The inaugural Sundance London had much to recommend it over the weekend: the presence of Robert Redford; a concert by Rufus and Martha Wainwright; a giant white dome (the O2 Arena) in which to seek shelter from the non-stop rain while catching the pick of this year’s Sundance crop. It also supplied a home-based platform for Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje to hold a reading of his script “Farming” in front of a small gathering of UK film industry folk.
Still probably best known for his role as the memorable (but short-lived) Mr. Eko in “Lost,” Akinnuoye-Agbaje spent a few years writing and developing “Farming” at the Sundance Lab and assembled a great British cast for the reading, which took place in a small club in “The O2” (to give it its local moniker). All sporting black t-shirts with “Farming” in bold white lettering (“We’re going to have to up our game,” smiled one Sundance US rep in attendance), Minnie Driver, David Harewood (“Homeland”), Jonathan Hyde, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Jaime Winstone and a few others breathed life into Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s humorous but harrowing account of his own youth in 1970s Britain, when Nigerian immigrants would frequently “farm” out their children to white working-class families in order to devote themselves to work, study and building better lives.
“Farming” is told through the eyes of Enitan, read by Ashley Walters, who grows up in torment and confusion after being abandoned by his parents to Ingrid, a heartless (and very funny, as read by Driver) British woman who fills her home with Nigerian children for mostly selfish reasons. Enitan’s grim journey includes a return to Africa, where his family reject him because he can’t adapt; sent back to Britain, he eventually, shockingly, falls into step with a white skinhead gang.
The notion of a black racist skinhead is an unsettling one, and that section of the script generated the greatest hush in the room. At the end, the reading was greeted with an ovation, and Akinnuoye-Agbaje insists that “Farming” is a predominantly true account of his experiences. “It’s a shocking revelation that such a paradox could exist,” he says, “but it’s a real one. And it’s a small part of the story, which addresses much broader issues than a film like ‘This Is England.’”
As it’s his story, he has aspirations to direct. “That’s always been my goal,” vouches Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who left Lost in 2007, he says, in order to develop Farming at Sundance’s labs. “There’s always a little trepidation in baring your soul to the world but I’m extremely pleased how it went down,” he says. He’s currently meeting with producers with the hopes of getting financing in place by the end of the year. “Feedback is still trickling through but it’s been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a story with difficult truths to face but it has the positive outcome of self-discovery and the triumph over adversity. It’s also a celebration of that era in Britain – our music, our fashions and our humour.”
Akinnuoye-Agbaje also has a couple of high-profile acting roles coming. He just finished playing Sylvester Stallone’s arch-enemy in the Walter Hill-directed cop thriller “Bullet To The Head,” and also has a featured role in HBO’s upcoming series “Hunted.” He laughs when I ask if there’s any news on “The Black Panther,” which Akinnuoye-Agbaje has gone on record saying he’d love to play should Marvel ever decide to bring their black superhero to the big screen. “Everyone always asks if there’s news on that,” he chuckles. “Certainly there’s interest from me but I have no idea what Marvel’s intentions are. It would be a great cherry on the cake.”