“Malaika” Grapples with Infertility and Anger, Falls Short on Narrative Focus
Malaika instantly pulls you into the raw agony of infertility through Toyin Abraham’s powerhouse lead performance. As character Tutu, Abraham lays bare grief across scene after heart-wrenching scene of pregnancy loss. Her eyes wordlessly channeling torment, Abraham commands attention as a driven fashion house owner unraveling after consecutive miscarriages. This intensely personal view into one couple’s private struggles makes you lean in, expecting an overdue honest look at Nigeria’s stigma around childlessness.
But just as we settle into the film’s early promise in voicing these rarely public battles, it awkwardly spins sideways. What begins as an intimately relatable journey for Tutu and her husband, Ebuka, morphs quickly into scattered subplots around her job, shaky family relationships, and even oddly conspicuous product placement. These disconnected, distracting side stories weigh down the film’s otherwise bold emotional pull, which diluted its intended impact.
While Abraham remains compulsively watchable even when scenes turn histrionic, she can’t override structural issues that surface. On the other hand, Emeka Ike puts in a solid supporting turn as Doctor Ebuka, which marks a warm big-screen comeback. But even the leads’ clear acting chops can’t compensate for the way Tutu and Ebuka’s quest for conception solutions gets eclipsed and deprioritized as soon as that urgent opening act closes.
After initially steeping us in Tutu’s inner turmoil, we barely see the couple actively seeking medical or spiritual fertility advice before random workplace conflicts and family infighting take center stage.
This is where Malaika most disappoints. In opening minutes alone, it makes evident the huge opportunity to challenge limiting beliefs and ignorance around reproduction issues. Shining light on Nigeria’s silent struggles with conceiving could have felt revolutionary. But the film’s frenetic pivoting from one distraction to another fails to fully humanize the shame that floods Tutu when judgmental society keeps asking “where is your baby?” We get glimpses but not the sustained viewpoint needed to transparently unpack how fertility fights can submarine identity, plans and peace from the inside out.
To the film’s credit, it does attempt late-stage plot innovation in the spiritual link drawn between Tutu’s uncontrolled anger cited as the root of her infertility troubles. But this ambitious messaging tie-in lacks careful enough scripting and performance nuance to completely earn suspension of disbelief. It feels interesting but uncooked, with Tutu’s sudden rage-free shift feeling more convenient than credibly life-changing.
Less gravitas, more glossy sheen: that’s the tradeoff “Malaika” keeps making. But there remain sporadic bright spots in the mix despite missed marks. Dynamic Lagos city shots sprinkled between sister showdowns capture gleaming high-rise energy. The glamorous fashion show sequences intercut with fertility clinic meltdowns make for an intriguing study in emotional contrasts. Hints of local traditions like the oracle priest offering divination maintain intrigue. Abraham remains eminently watchable and real even when scenes ring hollow or one-note.
What frustrates more is that the film’s noble intentions get waylaid in execution. The reach consistently exceeds the grasp. There lies such cultural power in starting this tough conversation, sparking empathy for the silent shame around wanting a child but not conceiving.
Although falling short of its ambitions, “Malaika” still stakes bold claim on making infertility’s personal impacts impossible to ignore – even if it doesn’t fully follow through on the systematically taboo-busting scale to which it aspires. We walk away remembering those promising peeks of small screen vulnerability more than the spray of distractions and plot detours that follow.
Release Date: December 22, 2023
Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes, 12 seconds
Streaming service: Cinema
Director: Steve Olufemi Sodiya
Cast: Toyin Abraham, Emeka Ike, Anne Kansiime, Ibrahim Chatta, Muyiwa Ademola, Odunlade Adekola, Uzor Arukwe and Oluwapelumi Olawuni.