It comes full circle. In 2004, the popular Nigerian journalist Funmi Iyanda invited a man to her talk show, New Dawn with Funmi. During that interview, the man, Bisi Alimi, came out as gay. It invoked the wrath of Nigerians, not only on him but on Iyanda for daring to use her platform that way. “When I did that interview I did not know how much punishment I would get,” she would say years later. “I was more concerned for him than myself. I was punished severely in ways I will not talk about, even now, until I am ready. It’s ridiculous.” The following year, 2005, another man, Jude Dibia, quietly published a novel. That book, Walking with Shadows, the first to humanize a gay character in Nigerian literature, became controversial, and, in years after, the point of departure in conversations about the representation of queerness in the country. Today, it is, quite simply, one of Nigeria’s most cited books in journalism and academia.
It has now been brought to the big screen by Iyanda, through her production company Oya Media, in partnership with The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS). The film will premiere at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival, which will be held from 2–13 October 2019.
I’m pleased to announce the @BFI London Film Festival world premiere of Walking With Shadows, an adaptation of @JudeDibia’s award-winning novel. This is the first in a slate of films my team and l will be making. #WWSTHEMOVIE #walkingwithshadows pic.twitter.com/4U0v8xbJ36
— Funmi Iyanda (@Funmilola) August 29, 2019
Produced & executive-produced by Iyanda, directed by Adife O’Kelly, and scored by Sammy El-Enany, the film stars Ozzy Agu, Zainab Balogun, Funlola Aifiyebi Raimi, Wale Ojo, and Adunni F. Ade. Co-producers are Victoria Thomas, She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak co-editor Xeenarh Mohammed, and former TIERS director Olumide F. Makanjuola, who is also listed as an executive producer. Other members of the film crew include its editor Matthew Maria, the director of photography Gerard Puigmal, the production designer Olatunji Afolayan, the line producer Asurf Oluseyi, and the associate producer Victor Lambert.
Here is a description of the film by Oya Media:
In Lagos, Nigeria, Ebele Njoko has been running all his life.
A search for acceptance and love from his family, has led him to recreate himself as Adrian Njoko, respected father, husband, and brother. Suddenly, Adrian’s past and secrets have caught up with him and his world soon begins to crumble as he frantically tries to control the growing ripple effect of a revelation. Walking With Shadows is adapted from Jude Dibia’s 2005 book of the same title, which was awarded Sweden’s Natur och Kultur Prize. It stars Ozzy Agu and Zainab Balogun.
Here is a description of the novel from its second edition publishers, Lulu:
Ebele Njoko had survived a forlorn and poignant childhood, concealing a secret he could not explain and craving the love and approval of his parents. Years later he reinvents himself and is now known and respected as Adrian Njoko, father, husband, brother and mentor. One phone call and his life as he knows it is changed forever. In coming to terms with his dark secret Adrian is forced to choose between keeping his family or accepting a life of possible loneliness and rejection.
Dibia has since published two other novels, Unbridled (2007) and Blackbird (2011).
Watch the trailer below:
In July, the queer rights activist Pamela Adie released her documentary Under the Rainbow, Nigeria’s first about being lesbian.
Congratulations to Jude Dibia and Funmi Iyanda.
Follow the film on Instagram.