He has featured in great movies on the global stage. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is an actor of repute, movie producer and director as well a fashion model. In this interview with SAMUEL ABULUDE, he speaks on his experience shooting the movie, ‘Farming’ which is an autobiography of his growing up life with his foster parents in the UK and the issues involved as a migrant
Farming has been part of the British culture for so long, why do you think it has not been explored in films or any sort of narrative before now?
For various reasons, when some Nigerian parents came to Britain and they would target the working class family to force their children out to. This is why the working class family would be the rider. The other reason is that the practice of farming is imposed because there were not the checks and balance; that was why the practice of farming neglected their children. Perhaps it was the practice that indicted the system to a degree so it was not something the past government wanted to expose. Maybe there are some of the reasons it is not relative to us in Britain.
What exactly do you have in mind when you set out to make this film?
I just wanted to tell a true story about my parents and growing up as a young Nigerian child in the 80s. I just wanted to show an authentic perspective of a black person living in the United Kingdom then. Very few people were aware of the African journey and the contributions of the African struggle there. Growing up as a young Nigerian in Britain was very difficult. Therefore, I just want to show us as authentic a black person having a perception of Britain whether as monarchy or whatever it is. Very few people were aware of the African journey and tradition of the British society. This is me sharing my experience with the British society growing up as a black person. Also the experience of the thousands of black children who went through this practice. It gives a platform to acknowledge and also a history of the British society. It was the voice of a forgotten generation of thousands of Nigerians who went through the practice of farming. It gives a footnote for a British culture as a headline. In so doing, it gives some palliative therapy for those who went through practice by parents and children. It was my intention as a Nigerian to create a dialogue. And for us as Nigerian community to re-evaluate our practice of raising children.
When did you start working on this project and how long did it take you?
I started writing in 2003. And it took me 15 years to finish and make the film. As an actor and director, it took me that long because I have to learn the skills of writing and adapting into the screen play to my acting career. I have to prove that I am capable of directing my film, financing and shooting my film myself to prove to people that I have something to share my directing ability.
I think also the fact that I was bringing awareness on a subject matter serious about Britain at a time in the industry when it was necessarily challenging to hear about those things. All this made it a challenge for me to tell my story. Also, the budget for making the film took time. It is quite expensive and a very ambitious project. You know it is a film of three decades. So it took a lot to achieve that.
In the modern day UK, does the culture of farming still hold sway?
No. There was a case in the near 2000 involving a victim of farming where a Nigerian died in her first appearance. There was a cause of investigation into the prevalence and to put checks and balance in place. If the government did something and if checks and balances were implemented, it would have effectively stopped it.
What about the casting of the movie and did you deliberately look for the cast for the movie?
Yes because it is about my life story and so I looked out for individual cast that would portray my story. The person who played the role of a Netherlands teacher that played the role responsible for my transformation for example. What helped my casting process is that I played people that I knew. And secondly, as an actor, I knew what I was looking for in my casting. I looked for charisma and some other things.
How do you feel you are being nominated at the film festival and also winning two festival awards; what is your experience like winning an award in ‘Farming’?
It’s hugely rewarding. You know it was such a long struggle to get the film produced.
The Edinburgh Film Festival was a great festival; it is the best British Film and best performance in the British film. It was hugely gratifying. It creatively validates me as a film-maker to be reckoned with. And the audience resonates with the material that they connected to through the farming process. I was very gratified. And also, as a first-time film maker, winning awards, I feel great.
Why was it important for you to cast Genevieve Nnaji in the movie?
It has always been my ambition to marry Hollywood and Nollywood, to bridge my experience in the movie industry. I wanted a platform that would give opportunity for some of our talented actors on the big stage. I grew up watching Genevieve as a great actress. I wanted a Nigerian to play an authentic mother to me in the movie. For me I felt Genevieve was a perfect person to play on the movie and I was glad to feature her. But that Hollywood embraced Genevieve, that was fantastic. I was happy I was able to marry the two film industries. And as a Nigerian star actress, Genevieve fitted into the big stage.
In specific terms, what are the lessons to be learnt in this film?
The lessons to be learnt here are many. The lessons in this film is that as a parents if you are going to engage into fostering and adoption of a child, they should do their research and homework about the culture of that child because they are not just taking the child if there is racism in their culture. If they don’t educate themselves on the culture of the child, there will be a problem as the child grows up in the foreign land because the child needs to know his root. The other lesson. As the Nigerian community, we really need to re-evaluate the value of child rearing process because the question that begs is; what are we giving to a child? What we should give to a child in practice is love. There are so many Nigerian parents that fostered children in the UK for adoption but they never returned to get them back. They abandoned their children as if they didn’t exist. For me, the Nigerian community need to give education, care and bond with their children. They need to show compassion and love for their children because when you have love, you conquer everything. Also, we need to re-evaluate our aspirations and our child rearing process. On a broader level, Britain as a nation needs to re-evaluate her relationship with the migrant population so as to address racial discrimination and appreciate the contributions of the migrants. So, the lesson is all about love, maternal and paternal care.
What was your experience as the director of film?
That was probably the most surreal experience throughout the whole movie because it was not my intention to play the role I played. Perhaps we were looking for an actor that played my part but my producers suggested that I play the part I played and for some reasons, my experience would contribute to the movie. It was the first time in the movie that I stepped into my father’s shoes and I was looking at myself from his perspective. So I took on the role I played and it was mind-blowing because there were things I saw about me and my father that I could play in that role and I realized how important I am to him. But it was pretty challenging to feature actors like Genevieve and others and I was still able to direct the movie. So it was a lot to take in and I enjoyed it that I directed the movie when I had to multi-task.
Was that the most challenging thing you had during the movie?
Oh no! The whole process of the movie was emotional. I remembered my production designer; she recreated the house we grew up in to perfection and I remember I got emotional and it took me some time before I could continue to shoot the movie.