Cast Set for Fascinating Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje Bio
Photo Credit: British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje poses on the red carpet arriving at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Opera House in London on February 12, 2012. (CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)
Film

Cast Set for Fascinating Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje Bio

British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje poses on the red carpet arriving at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Opera House in London on February 12, 2012. (CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)
British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

A project that’s been in development for at least 5 years (we first told you about it in 2012), actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje will make his feature directorial debut with “Farming,” based on his own screenplay, which he’s been workshopping over the years. In out last update on the project, in 2014, it was selected by the Sundance Institute and WorldView to receive the Story Development Award; specifically, it was awarded for its focus on “social justice issues in the developing world.”

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s “Farming” received a £10,000 grant; or just over $16,000. Certainly not enough to get the project fully financed, but with the Sundance pedigree behind it, and this initial funding boost, we assumed that the project would continue to attract financing and would eventually be made.

Three years later, it appears Adewale is getting much closer to officially launch production on “Farming,” with a cast (announced today) that includes Damson Idris (the up-and-comer who will star in John Singleton’s FX summer series “Snowfall”), as well as Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Kate Beckinsale.

Damson Idris
Damson Idris

Also announced today, HanWay Films will be shopping the project to international buyers at the Cannes Film Market later this month.

The script, which Akinnuoye-Agbaje developed at the Sundance Labs, is based on his early life, described as a true story about “a young African boy’s search for love and belonging within a brutal skinhead subculture.”

In 2012, as we shared with you on this blog, thanks to a profile piece published on the The Guardian’s (UK) website, we got much more info/background on Adewale’s “Farming,” painting a fuller picture of what to expect from the project.

Here are the notables once again:

– It was further described as a “neo-Dickensian tale of hardship, abandonment and solidarity, a kind of black Oliver Twist for the postwar immigration era.”

– The title “Farming” refers to the practice of handing out children to informal fostering that many Nigerian parents followed in 1960s and 1970s Britain, and Adewale was one of those children.

– In 1967, his parents, a Nigerian couple studying in London, gave him to a white working-class couple in Tilbury, which was then a fiercely insular dockside community. At times his foster parents had 10 or more African children living with them, including his two sisters.

– A young boy in Tilbury, he was in constant danger of physical attack from local kids who, encouraged by their parents, nurtured a violent fear of blacks.

– And because he really wanted to fit in, he saw his skin color as a burden, and actually thought of himself as white. It didn’t help that he knew nothing of his African parents until later, when they came and took him back to Nigeria, where he experienced a brutal culture shock, and didn’t speak a word for about 9 months, saying he was traumatized and afraid.

– Frustrated, and unsure of what to do with him, his parents sent him back to Tilbury.

British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, star of the film "Belle," poses for a portrait on day 5 of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 in Toronto. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP) ORG XMIT: TOCP112
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Eventually, all that shifting and clashing led to this, also from the Guardian 2012 piece:

“I wanted to assimilate and go back to the abnormal normality I knew. I wanted to wash off the experience of Africa but obviously I couldn’t because that’s who I was. As much as I wanted to deny it, it was plaguing me, and I was reminded by the images coming through the TV, people on the streets and in the end my family in the house.” The more he tried to blend in, the more he was rejected. After a year in Africa his skin was darker, which made him yet more conspicuous among the white population. Reluctant to go out, he was issued with an ultimatum by his foster father: either he fight in the street or he would have to fight in the house. With little choice, he learned to defend himself and also to attack others. As he became a teenager he grew into a well-built young man with a reputation for violence. “It was a time of standing up and standing your ground or running, and there wasn’t anywhere to run in Tilbury. The local skinhead gang really ran the streets. They made my life – and anyone’s who was a shade darker than pale – a misery.” […] He became a skinhead. He didn’t just adopt the haircut and clothes but the racist attitudes too. He fought alongside his new skinhead comrades, who treated him at first like some brutalised pet to be unleashed in battle.

And he eventually became leader of a skinhead gang.

It’s really a fascinating, unusual story, and one that should make for a very interesting film, depending on how it’s handled.

In the film, Damson Idris will play the lead; Kate Beckinsale will play his white foster mother; and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the teacher who had a significant impact on Adewale’s life as a troubled youngster.

Needless to say, this is a project that continues to be on my watch list, and will update you all as I learn more about it.

Production is scheduled to begin in August in the UK and Nigeria, with Michael London and Janice Williams producing, along with Francois Ivernel, Charles de Rosen, Miranda Ballesteros and Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

WME Global represents US rights.

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