Mixed reactions trail Nancy Isime’s body double revelation in Netflix’s ‘Shanty Town’

women are given limited spaces to occupy in society

Our reactions to nudity in cinema ranges from empowering to discomfiting. For a very long time in Hollywood, it was impossible to show nudity onscreen. There were regulations and censors set in place which monitored films closely for explicit content, flagging costumes that were too revealing or shots that were too leering for audiences. Nowadays, the times have now changed and films and television such as ‘Euphoria’ and ‘Sex Lives Of College Girls,’ are normalising on-screen nudity to further its plot and relationship between characters.


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A post shared by Nancy.E.Isime (@nancyisimeofficial)

However, when the lens of cinema is narrowed down to Africa, nudity is still widely divisive for both viewers and production teams. Over the weekend, Nigerian actress Nancy Isime shared a post to her Instagram account, informing viewers that the nude scene she recorded as Shalewa in Netflix Naija’s latest underworld drama 6-part drama series, ‘Shanty Town’, was filmed with a body double. Body doubles are an essential part of the filming and production process for many reasons, one of which is protection against physical and verbal backlash of an actor.

For anyone who has watched the new Dimeji Ajibola-directed series, which arrived last Friday, you’d already know that it follows the story of Lagos-born hustlers who unite to wage war against the biggest and most ruthless crime ring in the city, which draws its wealth and connections from the underground ‘burbs of Shanty Town. As the first official African original offering from Netflix this year, expectations were sky high for the action-packed drama which featured Nollywood veterans such as Sola Sobowale, Ini Edo and Richard Mofe-Damijo alongside names such as Isime’s, Mercy Eke, Nse-Ikpe Etim, Peter Okoye and more. However, the moment has seemingly been shaded by conflating reactions to nudity in Nollywood.

In the days since the show’s release, Isime’s post on social media has been received with mixed reactions by audiences across the country. For one, Isime’s announcement on social media was a result of several viewers of the new series sharing derogatory comments on social media, and talking down on the actress for appearing nude on a platform such as Netflix. Some had gone as far as to screen record clips of the nude scene and share and disseminate on social media.

On the other hand, Isime’s post served as means to educate the general public about the realities of acting and working with body doubles. In a follow-up comment on the post, Isime further shared “If there weren’t thousands of horny tweets and comments talking about how they’ve finally seen Nancy’s breast. The need to educate people won’t have come up…It’s been Western public knowledge for years and unless an actor or actress really was the one in the nude scene, she or he doesn’t have to talk about it because the public chooses to focus on what’s important. Most times, they can tell. This is new to Nigerians I understand.”

For a large number of viewers, it is understandable why Isime had to get ahead of the backlash and seize her story by announcing the use of a body double. In Africa, there’s no denying that nakedness attracts raised eyebrows from a society which always debates the display of nudity in public spaces—often from a derogatory standpoint. While no one is arguing for nudity to become the order of the day, it’s hard to divorce the current conversation from the perceived roles that women are expected to play in society: the saint and the slut. We’re given limited spaces to exist and show up in society, such that any woman who doesn’t strictly conform to purity culture has breached the moral fabric and should be shunned.

Nudity is a natural part of the human experience and should not attract shame and attention to the actor, given that she is playing a role set in a world where she sells her body to make ends meet. Informed viewers are aware that Isime is merely playing a role, and should not be the subject of indignation for embodying her character and its accompanying travails.

The rise of criticism on social media, where everyone’s an expert, is a double-edged sword, especially in cases with delicate subject matters such as this. While it might be common sense not to disseminate nude clips and videos of people online, there’s no denying that these conversations serve as learning curves for a large number of society, who otherwise would have diminished a woman for exercising her right to body autonomy. It’s conversations such as this that remind us that we have a long way to go in dismantling and disrupting dangerous societal norms. In the meantime, our focus should really be on celebrating the new Netflix Naija original which showcases fine talent and a tightly-packed plot woven around themes such as betrayal, crime, politics, sex work, displacement and more.

Watch ‘Shanty Town’ on Netflix Naija here.