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Exploring the Representation of Women in the Nigerian Movie King of Boys

Shalewa Babatayo*

MA Communication and Development Studies, Ohio University, Nigeria


*Corresponding Author:
Shalewa Babatayo
MA Communication and Development Studies, Ohio University, Nigeria

Received: 06-April-2023, Manuscript No. Gmj-23-93694; Editor assigned: 08-April-2023, Preqc No. 93694; Reviewed: 22-April-2023, QC No.Q-93694; Revised: 25-April-2023, Manuscript No. Gmj-23-93694 (R); Published: 29-April-2023, DOI: 10.36648/1550-7521.21.62.364


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The focus of this study is on “King of Boys”, a 2018 Nigerian movie that defied the stereotypical portrayal of women in Nigerian movies. This movie made over 200 million Naira after being at the cinemas for just seven weeks, leading to the making of its sequel “The Return of the King” which was released exclusively on Netflix in 2021 [1]. This shows that there was an acceptance of the movie by the Nigerian population despite the popular stereotypical representations in the media. Also, Osakpolor, (2021) mentions that the movie set the pace for reframing the story and elevating the representation of Nigerian women. It is important to note that this movie was written, directed, and coproduced by Kemi Adetiba who is a female Nigerian filmmaker, television director, and music video director, whose works have appeared on Channel O, MTV Base, Soundcity TV, BET, and Netflix [2].

In Nigeria, “Nollywood” which is the sobriquet for the film industry, has been said to be the second-largest film industry, globally (Shapiro, 2023). Different eras like the colonial era, postcolonial era, and influences like the missionary influence, traveling Yoruba theatre group, and the pioneer filmmakers have all led to the development and growth of Nollywood (Musa, 2020). Films with themes centered around campus, religion, city, community, culture, family, love, diaspora, melodrama, romance, royalty, money-ritual, slavery, rural community, and vigilantes, are among the localized film genres available in mainstream Nollywood (Sylvanus, 2018). Adenugba (2008) posits that evangelical, city girl, romance, ritual fiction, comedy, action, gangster, cultural, epic, adventure, and fantasy fiction are the genre of movies that can be found in Nigerian movies. Generally, movies in Nigeria are classified along the traditional line of genre categorization, notably tragedy, and comedy, however, films with stories that transcend these core or basic differentiations have lately emerged on the Nigerian film landscape [3].

While this is still debatable, it is believed that Nollywood serves as an agent for African culture and identity. In many African societies, a clear border is frequently drawn to divide men and women and this difference has been defined and enshrined in the unwritten rules of the nation, and despite the existence of multiplicities of identities, it is still obvious (Musa, 2020). Nigeria, as an African country, continues to engage in this practice. The essence of Nigerian societies is patriarchal, with the girl child seen as inferior to a boy child and hence prohibited from engaging in certain societal responsibilities [4]. This viewpoint is reflected in the types of movie roles that women are offered in Nigerian films Several studies including Ibbi (2018), have depicted the stereotypical representation of women in Nigerian movies to include: the femme fatale who is the “girl next door”; “the career woman” who would end up needing a man to solve her emotional troubles; “the gold diggers”; “trophy wives”; “the witch mistress” and “prostitutes”; “the housewife” who is an object of barter; “the object of ritual”; “the object of sexploitation”; “the second choice”; and the “husband killer” [5].

As inferred from above women are ranked differently from men and this is depicted in Nigerian movies. Gender is a process, stratification, and structure [6]. In line with the stratification system, gender ranks men above women of the same race and class, and the same is also portrayed in the representations or interpretations given to women in Nigerian movies.

The purpose of this study is to present an alternative view as represented in the movie “King of Boys” and explore ways in which the movie escaped the predominant femininity representations mentioned above and the stereotypical portrayal of women in Nigerian movies. I intend to do this with a discourse analysis of some of the scenes and representations in the movie. Gender is a complex reality and should not be portrayed based on universal and homogeneous categories [7]. This study is important because it extends the focus of female representations in Nigerian movies from just evaluating problematic themes to embracing positive and alternate projections of the female gender. People say that the media mirrors the world, but I also think that people mirror what they see in the media and thus, the way women and the female gender is represented or portrayed is very important.

Literature Review

Terms like “femininity” and “real beauty” are concepts that uphold social constructs, attributes, Behaviors, and roles expected from the female gender. Murray (2013) argues that "real beauty" is an authoritarian ideology that encourages women to comply with its ideological and material consumption values while reinforcing the value of feminine beauty and its pursuit. This ideology accepts hegemonic beauty standards through corporate instigation for brand attachment and women's desire to be a part of what they perceive to be a positive beauty ideology [8-10].

