By Robert St. Martin
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 9/17/23 – An important film in the lineup for this year’s Outfest Los Angeles is Babatunde Apalowo’s All the Colours of the World Between Black and White (Nigeria, 2023). This fictional film about queerness in Nigeria premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it was awarded the prestigious Teddy Award. You have an opportunity to see this fine film at USC for free on September 23, at 7:30 PM in USC’s Norris Cinema Theatre at the Frank Sinatra Hall (3507 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles 90007). The screening will be followed by a live virtual Q&A with writer/director Babatunde Apalowo and the lead actors in the film. It is free admission and open to the public, but you need to RSVP ahead. CLICK HERE TO RSVP. Be sure to arrive ahead with sufficient time in case the screening demand is huge. Nigeria, one of the most difficult countries in the world to be an LGBTQ+ person. In Nigeria, people there can face up to 10 years in jail for being part of anything considered a gay social club or group, and up to 14 years if in a same-sex relationship. Against this background, we see how a very guarded relationship attempted to form and be broken apart. In Nigeria homosexuality is still not accepted and it takes great courage to admit to it, even to yourself.
The film, written and directed by Babatunde Apalowo and beautifully shot by David Wyte, introduces us to Bambino (Tope Tedela), who earns his living as a delivery man who moves around the large, modern city of Lagos, Nigeria, on a motorcycle. Bambino is educated and has a fine collection of books in his small but tidy apartment. Often, we see him reading. He is a kind man who often helps out others in need. A very solitary man, he keeps to himself, although a young female neighbor Ifeyinwa (Martha Ehinome Orhiere), who has a crush on him and often hangs out in his apartment. She is a student on the cusp of an arranged marriage who can’t seem to stop throwing herself at him. When Bambino comes home to discover Ifeyinwa lying on his bed in her underwear, cheerfully saying she’ll be his prostitute, he gently reminds her she’s a virgin and tells her to get dressed.
Neighbors often come to Bambino’s door to ask for money. He’s the most well-off person in his apartment building in Lagos, in a ramshackle neighborhood where everyone minds everyone else’s business – and we hear their voices and see their hands, but never their faces. The married couple downstairs have been carrying out the same shouted arguments for nearly a decade; the walls are so thin Bambino can hear every word.
On a delivery, he runs into Bawa (Riyo David) who owns Click Photography, a small shop in the neighborhood that mostly sells lottery tickets. The betting shop buyers argue with Bawa, but suddenly when Bawa moves out from behind a computer monitor to smile at Bambino – and this magical moment marks the spark of desire without contact. In that first meeting, Bawa takes out his camera and takes some photographs of Bambino wearing his motorcycle helmet. The story of the two men develops around photography shooting, as it allows them to get together and wander around, and a kind of friendship flourishes while Bambino is pictured in the landmarks of the city. The men are attracted to each other and we see some subtle details between them, although everyone has reactions to this appeal; unfortunately, they can’t be together because what people may say, their lives are ruled by social codes and have implications with the community.
In a country of 180 million inhabitants divided between Muslims and Christians, Nigeria is a scary country in which to be gay. Homosexuality is illegal. No fundamental human rights are observed and since 2014 there is the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which prohibits marriage between persons of the same sex. In reality, its scope is much wider. The law forbids any cohabitation between same-sex sexual partners and bans any “public show of same-sex amorous relationship.” This hits home when Bawa invites Bambino to a fancy restaurant in Lagos and they eat almost touching hands, until in a panic Bambino pulls away.
Bawa loves to take pictures with his camera and use Bambino in those photographs. He asks Bambino, since he knows the city well, to take him to picaresque spots around Lagos so he can build up his photo portfolio for an upcoming contest. Bambino agrees, without understanding why he gives in so easily. He is comfortable with Bawa and shares with him more than with Ifeyinwa, who is in hot pursuit of him. At first Bambino seems comfortable having Bawa visit him in his apartment, but they have their clothes on and never touch each other, less they risk judgment, with possible violent consequences. After all, Bambino has recently seen out on the street a group of young men beating up a young Nigerian lad for being effeminate and wearing tight pants.
During day or nighttime motorcycle rides and in the privacy of Bambino´s apartment, most of the time the men are silent or communicate in brief dialogues, perhaps tired of wanting something that never really hadn’t happened but thinking that if it feels good being together it must be right. When Bawa invites Bambino to a fancy restaurant in Lagos and showers him with attention, it is just too much for Bambino who realizes that Bawa really in love with him. But that is just too much for Bambino to process, as he attempts to show interest in his young female neighbor Ifeyinwa. And that ends in “I’m sorry” as he has never been with a woman before.
All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White is about yearning desire in an adverse social context. Tope Tedela, a pastor’s son who took the part over familial disapproval, proves an amazing performance as Bambino, the quiet, wounded man who has learned not to name his hungers or his scars. The younger Bawa, played by Riyo David as a man who trusts himself and therefore enjoys the innate confidence that it brings, is perfectly cast. The film is an intimate character study, in which we see Bambino undergoing the spiritual and emotional journey that results from the process of questioning his own identity. Both men find themselves torn between accepting their desires as valid and suppressing them to avoid any potential controversy, since they don’t have the benefit of living in a society accepting of homosexuality.
Without revealing the end of the film, it is important to note how dangerous it is to be gay in Nigeria today. The neighboring countries of Benin and Ivory Coast are better because in those two countries, homosexuality is not illegal. This has something to do with a decision that Bawa will make about closing up his shop in Lagos and leaving for somewhere else where he can work in art gallery and do photography. Bambino and Bawa encounter each other as a result of their shared interest in photography and, in this film, the camera of Bawa is a character of sorts.
As American photographer Diane Arbus once wrote: “A photograph is a secret about a secret – the more it tells you, the less you know.” Eventually Bawa sees the physical wounds of Bambino that reflect his emotional pains. As Bawa says quoting his mother: “Talking through things helps manage pains.” As we see in a sequence with the two men talking near the film’s end, Bawa asks: “Do you think we are just wasting our time?” Bambino answers: “Time is eternal, it is always running. We can waste our lives.”
Apalowo’s film is a most compelling story and a compassionate depiction of the experiences of queer people in cultures different from our own. I highly recommend seeing All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White at Outfest.