Bisi Alimi was exiled from Nigeria after being the first and man to come out publicly as gay on national television in 2004. After suffering years of death threat and abuse, he was finally forced to flee the country for the UK eight years ago.
Now, Attitude has an exclusive look at the documentary which follows his powerful story and emotional first trip back home to the country where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison and, in some northern Islamic states, even death. Jamie Wareham spoke to Joe Cohen, director of The Boy From Mushin about the project and why he’s taken to Kickstarter to fund the film’s completion…
Coming out in the UK is difficult. But imagine being the first man to ever come out as gay, live on national TV – in a country where it’s illegal. Bisi Alimi was forced to leave Nigeria after he did just that. Despite living in the UK for years after claiming asylum and being forced to build his life from the ground up – Bisi still gets death threats.
“I get Facebook messages all the time from people I don’t even know telling me, if you come to Nigeria – I’m going to kill you,” he says.
Now in an intimate documentary, Bisi has documented how he returned home to Nigeria, in a shroud of secrecy to visit his friends, family and roots. Screening exclusively on Attitude, here is the trailer:
For Joe, Nigeria is a country we don’t talk about enough. He says we get blinded by countries like Russia and Uganda. In Nigeria, the law goes further than many countries “You can be ‘gay by association’ in the sense that if you don’t report ‘homosexuals’ you too can be convicted for not doing so.”
Joe called out the UK government on this too.” The UK has a lot of business interests like oil in Nigeria which leaves our government with less klout to call the country out on it’s homophobia.”
The trailer focuses around Bisi’s trip back to Mushin, the are near the capital city of Lagos in which he grew up in. Mushin is a slum with extreme poverty and high levels of crime. Throughout his trip, it’s easy to understand the paranoia Bisi clearly has while he travels around Nigeria. If he had been recognised by the wrong person – he could have easily been sent to prison.
Joe had to work with a local camera crew on the ground for both his own and Bisi’s safety. “It was a trip shrouded in so much secrecy we had to be so careful not to draw attention to Bisi. I essentially directed them from afar, so didn’t even see the footage until he came back. But when I did I was in tears watching it. It was such an emotional trip, Bisi was petrified of being recognised the whole time.”
The documentary doesn’t just tell the story of his exile though, but other Nigerian activists and migrants who have come to the UK. Filmed in an on the road style, it follows Bisi’s life as he continues his activism. Joe said one of the most striking things the documentary shows is an intense inconsistency in the the LGBT community, showing how racist it can be – something Bisi recently alluded to at National Student Pride too.
The trailer alone is an emotional hit in itself, but hearing about the whole story I was flummoxed this hadn’t been commissioned by a broadcaster. “I did take it to the traditional broadcasters, but whether it was too niche, or too similar to other projects they have already commissioned – they weren’t interested.”
He adds: “I hate it when stories like this are classed as black or LGBT – it’s not, it’s a human story.
“Bisi coming out had a huge ripple effect in Nigeria. There is an age old phrase, together our voices are stronger and louder. I hope I can raise enough money to fund this documentary and continue the sense of empowerment Bisi gave me to so many others.”
You can support the crowdfunder campaign for ‘The Boy from Mushin’ on Kickstarter.
Words: Jamie Wareham