Gangs of Lagos

The Eyo Danced Wrong: Artistic Freedom or Cultural Insensitivity in the Gangs of Lagos?

By Taiwo Abiodun-Oni


The Eyo Danced Wrong: Artistic Freedom or Cultural Insensitivity in the Gangs of Lagos?

The Eyo Festival, an integral part of Nigerian history and culture, is a prominent event held in Lagos. Eyo masquerades, dressed in white garb and carrying long staff-like objects, dance through the streets in a vibrant display of tradition. However, a recent movie, “Gang of Lagos,” directed by Jade Osiberu and starring popular actors such as Tobi Bakre, Adesua Etomi, Bimbo Ademoye, Chike, Yhemo Lee, and Debo Macaroni, has sparked controversy by depicting the Eyo masquerades as weapon-wielding criminals. This piece analyzes whether this portrayal is a misrepresentation of history and culture, whether it violates intellectual property rights on folklore or traditional history, and whether it is excusable as artistic expression.

Misrepresentation of History and Culture

The portrayal of Eyo masquerades as criminals is a clear deviation from the traditional, peaceful image associated with the Eyo Festival. The festival is an essential element of the Lagosian cultural landscape and holds significant historical and religious value. By altering this portrayal to create a sensationalized narrative, the movie “Gang of Lagos” disrespects the Eyo masquerades and the people who hold the festival dear.

Past examples in the film industry demonstrate the adverse consequences of cultural misrepresentation. For instance, the 1988 film “The Last Temptation of Christ” faced backlash for its controversial depiction of Jesus Christ, which was seen as offensive by many Christian groups. Similarly, the 1992 film “Aladdin” was criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes and misrepresenting Middle Eastern culture. These examples show that cultural misrepresentation can harm a film’s reception and create social divisions.

What does the law say?

As for intellectual property rights, UNESCO’s 1989 “Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore” defines folklore as “the totality of tradition-based creations of a cultural community, expressed by a group or individuals and recognized as reflecting the expectations of a community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity.” The Eyo Festival can be considered folklore under this definition, and its misrepresentation in “Gang of Lagos” could be seen as a violation of the community’s intellectual property rights.

However, the issue of intellectual property rights in the context of folklore is complex. Traditional knowledge is often considered part of the public domain, and legal frameworks protecting folklore vary from country to country. The Nigerian Copyright Act does not explicitly protect folklore, but it does protect “choreographic works or entertainment in dumb shows” as part of dramatic works. This could potentially encompass the Eyo Festival, although it is unclear whether the Act would apply in this specific case.

Who has a right to legal action

it’s essential to note that the feasibility and success of any legal action would depend on the specific legal framework and circumstances surrounding the case. Possible parties with the right to take legal action include:

  1. Eyo Custodians: As the traditional guardians of the Eyo Festival and its cultural heritage, the Eyo custodians might have standing to take legal action against the filmmakers for misrepresenting their culture and damaging their reputation.
  2. Lagos State Government: Given the significance of the Eyo Festival to the cultural heritage of Lagos, the state government might have an interest in protecting its cultural assets and the image of the state. They could potentially take legal action against the filmmakers for misrepresentation and defamation.
  3. Cultural Associations: Organizations that represent the cultural interests of the people of Lagos or Nigeria as a whole may also have standing to take legal action. They could argue that the misrepresentation of the Eyo Festival is harmful to their cultural heritage and the interests of their members.
  4. Individuals from the Community: In some cases, individuals from the affected community might have standing to take legal action if they can prove that the misrepresentation in the movie has caused them personal harm or loss. This could include emotional distress or damage to their reputation.

It’s important to emphasize that the success of any legal action would depend on various factors, including the legal framework in Nigeria, the evidence available to support the claims, and the specific legal arguments presented. Consulting with a legal professional who is familiar with Nigerian law and intellectual property rights (I personally recommend Professor Arowolo Lawal) would be crucial for parties considering legal action in this scenario.

