Award winning director Nosa Igbinedion returns to TBB to discuss his latest project, Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha, the next chapter in the Rise of the Orisha African Superhero Series that is comprised of 6 mini episodes.
Nosa’s passion for comic books and superheroes, alongside an interest in African spiritual philosophy led him to conceptualise the series. Acknowledging the lack of diverse stories featuring black characters Nosa felt compelled to merge the two themes to create Superheroes based on Yoruba legend.
Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha, the latest release of the African superhero franchise, features Amina, a young doctor who undergoes a dramatic change in her life when a politician’s son dies whilst under her care. Amina’s situation rapidly gets more complicated as she starts getting frequent mystical visions as she becomes possessed by the water goddess Yemoja.
Hi Nosa, it is a pleasure to speak with you. I’m curious to learn more about the mind behind this project. Let’s start with how did you get into filmmaking?
Growing up I wanted to be an astronaut or a filmmaker. I did astrophysics at Queen Mary’s but decided to do film instead. I made a film, but was told I couldn’t use it for my dissertation. So I sent it to various festivals instead and did very well. From there I got into an internship at Film4 and that’s how I got into film.
What motivated you to create the, Rise of Orisha series?
When I first got into making films I felt that I was making films for the sake of it and not connecting with audiences in the way that I wanted to. I had to think, “what do I love?” I’ve heard to find out what you really love you have to go back to your childhood and that’s what I did. My two passions as a child were Superheroes and African mythology. I saw films like 300 that portrayed Greek philosophy and I wanted to create that for an African movie. Whether it’s the UK, US or Nigeria a lot of the time African Spirituality is presented as barbaric, demonic and backwards, whereas it’s actually quite deep. I hadn’t seen anything like this so I planned to go ahead and make it.
I once went on a Tim Reid (Actor, Comedian, Film Director) course and he said your art is your propaganda, the message resonated with me. I wanted to make the film but knew that I would have to commit to it so I decided to announce it at BUFF film festival where one of my earlier films was being screened. This way I knew I would have to follow through on my idea. So I stood up in the crowd and said to everybody that I had decided to make a Nigerian Superhero film and the audience burst out laughing. I could see that they had their own preconceived ideas and no idea of the vast amounts of stories and universal understanding within these teachings. That spurred me on to bring this idea to life.
Another thing that inspired me to do this project was, I was teaching a film class and a young black boy wanted to make a film about a white Oxford graduate who saves the world from a deadly virus. I asked him various questions to find out about the concept and the character. When asked why that particular character and not any other ethnicity, he responded “no one would believe that a black guy could save the world”. That motivated me to get this film completed.
How important do you think it is to have African Superheroes?
I think it’s heavily important. People’s perceptions form their reality. If you believe you can do something then it’s possible to achieve it, but if you see yourself in a particular light you’re hampered already. African civilisation is being denied to the world and there are elements of it that if we dig deep enough and we try to understand, it could illuminate a lot about humanity as a whole. There are old stories that were passed down from my grandfather to my dad and then to me, they are like echoes of something much greater, connecting to that is essential. History is a long line and you need to see yourself as a part of creating history and if you can’t believe that you’ve ever created anything before then you are not going to believe you can create something in the future.
Why did you choose Orisha to be the theme of your film series?
I am from Benin we have similar ideologies to Yoruba, so when I was looking into African Spirituality, mythologies etc. I was drawn to the Orisha for two reasons. 1, I came across a picture of Oya with a whip and a hurricane in the background, there was something about her energy that caught my interest and drew me in. 2, on a more logical level I started to look at how many people follow this spirituality around the world – over 100 million people in different places. There is a perception that African Spirituality is localised and a village thing, when it is a worldwide religion that connects people from Brazil, Nigeria to the USA. That was a big impetus as it unites people across the globe.
What type of feedback have you received of the Orisha series so far?
Because there have been so many negative portrayals of African Traditional Religions, there are a lot of people who before they have even seen the series are like who is this dude? Especially when they hear African Superheroes they think it’s going to denigrate the name of the Orisha. The reality is, I have spoken with Orisha followers and family members who practice traditional religions and carried out surveys to receive feedback. I haven’t taken this subject lightly and people are now seeing that I have a genuine passion for this. I had a screening once that had a mixed audience, particularly the older generation, a lady told me that it was “diabolical” … I asked why and she said “those people put curses on people.” I know some people who are reluctant to share on their Facebook page due to possibly offending Christian family members. I also have Christian friends who love it and see the power of the imagery.
Oya was a short film to see whether there is an interest for films like this. People felt the characters were not developed enough due to the lack of time. With Yemoja, the new series, it is a lot more character focused so I have taken that feedback on board. In terms of positive feedback, I have had an amazing response after releasing Oya. We have had hundreds of thousands of people watch the film online; featured in national newspapers in multiple countries, it has screened in festivals around the world and has had famous figures mention their love for what we are doing. I’ve had people all around the world saying “I can’t believe you are doing this I’ve been waiting for something like this my whole life.” I went to Brazil and so many people were inviting me into their homes and wanting to bring me food. Everyday people are saying “we can’t wait for the feature and the comic book” it is this kind of feedback that keeps me motivated after the all the hard work.
What would you like people to take away from Yemoja, the current installment of the series?
I really want people to have a spiritual experience whilst watching this film. I want them to go on a journey and come out feeling goodness and clarity. I also hope this film is a catalyst for opening up the debate about religion and spirituality and why these traditions have been largely discarded.
What would you say to other filmmakers who want to create more diverse representations and narratives for Black people?
Make it. You have all of the tools available to go ahead. Information is now freely available and modern technology has reduced the price of production, there should be no excuse. I think filmmakers also need to adopt the mentality of making something you want to make rather than making something that you think people want to see. There are so many stories to be told and I can’t believe gang storylines are still a thing. I have a story of a friend who was hired by a broadcaster to find a bunch of black men from two rival gangs and film them. The more you invest in that system the more you keep it alive. The more you create something alternative and different to that system it will crumble and die as you will no longer pay attention to it.
Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha was released July 31st 2016, to purchase your copy go to www.riseoftheorisha.com
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