nightmares. She also has a lot of inner conversations where she doubts that she can be successful or make it in life. However, it’s constantly overthinking that almost ruins her chances to succeed.
In Michelle Obama’s Netflix documentary, ‘Becoming’, she points out that she was seen and heard while growing up, therefore when she went out into the real world and found that wasn’t the case for Black women, she struggled to understand why. For women like Aiye, she grew up being told she was a mistake and she was a failure at everything because she had a child out of wedlock. These words constantly ring in Aiye’s head when she grows up, negatively impacting the voice in her head so that she’s constantly putting herself down and feeling insecure about her abilities.
While Kayode Kasum examines the source of the scar, he does not go any further than this. We learn that her mum is traumatised coming from a family which never showed her love and validation because of the mistakes she made as a young woman. In her efforts to punish herself because of years of being told she was worthless, she distances herself from her children while they are growing up and becomes overbearingly abusive to them to steer them off the same path once followed. Her plan backfires because the more she lashes out at them with her words, the more they internalise and believe that they are not worth anything and neither Aiye nor her sister ever feels like she can confide in her mother when Aiye is raped and impregnated.
Nigerian parents: pic.twitter.com/JFGMRnRnF9
— isaac⚡️ (@GIAdedeji) July 20, 2020
Watching moments where Aiye’s mother (played by Tina Mba) lashing out insults in her native tongue, Yoruba is particularly hard to get through for any African child. For most of us, growing up was a series of verbal and physical punishments from parents, family members and even teachers. We see the effects in our society today where children have negatively reinforced all their lives and are unable to form a strong sense of identity as adults and an inability to question unfair treatment.
Aiye is able to confront her mum and stand up to her when it affects her son. When her mother physically assaults her son, Aiye lets out pent-up years of the anger of enduring the shame her mother felt towards her. It is a cathartic experience for her where she yells, “Your shame is your shame”, reclaiming years of her self-confidence lost to shrinking herself. However, this release is one-sided as Aiye’s mother only regrets her actions because her daughter reveals she was raped. She further apologises when she narrowly escapes death and realises the value of her daughter, Aiye’s life.
In parent-children relationships, it doesn’t have to get to the point of such a revelation for an adult to realise that they shape a child’s world view and frame how they would also relate with their own offspring. It’s a vicious chain that’s been known to cause depression, anxiety, anger, hostility and dissociative disorders in people. ‘This Lady Called Life’ is a recommended watch, especially as its Mental Health Awareness Month. At the NATIVE we encourage our community to seek out unhealthy patterns and foster healthier and safer communication skills with everyone around us.
To help you on your search, we’ve put below are a few websites to get you started on your journey of healing. Although they are not specifically tailored to the Nigerian experience, these websites have proven helpful to us, and we hope they will be to you also.
[Featured image credits/Netflix]