Several media texts, including movies, music, news, radio, advertisement, the internet, etc., create different social constructs by which we mirror the society we live in. These social constructs can originate from religion, society, and culture among other things, and with the media reinforcing them, they become a depiction of our reality. For this study, I would be reviewing literature that is hinged on women’s representation, particularly in movies.

Representation of the Women in Movies

Women have been represented in different forms, and in different media, all over the world. Kapoor (2018) explored how women have been depicted as ordinary objects in “item songs” in Hindi movies. This study mentions that item songs feature ladies dressed in dirty attire, crude words, and indecent displays of their bodily parts. As a result, the study emphasizes on the idea that item songs are intended for amusement, not for the objectification of women, and that women's portrayal and projection in Hindi films should be improved. Similarly, a Ghanaian study by Ofori- Birikorang & Donkor, (2014), explored the portrayal of women in popular Ghanaian movies. Mentioning that women are portrayed in patriarchal classifications as virulent, dependent, domestic, diabolic, sex objects, accommodating, enduring, and gullible, the study indicates that the images of women in these Ghanaian films reinforce gender stereotypes and reflect the customary settings in which women's roles, performances, and subjectivities in real life are located [11].

Despite these representations, a study by Vijayan (2018) examined the Malayalam film industry, mentioning that there has been an effort to represent women as “modern” and change the patriarchal portrayals of women in marriage, family, and motherhood in recent movies. However, the study concluded that the possibility of true portrayal is still fictitious as the socalled “modern women” representation was only an adjustment to the stereotypical and traditional female identity [12, 13].

While analysing the portrayal of women in James Bond films, Neuendorf et al., (2009) mentioned that the females in James Bond films were always “gorgeous”, with a “slim body type”. Neuendorf et al., (2009) find this very unrealistic and confirm that their continuous youth as mentioned in other cinema academics' findings shows the underrepresentation of mature women in general. Also, female characters in the movies were always portrayed in a sex-stereotypical and constrained way. As a result, there is the same homogeneous portrayal of women in both old and new Bond movies. In general, the authors conclude that Bond films show the patriarchal and individualistic culture of Western society. For instance, the protagonist, James Bond, promotes stereotyped, sex-typed masculine views and violence, particularly when interacting with women. This is also in line with Arellano’s (2012) argument that violence and the male gender are related through representational practices in ways that shape social and gender norms both clearly and silently [14].

Findings of a study by Alzahrani (2016) revealed that women in African cinema are portrayed as sex objects and things to meet men's demands, which fits within old frames. They're also seen as domestic maids and nefarious mothers-in-law who are always up to no good. This is also in tandem with Creed’s (1986) postulations that there exists a relationship between monstrosity and being feminine. The few working-class women who work in huge corporations are subordinates, and young females have been characterized as promiscuous, and when girls resort to using their sexual attraction to obtain material advantages and things from men, they are considered weak. In these films, women are the source of domestic strife and are even blamed for their husband's deaths.

Representation of Women in Nigerian Movies

In a bid to examine the portrayal of women in Nollywood, Onyenankeya et al. (2019), studied the various ways women are depicted in their physical appearance, home and family life, occupational life, and interpersonal connections as featured in Nollywood films during a 20-year period encompassing the video cinema era. The study concludes that over the past two decades, (1997-2017), the representation of women in Nollywood has not seen any major shift from traditional preconceptions about women's responsibilities in society. Another study by Alola & Alola (2020) revealed that women are frequently portrayed as sex objects, helpless, and dependent on males in Nollywood films. In contrast, men are frequently depicted as self-sufficient, successful, and breadwinners. In these films, women are frequently depicted in domestic and traditional roles, while men take on professional and leadership responsibilities. According to this study, the most widely used female stereotypes in Nollywood movies are femme fatale, career woman, trophy wives, primary caretakers (i.e., wives, mothers), dependent, lazy, and secondary to men.

To solve the misrepresentation and stereotypical representation of women in Nollywood, Ukata (2020) carried out research that sought to investigate why women are not involved in filmmaking in Nollywood. Ukata (2020) reasoned that if they were, they could tell society how they want to be represented. The study concluded that the involvement of women in Nollywood would have a great impact and bring a greater balance to Nollywood.

Despite the existence of stereotypical depictions in Nollywood, there have been several efforts to change these narratives. In analyzing a Nigerian movie titled, “Lionheart”, Doghudje (2020) mentions that there was an effort to demystify the power of men. Also, the movie “King of Boys” and its sequel “The Return of the King”, which was a deviation from the norm and stereotype, received wide acceptance in Nigeria. Even though Nigeria is a patriarchal society, the movie made over 245 million naira in the box office and won about three awards. Similar to Doghudje, 2020, the purpose of this study thus is to examine the ways by which the movie defied the predominant stereotypes and sexist portrayal of women in the Nigerian film industry.