Balancing Artistic Freedom and Cultural Insensitivity

Filmmakers have a right to artistic expression and creative freedom. However, this freedom comes with responsibility. Artists should be mindful of the potential impact their work may have on the communities they portray, particularly when dealing with sensitive cultural or historical subjects.

Here are some guidelines to help movie producers strike this balance:

  1. Research and Understanding: Before delving into any cultural subject matter, producers should invest time in thorough research. Understanding the cultural, historical, and social context of the subject matter can help filmmakers avoid perpetuating stereotypes or misrepresenting the culture.
  2. Collaboration and Consultation: Producers should involve members of the culture being depicted in the creative process, from script development to production and editing. Engaging cultural consultants or liaisons can provide valuable insights and ensure that the portrayal is accurate and respectful.
  3. Representation and Diversity: Hiring a diverse cast and crew, particularly those who belong to the culture being portrayed, can help bring authenticity to the project. This not only supports a more inclusive industry but also fosters a more accurate representation of the culture on screen.
  4. Nuance and Complexity: Portraying a culture with depth and complexity, rather than relying on one-dimensional portrayals or clichés, can help avoid cultural insensitivity. Showcasing various aspects of a culture, including its contradictions and complexities, can create a more well-rounded and accurate portrayal.
  5. Self-awareness and Humility: Filmmakers should be open to feedback and criticism. Acknowledging one’s limitations and being willing to learn from mistakes is essential when dealing with sensitive cultural material. Producers should be prepared to adjust their approach if they receive input that their portrayal may be insensitive or offensive.
  6. Artistic Intent: While artistic freedom is vital, filmmakers should be mindful of the potential impact their work may have on the communities they portray. Weighing the artistic intent against the potential consequences of misrepresentation or offense is essential when navigating cultural sensitivity.
  7. Responsible Storytelling: Filmmakers should strive to tell stories that promote understanding, empathy, and respect for diverse cultures. This may involve highlighting common human experiences or exploring the unique aspects of a particular culture in a thoughtful and engaging manner.

In the case of “Gang of Lagos,” the filmmakers may argue that their portrayal of Eyo masquerades as criminals was an artistic choice meant to explore a fictional narrative. However, the negative reaction from the Eyo’s custodians, allied associations, and the Lagos state government suggests that this portrayal crossed a line.


The portrayal of the Eyo masquerades as criminals in “Gang of Lagos” is a misrepresentation of history and culture, which has caused offense and controversy. While artistic freedom is essential, filmmakers must balance this freedom with responsibility and respect for the communities they depict.

3 thoughts on “The Eyo Danced Wrong: Artistic Freedom or Cultural Insensitivity in the Gangs of Lagos?”

  1. This is such a great read. Well articulated too. Here is my opinion. The movie was not in itself a portrayal of Eyo masquerades. It was a portrayal of gangs of Lagos. Gangs impersonate and thieves exploit otherwise pure phenomena. Viewers are watching with this understanding in mind. This is a portrayal of the gang’s attempt to use Eyo masquerade same way they may have exploited suits and briefcases that are otherwise considered the attire of gentlemen (and that is not an attempt to take away from the cultural premise of this piece). Added to this is the fact that using the reasonable man theory, one can conclude that the reasonable viewer’s esteem of the Eyo masquerade has not been lowered simply by the Gang’s exploitation of the otherwise pure and revered institution that is the Eyo masquerade. This would be my argument if I ever had to argue in favour of the holders of copyright in this film. Moreso, since the reasonable man/viewer can deduce this reverence for the Eyo masquerade, not only has this movie brought the Eyo masquerade into limelight internationally on the Amazon Prime platform, but the impressive, pure and admirable nature of the Eyo is further highlighted (which is the reason it could be exploited by a gang in the first instance).

  2. Wow! So detailed and very easy to comprehend. A layman doesn’t need further research to understand this perfectly.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *