"If I were not African, I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. I wonder whether I would realize that while African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices." - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Entitled is a new short film by Adeyemi Michael about his mother, Abosede Folashade, a first generation Nigerian immigrant living in Peckham, South London. At barely four minutes, it has struck a chord. My social media feeds are alight with the radiant face of this majestic woman and her big gele energy. (A gele is a head wrap)
I have a confession to make: I didn't enjoy Black Panther the way I thought I would. Not through any fault of the film itself, but because of what it wasn't. It's a film showing us a fantasy version of Africa, futuristic and idealised, wealthy and aspirational: a vision we can all be proud to cross our fists to.
What I want to see at the cinema are hundreds of African stories that strip away the stereotypes of Hollywood and the bombast of Nollywood, to reveal what Adeyemi Michael has done so gracefully here. In Nigeria alone, there are certain kinds of humour, generosity and gravitas, ways of telling stories or debating an issue I cannot begin to describe yet have never seen on screen.
That's the wealth I find aspirational: a continent full of incredible characters and stories as yet untold. I want to watch a full-length film about Abosede Folashade. We have no real need of another slavery epic, rags to riches tale or supposedly African story starring light-skinned Western folk.
I'm also interested in this idea of entitlement, and what it means in different contexts.
There is a certain regal dignity and self-assuredness I recognise in Abosede Folashade. It's the way the young women in her family attend to her, and the young people in the street to kneel or tip and greet her formally. Her arrival on horseback, silhouette reminiscent of Napoleon crossing the Alps, is unconventional yet utterly befitting. As a device, it highlights what one glance of her eyes tells us: that this woman is sovereign.
We see it in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a woman who inspires fealty from we her loyal subjects and intense irritation from her detractors. A woman who will not bow or bend, who commands respect and floats easily above the labels and cultural norms which might otherwise weigh her down.
It's an attitude I saw in my father. He would swoop into his office in a billowing agbada, and the people awaiting his return would kneel or even fully prostrate. It didn't seem to matter that they'd been sweating there for hours because we couldn't afford a generator, or to pay them. Yet in England, he was treated like just another dodgy Nigerian businessman. Eventually, it was too unbearable an existence and he moved back home to Warri.
We usually think of entitlement as a negative word. It conjures images of wealthy, posh, privately educated people who believe they have a right to anything they so desire because the world has never told them otherwise.
Yet there are things we are all entitled to. We're entitled to love, to self-expression, kindness and respect, and "fair access to the pond". We're entitled to ride horses down the street wearing fabulous wrappers and gele. We're entitled to continue to rewrite the old stories which seek to obscure and disempower and diminish us, and to write new stories in their place.