To explore positive themes and portrayal of women in the Nigerian movie industry, representations of Eniola Salami (the main character of the movie) in some scenes in the movie “King of Boys” were analyzed in a discursive approach. In total, 8 scenes were chosen using a purposive sampling method and analyzed thematically and in a discursive manner based on the portrayal being represented. This movie was purposely chosen because the representations and portrayal of the women in the movie are almost non-existent in Nollywood in general. While the majority of the representations would be on the lead character – Eniola Salami- there were other representations that were not different and still stereotypical in nature. However, it is important to study this movie not because it can disrupt the predominant sexist and stereotypical portrayal of women, but because it is enough to bring to light the progressive representations of women in Nigerian movies and generally in the media space [13, 14].


The 3-hour long movie King of Boys was released in 2018, written, co-produced, and directed by Kemi Adetiba, and cantered around Alhaja Eniola Salami and her quest in the political sphere. For this study, I would be discussing the major representations in which Alhaja Eniola Salami who is a woman was portrayed in the movie.

Alhaja Eniola Salami was represented as a mother. In the movie, she had an adopted daughter who was her right-hand woman, and a biological son whom she was never on good terms with. “Mama”, and “a mummy of the community” were some of the terms used to describe her in some of the scenes. She was not projected as the perfect and sacrificial mother like in other Nollywood movies as she ended up losing both children to the cold hands of death on the same day. Her daughter was shot by assassins intended for the Alhaja herself and her son also committed a murder-suicide by strangling his girlfriend to death and killing himself afterward. Towards the tail end of the movie, while blaming herself for the death of her daughter, she saw an illusion of her dead daughter saying “Iya oshi…useless mother… you should have shielded me from this life…You killed me”.

She was also portrayed as a philanthropist and women’s advocate. She once saw a petty trader who sold cassava flour and had given birth to 6 children and was still pregnant with another. She felt compassion and told her to take care of herself, bought her entire goods without collecting them saying “the garri (cassava flour) is for you and the boys” and gave her money, warning her not to get pregnant again. The judge preceding her case mentioned “not forgetting that Alhaja Salami is a respected member of the society with strong ties with the community.” After she fled Nigeria, she opened a bar in Brooklyn, New York and a customer was touching one of her staff, she said, “Young man, we don’t do that here… stop harassing my girls.”

She was also portrayed as a politician and a godmother to politicians and powerful persons. A news reporter described her as “a political ally and socialite”. It was mentioned in the movie that she has helped put senators into office and has been financing elections since 1999. In another scene, she helped “Mama Oloja” (head of the market women association) solve a family crisis, who is in turn was supposed to help her canvass votes in the upcoming elections. While meeting with a politician she once helped, and getting angry that she was not getting the needed support for her political role, he said; “If I tell you you are a very important part of our movement, you have to believe me…the elders of the party said we have to keep you aside for the next election…ministerial appointment is not for you…we are keeping you for something bigger”. Another politician also said to her “but Eniola, you have played politics enough to know that there are no certainties in this game.” It is important to note that this representation is not normally accrued to women or the female gender in the Nigerian film industry. Therefore, it is worthy of mention to see a different representation from the norm.

Alhaja Eniola Salami was also portrayed as a business owner. She sold bags, shoes, and fabrics, among other things. In one scene she marketed a fabric to an uninterested customer so well that the customer had to change her mind and purchase the fabric along with shoes and bags. While being interviewed by the Nigerian Corruption Crime Commission (NCCC) she says “I have businesses. A few fabric shops, bakeries where I make my sweet, beautiful Agege bread, two water bottling companies, other.”

The lead character, Alhaja Eniola Salami was also represented as a leader of touts (loosely organized gangs of the street). She was popularly referred to as “King” or “King of the touts” That was probably where the title King of Boys emanated from. Whenever some other gangs went to steal from corrupt politicians, they had to remit 40% of the stolen money to her. She would demand from other gang leaders saying “Pay me my tax. Finish! Other than that, I don’t care”. At some point, the politicians she financed did not want to be seen publicly with her because of her “reputation”. In one scene, a group of boys waylaid her car to extort money from her however, when they saw her in the car, they kept hailing her instead saying, “Oba”, “Mama”, and “King”. She always walked with at least two bodyguards, regularly has a round table discussion with men who were gang leaders, and she is the leader of all the gang leaders. In a discussion, a gang leader said to her, “Nothing moves in Lagos without you people on this table and as the head of this table.” In a scene when one of the gang leaders was disrespecting her, another character said to him; “Makanaki, respect the crown.” This shows that she is the leader of all gang leaders. At some point she also said, “Sitting on this chair as the end of this table is not by mistake”.

