Ransome-Kuti’s extraordinary life


Generations of schoolchildren have grown up being taught that Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria. However, the director of a new film about this pioneering women’s rights activist believes this anecdote offers a very limited view of her achievements. “She is so much more,” said Bolanle Austen-Peters, whose acclaimed biopic “Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” hits Nigerian cinemas on Friday.


The film’s opening sequence sets the tone for Ransome-Kuti’s extraordinary life. It begins in 1977, depicting soldiers throwing an elderly Ransome-Kuti from a window during a military raid on the home of her son, the legendary protest musician and “King of Afrobeat,” Fela Kuti. Ransome-Kuti later died from her injuries at the age of 77, after a lifetime of advocating for rights and shaping Nigeria’s history.


The film zooms in on a pivotal episode in the 1940s when Ransome-Kuti led a protest against heavy taxes imposed by a traditional king and the British colonial authorities. She rallied over 10,000 women from different parts of Western Nigeria, confronting both powerful traditional rulers and colonial governments. The taxes were enriching the traditional king and replenishing the British coffers after World War II, which Ransome-Kuti realized was exploitation.


Ransome-Kuti managed to unite different social classes under the Abeokuta Women’s Union. Austen-Peters recalls shooting a powerful scene where 600 actresses storm the king’s palace under a blazing sun, leaving her in tears for the first time on a film set.

The film concludes in 1955, the year Ransome-Kuti’s husband and unwavering supporter, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, died. It does not cover her entire career, which included campaigning for women’s voting rights, education for the less wealthy, and Nigeria’s independence from Britain. Her activism drew the ire of the Nigerian government and Western allies due to her contacts with China and the USSR during the Cold War.


Austen-Peters hopes her film will inspire young women to challenge the status quo and make a change. “We can’t underestimate the power of narratives and narration,” she told AFP. “Young women who see this will begin to challenge the status quo. It should inspire us to want to make a change.”


Austen-Peters, 55, has been central to the Nigerian entertainment industry for over 20 years, beginning with Terra Kulture, a venue in Lagos for musicals, before moving into film production and direction, including the film “93 Days” about the Ebola epidemic. Terra Kulture is now a training ground for aspiring film professionals, and Austen-Peters has several Netflix co-productions to her name.


Source: Omanghana.com

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