By Tonita Perry
Published October 24, 2010
Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA)-nominated writer/director, Leila Jewel Djansi is pushing the envelope in her much anticipated and soon-to-be-released film, SINKING SANDS. The film deals with the subject of abuse, but also has nudity and sex scenes, which is newly introduced by Ghanaian filmmakers. DJANSI talks about how she handles nudity and sex in films ahead of the November 13, 2010 premiere of her psycho-drama at the National Theatre, Accra, Ghana.
Nudity and sex are new to movies that are filmed and distributed in Ghana. Why do you think both are new to movies in Ghana? What has taken Ghanaian filmmakers so long to incorporate it in their films?
Just like in Hollywood, it is a phase each industry has to pass through. Hollywood went through it with the Roman Catholic Church and other elements driving them out of the East to what we now call Hollywood. Same way censorship boards in Ghana are getting drastic and same way it was in the early years of the American film industry, it is a phase,a time to evolve. When I was growing up in my church, if you wore trousers you were considered a wayward girl. Today, female ministers preach in trousers. When I wrote the first script for GAMA, I was told the violence was too graphic; today you see movies with guns drawn in broad daylight in shopping malls. The only constant thing is change. That strong, strict Ghanaian culture is slowly growing lax with all the globalisation.
Nudity or sex in a film.Which would you prefer, and do you think they are both the same?
Well, either arouses sexual thoughts, desire and images; therefore, as an artist, in my opinion, they are same. It isn’t like your actors are really engaged in the act of copulation; they are selling the scene with the nudity and sexual gestures.
What is considered in poor taste when putting nudity or sex in a film?
For one, if it’s out of place! That’s my subjective opinion, and if your composition is not attractive or appealing. Yes, it must be tastefully done, but, we all have different levels of taste. This makes it harder to define what’s appropriate because someone might say I sleep with my wife upside down. I might frown, and another might say sexy!! It’s hard to say, because all fingers are not equal. But, we all know a certain level of good from bad. Apply that, and your actors must be comfortable. I saw a still frame of two Ghana actors kissing, and the guy had a creased brow. He was not comfortable. There was no tenderness in the moment or any other kind of emotion. It just looked…ewww!
How do you work with actors and actresses when filming a nudity and/or sex scene?
Closed set. Getting them to hang out with each other for a while to get comfortable. I ask them if they are comfortable doing it. For example, we were having issues framing a shot in SINKING SANDS, and c0-lead actor Jimmy Jean-Louis decided to do something brave. I asked him three times if he was sure he wanted to do that. He was like let’s go for it. We did. Once actors are comfortable, the rest is easy.
When you were writing the script, were you thinking about how you were going to incorporate sex and nudity in the film?
No. I just wrote the script. The sex in SINKING SANDS was used as a tool, not for beauty or commercialisation. It is so obvious when you watch the movie after the sex scene you understand why the scene was there. It helped develop the characters and drive the story forward.
There is a rape scene in the film, how were you able to direct this, seeing how it is such a savage crime against women?
Oh my God; it was intense!! Sodomy is a distasteful word already. But to see it performed by such great actors! It was terrible. I was not watching the monitor. I could not. Interestingly, Jimmy noticed my discomfort and in a way he helped me laugh about it, and we were able to finish that scene. Ama K. Abebrese could not watch it. When we shot the aftermath, Jimmy Jean-Louis decided to reverse the action, because he was emotionally drained. His reversal did not make it into the cut though, but it was there if we needed it.
Specifically, how did leads Jimmy Jean-Louis and Ama K. Abebrese handle filming the nudity and sex scenes?
Those two deserve more whisky! Ama K. Abebrese was very uncomfortable initially. We took a break and she kind of got naughty with a little bit of alcohol; she and I. Jimmy Jean-Louis was fine. He has a great body, and being that he was a model, he is already used to all that flesh.
Like in the United States, nudity and sex sells. Is this necessarily true in Ghana?
Oh yes; it sells. We are a huge bunch of hypocrites, we humans. I was sent a link to read comments about HOT FORK, Safo’s movie, and it had over 100 comments. They all watched the trailer, and they all saw the film. I saw it. I bought it. It’s the curiosity that drives sex. Porn is the richest market in entertainment right before horror then the others follow. Sex is a god in its own right. It sells. If it didn’t they won’t keep making films that have sex scenes.
Do you believe more Ghanaian filmmakers will include nudity and sex in their films?
This is just the beginning! They will. They might do it more conservatively considering the insults they are getting. But, they will and actors will get more comfortable stripping.
You actually had a sex scene in AMAA-nominated I SING OF A WELL. It was a very tender scene, versus the very disturbing scene in SINKING SANDS. How were you able to direct two very different accounts of sex?
From experience. No, sorry; just kidding! Really, don’t include that! There is a script I have ready to shoot soon, “Tulips,” and in the beginning is a montage of the various ways a woman is handled sexually and otherwise; in tender, loving sex or in rape. That is what you get as a woman – the good, the bad, and the ugly. When I write sex, I write it as an emotion, a state of mind of the character or characters. In, I SING OF A WELL, they were lovers in one scene, and in the other is was a submissive woman and a man who found no joy in his conquest all that is true of how women are handled in sex, giving and taking, unwilling victims, or helpless or dutiful individuals. These emotions driving the moment are what make the sex scene look or feel a certain way.
Lastly, what does nudity and sex mean to you in terms of being used as an art form? Can you have one without the other?
Nudity is a form of expression. It’s a storytelling tool. It’s also an aesthetic. It may not serve a strong purpose, but it brings other aesthetic dimensions. It can be used in so many ways. Film sex is almost the same thing. They carry the same connotations. How you depict the act of sex also is a storytelling tool – lovemaking or rape. You can have nudity without film sex, and you will be sending the same ‘erotic’ message apart from what you intend to achieve artistically or even commercially.
Meanwhile, Ama K Abebrese has won the Best Media Personality award at the Ghana United Kingdom-Based Achievement (GUBA) Awards on Sunday, October 24, 2010 at the Porchester Hall in Bayswater, London, England.
“I am elated to be the recipient of the Best Media Personality at the GUBA’s. It’s great to be recognised for my work within the media in the United Kingdom,” said a joyful Ama K Abebrese. “Winning this award has made me more determined to strive and achieve more within the media industry, both in front and behind the camera.”
Organised by Nudent, the annual awards show was created to celebrate all that is best about Ghanaian business and personalities in the United Kingdom, acknowledging their achievements and hard work.
The only woman nominated in her category, Ama K Abebrese’s nomination is based on her hosting signature talk show, “On the Sofa,” which was also nominated for Best TV Programming.
The Ghanaian-born British presenter began her showbiz career on the little screen at YCTV (Youth Culture Television) in 1997, where she caught
her big break when she interviewed Hollywood-great Harrison Ford, and later moving on to OBE TV as a regular personality during her seasoned career. Ama K is transitioning into film, starring in her first lead role in SINKING SANDS, premiering in Accra, Ghana on November 13, 2010 at the National Theatre.