‘Citation’ Review: A Compelling Examination of Sexual Assault on a Nigerian College Campus

The Netflix drama spotlights a pressing issue that goes well beyond the country's borders.

Netflix’s latest Nigerian Original, “Citation,” is a sobering drama about sexual assault on college campuses, allegedly based on true events. Though hardly the first missive against this widespread problem, it provides a west African angle rarely seen by the rest of the world, told in stark, compelling terms. By depicting an environment where rape culture has been normalized due to oppressive assumptions related gender and sexuality, director Kunle Afolayan delivers an unflinching wakeup call that extends well beyond Nigeria’s borders.

The story centers on smart and determined college student Moremi (Temi Otedola), who accuses celebrated professor Lucien N’Dyare (a charismatic Jimmy Jean-Louis) of sexual assault. Much of the ensuing drama unfolds as an unnerving tribunal, as university authorities listen to testimony from Moremi, N’Dyare, and other witnesses and advocates.

Moremi’s allegations aren’t exactly taken as gospel from the start, as the trial quickly devolves into a he-said-she-said dynamic. Flashbacks reveal Moremi’s life and community, foregrounding the many complexities of her claim as the true nature of her experience comes to light. This is no “Rashomon”-style narrative ambiguity here: N’Dyare, a professor admired and highly respected by his students and peers, is clearly guilty. The movie explores this truth in stark detail, as cinematographer Jonathan Kovel’s slick camerawork provides a steady immersion into eerie nature of the university’s self-contained world, where every passing gaze leads to a mounting sense of paranoia for the victim and her role in a community designed to mistrust her complaints.

Moremi’s relationship with her professor began from a place of innocence, when he claims not to know how to drive a car with manual transmission, and she agrees to teach him. That seemingly innocuous exchange leads to an unexpected field trip to Senegal, where their dynamic enters a more disturbing phase.

Meanwhile, Moremi’s romantic relationship with medical student Koyejo (Gabriel Afolayan) shifts from tender to volatile as he becomes uncomfortable with the role of the professor in her life, as she grows uncertain about her options. That unseemly situation culminates with a house party at the teacher’s home, and particularly ugly set of circumstances that the filmmaker lays out in enough detail to leave nothing up for debate.

Yet as Moremi shares her story with the tribunal and N’Dyare’s status and credentials abet his lies, it’s her credibility that comes into question; “Citation” works best when it hovers in the infuriating skepticism hurled at its young protagonist as she makes her case, and it’s unclear whether the system will work in her favor until the final, unnerving act.

Moremi’s story unfolds against a rich tapestry of daily Nigerian life. At two hours and 30 minutes, the movie does have a tendency to lag (one lengthy concert sequence drags on). But with its alarming subject at its center — Otedola’s complex embodiment of the anger and frustration at hand — “Citation” eventually maintains a complex emotional arc throughout.

Afolayan’s previous films include the groundbreaking Nigerian horror movie “Araromire” (AKA “The Figurine”), and he’s one of a handful of internationally-known Nigerian filmmakers pushing for a new kind of Nollywood cinema — specifically one that can compete in the international film marketplace. And as audiences continue to see more of these cross-continental, pan-Africanist collaborations — between African American, Black British and African writer/directors — that movement is bearing some essential fruit.

Grade: B

“Citation” is now streaming on Netflix.

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