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Her Parents Made the Ultimate Sacrifice for Democracy—She Continues the Fight

Director Joanna Lipper‘s award-winning documentary The Supreme Price centers around one family’s fight for democracy in Nigeria. In the 1990s key leaders of the pro-democracy movement, M.K.O and Kudirat Abiola, died at the hands of the country’s military dictatorship. This extended trailer follows their daughter, Hafsat Abiola, as she continues her parents’ mission to turn a corrupt culture of governance into a democracy capable of serving the country’s most marginalized population: women. I spoke with Joanna about her experience making the film.

What elements drew you to this particular story?

I was interested in looking at Kudirat Abiola and her enduring legacy. For many people in Nigeria, Kudirat has become a symbol of bravery, human rights activism, sacrifice, and martyrdom in the effort to bring justice, transparent governance, accountability, and democracy to Nigeria. I was drawn to explore the question of what that legacy means to her daughter, Hafsat Abiola, and to a new generation of Nigerian women.

What objectives did you have in mind while making this film?

I have always had a particular interest in films about complex, multifaceted women who defy expectations and create their own destiny rather than surrender to circumstances. I first encountered Hafsat Abiola over a decade ago, at an event organized to raise awareness of her endeavor to build Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND). She created this organization intending to honor her mother’s legacy by educating and empowering women in Nigeria, with the goal of increasing their participation in politics and inspiring them to pursue leadership roles.

When Hafsat stood up and told her family’s tragic story I was impressed by the way she channeled her rage and mourning into determination, tenacity, and activism, calling upon knowledge, integrity, courage, and persistence to oppose corruption and senseless violence. Instead of being a victim of circumstances, she became a courageous agent of change. From my perspective as a filmmaker, Hafsat Abiola and her parents and siblings who appear in the film are inspiring subjects. Their family’s story has deep emotional dimensions, many layers of suspense and intrigue, and dramatic highs and devastating lows in the arcs of the main characters—all while offering a window into contemporary Nigerian history and politics. As a filmmaker, I was drawn to the challenge of distilling some of the more complex aspects of Nigerian politics, history, and gender roles through the medium of film in a way that was dramatic, emotionally compelling, and universally accessible to a broad international audience, as well as to Nigerians who already knew all about the Abiola family and this tumultuous period in their own nation’s history.

Have you always been interested in global perspectives as a filmmaker?

My very first documentary film, Inside Out: Portraits of Children, addressed creativity and imagination in children from many countries around the world. My second documentary film and related book, Growing Up Fast, looked at teen parenthood in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a city that was a manufacturing base for General Electric. Jack Welch resided there for much of his career at GE, and when he initiated downsizing and globalization, factories closed, and union jobs disappeared and were replaced by cheaper labor overseas. The bottom fell out of the middle class in this community—and the largest proportion of teen mothers in the United States are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. I was able to look at many different facets of postindustrial America through the experiences of these young women. As a filmmaker, I was interested then as I am now with this project set in Nigeria: in the ways in which gender, family, culture, religion, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status shape identity, self-perception, goals, and life trajectories from a very early age onward.

How can films generate engagement and inspire activism?

The medium of film has the power to combat stigma, stereotypes, and ignorance by putting viewers inside the minds, emotions, perspectives, and experiences of characters who are geographically distant and culturally diverse. Films can take viewers on journeys through time and space to foreign countries they may not ever have the chance to otherwise travel to and experience. Films can transcend economic class boundaries, presenting insight into lives that unfold both with and without adequate resources. Films can present characters in depth in ways that open new paths toward empathy, identification, and compassion that were once closed.

Documentaries can be highly effective educational tools, presenting the history of a very complex country like Nigeria in a variety of compelling and accessible ways, including firsthand accounts, animated graphics and maps, expert commentary and analysis, and perhaps most importantly, through archival footage that breathes life into the past. A good film that promotes activism links its subject(s) to the filmmaker and then to the audience, provoking them to use the story told on screen as a catalyst to reflect on their own lives and experiences, encouraging them to reexamine their roles in their families and communities, and compelling them to reassess their unique place in the world at large and their individual capacity for positive impact where it is most needed.

Links

Visit Women Make Movies to purchase the full-length film.

Watch the U.S television broadcast premiere of The Supreme Price on Global Voices.

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