Blood Sisters – Netflix's first original Nigerian TV series is the focus of rave reviews in the country. The mini-series is a story of two best friends, Sarah and Kemi. When Sarah calls off her engagement because of domestic violence, her fiancé Kola strangles her, and Kemi shoots him to save Sarah. The two friends become fugitives. It is a star-studded movie with some of Nigeria's best actors in it, including the ageless Kate Henshaw, the eloquent Joke Silva, the emotive Gabriel Afolayan and a host of other stars.
Most of the rave comments are about the acting and overall production of the series. Without a doubt, the acting was great, the videography was top notch and the plot awe-inspiring. However, what I found most praiseworthy was how this piece focuses on five important social issues.
Warning: spoilers abound!
First, gender-based violence is an epidemic in Nigeria and the series brings that reality front and center. Kola was a serial abuser of women, and his mother even encouraged his behavior. Kola physically abused his two past girlfriends, Princess and Abasiama, as well as Sarah. My stomach curled at the scene where Kola started folding his sleeve. I suspected he was going to hit Sarah. He hit her on the abdomen, a place hidden from sight. I was angry. Men who physically abuse women are fond of hitting them in such hidden parts of the body. Further, Kola's abuse blinded Princess in one eye and silenced all three women until Sarah called his bluff by calling off their engagement. Nigeria's 2018 Demographic and National Health Survey shows that females who experienced physical violence since age 15 vary by geopolitical zones, from a high of 46% in the South South to a low of 12% in the North West. Sadly, being pregnant does not exempt women from violence. The percentage of women who have ever experienced violence during pregnancy is highest in the North East (12%) and lowest in the North West (1%). Families are complicit in encouraging violence against women. For example, when Sarah complained to her mother about Kola's abuse, her mother asked her, "So you are willing to risk everything because of one slap?".
Second, drug addiction and mental health are often misunderstood while victims suffer abuse. Timeyin, Kola's sister, was portrayed as a drug addict, someone not to be trusted and who is incapable of being rehabilitated. However, as the movie progresses, one sees that the loss of her father (who was killed by her mother Uduak) and how her mother made her feel guilty about his death, were triggers for her drug addiction. Instead of seeking real help for her, her family took her to a church for rehabilitation. Churches are not certified to treat drug addiction and other mental health challenges. These actions by Timeyin's family are common in Nigeria. In 2018, I was a co-lead of the Mental Health in Nigeria Survey of more than 5,300 respondents in every state in Nigeria. The result of this perception, attitudes and practice survey showed that 84% of respondents believe drug abuse is the top cause of mental health disease, 70% believe mental health disease means when one starts running around naked; 18% would take someone with a mental health disease to a prayer house; 4% would lock up the person, and 2% would beat the disease out of the person. The series shows how Timeyin needed professional help, which she did not get, and everything got worse.Timeyin shot her brother, sister-in-law and possibly her mother too.
Third, neglect of urban poor in urban slums is a huge inequity, the series illustrates. To escape capture, Sarah and Kemi ran to Makoko, one of the largest low-income communities in Lagos State. Half of its population lives on water and half on land. Makoko is visible as one drives on the 3rd mainland bridge from Lagos mainland to Lagos Island. Malaria, diarrhea and cough are common illnesses in Makoko. The residents dispose of their wastes in the water and have poor access to clean water. Residents have fewer opportunities in life. They live under a constant threat of their homes being demolished by the government. This is not okay.
Fourth, proliferation of illegal organ sales is not unheard of. The World Health Organization estimates that globally, 10,000 kidneys are traded on the black market every year. Sarah and Kemi's escape led them into the hands of a false doctor and his female companion. He turned out to be a harvester of body organs. He drugged Sarah and stabbed Kemi so he could harvest their organs – most likely kidneys going by the organs already in a cold box in his makeshift theater.
Fifth, the series shows how corrupt police officers may delay justice. The police officers at checkpoints all collected bribes from Madam Uduak to circumvent the course of justice by ensuring that investigations focused on only Sarah and Kemi as suspects despite other evidence that emerged. They both stalled the investigations into Kola as a physical abuser of Sarah that would have proved Sarah and Kemi innocence. It would have given credence to Kemi's action of protecting her friend from Kola's murderous clutch.
Blood Sisters is meant to entertain. However, let us not forget that entertainment can be a vehicle that amplifies important social issues.