Dafe Oboro: the filmmaker spotlighting a youth movement in Nigeria
Nigeria-born 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 for his sister 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 highlighted 40 African creatives who are disrupting the status quo there. Meanwhile his debut documentary, Slum Dwellers: Not Dead, Not Living, was nominated for a human rights award.
I caught up with Dafe to find out more about him, his new documentary series Boy, You’re Beautiful — exploring young masculinity in Nigeria — and his time casting Harley Weir’s Lagos-set story for Dazed’s spring issue.
Hey Dafe! Tell me what you’re working on at the moment?
I’m working on the next episode of Boy, You’re Beautiful. I’m trying to revisit the moment in school that day where I was looking through the 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, the Harley Weir shoot in the latest issue of Dazed, tell me everything about 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 coming to 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, 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 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 on this project made it what it is today – absolutely magical.
Is there a sense you’re reflecting on your childhood in In 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 primary 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 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 elsewhere in the world.
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?
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, you know, (it’s) very convenient with everything; 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’s more stories to explore, and there are more stories to be told, and there are lots of untold stories to tap in to as well.
Do you feel that there’s a big creative community in Nigeria?
There is not, there is a fear of (being a) copycat.
Outside of Africa, are Nigerian creatives are treated fairly?
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.
Do artists in Nigeria tend to stay, or leave?
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.
Talking about bringing people in to explore, what more that can be done (by the government) to nurture the creative community?
Funding can really, really, go a long way. If we as artists are living in one’s work then I’m sure we should also have that financial backing and support. In England when you want to shoot, you can literally just go anywhere, and you 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.
Nigerian talents that we should be watching out for…
As we end the call, Dafe tells me how he heard someone call out his name “Dafe”
Every time this happens I always have to remind myself that I’m not the person being called. In Lagos, you’ll find that as the melting pot of all the tribes in Nigeria almost everyone bears the same or similar traditional names with everyone else around them.