Why I partnered with Funmi Iyanda on Walking With Shadows – Aoife O’Kelly

Aoife O'Kelly

London-based Irish writer and director, Aoife O’Kelly, has explained her attraction to Walking With Shadows, a film produced by Nigerian TV personality, Funmi Iyanda.

The film, which deals with the fallout from a romantic relationship between two Nigerian men, was premiered at the BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday

It is the first feature-length film directed by O’Kelly who grew up in Ireland, where homosexuality was illegal until 1993.

“I was very empathetic towards the story,” she told AFP, noting “the devastation” the Irish law caused many people who were forced to hide their sexuality and persistently faced arrest or ostracisation.

“What I hope is that from the story people will gain an understanding of what someone has to go through… (keeping) themselves in hiding most of their lives, and the devastating consequences that will have on not just the person, but their family,” O’Kelly added.

Walking With Shadows – adapted from Jude Dibia’s 2005 debut book of the same name – chronicles one man’s struggle for acceptance by his family and society following revelations of a past gay relationship.

The award-winning and critically-acclaimed book, initially self-published after Dibia failed to find someone willing to release it, was the first Nigerian novel to feature a gay protagonist, according to the filmmakers.

Ozzy Agu, who plays the leading role in the movie, told AFP at the movie’s world premiere in London that they hope to screen it in Nigeria despite the anti-gay sentiment in the country

“Of course, it’s a touchy subject matter back in Nigeria but the way the movie is done is actually quite respectful.

“I’m sure that there’s an audience that needs their stories told and this movie is for them,” he said, adding the notion there are no gay people in Nigeria or other African nations was “crazy”.

Produced by Funmi Iyanda, other actors in the movie include Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, Zainab Balogun and Funsho Adeolu.

Ms Iyanda recalls how her interview with Bisi Alimi, an openly gay Nigerian rights activist, on NTA caused a storm.

“That experience opened my eye to the depth of homophobia and the heightened levels of social intolerance,” Iyanda, who served as the creative director on the movie, wrote in a press release.

“I wanted to find the right story to tell about struggles with one’s self and society’s expectations in a country which was incredibly vibrant yet deeply and punitively conservative,” she added.