By SHAIBU HUSSEINI | The Guardian Newspaper
Although he has been touring festivals worldwide screening his first feature documentary, Bigger Than Africa, Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye’s dream was to have the cultural documentary stream on a global platform so that more people will get to see the film outside festivalgoers.
That dream came through for the filmmaker and President of Motherland Productions in Los Angeles on May 13, 2022, when the documentary film about the journey of enslaved Africans through the lens of the Yoruba culture of West Africa debuted on the global streaming platform Netflix.
“I feel great watching it with everyone on Netflix,” he said excitedly, adding that he hopes that the documentary, which takes the audience on a journey through six countries – Brazil, Cuba, Nigeria, Trinidad & Tobago, The Republic of Benin and The United States of America, becomes a unifying documentary for all people of African descent irrespective of their countries.
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A documentary that delivers a wealth of information on the world of the Yorubas across continents, Bigger Than Africa is a narrative that centres on the Yoruba people, the religion, culture and the ethnicity of a part of the Beninese, Nigerian and Togolese populations, as well as the descendants of slaves with origins in these countries. The documentary was able to create a rich and interesting narrative of the Yoruba world across the continents.
The filmmaker offers a unique portrait of their commonalities than their differences as he admits, “When the slave ships docked in North America, Brazil and the Caribbean, hundreds of cultures, traditions, and religions landed with Africans on board, one transcended slavery beyond imagination to remain alive till this day in the new world; the culture of the Yorubas. I hope it becomes a unifying documentary for all people of African descent irrespective of their countries. It is a film that uniquely tells the stories of our commonalities rather than our differences,” he said.
Clearly a well-researched documentary, Bigger Than Africa is peopled with many Yoruba kings, traditional leaders, scholars, priests, enthusiasts and researchers who are very knowledgably about the subject matter. Those featured in the documentary include the Ooni of Ife, the Alaafin of Oyo, the Alaketu of Ketu, King of Port Novo, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Wande Abimbola, Chief Nike Okundaye and Fayemi Elebuibon.
Screened at film festivals worldwide, the documentary has won multiple awards and earned prestigious screening invitations from venues like the United Nations and the Schomburg Centre for Research on Black Culture among others.
Asked where the inspiration for the project came from, Toyin who revealed that he grew up in a rural community of Kwara State around family who were cultured storytellers and lovers of art, said the inspiration for the project came after a visit to the Oyotunji African Village in South Carolina where Yoruba culture has been preserved.
“And I asked myself, if the Yoruba culture exists here, then where else could we find it like this? I would later discover that it was evident in a lot of places the Africans had landed during the transatlantic slave trade. So I was inspired to go round these places,” he said.
An alumnus of the prestigious Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood California and the Los Angeles City College where he further sharpened his cinematography, Adekeye had his early education in Kwara before moving to Lagos under the guidance of the Late Mr. Oyewole Edun Alakija, the former Chief photographer for the Federal Ministry of Information & Culture, who was credited for documenting pre independence and post independent Nigeria through his lenses for the film unit of the ministry.
He revealed that it was his beloved guardian that influenced his incursion to the world of filmmaking.
“I was influenced by my beloved guardian and I fell in love with the camera and that love just never waned. I would later migrate to the United States in the year 2001. As a young man, I valued my time and freedom immensely, which was why I chose to become an entrepreneur and owned businesses while in the United States. However, my passion for camera would take me back to school.”
For school, Toyin chose one in Los Angeles— Los Angeles Film School, because as he observed, “Los Angeles is the epicenter of movie making, not just in the United States, but all over the world. So, it is just befitting that it is also the home of the popular Los Angeles City College, which is famous around the nation for her exceptional movie making programs.”
Asked how funding came for the documentary, Toyin who revealed that he has two projects in the pipeline, one being a feature narrative and as well as another epic documentary, also stated that Bigger Than Africa is an independent production supported by investors interested in the story. He also commented on the course of production and what he considers the gains of the project.
“Researching this project added a lot to what I knew and it brought so many awareness. The course of production was an overwhelming one, full of enlightening moments from country to country; it’s an experience that makes you have more appreciation for your culture. It shows me that we knew very little about the Yoruba experience despite being Yoruba from Nigeria or another part of West Africa.”