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Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje On Making A Film Of His Extraordinary Life Story (A Kind Of Black Oliver Twist)

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje On Making A Film Of His Extraordinary Life Story (A Kind Of Black Oliver Twist)

As already covered on this site, a reading of British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s feature screenplay titled Farming, took place at the first-ever Sundance London Film Festival, last month – April 27th.

The script, which Akinnuoye-Agbaje developed at the Sundance Labs, is said to be based on his life story, and is described as a true story about “a young African boy’s search for love and belonging within a brutal skinhead subculture.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly intrigued by that premise alone.

The project might be getting closer to being fully realize, as, announced recently, it’s been selected by the Sundance Institute and WorldView to receive the Story Development Award; specifically, the project, along with the others being recognized, is being awarded for its focus on “social justice issues in the developing world.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Farming, will receive a £10,000 grant; or just over $16,000. Probably not enough to get the project fully financed, but with the Sundance pedigree behind it, and this initial funding boost, I suspect the project will continue to attract financing over the next year or so, if not sooner. 

In a profile pience posted on the The Guardian’s website 2 days ago, we get much more info/background on Adewale’s Farming, which helps paint a fuller picture of what to expect from the project.

Here are the notables:

– It’s being further described as a “neo-Dickensian tale of hardship, abandonment and solidarity, a kind of black Oliver Twist for the postwar immigration era.

– The title “Farming,” refers to the practice of handing out children to informal fostering that many Nigerian parents followed in 1960s and 1970s Britain, and Adewale was one of those children. 

– In 1967, his parents, a Nigerian couple studying in London, gave him to a white working-class couple in Tilbury, which was then a fiercely insular dockside community. At times his foster parents had 10 or more African children living with them, including his two sisters.

– A a young boy in Tilbury, he was in constant danger of physical attack from local kids who, encouraged by their parents, nurtured a violent fear of blacks.

– And because he really wanted to fit in, he saw his skin color as a burden, and actually thought of himself as white. It didn’t help that he knew nothing of his African parents until later, when they came and took him back to Nigeria, where he experienced a brutal culture shock, and didn’t speak a word for about 9 months, saying he was traumatized and afraid.

– Frustrated, and unsure of what to do with him, his parents sent him back to Tilbury.

Eventually, all that shifting and clashing led to this:

“I wanted to assimilate and go back to the abnormal normality I knew. I wanted to wash off the experience of Africa but obviously I couldn’t because that’s who I was. As much as I wanted to deny it, it was plaguing me, and I was reminded by the images coming through the TV, people on the streets and in the end my family in the house.” The more he tried to blend in, the more he was rejected. After a year in Africa his skin was darker, which made him yet more conspicuous among the white population. Reluctant to go out, he was issued with an ultimatum by his foster father: either he fight in the street or he would have to fight in the house. With little choice, he learned to defend himself and also to attack others. As he became a teenager he grew into a well-built young man with a reputation for violence. “It was a time of standing up and standing your ground or running, and there wasn’t anywhere to run in Tilbury. The local skinhead gang really ran the streets. They made my life – and anyone’s who was a shade darker than pale – a misery.” […] He became a skinhead. He didn’t just adopt the haircut and clothes but the racist attitudes too. He fought alongside his new skinhead comrades, who treated him at first like some brutalised pet to be unleashed in battle.

It’s really a fascinating, unusual story, and one that should make for an interesting film. You can read the full Guardian profile of Adewale HERE. It’s a good read and encouraged.

So, needless to say, this is a project that’s on my watch list, and I’ll be following it from here on. 

Akinnuoye-Agbaje hopes to start shooting the film later this year.  

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