It was just for a split second that a male singer cuddled northern Nigerian actress Rahama Sadau in a video, but for the local film industry it was a second too much.
“Rahama has been banned for life from acting,” said Salisu Mohammed, the head of northern Kano’s Motion Picture Practitioner’s Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) — better known as “Kannywood” after Hollywood.
The 24-year-old is one of Kannywood’s biggest stars, but MOPPAN said “her display of immorality in the music video is the latest of several indecent conducts for which she was severally warned and sanctioned.”
Nigeria as a whole, combining north and south, today claims the second largest film industry in the world, generally known as “Nollywood”.
It mirrors the stark contrast in the country’s religious makeup, with a Christian population in the south at odds with the Muslim north.
In the south, Nollywood depicts wealthy women in their 50s courting friends of their teenage sons, while students in skimpy dress seduce their teachers. Nothing, it seems, is taboo.
The opposite is true in the north. Films produced in Kannywood, named after the major city of Kano, have the same themes of love, revenge and betrayal, but the plots must adhere to strict Islamic rules.
Rule number one? Men and woman do not touch.
– Champagne showers –
For actors and actresses from the north who are seeking to break into a wider market, this rule poses a dilemma.
“Being invited to Nollywood is a mark of distinction,” says Carmen McCain, a researcher on northern Nigerian cinema.
“There’s a desire to make the Kano industry well-known globally, but they always need to keep the balance, to not forget they have a very conservative society,” she said.
“The question is: are Kannywood actors allowed to work in Nollywood in order to become bigger stars?”
In the music video “I love you”, Sadau plays the role of a fruit and vegetable vendor who catches the singer’s eye as he strolls through the market.
The clip shows none of the sexy moves seen in videos by southern Nigerian stars, where woman “twerk” in bikinis or take champagne showers.
In contrast, “I love you” sees singer Classiq ever so briefly touching Sadau’s shoulder and gently touching fingers as they walk side by side on train tracks.
For MOPPAN, this was too much. It was time to make an example of Sadau. And the move to ban the actress was welcomed in Kano.
– ‘Inevitable’ touching –
“We are happy that the filmmakers have realised the truth of what we have been insisting they do, to sanitise the film business which promotes immoral values among our youth,” said Salisu Idris, a Muslim cleric in Kano.
“We hope this is the beginning of a new page in the film industry and we hope the sanction on this actress will be a deterrent to others.”
In August, the powerful lobby of Muslim clerics stopped a plan to build a $10 million film village outside Kano, saying it would promote immorality and undermine Islamic values.
Sadau on Wednesday posted a long letter of apology to her 53,000 Twitter followers, but said “innocuous touching with other people in my line of work is inevitable”.
The controversy has come just days before Sadau is set to appear in a Nollywood-produced TV series “Sons of the Caliphate”, a drama “set in a sovereign state of northern Nigeria” depicting the lives of three rich men.
Promising royal intrigue, political conspiracy, corruption, betrayal and passion, the series aims to depict the immoral side of the north.
For all their bans, the clerics won’t be able to stop Sadau from appearing in this show made in Nigeria’s south.