Farming depicts the true-life experiences of writer-director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. A coming of age story that you have never witnessed before, dealing with the heart-breaking circumstances of a boy, turned young man who once rejected and ridiculed for simply being Black, internalizes his hatred and becomes an unlikely skinhead. Our editor, Joy Joses, shares her thoughts on the film.
As a woman in my 40s of West African descent, the notion of Farming was a familiar concept. During my parents’ generation, it was a way of life in the 60s and 70s, a system where thousands of Nigerians paid white British foster families to ensure their children had access to the privileges of living in a first world society while they hustled to either study or work. Without dwelling on the rights or wrongs of such a practice, even with my familiarity of the practice, the opening credits which saw Tolu (played by the wonderful Genevieve Nnaji) and husband Femi (played by the film’s writer and director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), clearly heartbroken as they handed over their tiny baby son, really brought home the heartache and desperation that would have propelled these parents to do this. It’s so easy to sit back and judge the rational of a parent who would hand over their child to complete strangers and pay them, but I realised I was watching these scenes through the present lens of the world we live in now. It was a different time back then.
From the opening credits, it was clear that this film was going for the jugular, depicting a gritty realism to the film’s location of 1970s Tilbury. Agbaje’s attention to detail is faultless, [I read later that he replicated the terraced house in Tilbury in which he grew up in]. Having strolled through some of these Essex streets myself, I found myself looking out for landmarks on the screen, it was that authentic.
The film centres on the life of Enitan (played by Zephan Amissah), a young boy “farmed out” by his parents to a white British family in the hope of giving him a better future. Caught between two worlds and belonging to neither, Enitan’s need for love and acceptance is exploited by the adults in his life, transforming a shy, sweet boy into a teenage menace.
“It takes a village to raise a child”, but you couldn’t help wondering, “where was Enitan’s village all this time?”
Enitan is constantly vying for the love and affection of his dubious foster mother Ingrid (played by Kate Beckinsale) who overlooks him and instead regularly threatens to send him back to “Wooga-Wooga Land” if he steps out of line.
It comes as no surprise when Enitan turns into an angsty, self-hating teen, now played in a brooding and charismatic manner by Damson Idris. Before long, he catches the eye of the local racist gang, the Tilbury Skinheads, whose leader after humiliating and dehumanizing Enitan, allows him to follow them about as their pet. It says loads that this small tolerance, however deluded instills in Enitan a fierce loyalty and a hope that he has at last, found a place where he belongs.
The bad boy antics of the Tilbury Skins were played as exaggerated caricatures. For me, the real villain of the piece was the circumstances that allowed a shy, sensitive young Black boy to hate himself to the point that he wanted to scour off his Blackness.
There is little in the way of relief from the relentless challenges that Enitan finds himself in throughout his childhood and youth. During the early part of the film a small sliver of hope appeared when after refusing to talk or embrace school his parents emerged and whisked him off to Nigeria. The vibrantly colourful scenes and chaotic noise which are the hallmarks of life in Nigeria only served to frighten the young Enitan ensuring he retreated further into his shell. At one point, Enitan’s grandfather remarked to his son, Femi, “It takes a village to raise a child”, but you couldn’t help wondering, “where was Enitan’s village all this time?”
One can only imagine the turmoil that Agbaje would have had to dredge up to process all of these feelings and memories to commit them to a script for his movie. The overtly racist and dehumanizing antics of the Tilbury Skins, elicit raging feelings of anger and a fighting spirit, compounded by an excellent pulsing soundtrack, which was also produced by Agbaje. However, for me the most poignant scenes centred on the hurt and rejection beautifully acted by the two Enitans throughout his life that caused him to internalize his rejection and to hate his Blackness. The childish view that he could scrub off his Blackness and smear himself with a ghoulish white talcum paste to fit in, only served to cause even more ridicule and torment from his tormentors.
It’s a true story so we know how this particular tale ends. A benevolent teacher (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) offers him a last chance at redemption and when he reaches absolute rock bottom, he finally grabs the helping hand, going on to earn a Law degree, and subsequently Hollywood fame and success.
A labour of love with more than a decade developing and bringing his story to the big screen, it would be a travesty if this film doesn’t clean up come Oscar season. It really is that good, go see it!