Miss Ebere Juliet Ude (TUZA-QUEEN), a fast-rising Nollywood actress and entrepreneur, considers domestic violence and sexual attacks as well as gender discrimination against women as some of fundamental fault lines that need to be addressed for the Nigerian society to make desired progress and utilise the full potentials of womenfolk. The Anam, Anambra West local government area of Anambra state born lady, in this interview with OLISEMEKA OBECHE & CHINELO NWANGENE, shares her personal experiences in her life and career, as well as issues affecting women in the Nigerian society. Excerpts:
How did your upbringing as a girl-child influenced your personality today?
Growing up as a girl-child in the family was not easy. Although, my parents tried to treat their children equal, yet, there were certain things culture and tradition do not permit them to do. For instance, they believe that a female child does not inherit her father’s property like land and building because, it’s believed that she would get married and leave the family.
Apart from that there were many things I was not allowed to do. As fifth child among seven children, and the first daughter, I was restricted from doing some of the things I would have loved to do, and my male siblings and age mates were given room and opportunities.
I was placed on close supervision; unlike my male siblings. They monitored my movement and who I went out with. There were some privileges I did not enjoy in the family and it affected me psychologically. But it also taught me vital lessons that I must work hard to earn, whatever I was not given because of my gender. Then, it was frustrating because, I didn’t understand why I should be treated differently from the boys around me.
How did those early childhood training and restriction shape your adult life and career?
They did in many positive ways. I am grateful to my parents for the way they brought me up. The most important childhood training I received bothers on faith and good moral. Apart from the need to respect and greet people, irrespective of their age and social standings, I was equally taught to put my trust in God and do what’s right at all times, and give my best in whatever I do in life. I was trained to work hard to be able to succeed. My parents used to tell us that we needed to work hard in order to succeed. It really put us, especially myself, on our toes because, they made it clear to us that manner no longer falls from heaven.
Issue of rape appears to be on the rise. What do you think is responsible for this wave of sexual attack?
This issue of rape is actually getting out of hand in Nigeria. Earlier, I wanted to join those blaming indecent dressing for the rising wave of rape in the country; on a second thought, I didn’t find how a baby girl of three months or under five years of age could possibly have attracted rapists through indecent dressing. I think Nigerian men really need to learn how to control their sexual urge. They should stop looking for excuses for sexually assaulting women. We are in a society where population of women is almost higher than that of men, and getting a female partner is not too difficult. So, what’s the reason for these sexual attacks? Even animals, sometimes, apply restraints when trying to mate. Why should our men behave like animal when it comes to issue of sexual desires?
The worst aspect of it is that most of the victims of these barbaric act don’t get justice at the end. In most cases, they live with the scares of such attacks for the rest of their lives. I think it’s high time our government, especially law enforcement agents and the justice system found a way to tackle this crisis. I know that some people are suggesting that those convicted of rape should be castrated. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, considering the fact that increasing number of men go after women and attack them sexually because they have confidence that they will get away with it. If they knew that they could be rendered impotent for life, if caught, the chances of them giving it a second thought is very high. Now, it appears as if there’s is a competition for rape in this country. Something drastic has to be done very soon to stamp out the crime out of our society.
Tell us exactly how your journey into movie industry started and when.
Well, it actually started in 2010 when someone told me about an audition for a movie called Dance of the Prince. I summoned the courage to go try out my luck, and I was selected to feature in the film. It was like a dream come true for me.
Did you actually envision yourself as an actress as a child? What was your childhood dreams and how did you find yourself in the industry?
I had always had the dream of becoming an actress right from childhood. When I was about six years of age, I used to act in church drama. Even then, we had no television and I didn’t know anything about movie at all. But that did not stop me from participating actively in our church drama presentations, and I felt fulfilled then. It wasn’t until I reached 13 years of age that I started watching movies and seeing most of these actresses like Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Kehinde etc, and I was thrilled by their performances on screen, then I told myself that I really wanted to be like them. It was the turning point in my quest to become an actress.
As an actress, what has been the most challenging thing between the life on the screen and reality?
The most challenging thing between the screen and the reality is that people have unrealistic expectations of you. Because they have seen you feature in a number of movies where you were rich, they then expect that you would be driving expensive car like SUVs, live in duplex mansion and live luxury lifestyle in real life. They would feel disappointed when they see you using public transport or driving ordinary car. Some would be asking you where did you park your Jeep? Some would be saying, ‘Ah, are you sure she is the one we saw in the movie? She is not the one!’
The truth is that they don’t expect you to be trekking or using public transport to go about your daily hustles just because, you are a movie actor who has played key roles in some movies. The same thing applies to character and way of life. Some may expect you to be so perfect and pure as portrayed in a movie. Even the dressings and make ups, they expect same in real life. But it’s not true.
There is a big difference between the character you see in a movie and the person in real life. However, that does not remove the fact that the popularity that comes with movies also accords us the opportunity to be role models in the society. That comes with a level of expectations on our behavior and lifestyle outside the screen. What an unknown person may do and get away with, a movie actor would not. That’s why it seems the industry thrives in scandal because, people are always prying into our lives. Imagine finding someone like Genevieve or Ini Edo stopping by the road side to buy and eat corn with pea. It will go viral on the social media. But ordinary people do that every hour. That’s the reality of our profession.
Many actresses complain of rampant cases of sexual harassment. Have you experience such?
No. But sexual harassment is real in the society and it has continued to thrive because those in authority have not figured out how best to tackle it. And that is so because, it’s equally complicated matter, in terms of proof of it and what should be punishment for it. However, I think the best way to deal with it is for anyone to say no if she doesn’t want and stand up for her right or walk away when it has become a do-or-die affair. I don’t believe that as an adult, someone will force you to sleep with them if you don’t want to do it. The truth is that when you don’t give them a chance to mess with you, they will respect you more and leave you alone.
What are some of the movies you have featured in and the ones you consider as your favourites?
Some of the movies I have featured in include ‘The Dance for the Prince’ ‘Maid’s Dance’, ‘Great Servant,’ ‘Harlots and Holy,’ ‘My Sugar Banana,’ ‘The Enemy I see,’ ‘Cry of a Widow,’ ‘Ojawa Nwa,’ ‘Obodo bu Igwe’ (Series), ‘Sister’s Love’ etc. They are my favourites because, each has different stories to tell and I am happy to have played my part in them.
What are the current movie projects you are involved in and expectations for their release?
‘Women of Justice,’ another movie I featured in is yet to be released. It’s a series that would soon start airing. Then, there’s another project that we have on the pipeline. It’s an inspirational movie that would be released three times every week. It promises to be an interesting movie that people would learn a lot from. It will be released on Joyon TV on YouTube soon. It’s a project I am very excited about because, it has so many things to teach people in our society.
In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic impacted on the Nollywood industry?
Everybody is feeling the impact of coronavirus pandemic. It has really caused a lot of setbacks to humanity. There’s virtually no part of the globe that people are not counting their loses and praying for the crisis to be over so that they can pick up the pieces of their lives. At the moment, what is most important is survival. And to survive, one must eat and take care of other things. The lockdown measures introduced in the wake of the COVID-19 had affected almost all sectors of the economy. The entertainment industry was virtually brought to its knees. The Nollywood has been hit hard; but I think the practitioners and investors have responded positively, and I have no doubt that things will normalise as soon as possible. But it has certainly slowed the momentum.