Pride On Film: Rag Tag

Reunited after 10 years apart, London-based childhood friends Raymond and Tagbo – otherwise known as Rag and Tag – begin to discover how deep their bound truly is.  While Rag struggles to find his place in the world, Tag romances a socialist girl and deals with his prejudiced father. But when a business proposal sends them to Nigeria, the men realize they must deal with the romantic feelings they have for each other.  PrideIndex had a conversation with “Rag Tag” writer/director Adaora Nwanda and even gets some bonus feedback from a few cast members as well.

PRIDEINDEX.COM: Where did you find the inspiration for “Rag Tag?”

Photo credit: Alastair Robinson

ADAORA NWANDU : I wanted to tell a story that reflected my environment and the types of questions we British Born Nigerians were facing in our early twenties. I deliberately set most of the action in the places where I grew up, both in the UK and Nigeria – so we shot in North West London (mainly in my Hendon flat, and in the flats of my friends and neighbors), as well as in Enugu and Enugwu-ukwu, Eastern Nigeria.

As for the relationship at the heart of the story, I am fascinated by the unacknowledged and inarticulate intensity of some male friendships, and wanted to show how one of those might evolve as they grow up.

PI: Do you have any gay friends? If so what were their thoughts about the movie?

AN: I have quite a few gay friends, some of whom entered my life because they saw the film. For some of my gay friends in the black community, they seem generally pleased that someone is telling a story closer to that which they experienced themselves. Naturally, each of them would perhaps have preferred for me to focus more on various different areas that were only touched on in Rag Tag e.g. the home life and parental relationship, or the cultural aspects, or even perhaps the religious undercurrents. But I think they all appreciate that you can only do so much if you’re trying to keep the relationship between the two main characters at the heart of the story.

PI: Portions of “Rag Tag” take place in Nigeria, Africa briefly tell us about some of the obstacles that occurred during production and how you overcame them.

AN: Due to the subject matter, we were wary about how some of the Nigerian cast and crew would respond, so I took the precaution of only giving them the Nigerian section of the script. This contained a kiss, and some deeply emotional interactions, but still, if you willfully squinted, you would not see anything amiss.

However, it wasn’t long before they all realized what the film was about, and were amazingly zen about it. In fact, they seemed relieved to be working on something different from the usual films they were used to – no witchcraft or ruthless Mother-in-laws evident here. They even turned out to be much more mature than some of the UK cast and crew, who would shuffle and giggle when we shooting some of the more intimate scenes.

Another bonus about shooting in Nigeria was my extensive network of family and friends. I was given access to some of the most lush and ordinarily unobtainable locations – so the Nigerian section is probably the most visually rich part of the film.

Despite electricity and transportation issues here and there, I think my cast and crew will agree that shooting in Nigeria was definitely the best part of the filming process.

PI: Where you concerned about homophobia or potential backlash during filming?

AN: I wasn’t that concerned about it during filming. I had various negative reactions during the pre-production process, but once I felt the script told the story I wanted to tell, I was completely focused on making the film itself. After filming began, just getting through the production problems of each day was as much as I could focus on, so people’s opinions about the subject matter didn’t really factor in to my daily life.

PI: Tell us about the casting process. How did you determine which actors would be best suited to play the lead roles Rag and  Tag?

AN: Due to the restricted budget and subject matter, I was very limited in the choice of black male actors I could find – many just weren’t interested. I pretty much cast all the other parts before I found my leads for Rag and Tag.

An actress I had cast for one of the smaller roles was working at the Almeida Theatre with Damola and recommended him for Tag. I had a conversation with him on the phone and he sounded exactly right for the part, and so I was willing to work round anything else once we met.

But then I had to find a Rag for my Tag. Having successfully worked with non-actors before I was confident enough to cast my net wider than the acting community. I was literarily approaching guys in the street that looked right for the part, and inviting them to audition. Poor Damola read with so many random strangers over the course of a coupe of weeks.

