Nigerian Producer Mo Abudu Makes Directorial Debut with Short Films

Nigerian Producer Mo Abudu Makes Directorial Debut with Short Films

Nigerian producer Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife Media, has been helping to share the stories of African people through film and television for years — but never one written by her own hand. Until now, that is.

Abudu has made her screenwriting and directorial debut with the release of two short films honing in on mental health issues in Nigeria: “Her Perfect Life” and “Iyawo Mi” (“My Wife”). Her films have recently toured the festival circuit with stops at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, the HollyShorts Film Festival, the Rhode Island Film Festival and the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival.

“These two stories are dealing with very, very sensitive issues in Nigerian society when it comes to mental health challenges,” Abudu tells Variety. “And this is a topic that we continue to underplay. And there’s so much stigmatization attached to it within our society — not just Nigeria alone, but even around the world.”

While “Her Perfect Life” tells the story of an affluent wife and mother suffering in silence underneath a flawless façade, “My Wife” follows a husband from an impoverished neighborhood desperately seeking help for his wife as she experiences unexpected hallucinations. When they don’t receive the support they need, serious ramifications ensue for both female protagonists of Abudu’s films.  

By conventional societal measure, “Her Perfect Life” protagonist Onajita has everything: a loving husband and children, a successful career, and a beautiful house meticulously maintained by a dedicated staff. She routinely shares photos reflecting this on her social media; in her private moments, however, she grapples with agonizing emotions and contemplates suicide.

Abudu shares what she hopes people take away from the film, emphasizing the importance of empathy and communication.

“When someone says, ‘Am I OK?’  — are they really OK? Are we checking on them to make sure they’re really okay?”

Abudu also discusses how “Her Perfect Life” and “My Wife” highlight mental health struggles across disparate socioeconomic backgrounds in Nigeria.

“What I did set out to do was to tell two different stories about women in my society that are dealing with mental health challenges,” she says. “There’s no discrimination against color, there’s no discrimination against religion, or gender, or how much money is in your pocket at the end of the day. This can affect anyone from any part of our society.”

In “My Wife,” Kunle’s wife Eniola is suddenly experiencing a serious and volatile mental health episode, believing that her family is trying to kill her. Kunle first takes her to a hospital, where an ill-equipped doctor exhibits inapprioate conduct. He then turns to the church, which calls for Eniola to be taken to the ocean to be rid of evil spirits. Eniola ultimately never receives adequate professional help.

Abudu says she hopes the film speaks to the importance of building out societal infrastructure to provide mental health resources.

“We need to make sure that there are support systems,” she says. “We need to stop being in denial…Because I think some people still feel very strongly that [mental illness] isn’t real. But it is real.”

Following festival screenings of her shorts, Abudu has high hopes for “Her Perfect Life” and “My Wife” getting some attention from Oscar voters in the narrative short feature film race for the upcoming Academy Awards. Abudu is also eager to return to the director’s chair in the future — and she’s caught the writing bug. No matter the topic she’s exploring or the role she’s in, Abudu plans to continue to champion storytelling from Africa.

“As a continent we’ve been so silent,” she says. “It’s really important to start looking at stories in that space. That’s what’s exciting for me. It’s about bringing it home and showing that Africa isn’t left behind. We are part of this global world. And our stories are just as important as any story from anywhere else.”

(Pictured top: “Her Perfect Life.”)

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