The fast-rising Nigerian filmmaker on Boy, You’re Beautiful — his ongoing film series depicting young masculinity in his country — and casting youths in Lagos for Harley Weir
Today we explore Nigeria’s youth culture community, through the lens of some of the country’s most influential young thinkers.
Dafe Oboro is a visual storyteller focusing his lens sensitively on everyday life in Nigeria. Filmmaker, photojournalist and casting director Oboro was born in Lagos in one of the nation’s biggest slums, and moved to the UK to study broadcast journalism. Before that, Oboro wanted to be a designer and was constantly drawing portraits of models (his sketches of dresses as a gift to his sister, he tells me, sparked her career in fashion).
While at university, Oboro produced a documentary that highlighted the inhumanity of slum demolition in Nigeria, titled Slum Dwellers: Not Dead, Not Living. As a result, he was featured in A Nasty Boy magazine’s “Creative Class of 2018” list — which honed in on 40 African creatives purposefully disrupting the status quo there. Meanwhile, a fashion short he made in collaboration with Mowalola Ogunlesi was soundtracked by Klein, and premiered last year on SHOWStudio.
Dazed caught up with Dafe to find out more about him, his new documentary series Boy, You’re Beautiful — which explores young masculinity in Nigeria — and his time casting Harley Weir’s Lagos-set story for Dazed’s spring 2018 issue.
Hey Dafe. You seem to be constantly juggling projects: what’s the latest?
I’m working on the next episode of Boy, You're Beautiful. I’m trying to revisit the moment in school the day I was looking into a mirror and I said I was beautiful — I am trying to get school students in one, and see where it takes me. Also, I am writing my third (piece of) fiction, and I have a few scripts. Basically as a storyteller, I’m revisiting my childhood.
So, Harley Weir’s shoot in the spring issue of Dazed... tell me about your work on it.
Harley came to Nigeria with a clear plan of what she wanted to achieve during her time here, and I had the distinct pleasure of producing the project. It was her first time (in) Lagos — and also travelling to other states, Ogun and Osun — the whole process was euphoric and was very much an eye-opener. Not just for Harley, but for me and Raphael Hirsch, a fellow Nigerian stylist. With the resources and contacts of key people from my production company (DÁFE FILMS), I put together the whole crew before production, including actors, models, a community celestial church choir, script writers, masquerades and more. Scheduling the editorial and filming in a city like Lagos was a complex challenge, but with a clear structure of what we wanted to achieve during the six days from the outset, I was able to manage the production schedule. Most importantly, I provided security and acquired relevant location permissions, especially in the Makoko waterfront community, for the project. This allowed us to focus completely on the shoot. The complete trust that Harley Weir had in me to deliver this project made it what it is today – absolutely magical.
Tell me more about the autobiographical elements of Boy, You’re Beautiful.
As a storyteller, I relive my childhood, and my younger self. It started after graduation; I had a memory from a time when I was in secondary school, I saw my reflection in a mirror, and I said to myself, “Wow, you’re beautiful.” Everyone was standing looking at me, they were like, ‘what the hell?’ Sitting in my room after graduation in 2016, I questioned myself – why didn’t I give a reason? Why did I give an excuse? Why didn’t I just say, “Yes, I am beautiful, so what, beat me”. So I wanted to revisit that moment, and correct myself. I shouldn’t be giving an excuse or a reason (as to) why I said I was beautiful. I am beautiful. Beautiful, the word beautiful, cannot just be centered on a female being or object — it can also reflect on men. I wanted to know what all the people felt was beautiful, and if they really felt like they were beautiful. So, I asked them the question.
Let’s talk about your role as a storyteller in Nigeria — and how telling stories there compares to anywhere else.
My kind of work is more valuable when I’m here, working. It is valuable to the people outside, belonging to the people here. My kind of art in Nigeria, (people) are opened to filmmaking the way I make it — you know, attention to detail, every single detail. Not everybody films like that, and I feel like it’s the same thing that applies when you are in the UK as well.
Your key messages are...
Originality and truth.
How has studying in the UK influenced your work, do you think?
Growing up in Nigeria, I wasn’t real, I did not appreciate the things around me. I’d love to live in the UK, because (it’s) very convenient; there is electricity, everything to go by, and just relax basically. For Nigeria, it’s where my heart is, it’s where my work is as a journalist, and I find there (are) more stories to explore, and there are more stories to be told, and there are lots of untold stories to tap into as well.
Generally speaking, are Nigerian creatives treated fairly outside of Africa, or are they often stigmatised?
We are the rock of Nigeria. That’s the thing that keeps the name on the map, you know. I feel a very positive response for what we are doing as artists.
In your experience, do Nigerian creatives tend to stay in the country or leave it?
There are many reasons to leave Nigeria as an artist, there is no electricity, no funding from the government. But as an upcoming artist, being broke, I feel that Nigeria is the best place to stay if you have limited funds. You can find a cheap apartment, and pay less bills and you can actually work as an artist. In Nigeria there are so many different things to explore, there are lots of stories. I think that’s the thing that’s keeping us here. That’s the key that’s bringing lots of other people in: to explore.
As more creative people come to Nigeria to explore it, what can be done to help its arts community thrive?
Funding can really, really go a long way. If we as artists are living (by) one’s work, then I’m sure we should also have the financial backing and support. In England when you want to shoot, you can literally just go anywhere and take the pictures, right? While in Nigeria, it’s very different, because we have lots of locations. There are actually street hooligans and they harass you, they would harass you for your money. I cannot take my camera out on a normal day and walk down the street. It has to be planned. Last year when Harley Weir came to Nigeria, we needed security so we didn’t get harassed. We still got harassed, but it was not that deep, because we had security. I feel like that situation would have been worse if we had no security.
Finally - tells us a few Nigerian talents we should be watching out for.
(As we end the call, Dafe tells me he just heard someone call out his name.)
Every time this happens I have to remind myself that I’m not (always) the person being called. In Lagos, you'll find that — (because Nigeria is a) melting pot of all the tribes — almost everyone bears the same or similar traditional names...