What is the worth of a womb? In Chika Anadu’s feature debut, B for Boy, a woman’s womb becomes the source of great expectation for the birth of a son. It also becomes the source of great disdain, frustration, and stigma. Anadu explores the idea that a woman, her womb and a birth could somehow be wrong if a boy is not born. It is an honest, affecting portrayal of the ways that culture, religion, and patriarchy combine to both taint and question the very natural birthing process.
Amaka, played powerfully by newcomer Uche Nwadili, is an affectionate, independent wife and mother living in a contemporary middle class Nigerian community. She is seven months pregnant, but is resistant to get an ultrasound, to the dismay of her mother-in-law. She comes home from work and greets a Nigerian cleaning lady and young daughter in a house full of long walls and strange angles.
Soon, the pressure increases and her mother-in-law (Ngozi Nwaneto) warns that the birth of a son is the only chance to carry on their family name and legacy. If no son is born, Amaka’s husband Nonso (Nonso Odogwu) should take a second wife. The potential second wife- a younger, smaller Nigerian woman- abruptly shows up for breakfast one morning, upsetting Amaka. It is a scene of great humor and also sadness.
After all, Amaka and Nonso are shown to have a happy marriage and neither want to ruin it, so why would they? When Amaka finally gets an ultrasound and learns the baby is a boy, she beams with happiness, for her womb will be celebrated.
Soon after, she has a miscarriage. Her face is a canvas of confusion and anguish as the doctor explains that there’s no cause for the placental infection that damaged her womb. Shot mostly in a close profile, it is a deeply felt scene. Though the miscarriage is not her fault, there is the overwhelming expectation and tradition that will say it was.
In B For Boy, Chika Anadu makes a film that both critiques traditional customs and people who adhere to them, and also elevates their complexity, similar to Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George, which explores a Nigerian couple’s intimate struggle to conceive a child amidst cultural pressures. These are films about the ways that humanity and culture clash, with women bearing the brunt of the blame and mother-in-laws evoking distress in the name of tradition.
At almost two hours in length, the movie seems intent on showing the extent to which Amaka will go to conceal the truth of her miscarriage, but some scenes seem to belabor the point. A scene in which Amaka touches her childless stomach in a cracked mirror was all I needed to understand her plight. It was strangely fascinating to watch her perform a fake pregnancy, but it is also a bit frustrating, perhaps intentionally. We naturally want to proclaim that is not Amaka’s fault, that she should not to have be rejected from her community, and that having a girl is not wrong, but we can’t. So, we watch as she does what she has to do to redeem her womanhood, and her womb.
B for Boy screens at the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), which kicked off last night, running February 6-17, 2014.