A sunny morning in the suburbs of Vancouver and a warm late afternoon in a stoney cottage in Turkey is what brought Emmanuel Imani and me into a riveting conversation about growing up abroad, identity crises, filmmaking in Lagos, and everything in between.
“Mo fe Pa mi o!” Emmanuel exclaims when talking about his recent trip to Lagos in June. Like many others who have spent enough time in Lagos to know it’s more than the parties and concerts, Emmanuel had also been perturbed by the chaos that the populous city is infamous for. The “spirit for life” that pulsates through the city is as infectious as the frustrations that follow suit. Though a frequent visitor of the motherland – the unmissable trips in December to visit cousins and other relatives – the city continually seizes to marvel the Wheel of Time actor with its residents’ tenacity.
Born to a Calabar father and an Ondo mother and raised in the United Kingdom, Emmanuel’s childhood was auspiciously multicultural. Growing up in Peckham, one of the United Kingdom’s ethnically diverse districts, Emmanuel’s formative years were nothing short of a playground of cultural assortment. With Peckham’s population being made up of over fifty percent of Black people – a blend of Africans, Carribeans, and Britains – feeling out of place ought to have been an unfathomable issue. Be that as it may, Emmanuel was no stranger to identity crises growing up.
Early on in our conversation, Emmanuel opened up about the society-induced identity issues that he went through at major points in his life. Starting as a young Nigerian boy fresh out of Nigeria and in the hallways of his secondary school, Emmanuel desperately tried to stay incognito. Being teased often by peers for being Nigerian and having a Nigerian accent in his speech, he understood there was a certain amount of code-switching needed as a foreigner abroad. It wasn’t until his late teens that he found a deep appreciation and pride in being African. Contrary to today’s clime where Africans are taking pride in being African, the same wasn’t the case about thirteen years ago. Unlike today where African culture is being widely accepted and embraced, being a minority – of African descent in particular – in a foreign country was met with disdain. It wasn’t until Emmanuel embraced his African-ness and stopped being ashamed of his cultural assets that other students at the school started to also embrace theirs. Being proud of his race, nationality and culture allowed young Emmanuel to express himself openly, without fear of not fitting in.
Many years after, the same issue of identity crisis and embracing one’s identity became one of the many critical factors that led Emmanuel to shoot his first short film Demons. After reading an article on a sexual-based assault in Nigeria, and realizing the severity of the vulnerability of queer people in Nigeria, Emmanuel knew he needed to take action. The aforementioned article struck a chord within Emmanuel and spurred him to write Demons and ensure it is viewed by as many Nigerians as possible.
Demons is a piece of Afro-Queer culture that blends the worlds of the Lagos gays and that of the British diaspora. It takes an in-depth look at the cause and effects of homophobic attacks in both countries and the atrocities that come with embracing one’s true identity. The short film tells the story of Bola, a Black British police officer who returns to Lagos to avenge his boyfriend’s death. His boyfriend Dotun was attacked in Lagos and later dies as a result of the injuries sustained. While in Nigeria queer people don’t enjoy the legal protections as queers in London and North America, Emmanuel believed this film could give his characters a chance to get justice one way or another. According to the writer-producer, Demons is a “subversive revenge thriller that gives queers a chance at retribution.”
“Demons is something from my head and my heart and no one can take that away from me,” Emmanuel confidently stated. In Nollywood where production details are spared and kept close to the heart, Emmanuel’s approach to his short film is an uncommon occurrence among Nigerian films. With a film website that openly spells out the entirety of the film’s plotline, storyboard, production team, and treatment – generally for funding purposes – it is clear this filmmaker is all about sharing his filmmaking journey with the world and starting a conversation about what is happening to queer people in Nigeria.
During our conversation, it was impossible to miss the zest that consumed Emmanuel as he spoke about creating Demons and the importance of the film to the Nigerian community. The zest was lightly dulled as he recounted his experience filming in the country’s cosmopolitan hub, Lagos.
Asides from the many hurdles a Nigerian filmmaker passes over to successfully shoot a film, there are even more complications that accompany filming queer-related content. Emmanuel didn’t realize how controversial Demons could be until he began filming in the busy city. Two hours into filming scenes at the airport, the production camera and other equipment were seized on set by airport officials, on the grounds that the crew is filming offensive materials. Filming Demons in a city like Lagos met Emmanuel with countless highs and lows, from tardiness from cast and crew to limited resources. Regardless of the on set vicissitudes, he confesses he was deeply moved by the loyalty the cast and crew showed. “Everybody stayed with me till the end…. that was really beautiful.” He adds.
The film boasts of many talented team members amongst the cast and crew, with acting talents ranging from Emmanuel Imani himself, to Alex Rider star Ronke Adekoluejo. Due to the stigmatization that comes with taking on queer roles in the Nigerian Film Industry, Emmanuel found it difficult to cast as many Nollywood actors as he would have liked in his film. He resorted to hiring most of his actors from the United Kingdom because he felt it was safer.
The writer-producer himself is currently undergoing the intricate process of editing and hopes to have a trailer ready by August. The short film is set to find its way into prestigious international festivals and also aims for a Netflix release. Emmanuel is determined to create as much buzz around Demons in order to spark a conversation about queer people in Nigeria.
Too busy to visit our blog every day? We get it! Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and get our best stories delivered to your mailbox every Friday!