C.J. Obasi on adapting Nnedi Okorafor's Afrofuturistic 'Hello, Moto' & telling alternative African stories

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January 12th 2018

Award-winning Nigerian filmmaker C.J. Obasi's follow-up to his critically-acclaimed guerrilla debut feature, Ojuju, and sophomore effort O-Town (both covered on Shadow and Act), is an Afrofuturistic short film based on award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor‘s 2011 short story Hello, Moto.

Titled Hello, Rain, the Fiery Film presentation, in association with Igodo Films and Matanya Films, follows a woman who discovers witchcraft in science, and science in witchcraft, when she creates wigs for her friends that give them supernatural powers. The story tackles individual and societal identity, and the role wigs play in them, in a tale that unfolds via a blend of witchery and technology.

The prolific Obasi who first caused an international stir, with his zombie thriller Ojuju, and immediately followed that up with into the crime-thriller O-Town, both with contemporary Nigeria as the backdrop, looks to do the same with his adaptation of Okorafor's short story Hello, Moto (which you can read here) in another renegade take on a familiar genre.

Likely to premiere sometime this year (2018), the short film Hello, Rain stars Keira Hewatch, Tunde Aladese and Ogee Nelson. I spoke briefly with Obasi about the project - its origins, tackling another speculative genre, its themes, future prospects and more. Read a transcript of our exchange below, which is followed by character poster art from the film, as well as a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at what's coming.

Nnedi Okorafor and C.J. Obasi Nnedi Okorafor and C.J. Obasi

Tambay Obenson (TO): You've already directed 2 feature films; why a short film this time?

C.J. Obasi (CJO): Well, I like storytelling in all forms. And I kinda wanted to try something else - sort of like, go small to go big, if you may. The thing I like and have always liked about shorts is how they can be uninhibited in narrative style. I like that. And I wanted to explore another side of myself as a filmmaker. Tell a different story, in a different format.

TO: It's great to see African, specifically Nigerian filmmakers experiment in different genres and be inventive. You feature debut Ojuju is a throwback zombie flick; O-Town is a crime/thriller; and now Hello, Rain, a work of fantasy/sci-fi. You seem to be making sure that you hit every speculative fiction genre.

CJO: It’s not so much about trying to hit every speculative fiction genre, as it is about me being a core student of genre films in general. I love genre films and genre filmmaking. That’s what I grew up knowing and loving. So I find myself exploring genre tropes when I tell my kind of stories. Horror, Crime, Sci-Fi, Fantasy all just happen to be what I’m drawn to, ever since I was a kid. And I’ll say, with the alternative African narrative and Afrofuturism making a comeback in a really big way and going mainstream, I thought, and still think that it was the right material to jump on. Also, ever since I heard about Nnedi Okorafor, I’ve been dying to work on something of hers. I wanted it so bad. And sometimes, I think in reality, as it is with fiction, when you want something bad enough, the Universe makes a way.

TO: Why this particular fantasy/sci-fi story? What drew you to it?

CJO: For budget reasons, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to adapt a feature film based on Nnedi’s novel. And I wanted to work on something though small, but a on a completely different scale and scope from anything I’ve ever done. And then secondly, it’s just easier getting funding for a short than a feature, I thought, just on the logic that it’s less money to look for. So with that conclusion, I asked Nnedi if she had any un-optioned short stories, and she told me she did. She sent me a catalog of short stories, and I read every single one of them. They’re all amazing, and I wanna shoot every single one of them. But something about Hello, Moto jumped out to me. I also loved that it has three powerful women at the core of its narrative - scientist witches at that. That stuff just intrigues the hell out of me. And then it has these underlining themes on politics, corruption and black women’s hair. That’s Africa right there. That’s the world! The story hit me real hard.

TO: Any challenges in getting Nnedi to agree to the adaptation? Was she open from the very beginning? Did you both collaborate on the adaptation, or did she leave it entirely in your hands and your vision?

CJO: She was open from the beginning. Crazy part is, before I reached out to her, she had heard about me and my work. She was already loving Ojuju. So, not to be cheesy or anything, but it all was sort of meant to be. She was very open about it from the beginning. And we did collaborate to a certain degree. I mean, when I wrote the first draft, I sent it to her. And when I made my Look Book and Treatment, I showed them to her as well. Also she’s seen images and other stuff from Hello, Rain, and when she came down to Nigeria last November, I showed her clips, which she loved as well. That was awesome, not to mention a relief! So as much as I’m doing my own thing with this, and allowed creative control and all, I want to be faithful to the source. That's why I loved it in the first place. There’s a heart and a charm to Nnedi’s stories, and I don’t wanna lose that.

TO: Should fans of Nnedi's original short story expect a faithful adaptation of the work, or did you take some creative liberties in terms of how the story unfolds?

CJO: I took a whole lot of creative liberties - in the make up, costuming, music, VFX - these are things that don’t necessarily jump out to you visually when you read the short story. So I had to sort of try to get inside Nnedi’s head, and I think we’re kindred spirits to a degree. We sort of see eye-to-eye visually and creatively, so I found that what I like, she likes, and that was amazing. I also took liberties in the way the story unfolds and in the narrative style, but I’ll rather let you see it for yourself. I believe it’s as faithful to the source material as an adaptation should be.

TO: The story tackles a number of societal issues (notably beauty standards) in a contemporary science fiction setting. What do you hope that viewers of the film take from, or understand about your intentions with it?

CJO: My intention is to make African beauty look cool, fun and sexy - as it is! It’s our time now, and I wanna see my people looking damn cool, and doing cool things on the big screen. I need that so badly. This is why Black Panther is so important. And I’ve been saying this for years - when Black Panther drops, it’s going to change the world, and change how films are made, because, finally, the world will see that black character-driven films do have a demand, and can make a gazillion dollars in the box office. Black is going to be sexy, like it should have always been. This has always been my dream and lifeblood, to see this day. And I’m so blessed to be a part of rewriting that narrative, in my own small way.

TO: When can audiences expect Hello, Rain to premiere and where, if that information is available at this time? I assume it'll travel the international film festival circuit. Any other plans for it? Maybe an online premiere at some point, or even a feature film expansion of the short story?

CJO: No set-in-stone timelines yet, but we definitely want to do an extensive film festival tour first. We believe it’s important that as many people from diverse cultures and backgrounds as possible, should get to see it. So film festival programmers, please holla at your boy. We’re also going to have an elaborate premiere in Lagos, Nigeria - because we feel that’s important. And we’re looking to get it on TV and SVOD platforms after.

TO: If there's anything crucial that you'd like to share about the project but I haven't asked, feel free to do so.

CJO: I just feel like it’s important that we tell alternative African stories, and that they become mainstream - we need to inspire this generation and the next to see blackness and humanity in a different and true light. I mean, these stories might be called speculative fiction and all. But there’s a lot of truth in re-envisioning an alternate African narrative. Wakanda isn’t too far from the truth of what could have been. Egypt wasn’t the only great African civilization. We had the Malian empire with Timbuktu, the ancient kingdoms of Kongo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, The kingdom of Aksum, the Benin Empire, and the ancient Igbo and Yoruba nations of Nigeria, and many other advanced civilizations. So what we’re doing is merely asking…What if? I think its important we ask that, and keep asking that. I believe it’s necessary.

Thanks to C.J. for his time, as we look forward to eventually experiencing Hello, Rain.

Below you'll find a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the production, as well as character poster art for the film.



3 Philo FINAL

2 Coco FINAL

1 Rain FINAL

by Tambay Obenson on January 12th 2018
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