The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is showing at BFI Flare now; book tickets here
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One thing I am often told as a gay man is that “things are so much better now, you must be happy that gay men are no longer persecuted as much as they once were.” While innocent in construct, this statement summarises that I, as a gay man, no longer suffer discrimination or oppression. While at the same time, never asking me about the experiences that led to my life today. The incessant homophobia at school, the fear of coming out and the apprehension of walking alone at night brushed aside in one statement that tells me, “Everythings better now”. The truth is that too many of us still live in a world where we find ourselves forced to defend our rights each day. The revolving door of discrimination, oppression and bias never stopping to let us out.
For those who carry multiple equality characteristics, this revolving door becomes even more challenging to navigate. The discrimination faced two or three-fold as racism, homophobia, sexism or disability discrimination merge to create a minefield of restrictions. The interface between each characteristic further limiting an individual’s right to live a life free from hate and oppression. These complex issues are rarely discussed in films, with directors opting to focus on one characteristic and one experience. However, in reality, multiple equality characteristics are common, with many young people and adults caught in the challenging spaces between them.
Within these themes of intersectionality and the revolving doors of discrimination, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson finds a unique, urgent and creative voice. Wrapping us in a time loop drama that pushes the boundaries of LGBTQ+ filmmaking. While at the same time tackling issues of racism, oppression, hate and homophobia head-on.
College student Tunde nervously paces the corridor outside of his kitchen. His mum and dad, oblivious to his presence as they talk. Meanwhile, the TV news plays in the background, as debates on yet another police shooting of an innocent young black person are aired. With a gulp of air, Tunde moves past his nerves and steps into the kitchen, where he announces that he needs to talk. And as the TV news continues, Tunde comes out to both his parents. His mum hugging him while praising his honesty; his dad worried for his safety but deeply proud of his son’s courage.
As he leaves the house for a party where his secret boyfriend will be in attendance, Tunde is full of hope, joy and excitement. His life and love finally able to move forward as an out gay black man. However, as he drives, the blue and red flashing lights of a patrol car stop him in his tracks; two police officers approaching his car with no just reason for pulling him over. Their actions based purely on the car and his skin colour as they 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 suddenly wakes up, back in his bed. Was the shooting a dream? No, but for some reason, he is back at the start of that fateful day. But can anything Tunde does change the outcome? Or will different choices continue to be caught in a revolving door of discrimination based on both his colour and sexuality?
With an outstanding lead performance from Steven Silver, director Ali LeRoi carves an intricate story. One that not only explores racism, bias, profiling and hate but masculinity, homophobia and mental health. With Tunde’s journey wrapped in a need to find peace, freedom and belonging while shattering the revolving door of discrimination. And in a world where equality is often viewed through a lens of singularity, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson asks us all to reflect on how we bridge divides and work in unison to end hate wherever it thrives.