I saw Danny Parsons on the escalator at Shepherd’s Bush station, and asked him along to audition for Rag. When he turned up, the air in the room changed, and I could feel the sudden buzz from all the actors who were there that day. When he left after the audition, I still wasn’t entirely sure, as there was another guy who had delivered a pretty decent performance – but hands down he was the one all the other actors wanted, and that decided it for me. I am very glad they convinced me.

PI: The lead actors, Danny Parsons and Damola Adelaja are both heterosexual. How did you get them to overcome their inhibitions and deliver a credible performance?

AN:They each approached it very differently. In the early stages, just going through the script Damola was quite anxious and discussed it extensively, until he made peace with it. Danny on the other hand was very relaxed about it, until the day we were supposed to rehearse the first kissing scene. I think he had a small panic attack, so we postponed it and gave him time to pull himself together.

Once they managed that, I made sure we rehearsed the intimate scenes every few days so they wouldn’t fall out of the habit of kissing and closeness, and start being scared of it again.

Oddly enough, they found the lovemaking scene the easiest of the intimate scenes to shoot – it was a closed, relaxed set, and we spent as much time joking and laughing as we did actually filming.

However, the scene they found hardest was the brief hug just in front of the tube station – apparently they felt as if all of London’s eyes were on them.

PI: I love the theme music from “Rag Tag” which included songs such  “Son of an Igbo Soldier” and “Saturday Morning” how did you decide which songs to include in the film?

AN: Most of the credit for the music has to go to my amazing Music and Sound person Heather Andrews. Tugz is a friend of hers who donated “Son of Igbo Soldier” – which was perfect as Tag and his family, and the people he was involved with in Nigeria were all Igbo, and soldiering on in their own individual ways. “Saturday Morning” was written and performed by Heather, along with a few of the other seminal songs in the film. I pretty much left the whole thing in her hands and just said the things I liked and didn’t like and she shifted them around to suit. She and her fellow musician friends were incredibly generous, as were a few of my other contacts who saw it as excellent publicity for their music.

PI: As I read the credits I noticed several people with last name “Nwandu” how important was it to have the support of your relatives on this film?

AN: It is no exaggeration to say that I would not have finished the film without my Nwandu and non-Nwandu family. My mother, who became my Producer, was especially amazing. She saw me drowning in difficulties and simply stepped in with no prior experience in anything film related. However, she is a canny business woman and a great driver, cook and people person so it soon got to the extent that some of companies I was dealing with would insist on speaking with her rather than me. So, when she wasn’t moving us from place to place, or feeding us, she was cutting deals for equipment and locations.

When it came to Nigeria, my brother and father pretty much took over logistics for me and were superb too. While the rest of my relatives gave us money, contacts, transport, accommodation, locations – any support I could ask for and would help before I even asked.

As far as they were concerned, one of them was doing something that was important to them, and they were going to help them get it done.

PI: Tell us about your education background, where did you receive your formalized training.

AN: I studied primarily in the UK and Nigeria. A started at a Catholic Montessori primary school in London, then a very good state school in Enugu, Nigeria, followed by Roedean School in Brighton for A Levels, then Oxford University. After Oxford, I  studied briefly in France and also studied Directing and Writing at USC’s school of Cinema, Television and Film in Los Angeles.

PI: Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

AN: I loved movies growing up, and was a storyteller from a young age. By my late teens, I thought I would make documentaries and did a little bit of that for a while, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. By the time I wrote and directed my first fictional film at USC, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

PI: What projects are you currently working on?

AN: My main projects at the moment are two novel to film adaptations set in very different wars, details of which can be found on my website

Most immediately, I hope to be helping out with the feature film ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ based on another Igbo woman’s (Chimamanda Adichie) award winning novel set during the Biafran War. Secondly, I am developing Tatamkhulu Afrika’s ‘ Bitter Eden’ set during World War II. My script adaptation for ‘Bitter Eden’ has just won a Silver Lei award at the Honolulu International Film Festival, so this should assist in the development process.

