Sexy Bitch

“My mom’s the kind of woman who applauds female pioneers as “gutsy” and dismisses old-fashioned misogynists as “pricks”. A matriarch in the true sense.”

You know things are off to a sparkling start when you find yourself singing “Sexy Bitch” to the creator behind the 2009 hit tune, Akon, himself. On day 1 of filming The Curse, whilst the crew were busying themselves with lights,  Akon and I found ourselves perched on a couple of old crates. Struck by blistering Santa Clarita heat and huddled beneath what appeared to be the only 2 centimetres of shade, this was the first chance he and I had to talk one on one. With the anticipation of an on-screen romance in our midst, we seized the opportunity for a good old-fashioned yarn. I was mid sentence when Akon abruptly cut me off and in his playfully boyish way (an idiosyncrasy I was delighted to discover) squealed “OH MAN!!! You’re that chic from Spartacus!!” He leapt about and called over his assistant to share in his revelation. Meanwhile, I sat stunned, drop-jawed and calmly stated, “dude, you’re the guy who sings Sexy Bitch.” After he explained the story behind the hit (he sold the song to French DJ David Guetta but does indeed feature in it), I too regressed to my school-girl self and coyly asked him to sing me the chorus. He gave me a non-negotiable “No”. Perhaps to cover up embarrassment or maybe because I have a leaning towards impulsive outbursts of song, somehow, somewhere, I began singing it instead: “I’m tryin’ to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful… Damn girl!”

The_Curse__MG_2231
Myles Pettengill

Despite Sexy Bitch pinching a nerve at the very core of my feminist being (“nothing you can compare to your neighbourhood whore” – need I extrapolate?), I secretly really like it. Always have since the first time I heard it. The song both offends and arouses me. And there’s a reason such a tune continues to get buzzy airplay on pop radio 4 years on. Bojana Novakovic touched on this sentiment in her tres-cool, improvised show that I saw last night, Blind Date (currently playing at The Three Clubs in Los Angeles), when she blurted out “I like watching porn where men dominate women”… But I digress.

The Curse (originally titled Road to Redemption with the possible retitle of the same name – stay tuned…!), tells the story of a young American doctor who ventures to a Nigerian village as a volunteer. Immediately confronted by traditional expectations of gender roles, Samantha discovers a health epidemic amongst young women in the community: Fistula. A condition which is largely the result of early marriage and subsequent child birth, fistula is the cause of great suffering and social ostracisation; viewed by the community as a “curse”. As Samantha makes it her business to initiate change, she finds herself head-on with deeply entrenched African ideologies.

As the saying goes “art imitates life imitates art”, our case was no different. I played Samantha and Akon played the tribal chief leader, Davou (Nigerian accent an’ all!) Save a couple of others, almost our entire cast were either African American or from Africa (Nigeria and Ghana). We filmed in both Los Angeles (they built a Nigerian village on a movie ranch in Santa Clarita – did I mention how hot it was?!), and in the outskirts of Accra, Ghana. As our director, Jeta Amata, is himself Nigerian, the  film was a cultural pudding, and was peppered with lovely actors such as Margaret Avery (Academy Award Nominee, The Color Purple), Brenda Strong (Dallas, Desperate Housewives) and Ghanaian super-star, Yvonne Nelson, to mention just a few.

Myles Pettengill
Myles Pettengill

Probably as a result of the subject matter we were dealing with, onset and in-trailer banter would often lead to perspectives on gender in society and their repercussions on male/female relationships. I realized that each of our views were, in most part, informed by our respective cultural and religious axes. Never before had I questioned the notion of monogamy, an expectation and assumption upheld in the West.

As the daughter of parents 34 years happily married (my dad still takes mom on a honey-moon every year and like a blushing-beau delivers her 12 long-stemmed roses each anniversary), any alternate to such devotion comes as a challenge to me. My mother, a hippy and bra-burning feminist of the 70s, juggled her Masters degree, 2 kids and a full-time teaching career to provide our family with reliable income and structure (and create the freedom for my dad to pursue his musical dream). My mom’s the kind of woman who applauds female pioneers as “gutsy” and dismisses old-fashioned misogynists as “pricks”. A matriarch in the true sense.

Whilst working on The Curse I learnt that it is still accepted practice in many parts of Nigeria (the villages in particular) for men to have multiple wives. Moreover, they would/do marry girls off at as young as 9 (13 or 14 years old is more common). This traditional norm can explain, in part, why fistula is such a harrowing epidemic in that part of the world. While many educated Nigerian men today would agree that both early and multiple marriage arrangements are not so ideal, traditional African attitudes towards monogamy largely remain. Yes, I’m talking sexy flings on the side. And my understanding is that this “flexibility” is a one sided recreational entitlement. Period. #FunForSome

A Saint Louis born Muslim of West African descent (he describes Senegal as his “hometown”), Akon spoke lovingly of his 3 wives and 9 children (that’s one BIG dinner table, right?!) Similar to hearing Sexy Bitch, my instant womb-reaction to the whole 3 wife thing was “Umm… excuse me??” I don’t think I’d ever met anyone with more than one wife (and really, isn’t 3 just getting greedy…??) Yet I surprised myself at how quickly my initial judgements were overshadowed by a deep fondness for the R&B/hip-hop legend. A man who spoke eloquently about his holistic views on men and women, and who explained how his choices are informed by what he believes to be natural to both men and women: the man’s primal instinct to spread his seed; the women’s inclination to nest (I’m aware that this may be gag material for some people but stay with me). Above all, it was the kind humour, humility and generosity that Akon displayed to all of us that made it near impossible to view him with offence. A consummate gentlemen in the true sense, I began to compare his sobriety, family orientation and work ethic to the many “lost boys” I know in the West who appear frightened to be men (admittedly a result of feminism) and who’s “tradition” is to lubricate their senses with intoxicants so as to numb reality and deny responsibility.

So where did all of this leave me? Well, I guess with a broader scope of things. As my character, Samantha learnt: in order to be heard one must also listen. Who am I to judge a tradition that has been around for a good deal longer than my own life experience? And how can one cultural practice claim superiority over another? After all, isn’t that how wars are started? I guess in the end life is about choices. And travel and exposure to different people and cultures can only expand our ability to make great ones.

(Between you and me though, I’m still not convinced that wife 3 or mistress 7 is down with the whole sharing your fella thing. As Dusty sings “I only wanna be with you.” #JustSayin.) Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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