Actress Folu Storms stars in anthology tackling women’s issues ‘In Bloom’


So in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they enlisted the Nigerian director Tope Oshin (Fifty) as creative lead, working with five female filmmakers, Dolapo ‘LowlaDee’ Adeleke (Aféfé: Nigeria), Voline Ogutu (Kifungo: Kenya), Nicole Teeny (Period: USA), Priyanka Banerjee (Alta: India) and Giuliana Monteiro (Maré: Brazil) to produce five short films that are part of the anthology In Bloom launched this March in partnership with Paramount.

The goal for the group was to “creatively champion new voices and enable insightful conversations to dismantle systemic injustices in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Number 5: Gender Equality.”

It was very important that these stories were told by women and people who cared about and understood the cause,” Oshin told Pulse Nigeria recently. “You cannot successfully be a part of a movement if you don’t understand the fight or care about it.”

The movies delved into issues of female equity including menstrual care, unpaid labour, HIV, and gender equality. In doing this, In Bloom offers a brash inquiry into the imaginations of these societies of women, how women might process oppressive institutions that have become for too long how society is run.

In Aféfé, the film directed by Adeleke, Folu Storms plays Simi, a rising local beautician whose life is halted after she’s told to become the primary caregiver for her mother-in-law, a decision she had no say in.

I was quite interested in the character Simi because she’s somebody that I think we can all recognise in different ways that most of us don’t pay attention to, especially people in different privileged positions for whatever reason,” Folu Storms told Pulse Nigeria. “There’re a lot of choices that women are faced with quite often, that are not even choices of their own undertaking.”

In the 25 years of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, it has used projects like MTV Shuga, In Bloom, etc. to tackle issues ranging from sexual productive health issues, family planning, HIV and AIDS, gender-based violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues.

What we found is by tackling those issues, we were able to bring it to life on full screen. We’re able now to have a better understanding of what the barriers and challenges that young people encounter are,” Wame Jallow, executive director, MTV Staying Alive Foundation said. “In Bloom for us is coming from a gender perspective. If you think about the unsustainable goal number five, one of the things that we need to think about in terms of being able to achieve that goal is to ensure that we are having a more proactive approach in dismantling some of the gender inequities that are still persisting, bringing to light the multifaceted nature of these gender challenges.”

The result has led these women to make a project that doesn’t pull punches in a culture where women are expected to stay silent.

The arrival of In Bloom comes at a very telling time in this region when female genital mutilation has gained new popularity even among lawmakers in parts of the continent. In The Gambia, which banned FGM in 2015, a new bill is on its way to President Adama Barrow‘s desk to repeal the ban and legalise mutilation.

In Bloom’s daring themes push these kinds of conversations to the public, revealing deep-seated, yet hidden discomfort that women face in society. Many of the issues the anthology tackles, public conversation about female reproductive health, mental health, and unpaid labour are very unpopular in these communities. How does the team think it will land?

I’m not saying that you should do this or you should do that. But I am saying that it should make you think both men and women alike,” the Aféfé actress Storms said.

I’m saying that for the men watching it, who might be, ‘Are you telling our wives to be disobedient?’ I’m like, well, also ask yourself, ‘Why must I put my wife in this sort of situation?’ This is really just holding up a mirror and trying to force societal accountability for all of us to just be aware.”

For Oshin, it’s about making the argument that people have agency and people include women.

Irrespective of gender, we are all human and deserve to enjoy existence and living as such. We are all deserving of dreams, careers, goals, love, and everything in between,” she said. “That the responsibility lies with us all – male, female, young and old – to make the world a better place for us, our sisters, our mothers, our wives, our daughters. It starts with you.”

I want us to have open and honest conversations around what the gender challenges are. I call them the silent pandemics. These five films with these five different topics are very poignant in the sense that they’re daring and they’re challenging,” Jallow said. “I would love for this to be normalised in terms of conversations in the household. Only through doing that can we start the hard conversations around how we actually eliminate these issues,” she added.

What will success look like for Oshin with In Bloom? “If we are talking about it at all, that’s great. Conversations are good,” she said.



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