Furthermore, she was depicted as monstrous, wicked, and ruthless. This can be said to be in sync with Creed’s (1986) postulations that female characters are associated with monstrosity. This, however, is not a popular representation in the Nigerian movie scene. She has had to torture and torment people to get information. In one scene, she killed a guy with a hammer after he has been tortured badly. While trying to fight for her position among the different gang leaders, she said “Yoruba say; Olorun oni je ki a ri laburu (May God deliver us from evil). You thought that prayer was about sickness? Disease? Or death? That prayer was about me. I am laburu (I am evil incarnate) God’s worst punishment in a person! And when I rain…” While she was pregnant with her son, her lover was sick and on his death bed. He begged her to allow him to visit his wife and three children, but she told him that they all died in an accident: an accident she orchestrated, and none survived. She got married to him on that sick bed and he died afterwards. After his death, she killed the next to the throne and became the king- the king of boys. While describing her, the chief officer of NCCC said “She’s not a saint. She is a murderer…the scum of the earth”.

Surprisingly, she was represented as a spiritual, religious, and prayerful person. The use of Alhaja in her name shows that she has been on the Islamic pilgrimage. Also, in one scene she was at the beach praying fervently with three other Christian prophets. In another scene where her son was high on substance, drunk, and got into an accident, she kept pacing and praying for him to come home safely. Immediately when she saw him, she shouted “Modupe Olorun, Iwo ni ma sin, Oshe eleda orun ati aye” meaning “Thank you, God, I will worship you, thank you creator of heaven and earth”. In one scene where her husband was ill, she kept praying and saying “By the grace of God, you are already well. See, in the name of Jesus…As long as the Almighty Father that I serve is alive, you are already well”. When she was accused wrongly and put in a private holding cell, she says, “Don’t test God…He is finally making me pay for my sins” When her opponent visited her in the cell, she said “The Bible says where there is carcass, vultures gather.” After she fled Nigeria to the USA, in her new office, there was a monitor screen with the words “Jesus is Lord”. I particularly like that she was also depicted as religious because just as Mee (2016) posits, the relationship between gender and religion should not be seen as problems for development or as barriers to sustainable development and gender or women empowerment. Also, religion can be interpreted from multiple and diverse discursive identifications and representations.

Finally, she was portrayed as corrupt. While she was undergoing questioning by an officer at the Nigerian Corruption Crime Commission (NCCC) for her financial crimes, it was said to her that “that you are involved in erm…yes money laundering, drug, and weapon smuggling.” A reporter in the movie also said, “she has been arrested this evening by state officials on suspicion of murder, money laundering, diversion of state funds, bribing a state agent.”

Summarily, the lead character in the movie King of Boys was portrayed as a mother, philanthropist, gang leader, politician, corrupt, and monstrous and most of this representation is a deviation from the stereotypical norm in the Nigerian movie industry. This is important because the movie provided alternative representations of the female gender that were not common and surprising, it was widely accepted as the movie and successful leading to the making of a sequel that was released exclusively on Netflix.

Conclusion and Recommendations

This paper explores the different representations of the female gender in the movie King of Boys establishing the need for movie markers to explore alternative and positive portrayals of the female gender. The lead character was the head of the household and the idea of “feminization of poverty” was absent. Instead, there was affluence, luxury, and wealth with a female being the head of the household.

While the movie King of Boys defied the normative femininity in most of the scenes, especially with the lead character, it was not without the stereotypical portrayal of women. For instance, there was a scene where the friends of the lead characters were backbiting about her, and indirectly representing women as busybodies. This is in tandem with one of the representations of women in Nollywood as mentioned by Ibbi (2018).

The movie King of Boys sold out in cinemas and made a new record at the box office, and this makes me wonder if the Nigerian population accepts the representations in the movie or if the movie was popular because it depicted a different representation from the norm. In view of this, I would recommend that further study be carried out regarding how people (Nigerians) perceived the representations of Alhaja Eniola Salami in the movie King of Boys.

It is worthy of note that the writer, co-producer, and director of the movie “King of Boys” is a woman, in the person of Kemi Adetiba, and this begs the question - was that why the female gender, particularly the lead character was represented differently from the stereotypical norm? It is therefore very important that further research be carried out regarding Nollywood films that are written and or directed by women. Studies that hinge on providing an answer to “Should more women be encouraged into the Nigerian film industry?” should be carried out as this might ensure a better representation of women and the female gender and ensure that women represent themselves the way they want to be perceived.

Also, further studies should investigate the representation of the female gender in “The Return of the King” which is a sequel to “King of Boys”.


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