Nigerian Director of ‘All the Colours of the World’ on His Former University Roommate Who Was Lynched for Being Gay (EXCLUSIVE)

Rexa Vella

Nigerian Director of ‘All the Colours of the World’ on His Former University Roommate Who Was Lynched for Being Gay (EXCLUSIVE)

Before he had even shot a single frame in Lagos, director Babatunde Apalowo knew his film depicting two men falling in love would never see the inside of a cinema in Nigeria. He made it anyway.

The 37-year-old wrote and helmed “All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White” as a gay-themed love story produced under the Polymath Pictures banner.

For a Nollywood film, Apalowo’s directorial feature debut is an extremely testy on-screen exploration within an African country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment, flogging and death.

Apalowo tells Variety he was shocked a few years ago to hear from a friend that his former roommate at university was lynched for being gay.

“Our residence was small rooms with bunk beds. It’s difficult to move around in that small physical space and not get to know people well. Yet I never knew he was gay.”

“He was lynched. That really got to me because I thought perhaps I was part of the problem. He didn’t trust me enough to tell me what he was going through. It made me wonder and think: Even though we were living so close together in this same physical space our reality was completely different. I couldn’t imagine him going through all those things. And I had absolutely no idea.”

According to Apalowo, the film originally was supposed to be a love letter to Lagos.

“It was meant to be a photographer going around Lagos trying to recapture it after finding a box of photographs and revisiting places.”

“I realized examining something is also a form of love for it — it’s not just a very myopic idea of love.”

“I wanted to focus exclusively on just two characters, but a city is not just buildings, it’s its people. It was challenging to figure out the balance between what we show of Lagos and how the city is portrayed as a character. We see Lagos through the eyes of our main characters with Bambino who sees Bawa taking photos.”

Apalowo explains the most difficult aspect was casting due to the subject matter, making it an issue to get actors.

“There were instances where actors dropped out. It got to a point where I thought to myself: I’m never going to get this film made. I’m never going to get actors for this film, I’m just going to forget about it.”

He kept persevering and eventually got Tope Tedela as Bambino and Riyo David as Bawa – realizing full well that another hurdle was Nigerian censorship since Apalowo wasn’t going to compromise his film artistically.

Nobody however tried to stop him from making the film, he says.

“The issue is after you’re done, you have to pass the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). We knew right from the outset that we were not going to get to screen the film in Nigerian cinemas so we had our minds made up about that.”

For African filmmakers pondering whether a passion project is worthwhile pursuing despite so many hurdles, Apalowo’s message is not to give up.

“It’s difficult to make films in Africa. Africa presents some specific problems for filmmaking but you can’t give up on your dreams. I should listen to my own advice because I had already given up,” he explains. “I didn’t do the filmmaking I wanted to make.”

“I felt I wasn’t in the right environment to make the films I love. I packed my bag and went to the U.K. At some point I didn’t want to feel like a failure. That’s why I did ‘All the Colours’ as a last effort, thinking: I’m going to make a film for myself and even if it doesn’t get any respect and doesn’t travel and is a failure, I will know I’ve done it.”

Then it won the 2023 Teddy for Best Feature at the Berlin Film Festival, and a best director nomination and a best actor nomination for Tedela at MultiChoice’s Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards last year.

“We were realistic that this is a queer film in a country where homosexuality is punishable with 14 years in prison. To be realistic we had to figure a way out. We knew it couldn’t screen theatrically but now there are other options like streaming, like Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video.”

“Besides being a queer film it’s also arthouse. Queer film or not, it’s difficult to get theatrical distribution in Nigeria for that,” he says.

Apalowo says he didn’t make “All the Colours” to be an award-winner but to tell a story in the best way possible to tell a particular story.

“It’s high time we as Africans start making specific films, telling our stories.”

“There’s this concept that slow-cinema is European. Slow-cinema is definitely very African. In our storytelling structure — look at our folktales and the way my grandma would tell it — one little story can take hours to tell. I think we should embrace the creation of a new particular style of telling our stories the best way possible.”

With so many “off limits” taboo topics for African filmmakers, Apalowo is encouraging producers and directors to explore these “but to be authentic about it. It’s so clichéd I know, but you do really, really have to be very passionate about it.”

“I was so touched about what happened to my friend and it made me become aware. I became aware of what was going on.”

“If there’s a topic you want to approach you just have to be passionate enough about it to do the work to make it extremely authentic,” he says. “Every African filmmaker should really dig when approaching any topic that’s taboo — find the order in the story.”

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