I am also working on a romantic comedy set in the UK and USA, which should be a fun break from the struggles of war.

The following question was posed to a few cast members: How has your perception of gay people changed after starring in “Rag Tag’ the movie?

From Actor Kristean Ademola (Wing Tat)

My perceptions of gay people, to be more specific, gay people belonging to black and ethnic groups hasn’t changed since filming ‘Rag Tag.’ I consider myself to be open, inclusive, and progressive, and I have no issue with anybody based on their sexuality; in my opinion, it’s the content of a person’s character that really counts.

‘Rag Tag’ further highlighted that members of ethnic communities will have to face abuse and prejudices on multiple fronts, they are not necessarily accepted into mainstream Gay society due to the fact that they are from an ethnic group, nor are they fully accepted or assimilated into mainstream society at large for the same reason. Sadly homosexuality is frowned up and not really accepted in ethnic communities. Being a male of African descent, I know that it isn’t something that’s often talked about in any way apart from negatively; furthermore all this does is make people conceal who they really are for fear of rejection.

‘Rag Tag’ does deal with this sensitively and shows the intolerance and the prejudices that young black gay men can face. Adoara is very sensitive and aware of the issues here, I believe that she really does want to challenge people’s misconceptions and hold up a mirror to society, furthermore I believe that  ‘Rag Tag’ has allowed her to hopefully make people think about this issue. ‘Rag Tag’ says that while these issues are in no way new, they no longer have to be hidden, lets open up dialogues and try and understand before we alienate and condemn.

From Actor Damola Adelaja (Rag)

Rag Tag was a real eye opener for me, both personally and professionally. As a young, naive, boarding school educated kid from a very religious and political family, I can literally say I knew not a single gay person, or at least at the time I was not aware  of gay people in my world because as strange as it may sound, sexuality, or a sense of “the other” sexually was not in my consciousness. Now, I am proud to say that some of my closest friends, acquaintances and nearest and dearest are gay. Looking back, I now know I was surrounded all along, I was simply unaware.

Perceptions of homosexuality in the black community at large NEED to change. It MUST happen because some of the things I hear from smart, educated and apparently enlightened black folk is unforgivable. For a race that have been persecuted for such a long time to condemn and belittle another minority group borders on ignorance.
It seems to be the religious angle that is constantly pushed and that is what I loved about our script, Tag’s war of words with his father in the final scene was a gift for any actor.

I see now that gays bleed like the rest of us…I say that as a direct quote from Shakespeare’s brilliant’ The Merchant of Venice when Shylock is treated like a freak in the court because he is Jewish. He responds,
“I am a Jew/ Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs/ dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with/ the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject/ to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means/ warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer/ as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?/ If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you/ poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” -Shylock, II.i.58.
Simply substitute jew for gay in the above quote.

Gays and lesbians come in all shades, shapes and sizes. They are normal. They are abnormal. They are tall, short, fat, kind, wicked, monogamous, slutty, and religious or not. Blind, greedy, fun, respectful, sporty. You name it…all the things anyone and everyone else is, and my gift of a part opened my mind to this fact. I got to explore a world I did not know and today, that world is not so alien to me. It is a part of my life and I thank Rag Tag for that.

From actor Ayo Fawole:

My perceptions of gay people have changed; I respect gay men and women more than before because I have a better understand them. I didn’t know as many gay people as I know now. I was originally cast in the role of “Rag” but refused it because I was too scared of playing what I perceived to be a taboo role for a black man just coming out as actor. But since then I have starred in “Say My Name” (another gay movie directed by Adaora Nwandu) and attended numerous lesbian and gay film festivals to promote the film. And as far as my perception goes, gay people are just like me except I have different sexual preference. 

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