Interview With Maker of Sagba, a Film on Being Gay and Nigerian

Posted on March 24, 2013

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Last Sunday, I had the chance to have a lovely conversation with Teju Oluokun, a Nigerian London-based filmmaker who has just released Sagba, a docu-style short film about being gay and Nigeria. Sagba means struggle in Yoruba, one of the local languages spoken in Nigeria. We spoke about Teju’s motivation behind making the film and what she hopes to contribute to the LGBT movement through it.

Tell me a bit about yourself; how old are you and where did you grow up?

I grew up in Lagos and I’m 27 now; will be 28 this year. I lived in Lagos until I was about 17, went to a girl’s boarding school in one of the neighbouring states and then moved to the UK for school. I studied TV production at Bournemouth University and I have been working in the industry since then.

How did you get the idea to make a film about being gay and Nigerian?

I had heard about Rev. Jide‘s journey who has a church where gay people are welcome. I think his dad was a Reverend too. So, over Christmas I had some time down and started doing some research on the lives of gay Nigerians. I was fascinated about the things I learned. I discovered Bisi as well and I just wanted to sit down with these people and pick their brains.

I wanted to contribute to the discourse and be more than an arm-chair activist. I knew about how tough it is to be gay and Nigeria and I wanted to do more than just rant on Facebook.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making the film?

The hardest thing was coming in as an outsider. Not being part of the community was a huge part. When I started doing the research, I couldn’t even call myself an active ally. It was hard to gain the trust of people. Sometimes, people would say yes and then no, or say yes and then not reply to any more emails.

It was hard to convince people that I wouldn’t portray them differently or edit the film to make it look like they had something they didn’t say.

I wanted the film to feature a larger variety of people but the only people who were willing to talk to be were activists. I even offered to black out people’s faces but they said no.

It was also impossible to get women to appear so I ended up making it with just men.

I know what you mean; I have some friends who are hesitant to go to Pride just in case they get caught on camera by media people.

Did you or are you going to enter the film into any festivals or awards?

The film took a long time to edit so I missed the deadline for some of them but I do want to follow-up on that.

Just out of curiosity, how do you identify: gay, bi, queer, straight or something else?

Straight.

 I rarely find straight people who are so involved in the movement

I watched a short clip where Fumni Iyanda was saying that she wants there to be a time when she’ll tell her grandchildren that there was a time when people were treated badly for being gay and they would be shocked and in disbelief. I want that to happen to me as well.

I think it’s hard not to contribute.

I don’t think the film will change the world instantly but I still wanted to contribute.

What was the most rewarding thing for you in terms of making the film?

As an African, I wanted to tell an African story. It was just amazing to hear the story of Bisi, who was the first and only gay man to come out on national television in Nigeria. It was also incredible to hear about Ade’s relationship with his family members. Ade writes a great blog called OutTales.

During the process I also saw that even though there is a lot of animosity towards gay people in Nigeria, there are also people who are supportive of the cause.

For instance, my best friend in Nigeria has been championing the film and she’s not gay. This has really surprised me and shown that there are people in Africa who want things to change.

I was first afraid of how the film would be perceived because it was made by an outsider but I haven’t had anyone say that they thought it was awful. I’m really happy about that.

Would you live to make more films about being gay and Nigerian?

I would like to make one focused on just women next time. Hopefully I’ll be able to find women to speak to. Anyone who wants to reach out to me can do so through palmavenuefilms@gmail.com

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Posted in: Films, Public Affairs