British-Nigerian playwright Bola Agbaje impressed with her debut play Gone Too Far! Ahead of the dvd release in Last year, Gloria Ogunbambo caught up with the talented writer to discuss identity, race relations in the UK and being a global majority.
What prompted your decision to turn Gone Too Far! from a play into feature film?
It was always my intention. I come from a typical Nigerian family: six kids, lots of extended family members and watching films together was a big part of life. I’ve always felt our experiences were never on screen, so my first intention more than anything was to write a film with African names in it. I was like, “Why is there never a ‘Bola’ on TV?” Not a Bola straight from Nigeria, a British one like me. I Googled writing courses and got a place on the Royal Court Young Writer’s programme, which was when I wrote Gone Too Far! Theatre was my path into film.
You frequently weave your own experiences into your work…
It took me a while to feel proud being African as growing up in Peckham in the 80s as it really wasn’t cool to be! On my first day of secondary school, I remember telling people I was Jamaican. I don’t even know where it came from. I just know it was so much cooler to be West Indian. It’s funny as people outside of our community who’ve seen the play would say to me, “I didn’t know there was a difference between African and West Indian people,” or “I didn’t know having light skin or dark skin was a ‘thing’. These were the things I battled against growing up so it was important for me to put that on screen.
“AS A BLACK WOMAN I’M CONSTANTLY REMINDED THAT I’M A MINORITY. I’M BIGGER THAN THAT.”
Gone Too Far! has been described as a ‘comedy of manners’ and an ‘insight into race relations in London’. How would you describe it?
It’s definitely a comedy. We wanted to make people laugh and get away from the usual mindset of “Look at these poor, inner city, black kids who live in Peckham.” I mean, I grew up in Peckham and had fun living on an estate. It’s not as bad as how it was painted. The same thing with being African. I couldn’t even think of an Afrobeats artist in the 80s or 90s – now there are loads. The film reflects all of those things.
Who inspires you?
Debbie Tucker Green is a huge inspiration. I love how uncompromising she is with her work. It’s simply, “This is what it is. Accept it. Buy into this world.” Roy Williams is another fantastic playwright I hope does more film and TV work. Steve McQueen’s also someone I look up to and admire.
What was it like screening the film at the Durban International Film Festival?
There’s a mentality in this industry that dictates that once you’re writing about black characters your project is ‘small’ and can’t appeal to anyone outside of that specific community. It took us three years to get the film made and a lot of the no’s and misunderstandings occurred because the film is about young, predominantly black kids living in Peckham. Destiny and I had to fight against all those perceptions but it was really hard not to be discouraged by the negativity. Going to Durban was so amazing because the audiences actually got what the film was about as well as the humour – despite everyone telling us they wouldn’t. That just showed me that there is space for films about the black experience that aren’t Kidulthood and Adulthood and that our experiences as black people aren’t as different as we think.
What’s next up for you?
We’re currently writing part two of Gone Too Far! which sees all the characters go to Nigeria. I’m also working on an online web series. As a creative, all you want to do is create and yet sometimes that’s the biggest struggle! Through my production company, Too Far Media, I’m trying to get experiences and worlds that haven’t been explored before on screen.