Dominant culture has long been the mouthpiece for the masses, controlling and reproducing social and cultural norms through institutionalized stories and narratives. These stories function within culture to shape identities on both a collective and individual level and construct the values and belief systems that we live by. But not every person or social group is granted the access or visibility to tell their story or forge their own narrative. The same individuals and social groups who challenge, resist or defy hegemonic normality often become marginalized, silenced, and/or excluded from broader, mainstream representation.
The LGBT community is one social group that continues to be victimized by false and malicious cultural narratives that diminish and undermine the identities and lived experiences of LGBT people. Negative depictions of LGBT people as sexual deviants, predators, morally corrupt, and mentally unstable have been perpetuated time and again. These representations not only vilify and marginalize LGBT individuals, but also erase and silence the histories and experiences of the LGBT community by disallowing them to create and tell their own stories. It is for this reason that alternative narratives are the key to reclaiming, de-subjugating, and producing new and accurate representations of LGBT people.
When popular culture makes space for alternative narratives, like those within the LGBT community, we can make great strides in moving towards a more inclusive national consciousness. Whether it be film, television, music, fashion, social media, news, government, etc., the center must pivot in order to allow LGBT people and their experiences to be made visible.
The powerful new short film, Hell or High Water, uses popular culture as a means to bring LGBT stories into the forefront of mainstream conversation. The film portrays the realities faced by LGBT Nigerians in a society where compulsory heterosexuality deems LGBT identities unimaginable. Through the film’s protagonist, a beloved young pastor, we are able to witness a person’s struggle to reconcile their spirituality with their sexuality. Portraying the story through the eyes of a character within the LGBT community allows the audience to better understand how issues around sexuality and faith play out in the lives of the character, his family and his community.
Hell or High Water demonstrates how powerful and integral alternative LGBT narratives are crucial to the ongoing struggle for equality in Nigeria. The film refashions what are typically negative and misrepresented portrayals of what it means to be an LGBT person in Nigeria and shifts that narrative to exist within a framework of authenticity and compassion. This compelling form of storytelling challenges viewers to witness the reality of LGBT life as opposed to the falsehoods perpetuated by homophobic propaganda. Hell or High Water allows LGBT people to become agents of their own identities and provides the audience with the opportunity to recognize our shared humanity. Creating alternative narratives as a form of counter-hegemony allows us to dismantle systems of power that privilege heterosexuality and endanger the LGBT community.
In a historical moment where LGBT lives are under attack, alternative narratives are a means for survival as they rectify miseducation and work to humanize LGBT individuals. They are essential in our fight for creating a more equitable, just society where we can all speak our truths and celebrate the vast expanse of the human experience.