For Nigerian youth, “finding authenticity takes risk.”
A bold and vibrant tale of courage, HBO’s timely documentary The Legend of the Underground follows different groups of Nigerian non-conformist youth as they battle state-sanctioned violence and discrimination. While some have chosen to flee Nigeria and raise protest and awareness from afar, others stayed, creating safe spaces for others who challenge gender roles directly.
These individuals are willful dissenters and cultural revolutionaries utilizing social media, radio, podcasting, artistry, and unparalleled magnetism. Talented co-directors Nneka Onuorah and Giselle Bailey take their filmmaking talents into the thick of rampant injustice.
Michael, an HIV prevention and human rights activist, was a part of the Nigerian diaspora, forced to flee his home when a New York Times article exposed him to the government. Obialor James, a bold entertainer, gained fame after publicly defying his arrest. He has since carved himself a place amongst internet personalities, displaying his unapologetic charisma on Instagram. From group homes to underground fashion shows to group therapy sessions, resistance lies in the community. The movement relies heavily on equal support to unpack the trauma of being branded an enemy of the state.
The film itself is visually stunning and pulls no punches about the subject matter it wishes to depict. One moment, it displays the glamourous and flamboyant nature of the Nigerian underground before cutting to violent examples of police violence in a montage-like reel. The montage is pieced together by a playlist of Nigerian melodies and audacious, sexual rap music. Celebrations fraught with makeup, dancing, and costumes are violently interrupted by scenes of protest and heart-wrenching discrimination.
Intimate, low-action scenes provide a close look into the personhood of these activists, as well as a trustworthy angle into underground terminology. Vibrant, electric color lures viewers into the mysterious nature of the underground, displaying the flamboyancy, unity, and intimacy of the organization. For a film that introduces intersections of gender-nonconformity and race, neon haze on black skin is a fitting visual aid. These cinematographic choices show that despite their fearlessness, these individuals face a heavy price for their authenticity.
Overall, the film is a touching story of chosen family, friendships, and resilience in the face of discrimination. An essential addition to the must-watch queue, The Legend of the Underground arrives just in time for Pride Month. While it’s still a testament to how far we have to go, viewers can marvel at the resilience of those dedicated to living authentically.
The film will air on Tuesday, June 29th on HBO.