In anticipation of International Women’s Day, I had the pleasure of interviewing the captivating Kiki Mordi. An investigative journalist, visual storyteller and an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Kiki is a multifaceted force not to be reckoned with. The self-proclaimed ‘Grand Commander of the Feminist Battalion’ is leading the fight against the erasure of women from history with her new multimedia project, which launched on 8 March.
Kiki started her career as a student radio broadcaster in 2013 at Rhythm FM in Benin City. She has now amassed a huge following since her Emmy-nominated BBC documentary Sex for Grades, and her recent MTV EMA 2020 Generation Award.
From her home in Lagos, Nigeria, we spoke over Zoom about her experiences being a speaker and challenger, as well as her exciting new project #DocumentWomen.
Pendar: To begin, I was interested in talking about your radio experience, because I think so much of the issues women face and the frustrations women feel come down to dismissing or quieting our voices. How was it for you to be working in radio where your presence is solely based on your voice?
Kiki: Radio essentially saved my life. Before I ever said a word on radio, I wasn’t a person who was outspoken or who felt like they had a voice. I stumbled upon radio by mistake. I didn’t go for the audition for myself, I went with someone else. The person auditioning said she liked my voice and that she really wanted me to try out. So I tried out, and she was really impressed. That was how I got my first job on radio. It was just fun. Then I started to notice that it gave me a voice – I would turn on my mic, and people would listen. I started to get excited as to what I could use that voice for.
Pendar: What drew you to become a visual storyteller and documentary maker?
Kiki: I always loved to write as a kid. I wrote poetry and stories. When I started working on radio, I realised that storytelling was an important tool in getting your message across, and I just decided to expand. The first place I decided to try documentary filmmaking was at a small island in Lagos. Behind the resort was a very small village of amazing people. Honestly, I was just curious about what was going on there. I met women who were fisher folk, who would wake up at 4am to go fish. They would use the money they make from fishing to cater to children. It was such a wild story. I thought, ‘No, I can’t leave here without documenting this’. So with Nora, who worked the camera, we produced a documentary called Life at the Bay. That was it for me. I just knew that this was definitely my calling.
Pendar: You describe yourself as not only a journalist and a filmmaker, but also as a speaker. Does being a speaker necessitate being a challenger?
Kiki: Being a speaker is just something that was forced on me. ‘Challenger’ is a good word. I just challenged a lot of things everywhere that I went. As a feminist, I challenged harmful gender roles that we have in our society and the harmful practices that men in leadership do. I use anger because anger is a great tool. I mean, I’m angry, and you should be angry too! All of that challenging has gotten people to believe that I can speak upon whatever conversation is going on.
Pendar: I thought the word ‘challenge’ in the IWD theme #ChoosetoChallenge is interesting, because a lot of the time women are scared to come across as ‘difficult’, because we are socialised not to be challenging. How often do you face these barriers and how do you deal with that?
Kiki: Oh, all the time. I’m a feminist in Nigeria, that’s like a crime. Generally, feminists in Nigeria are really ridiculed. It’s up to you to remove yourself from that space, and thrive outside of that space. I’ve been doing this online for a very long time, but when the project Sex for Grades came out, it was huge. I think I had 10,000 followers, and then all of a sudden, it became 50,000 in a matter of minutes. All of these new people came to find a hero in me. Then they realised that this hero is a ‘feminist’. It was really a confusing time for them. Especially when I spoke out about LGBT rights. They think, ‘who is this crazy person that we are idolising?’ When they try to bully me, I come back stronger. If you choose to challenge my challenge, I will challenge it.
Pendar: So what are you #ChoosingToChallenge for IWD?
Kiki: My sole purpose for 2021 is the battle against the erasure of women. There are so many women’s stories that have been erased. Women’s stories are not mainstream media. I want to prioritise women’s stories in Nigeria, in Africa, and all over the world. If I sense that there’s a story somewhere, the first thing that I’m going to do is look for the woman in that story. Women are half of the population, so there is no way that there is no woman in that story. That’s what I’m choosing to challenge this year.
Pendar: As I understand, your project is a multimedia platform for amplifying the voices, influence, and impact of women as a new site of feminist discourse. Can you describe the different forms of media?
Kiki: We are doing a document series, and something that is important to us is finding intersectionality in feminism. Intersectionality is something we don’t discuss in this part of the world. We are investigating the erasure of trans people in Nigeria’s history and uncovering stories from the people who still remember their presence to tell their story in a series. Also, we look at the various forms of bigotry that set women apart such as: fatphobia, colourism, ageism, stigmas against widows, and discrimination against women who choose not to have children. We also want to partner with visual artists to use art to document women. Then there is a book club where we pick one book per month from a female author or a non-binary author. We also have a podcast that speaks to feminists from different parts of the world. We want to know what feminism is there, because I know that it’s a global fight. We all want the same thing but it’s just different sometimes.
Pendar: Lastly, are there any particular women you would like to shout out for IWD?
Kiki: Yes, my mom and my sisters, the strongest women I know. Also, I belong to a feminist coalition, with the most amazing women – they are just badass. I’m so lucky to find that community. We’re not the most powerful, but when we come together, we form a formidable force.
Pendar Sadeghi is a SOAS Digital Ambassador pursuing a BA in International Relations with a focus on gender dynamics within the Middle East. Pendar is from Iran, but grew up mostly in Scotland till she moved to London for university.