“The Obituary of Tunde Johnson” made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday (September 10), and the filmmakers and cast appeared on Deadline’s New Hollywood Podcast after the screening to discuss the movie, which centers a gay Nigerian teen who relives the day he was killed by police.
Written by first-time film scribe and Nigeria-native Stanley Kalu, who grew up witnessing a lot of systematic violence against queer people, the film tackles several themes, including immigration, queerness, police brutality, interracial relationships and mental health.
“The thing about growing up as a majority and coming to America is you are suddenly hit with the idea of the monolithic Blackness and it was very depressing,” Kalu said. “Because I was not used to being devalued and dehumanized on a daily basis.” After constantly seeing people who looked like him die at the hands of police, he said the story flowed out of him. “I was really trying to parse my experience in America with my experience within the African context and try to find some sort of answer for myself.”
Director Ali LeRoi (“Everybody Hates Chris” co-creator) said he wanted to be a part of the project because it was coming from a perspective that while not American, was still quintessentially Black and layered in its examination of how Black people navigate identity.
“It isn’t complex to me to deal with all of those things in terms of stories because it really is what the entire film is about and that is accepting someone as a whole. When you’re accepting someone as a whole then you don’t dissect,” said LeRoi. “For me that is what kind of allows me to deal with the storytelling. I don’t have to deal with a queer aspect of the story at the expense of the ethnic aspect of the story. I don’t have to deal with the Americanized aspect of the story against an Africanized part of the story. All these things exist together.”
Listen to the complete conversation: