The fatal flaw of Lagidigba is remaining mute about how women can be safe in a world where they must coexist with the violence of the patriarchy.
In Lagidigba, Jadesola (Sola Sobowale) is married to a hunter who’s not satisfying her sexually because he’s always away hunting in the wild, sometimes for as long as two years.
This marital neglect is the perfect opening for her husband’s caring brother to propose they start sleeping together. After a sustained period of pressure, according to her retelling of the story, they’re caught the very first time she sleeps with him.
Her punishment is banishment from the community from where she’s driven into the evil forest by a mob that’s exclusively women — which is either this film’s commentary about women being prominent vanguards of the patriarchy themselves, or its commitment to keeping men entirely offscreen.
When Jadesola meets the first random stranger in the forest to tell her story, she has a long list of things upsetting about her banishment, but the most pressing complaint is her brother-in-law, whom she fornicated with, didn’t face the same punishment, or any at all — because as a woman, her community considered her the temptress.
The random woman Jadesola is telling her sob story belongs to a group of witches on an aggressive recruitment drive to bolster its membership roster, and this aggrieved woman doesn’t need too much convincing before she decides to join.
Her one request to her new coven is to become powerful enough to create and lead a civilisation that’s exclusively women with zero tolerance for male presence.
This is Jadesola’s origin story against the patriarchy and Lagidigba’s attempt at painting a picture of a world where women are completely in control.
She goes on to assemble a team of women also roaming the forest of misfits — it’s like an Avengers team if their superpowers are sob stories of how men ruined their lives. In fact, one of the first women to join her team was banished into the forest because she was an equally capable Ifa priest as the men in her male-dominated field. These women are desperate to wash off the stench of the patriarchy and Jadesola has the solution.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw Yemi Adegunju‘s Lagidigba — most likely around when I was 10 years old — but it’s stayed with me since then in a way many films of my childhood haven’t, and for reasons I cannot clearly explain.
To hazard a guess, it’s memorable because it was one of the first Nollywood films I saw that played around with novel ideas and wasn’t just retelling some regular story that was easy for my young mind to relate to in real life.
Or maybe the basic premise of a society maliciously violent against the presence of men presented itself as an existential threat to me for the first time — it wasn’t until years later I was sufficiently aware that film isn’t real life.
Another reason for Lagidigba’s stickiness, as many who watched it decades ago often point out, is its catchy theme song, which just stays glued to the back of your skull.
The song’s main argument is that women are doing the same things men think are exclusive to men and that women are the salt of the earth who birth men and should never be slaves to them. Pretty radical.
The breakdown of the song’s chorus translates to, “Come dance and rejoice with us people of the world, we’ve done what no one else has done before, come see the wonders of Lagidigba, the town of women is going to greater heights.”
It’s catchy, brutally preachy against the patriarchal treatment of women, and establishes they have the agency to stand on their own, but Lagidigba is not a feminist film.
In fact, it feels oddly deliberate that the film builds Jadesola up to tear her down soon after, just to prove that her anger is misplaced and her survival plan is irrationally radical.
The women-only Lagidigba society collapses barely a few scenes after it’s set up and thriving, with women scorned by society finally happy in a community that’s 100% of their own making.
In this way, Lagidigba is a film divided against itself. The film’s second half is dedicated to burning down Jadesola’s new world order because it completely decentred men. To do this, the film’s central character becomes the same callous, power-hungry monster that chewed her up and spat her out, as she becomes violently antagonistic against her fellow women and subjects.
The distressing opening scene of Jadesola being banished from her community for adultery runs parallel to another distressing scene of her self-made society banishing another woman into another area of the evil forest for birthing a male child, who’s also killed.
If you’re wondering how Lagidigba’s women can bear children, it’s because they have a rule of going to faraway lands to mate with men and then return to the kingdom. Men may be the devil in this film, but the natural order makes it that they’re not entirely useless.
Lagidigba’s main attraction is it treats gender politics with a brutish directness rare for its time and even remains unmatched in the decades that have followed.
But the film’s follow-through is nakedly anti-feminist and is happy to use and dump its antihero to make the same lazy point: fighting the “natural order” of patriarchy is pointless.
Lagidigba makes one good point clear — absolute power corrupts regardless of the gender of who wields it, but it bungles its deconstruction of gender politics by resolving to preach to the victims to take it in good faith while the perpetrators of ills and their systems remain standing with hardly a wobble.
Jadesola’s community creates a safe space for women to exist, only for the plot to turn that upside down, just to make the point that women cannot live without men, and vice versa. Fabunmi, a character pivotal to dismantling the kingdom, strongly rebukes the women for even thinking about it, neglecting that they were exiled from their male-controlled communities for frivolous reasons. The film is mute about how women can be safe in a world where they must coexist with men.
Another character advises the women who have just survived the civil war in Lagidigba to, “Let’s not think of the suffering men have inflicted on us. Let’s leave judgement to God and go back to our husbands.”
Stripped to its bare bones, Lagidigba is both visionary and regressive, superficially exploring an unjust system but driving it to an extreme so that the core issue of women being mindlessly subjugated is lost.
This film will always remain memorable for standing out in its time, but it could have explored what it brought to the table better.