CLASSIC REEL: Domitilla
Cast: Ann Njemanze, Sandra Achums, Ada Ameh, Enebeli Elebuwa, Kate Henshaw and Basorge Tariah Jr.
Year of release: 1996
Directed by: Zeb Ejiro
Plot: A young woman strives for survival the best way she knows how. While a terrible tragedy makes her rethink her life, her past and Plan B gives her no peace either.
Fully titled Domitilla: The Story of a Prostitute, this classic Nigerian film takes a realistically harsh look at Lagos society and the way underprivileged women are forced to become streetwalkers as a means of survival and are easily judged for it, a film way at the head of its time back then and later on sparked a debate about prostitution on Agatha Amata's talk show, Inside Out.
Anne Njemanze, ex-wife of actor Segun Arinze and credited as 'Annette Njemanze' at the time, starred as the titular character, Domitilla; unfortunately, the name is sometimes synonymous to the term 'prostitute' or a loose woman. The character is a flawed human being but very sympathetic- secretary to a boss (who is a complete asshole) by day and a prostitute at night. She is the breadwinner of her family- most of her resources spent on her siblings' school fees and upkeep and her frail father's (Emmanuel Frances) medical bills. It's definitely not a life she relishes yet circumstances beyond her control force her to do so; particularly since when she tries to give up her side job and be in an actual relationship, past johns (customers) tend to expose her, one played by Sunny McDon W, who wasted no time ruining her dinner date.
Sharing in her theory about taking what you can get in a harsh society are her co streetwalkers- Judith (Sandra Achums), Anita (Ada Ameh) and her cousin Jenny (Kate Henshaw); who share a run-down apartment with her. Their kind-hearted pimp Tony was played by Martin Lawrence look-alike Basorge Tariah Jr, who was more like a protective big brother to them aside from getting them wealthy 'customers', surprisingly enough.
It's all very well to judge prostitutes these days, but this movie depicts them as human beings you cannot help being sympathetic with and hope they will find redemption- this film depicts their sorry circumstances and how there's more about them than meets the eye.
The film follows Domitilla's struggles and challenges, and there is a very heartrending and chilling scene depicting a senseless murder - causing the girls to have a thorough rethink about the dangerous life they have been leading. Their grief causes Judith and Anita to hang up their heels and scanty outfits; Domitilla too gets a chance at a new life, but her option is not the right one-
as her much older lover (the late Enebeli Elebuwa) is a married man with a daughter and a very jealous wife (Maureen Ihua), and later on, finds herself in a trap that only divine intervention would save her. And fortunately, the person who does save her is successful, because in her eyes, Domitilla is a human being.
Domitilla II came to the Nigerian market several years later, but was a very poor follow up to the original, which is more realistic in tone, has a straightforward plot, a great cast, continuity and a solid social message. Ignore the sequel and focus on this one. This is definitely one of the many classic Nigerian films that seriously needs to be re-released on DVD.