The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is showing at BFI Flare now; book tickets here.
Gay men and women are often told, “things are so much better now, you must be happy that gay people are no longer persecuted as much as they once were.” While innocent in construct, this statement hints at a conclusion that gay men and women no longer suffer from discrimination or oppression. At the same time, the statement dismisses the personal experiences of the individual, choosing to airbrush away any discussion about the realities of our ongoing pain. Here we find the experiences that many LGBTQ+ people still endure daily, from homophobia at school to a fear of walking alone at night or workplace bullying dismissed by a statement that claims “Everything is better now”.
Of course, ask anyone in the LGBTQ+ community the truth behind this, and they will tell you they still live in a world where they are forced to defend their rights each and every day – the revolving door of discrimination, oppression and bias never stopping to let them out.
For those who carry multiple equality characteristics, this revolving door becomes even more challenging to navigate with the discrimination they face two or three-fold as racism, homophobia, sexism or disability discrimination merge. Here the interface between each characteristic further limits their rights to live a life free from hate and oppression. These complex equality issues are rarely discussed in films, with directors opting to focus on one characteristic. However, in reality, multiple equality characteristics are common, with many young people and adults caught in the challenging spaces between them.
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These themes of intersectionality and the revolving doors of discrimination find a solid and urgent voice in the highly creative The Obituary of Tunde Johnson. Here we are wrapped in a time loop drama that pushes the very boundaries of LGBTQ+ filmmaking in exploring the interface between racism and homophobia.
We join college student Tunde as he nervously paces the corridor outside his kitchen, his parents oblivious to his presence as they talk. Meanwhile, the TV news in the background broadcasts details of yet another police shooting of a young black man. Tunde takes a gasp of air, steadying his nerves, and steps into the kitchen, where he announces that he needs to talk. As the family sit down, Tunde finally finds the confidence to come out to his parents, with his mum hugging him as his dad praises his courage.
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As he leaves the house for a party where his secret boyfriend is waiting, Tunde is full of hope, joy and excitement. However, as he drives toward his new and exciting future, blue and red lights stop him in his tracks. As Tunde nervously sits tight, two police officers approach his car and ask him to step outside the vehicle. Tunde follows their instructions carefully, but on reaching for the phone in his pocket, he feels the thud of a bullet hitting his chest. However, as Tunde falls to the ground, he wakes up back in his bed. Was it a dream? Or is he back at the start of that fateful day?
With an outstanding lead performance from Steven Silver, director Ali LeRoi weaves an intricate story of racism, profiling, homophobia and hate. Here Tunde’s journey is wrapped in a need to find a feeling of peace, freedom and belonging that shatters the revolving door of discrimination he faces again and again. The result is a powerful, unique slice of LGBTQ+ drama that, while sometimes tripping up on its own ingenuity, offers a series of essential discussions on intersectionality.
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