Filmmaker Anderson West on how his debut film Diembe unpacks racism, the African mother trope and more (part two)8 minute read

Anderson West is a filmmaker who is always looking for new stories to tell and his latest film, the Of Africa Cinema Homeland feature Diembe, is a shining example of his storytelling abilities. This is the second and final part of the two part interview (see part 1 here), in this part we discuss his film Diembe, his inspiration and filmmaking.

What were the initial steps that led to Diembe?

Diembe was based on my experiences at school, a few friends, and my wife’s as they are not from the UK. I wouldn’t say it was based on true events, it’s more based on experiences. For instance, there was never a confrontation with someone’s racist parent like there is in the film but it’s heavily based off  of either my fears of what that I would feel like.  

I’ve been here for the last 15 years but you know I still hear racial terms you know, I hear black this and that, I hate even repeating the term “wog” and all kinds of horrible ugly terms, I heard in school all the time. I felt like this is so backwards; why are people defining my color as a reason to hate me. I felt like there was a lot of people experiencing that and that was a real big reason that led to Diembe.

Like in the film, in the care industry and in hospitals you hear people saying, “oh don’t touch me you’re black. I don’t want to get dirty.” I heard that story again from a friend’s mother just last week. And this is 2017 and I made the film two years ago and this stuff is still happening. And it’s like UK is supposedly one of the most sophisticated and progressive countries in the world. So why is this kind of stuff still happening?

“…more Martin Luther King and less Malcolm X…”

What were some challenges you experienced in making the film?

The biggest challenge was getting funding because we did a Kickstarter campaign. And we didn’t secure the funding until two or three days before the deadline because they way Kickstarter works is, if you don’t get all the funding you get none of it. So, we only had half of the money but then Bimbi Philips the executive producer backed the film and we got the rest of the funding.

I’m a very private person so it was quite difficult for me to go out and say “hey guys can I have some of your money?”. Thankfully I was surprised by how many people backed us, in terms of friends, family and people we didn’t know. We sometimes underestimate the generosity of people and I think if you just ask people sometimes they’ll just help. However, I will say that, that was the biggest challenge -just getting funding.

We could only film in a week with a two-week window when there was no school because of the kids that needed to be in the film and for the school that we are using to film. So, we had a small window and the Kickstarter campaign basically ended a week before so I had to set everything up and tell everyone that if I get funding it is happening so that everything was ready to go.

It was a leap of faith really because I told the Lord, if this is going to happen then I’ve got to plan everything like it could happen. And thankfully it did. Once that happened everything else just fell into place. You know we had a great crew, great friends of mine who are great filmmakers and they helped me tremendously and without them I couldn’t have made it.

To many of us the mother character, she’s very familiar, how was she conceived and was she inspired by anyone in particular?

With the mother character, I would say she was inspired by a lot of family and friends. She was an amalgamation of so many women in my life; family friends, aunties, mom they’re tolerant people who have a Christian background and I was raised to turn the other cheek.

The biggest influence was my mom because when I first came to England, it was just me and my mom. She’s not a nurse, it’s all my family friends that are nurses. I have experienced things that are very similar to my mom that kind of you know… make you turn the other cheek, fight evil with kindness, more Martin Luther King and less Malcolm X you know, that kind of way.

That definitely inspired the character because women and maybe this will sound sexist but women are the most important people in the world. My wife’s going to read this and say of course they are but mothers are a great influence and a strong woman is a woman who can always be kind and that for me are some qualities in my mom, my aunts, family friends.

I felt like because these women have been so amazing in my life I needed to write a character that was an amalgamation of all of them. I have a lot of important women in my life and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. Therefore, I felt like that character was all of them and a homage to all of them and the beautiful things they have done for me in my life.

“You will fail but failing is not the end, it’s at the beginning of every new journey…”

What would you say Homeland means to Diembe?

I think for Diembe, homeland is definitely Kenya but homeland is also friendship for him. I would say and I think having that friendship with Tony in the film really helped him [Diembe] to feel more welcome because if he didn’t have friends I don’t think he would stay in the UK. You know… he would have said you know as soon as I get old enough I’ll leave. That’s how I felt sometimes. All my good friends are in Florida and in high school, I had one really close friend and to this day we’re good friends and that friendship in the film was kind of a homage to this real friendship with my good friends. And I would say for Diembe having that friend and seeing him stand up for him was enough to make him feel, yeah this is definitely home now.

For our readers that are aspiring to be filmmakers and storytellers, what advice would you give them?

Be truthful. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. What I’ve learned and I’m still learning is, if you want to say something just say it. Don’t be so worried about people’s opinions. If you can’t have your opinion in your own films then this is the wrong place. You have to be honest about what you feel and what you think. You don’t need to get a big crew and thousands of pounds, if you have some stories you want to tell and you have a camera or even your phone go and tell those stories. A story could be a documentary, or filming a discussion between two people. A story is the most important device in filmmaking because it is honest and at the core of it, it is what people are actually interested in.

So whatever your story is; vlogging, writing, filmmaking whatever… be honest, don’t ask people to care about what you’re putting on screen if you’re not prepared to put it all out there. God gave everybody the ability to have an opinion : that’s free will and free choice. People might choose to not like your opinion, some people might choose to but don’t be so concerned about making something that everybody is going to like because then we will end up with a beige society that stands for absolutely nothing. So be honest… and keep trying because you will fail. You will fail but failing is not the end, it’s at the beginning of every new journey, one that you learn from so be honest. Keep trying. Don’t stop.

What can our readers expect from you in the future? Do you have anything in the pipeline?  

Right now, I’ve got a few projects on my mind. I’ve got a documentary coming out soon about people who moved to the UK in the 50s from the West Indies. I’m trying to write a web series at the moment. It is going to be about a young African woman who’s moved to the UK by herself and has got to figure out who she is, while still trying to salvage her marriage. At the moment, I’m trying to figure out what is important to say next. Definitely something that’s very politically motivated is coming, hopefully in the next year or so. Because something needs to be said about how the world’s going. Yeah. So, that’s what I’ll say for now.

 Photo provided by Anderson West.

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Philmona Kebedom lives in Canada and is an avid supporter of education for all, especially women and girls. She believes that when the strength and power of women and girls are realized, only then can the world find peace.

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