Macaulay Explores Slavery, Identity in docu-film ‘Badagry’

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With the current resurgence in racial conversation, Ronke Macaulay’s documentary movie, ‘Badagry: The Joy of Return’ trails the path to spiritual healing through the historical routes of trans-Atlantic Slave trade in Badagry. Yinka Olatunbosun reports.

The same paths walked by Africans taken as slaves and their captors were trailed by a team of visitors in this riveting documentary movie titled, “Badagry: The Joy of Return.’’ Directed by Ronke Macaulay, a producer and documentary film maker with a knack for telling stories of identity, “Badagry’’ is a story of homecoming that amplifies the African spirit of love.

A multi-cultural delegation made up of three Caucasians, three Hispanics, three African-Americans and one Nigerian-American was led by Hon. Abike Dabiri, the Chairman/ CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) through the Atlantic Slave Routes. Known as one of Nigeria’s tourist sites, it is a historical repository of 400 years of slave trade which dates back to the 16th century. In spite of the abolition of the slave trade in the 18th century, history is yet to erase white supremacy, racial prejudice and discrimination giving rise to movements such as Black Panther and now, Black Lives Matter. With the massive protests that followed the death of George Floyd in police custody, the world is on a global march against racism heightening the need for persons of African descent to know their history and identity. Statues that represent the dark memories of slave trade were removed or destroyed in the UK as the protests raged on.

The documentary filmmaker’s responsibility is to tell that true story. Being a Nigerian in diaspora, Macaulay considered it imperative for Africans in diaspora to retrace their steps to Africa. Her portfolio boasts of short documentary films with identity theme. She had shot the Green Passport documentary series in Ghana, South Africa and United Kingdom. Her lastest flick, Badagry had its World premiere in New York at the Pan African Unity Dialogue, a summit convened by the US-based Institute of the Black World 21st century.

“It was actually one of the best experiences of my career and it is my fourth short documentary film,’’ she recounted. “It is something that is much in line with the subject of migration, self-identity. The main challenge was that it was a last-minute opportunity. I was only given the access and permission to film this documentary in just about 24 hours. There was no time for planning and no prior visit to the location. I didn’t have a script and even when on the location, there was a very little time to conduct interviews.’’

Interestingly, the entire shoot was completed within a few hours. Although Macaulay couldn’t visit other places such as the slave museum which is iconic, the Gberefu land was explored with the visitors who were clad in tie & dye (adire) fabrics.

“I had to go back and construct a coherent story around the material that was available. Obviously as a film maker, I would have loved to follow a narrative that would include more interviews, find out about the motivations of the subjects who came all the way to Nigeria, find out about the rationale for the event by the organisers and include it in the film. We could have included more historical sites such as the museum and so on. But we are able to pull it off because I have an amazing team that worked very well on this project. I have worked with them before and they were able to translate what I wanted well with some very intensive efforts. I believe the film is still very useful as the snapshot of the event and as an introduction to the subject of return to the land. It also opens up the possibility of a follow-up film which will be more comprehensive on the subject,’’ she revealed.

The docu-movie which was well received in New York has been selected for a number of film festivals this year.

“Obviously, because of the pandemic, most of the festivals are not taking place this year as planned. They are either online or postponed. One of them is the Africa World Documentary Film Festival which involves several sites around the world. That had been postponed till 2021 while others such as the African Film Festival just took place online. Yes, the interest has been phenomenal and the film is currently available on Rootflix, which is the platform that provides culturally rich films for audiences all around the world,” she said.

Some have wondered whether retracing one’s step to Africa is of any benefit to the visitors. Macaulay argued that it is part of the healing process.

“Where you are from is a critical component of who you are. It actually empowers you and for me the return to the motherland is a form of pilgrimage. It is still connected to the spiritual and healing process which is highly emotional for everyone involved. All of us that participated in this walk felt it. Even though I was working, I was actually part of that emotional process. People of African roots in the Americas are the original victims of identity theft. In US as an example, other Americans whose families chose to emigrate know exactly where their families came from. They say ‘I’m Italian-American or whatever, but for Africans, their heritage was deliberately swept away by slavery. By seeking to uncover their identity either by process of geological research or by physically visiting the motherland to connect to their roots, it is an important way for African-Americans and Africans to develop a common bond. I believe it will help black people to transform how we view ourselves and how others view Africans. Of course, it will lead to greater economic power for black people in general,’’ she explained.

Badagry slave routes ought to serve as big revenue earner for Lagos and Nigeria but not much had been done to improve the infrastructure in that community. Macaulay added that accessible road network will help to scale up the tourism potential of the slave site.

“Certainly, investments will be required to scale up the infrastructure. You can ask that how accessible is Badagry by boat or by road at the moment. Quality hotels are there but what attractions could be put in place to build a more complete experience for visitors? There is a slave museum and I hope that when the development comes, the place will not lose its authenticity and essence of the Badagry experience, we don’t want to turn it into a plastic green park that is fake and bears no resemblance to reality. From what I have seen, a combination of the historic elements and some well-developed tourist attraction will have a tremendous appeal globally and will translate into revenue for the area and Lagos.

While reflecting on the relevance of Badagry movie to the on-going global conversations on racism, Macaulay remarked that the fight against racism is not just a black movement as seen in the global protests that started in the US.

“The constituency now has been widened such that all right thinking people can identify with the struggle which is to bring an end to the dehumanization of black people that began with slavery. That is the connection between the message of this film and the current realities. We want this film to be seen as widely as possible and I am glad that it is streaming on Rootflix. This is a film that has a powerful message for everyone and it is a perfect message for the current times,’’ she said.