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The Legend of the Underground Examines Nigerian Youth and Gender

The Legend of the Underground Examines Nigerian Youth and Gender

the legend of the underground
Warner Media

In the HBO doc, these young people use their own creativity and expression to live authentically against Nigeria's rigid gender norms. 


The upcoming HBO documentary The Legend of the Underground examines the entrenched and common discrimination faced by non-conformist youth in Nigeria today.

Directed by Nneka Onuorah and Giselle Bailey, the filmmakers explore how these young folks use social media and creativity to engage in cultural debates surrounding Nigerian society's understanding and conceptualization of gender.

Mike Jackson, John Legend, Ty Stiklorius, and Austyn Biggers of Get Lifted Film Co. serve as executive producers. At HBO, Sara Rodriguez was senior producer while Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller were executive producers.

Nigeria's 2013 law against same-sex marriage has been used to violate and attack those that do not adhere to Nigeria's cultural norms, according to the documentary's press release.

Five years later, 57 men were arrested in the capital of Lagos. The men were forced by the police to appear before the media. According to the release:

"One of the men, James, shocked the country when he defiantly spoke out against the government while still in handcuffs, in a moment that went viral. James turned the moment into an opportunity to amplify his voice and shine a light on the oppression many in Nigeria are forced to grapple with on a daily basis."

It was around the same time that Michael Ighodaro, who fled Nigeria after having been assaulted over his identity, was living with some members of the Nigerian diaspora. The film explores his work to still help the communities he left behind.

Onuorah and Bailey explore these chosen families -- both in Nigeria and in the diaspora -- and how they navigate living their lives while struggling in their own contexts. In a statement, the directors say they first saw news of the 57 arrests on a New York City train.

"The first thought that sparked in our minds was that this was a case of profiling to enforce laws on sexuality which is a violation of freedom of expression. All over the world there are many people who are sentenced to jail, stoned, and even killed based on the way they present and express themselves," they said in the statement.

The directing pair said that through the film they hoped to explore a story of non-conformists and the ways this group can create their own sense of freedom and also be able to live their lives in the face of such oppression. They also explore the realities faced by asylum seekers. Onuorah and Bailey said that many are in limbo while they await their refugee status approval.

"Through the stories in the film, we find that neither decision to stay or leave grants freedom," Onuorah and Bailey said.

For the directors, they say that they've found that "freedom is a state of being" and can be found through the creativity and the expression of the individual.

"We believe that self-expression is a human right and a catalyst to cultural revolution. Our intention is to bring world-wide attention to these human rights issues."

The Legend of the Underground premieres Tuesday, June 29 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. The documentary will be available on streaming service HBO Max after its debut on HBO.

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